Cenotes diving is an experience you will never forget. The number of cenotes for scuba diving in Tulum and Playa del Carmen is unbelievable. And so is the number of dive shops. On Google Maps, I counted approximately 60 dive shops in Tulum and Playa del Carmen. But what are the best cenotes for diving? If you plan to do cenotes diving in Tulum or Playa del Carmen, this article will help.
Are you covered for scuba diving by your travel insurance? I recommend double-checking to avoid bad surprises if an incident happens. If you don’t have travel insurance, you may be interested in reading more about DAN and WorldNomads*.
It can quickly become overwhelming to choose cenotes for scuba diving in Tulum.
We have been through that. It’s hard to select just a few cenotes in the list of all the beautiful cenotes accessible for scuba divers (see map at the end of the post).
So here is a list of questions that will help you shorten your list, as well as feedback on our experience diving cenotes in Tulum and Playa del Carmen.
1. Which cenotes can you dive with your certification level?
If like us, you do not have the cave certification and do not intend to get it, then you will be limited to scuba dive in caverns. It means you will always be within 60m of an open-air area.
Honestly, I think that’s enough for a vast majority of recreational scuba divers. We still went to very obscure areas where we were surrounded by rocks. As I could not see any open-air area, I had sensations similar to cave diving but with fewer risks – which I was very happy about!
Some cenotes, like The Pit or Zapote, are deep (>18 metres). Hence, you must be at least an advanced scuba diver to access them. Also, some other cenotes are suitable only for divers with peak buoyancy as the rock formations that decorate the cenotes are very fragile.
Also, be prepared to need excellent buoyancy (as you’ll have rocks all around), kick like a frog and maybe dive with Nitrox (especially if you plan to do multiple dives over a few days). They didn’t ask us about diving with Nitrox and we weren’t certified for it. We just had a quick introductory talk. But be careful: if there is an accident, you will probably not be covered by your travel insurance if you dive with a gas you are not certified for. I wish I knew we were diving with Nitrox before as I would have been interested in reading the documentation to better learn about it – and get certified.
2. Cenote diving: what kind do you prefer?
You don’t just go cenote diving: you choose a scuba diving site.
And cenotes are very different from one to another. That’s why it’s hard to choose “the best cenote for scuba diving”, as you will see very different things. So, do you prefer rock formations? Vegetation? Marine life?
Also, have you heard of halocline? It is the phenomenon when salt and fresh water meet and do not mix. I had never seen one before, so I made sure we could experience this. Some cenotes are better than others for seeing haloclines, and Tajma Ha was excellent for that.
And have you ever dived into a sulphur cloud? If you like the idea, The Pit Cenote (advanced divers only), the cenote Angelita and cenote Zapote have one.
I know it’s tempting to say “all of the above”.
But unless you have several days for scuba diving cenotes in Tulum and Playa del Carmen, you’ll need to pick your favourite.
The guides at the dive shops will be able to help you select the cenotes matching your envies. However, they also tend to push you to choose the ones that are easier to access for them. So it is a good idea to think about it prior to going to the dive shop. It will also save you time to do other things in Tulum (like visiting Sian Ka’an Reserve for example, or Coba Pyramid), instead of spending two hours debating in the dive shop!
There is no right or wrong answer to the question.
It’s all about your preference. We didn’t want to focus on marine life as we also planned to snorkel in cenotes where we would see fish. I found the particularity of cenotes diving was to go through a cavern with enormous stalactites. I also love the idea of having the jungle all around. This, combined with the halocline, was the primary influence to make our choice.
3. Do you prefer a dark & gloomy experience when you dive the cenote? Or more light?
There’s no right or wrong answer and it’s completely a personal point of view, again.
I loved the darkness of the cavern with the light suddenly breaking through. It’s unique and stunning. That’s the typical image I had of cenotes diving in Tulum.
Dark and gloomy can be fun too, but it sounded less spectacular to me. Was I wrong? Some local scuba divers rated these ones as the best cenotes for scuba diving in Tulum. Again, I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. If you have time to experience both, I’d love to know what you think.
4. Will you have a chance to snorkel another cenote later?
Some cenotes are ideal for snorkelling. If you have time for snorkelling cenotes in Tulum, you may want to avoid diving at the same place. Or you may choose to do both. Although the visibility is perfect, you don’t see the same things as scuba diving cenotes will take you a lot further in the caverns than snorkelling.
5. What’s your budget for scuba diving cenotes?
I never recommend placing budget restrictions high on the criteria list when we are only talking about two digits. I don’t know if I will ever come back to that region of Mexico, so I wanted to choose with my heart. Compared to the entire cost of the trip, it wasn’t making a big difference. But your wallet may not think the same.
The price varied a lot according to the cenotes diving bundles we were offered. Some were up to 40% more expensive! For example, Garden of Eden + Tajma Ha was the cheapest package at $140 whereas The Pit + Dos Ojos was $165 and Carwash + Angelita $200. These prices included lunch, and the equipment was $25 extra.
If you’re a group of scuba divers, you can sometimes reduce the price if you book your cenotes diving experience as a group. For example, you’ll save $20 per person on this website* if you book a scuba diving experience at Cenote Zapote for four people.
The cenotes in Tulum/Playa del Carmen we chose for scuba diving
We only had one day planned for diving cenotes, which limited us to two dive sites. We dived with Bluelife, a dive shop in Playa del Carmen that divemasters we met in Xcalak recommended.
Before going on our trip, we knew we wanted to dive cenotes but didn’t plan which one. But once in the dive shop, it was hard to make a choice, which is what inspired me to write this article. Did we make the best decisions? I don’t know as they’re the only cenotes we dived.
But we didn’t regret our choices: our two diving cenotes experiences were excellent!
When we chose which cenotes to dive in Tulum, we eliminated a few dive sites straight away:
- We are not certified for cave diving
- We had time to snorkel other cenotes and wanted to explore different sites
- We wanted a diving site easy to reach so we wouldn’t have to struggle with the equipment too much (which excluded Chikin Ha, Pet Cemetary and Calavera)
- Although Cenote Zapote* looked interesting and original, it was too far away to do a perfect combo
Here are some of my notes for the cenotes diving we initially selected:
- Cenote Garden of Eden (Ponderosa): a lot of light, full of life – we finally did snorkelling there [max 15m/45ft]
- Cenote Tajma Ha: halocline, stunning light, very decorated, opportunity to surface in another cave [max 15m/45ft]
- Cenote Carwash: dark, vegetation [max 16 m/50 ft]
- Cenote The Pit: sink hole, deep dive, sulphur [max 35 m/115 ft | advanced]
- Cenote Dos Ojos: very decorated, the most famous, opportunity to surface and see bats [max 8m/25 ft for Barbie Line and 10m/30 ft for Bat Cave]
- Chac Mool: halocline, lot of vegetation [max 13m/40ft]
Other cenotes diving sites:
- Cenote Angelita: dark, sulphur [35 m/115 ft | advanced]
- Cenote Zapote: decorated with original shapes, hydrogen sulfide cloud [max 60m/90 ft | advanced]
- Cenote Dreamgate: very decorated [max 7m/21ft | advanced only for buoyancy control]
- Cenote Chikin Ha: fossils, sun beams split into a rainbow [max 13m/40 ft]
- Gran Cenote: white stones, very decorated [max 10 m/30 ft] – we did snorkelling there
- Cenote Kukulkan: same area than Chac Mool [max 15m/45ft]
- Cenote Pet Cemetary: rock formations, fossils and bones [max 7m/21ft | advanced only for buoyancy control]
- Casa Cenote: open water in the mangrove, full of life [max 6m/20ft] – we did snorkelling there
- Cenote Calavera: halocline, short circuit [max 16 m/50 ft]
You can book your dive online today! We chose to book directly at the dive shop after discussing the options with the staff. I always like to be in contact with a dive shop or learn about their reputation before making a booking – although it meant making some last-minute decisions and needing flexibility. If you prefer to have a more organised trip and choose the easy way of online booking, Viator* offers many options and combos from Playa del Carmen, Tulum and even Cancun.
Click here to view a list of the cenote diving sites with a description.
Why we chose to dive Dos Ojos cenote
Dos Ojos has become the most popular cenote dive for good reasons. First, this cenote is reputed for being very decorated. Second, they chose this cenote to film the IMAX movie Journey Into Amazing Caves and Planet Earth. It is a good hint about the beauty and accessibility of this dive site.
A large cenote was a good introduction for a first cavern dive. So I felt very comfortable watching the incredible rock formation. I also loved the opportunity to see two openings with light coming through (isn’t it better than only one?!).
Why we chose to dive Tajma Ha cenote
Planning a trip to Tulum? Click here to read my tips on the best accommodations in Tulum and Playa Del Carmen.
When you read the description of Tajma Ha, it’s hard to resist. It seems to offer everything you can expect from a cenote dive: halocline, incredible beams of light and a surface break to see bats in the heart of the jungle. We were seduced, and we loved it!
Have you dived a cenote? How did you make your choice? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where can you experience cenotes diving in Tulum/Playa del Carmen?
The cenotes we dived are all along the Riviera Maya, on the northeast coast of Mexico, south of Cancun, between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. It’s in the Yucatan Peninsula, a fantastic region with a lot of things to explore. See our 14-day itinerary here.
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For under $200 with lunch included, I would definitely try this for the experience. The deepest I’ve gone into the lake is snorkelling and that’s not saying much. I will bookmark this for future reference If I can get the courage to give this a try. I know I will be heading back to Mexico. I loved everything there but didn’t experience it fully.
Thank you for your comment, Yuen. I love diving so I can only recommend trying it 🙂 However, if you are not certified and have not dived before, you will have to take a Discover Scuba package (or the Open Water Certification if you want to dive again later!), which would be more expensive than $200. If you’re in that region and want to experience the underwater world, Cozumel has amazing coral formations (I’ve been planning to write an article about it for months…), which would be very different from the cenotes. I only visited the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and I loved it. Like you, I’d love to go back for more! 😀
Once you start to handle the initial stress, it is such a great experience! It can even be a fantastic zen experience in harmony with some natural wonders.
Thank you for sharing your experience, Ben! I agree, it was indeed impressive at the start but it became relaxing after a short while! 🙂
I learned a lot about diving from your post. I was considering learning to dive in Bali but don’t have enough time. Eventually I will learn and maybe head to Mexico!
Thanks, Angela. I hope you’ll find the time someday. Diving opens up a whole new world to explore, it’s amazing! Mexico’s East Coast had amazing diving spots, I highly recommend it!
Wow! Theres so many more types of caves than I could have thought. What a well written article! I have never seen a cenote but I want to, and now I can snorke/dive it if I want!
Thank you, Gabby. Yes, they all offer a different experience. Snorkelling and diving provide a very different point of view; it’s a must if you’re in the region!
I didn’t realize there were so many options to choose from when thinking about diving! This is a great resource for anyone looking in to doing diving on their vacation!
Thank you. I realised it when we had to make a choice at the dive shop. I wish we had more time to dive them all!
I tried diving once in the Red Sea in Egypt..it was amazing yet scary as I felt my chest had a huge weight on it and I couldnt breathe that much. After the dive, I felt sick/nauseous/fatigued for like 24-36 hours. It scared me out of wanting to dive again, but im seriously trying to overcome this fear. There are so many beautiful places under the water to explore!
Thank you for sharing your experience. I am sorry you had a hard time during your first dive. I was very anxious for my first dive, but I overcame my fear, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I love diving now, and the more experienced I get, the less scary it becomes. I suggest trying again in a pool with qualified instructors. I’ve seen them doing miracles to help people fight their fears!
I’ve never dived in a cenote before but it’s something I would like to try! I bet you would get a fabulously different perspective diving in such a spot. A really useful resource, thanks!
Thanks, Meg. Yes, you’re right. The perspective is very different. I hope you’ll get the opportunity to try!
This is such a helpful an informative post! Keep up the awesome work!
Thank you very much, Agness!
Hi, if I have zero experience with diving, do I have to take a discover scuba package? Is it a must? Also, is it possible for me to visit two cenotes in a day? For example, I might wish to dive at cenote dos ojos, and then I might visit Gran Cenote later for snorkeling. Do you think that’s enough time? Thank you!!
Hi, Cream. So you’re planning a visit to the Yucatan soon? That’s exciting!
First, I recommend that you ask the dive professionals in the region directly as, with their expertise, they will know better than me what you can and cannot do. The dive shop we chose (BlueLife.com) replied to all our email enquiries quickly.
Now, here are my thoughts. But please note I am not a scuba diver professional.
The Discover Scuba is the program from PADI for those diving for the first time without a certification. I don’t know what the shops who aren’t PADI offer. But keep in mind that diving is a dangerous activity. Going down there without learning the basics sound like a very bad idea from my point of view.
I would not consider diving a cenote with zero experience if you expect to go inside the cenote (which is what’s great at Dos Ojos). It’s a challenging dive for beginners. Some cenotes can be a lot more open (like Casa Cenote for example) and I imagine beginners can stay in the open area – where the snorkellers go. But I would feel like diving in a river: you’d miss the cavern sensation – which is what I think is particular about diving in cenotes.
There are other dive sites in that region in Mexico that are amazing to explore and a lot easier. Cozumel is one of my favourite sites in the world and Cancun underwater museum is fun! You may want to consider starting your scuba diving experience there.
Finally, I think you should have time to visit two cenotes in one day. We dived at two different cenotes and finished around 4 pm. I remember Gran Cenote closes early so you may want to let your dive shop know you have plans and try to arrange an early start for your dive.
I love the Yucatan soooooo much! I swam in a cave with a head lamp but didn’t dive and i prefer the light. I can’t wait to go back and do more. I’m claustrophobic so a little nervy about diving but recently got into snorkelling so all my trips going forward are going to be to good snorkelling spots 🙂
That’s exciting! What was the name of the cave where you swam? Snorkelling is very fun too, isn’t it? 🙂
Scuba diving is one of my biggest passions. The main reason I love diving is the adventure, because you never know what you will found below the water surface. The second reason would be the wonderful diversity of the marine life. In the past years I’ve collected a series of underwater photos which I proudly store in the https://dive.site logbook, along with all my diving logs.