Diving in cenotes: everything you need to know before you go

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Imagine how excited I was to return to Mexico after 12 years: the once baby scuba diver, with less than 50 dives on her logbook, could finally come back with her complete scuba gear and camera set-up to report how incredible diving in cenotes is. Even after hundreds of dives worldwide, the cenotes remain one of my most magical diving adventures to date. There is simply nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

There are some places you know immediately you’ll come back. Playa del Carmen is one of them. But 12 years and a pandemic later, prices have skyrocketed. To prepare for your trip to Yucatan, if diving in cenotes is your main objective, there are more than a few things to be aware of to prepare and budget accordingly. I’m even extending this article to the other cenotes of Yucatan worth a visit to get a broader understanding of these miracles of nature that only exist in Mexico.

In my 6 weeks in the Yucatan Peninsula, visiting the three states of Quintana-Roo, Campeche and Yucatan, I explored 11 cenotes. Based on my experience, I picked a diverse range of cenotes among the hundreds open to the public so that you can choose according to your tastes, your scuba diving level and your budget.

Diving in Cenotes at a glance

How good diving in cenotes is?

  • marine life

Rating: 2 out of 5.
  • unique features

Rating: 5 out of 5.
  • visibility

Rating: 5 out of 5.
  • protected area

Rating: 1 out of 5.

What is a cenote?

Cenote Xcan Ché Yucatan Mexico

The cenotes are natural sinkholes formed in the karst of the Peninsula of Yucatan. Karst is a geological topography formed by the dissolution of the limestone bedrock. This dissolution created an extensive network of caves and underground rivers where the sea infiltrates due to the proximity to the sea. This specificity makes the staggering phenomenon of halocline possible when freshwater meets salted water due to the difference in their density.

The origins of the word “cenote” are not clear. Among the possible origins, the Mayan word dzonot” would refer to a location with accessible water. What is sure, tough, it was a critical source of drinking water for the Mayan civilisation, and they were revered as such, including some sacrificial rituals.

While some form large circular open-air pools when the ceiling of the cavern collapsed, some are only partially collapsed, creating stunning light effects. With rays of light penetrating through the crystal clear water and delicate stalactites decorating the ceiling, diving in cenotes is magical.

Where to find the cenotes in Yucatan?

Cenote Dos Ojos Quintana-Roo

We usually refer to Yucatan when mentioning the cenotes in Mexico. They are spread all over the Yucatan Peninsula, including three Mexican states: Quintana-Roo, Yucatan and Campeche. The cenotes are so everywhere in Yucatan that you may find them in the middle of a street (Calle 38 in Playa del Carmen), by the beach (Punta Esmeralda, north of Playa del Carmen) or next to a church in the centre of a village (Yalcon near Valladolid)!

However, in the case of scuba diving in cenotes, the area from Tulum to Puerto Morelos with Playa del Carmen in the middle, in the State of Quintana-Roo, is where you want to go. Besides, to extend your cenote experience, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Valladolid and its surroundings. You will only be allowed to swim in these cenotes, but their giant dimensions will surprise you. In any case, don’t forget to look up in the trees to get the chance to see the elegant motmot birds and their blue feathers. They tend to nest inside most cenotes.

For an out-of-the-beaten path experience, head to Bacalar, in the south of Quintana-Roo, and its 7 shades of blue laguna. Its laguna is the home of 4 cenotes and includes some surprises that marine biology nerds will love.

Cenotes in Tulum

Tulum is the number one destination for cenote diving, 50-minute south of Playa del Carmen. Dos Ojos, Ponderosa, Tajma Ha, Carwash, Angelita, and Gran Cenote are famous names that sound like a melody to enthusiast cavern and cave divers. The possibilities go well beyond these. Just in Dos Ojos Park, you can scuba dive in more than 10 cenotes!

Cenotes in Puerto Morelos

The Ruta de los Cenotes of Puerto Morelos (cenote road), between Playa del Carmen and Cancun, is a bit strange. On the one hand, it mainly caters to holidaymakers from Cancun with its overpriced cenotes turned into activity centres (zip-line or swing included). On the other hand, it also offers some of the most advanced cenote diving. The highlight of the area is the cenote Zapote and its bell-like stalactites. But when I saw the camera fee, I was like, “ok, skipping Puerto Morelos for this trip”.

Cenotes in Valladolid

You can’t go scuba diving in the cenotes around Valladolid, but I promise it’s worth going on a side adventure to the cultural heart of Yucatan. Further away from the coastline, the cenotes are deeper and offer breath-taking views, whether fully open or with only a tiny piece of the roof collapsed. This is where you’ll find the world-famous cenote of Suytun. It was mostly turned into an Instagram hotspot with a line but can still be appreciated as an early bird.

Cenotes in Bacalar

Again, only for swimming but it is worth the detour. It was a stopover on my way to visit the Calakmul Ruins. Sure, the laguna of Bacalar is stunning with all its shades of blue and turquoise, but I got quite a big surprise there. Bacalar laguna has 4 cenotes: the Cenote Negro, the Cenote Azul, the Cenote Esmeralda and the Cenote Cocalitos. The latter proved to have an unexpected twist thanks to its stromatolites sanctuary (more below in the description of the cenote).

Is cenote diving the same thing as cave diving?

The good news is you don’t have to be a tech diver to enjoy diving in cenotes. The original definition of cavern diving means that the entrance and daylight remain visible during the dive. So the idea is that even if your torch light fails, you would still have some light; it wouldn’t be pitch black. And the best of all? You don’t have to go to the full cave area to enjoy the beauty of the cenotes.

What level do you need to go diving in cenotes?

As crazy as it may sound, it is possible to scuba dive the cenotes without being a very experienced diver, just not any cenote. Thanks to the number and diversity of the cenotes, you can choose one or several cenotes adapted to your level. Make sure to carefully listen to the briefing and follow your guide at all times. If you feel comfortable after your first day of diving, you can move to a higher level.

That’s one of the incredible advantages of cenote diving: it remains fairly accessible (I had less than 50 dives when I dived in the cenotes for the first time). I would even argue that this experience will make you a better diver as you’ll fine-tune your buoyancy in crystal-clear freshwater with zero current but taking care of never hitting the ceiling or breaking anything.

Diving in Cenote Ponderosa Quintana-Roo Mexico

In the description of each cenote, I have included its difficulty level below. I’m following the categories Christine Loew of Diving Caves has established from 1 (easy) to 3 (advanced). There is currently an ongoing project of official guidelines from 1 to 4. I will update my article when they get published.

You’ll need to demonstrate excellent buoyancy control to explore the higher-level cenotes. In freshwater, you sink more than in salted water, so it can be tricky at first. Make sure to go through a thorough weight check on your first dive and even potentially the second one. If everything goes well, after your first day of diving level-1 cenotes, then on the second day, you can move to level-2 cenotes. And so on. Note due to their depths, most level-3 cenotes require that you have at least an advanced open water certification.

Safety rules for diving in cenotes as a recreational diver

Some rules must be respected at all times to make recreational diving in cenotes possible (the contrary of recreational diving is tech diving). Cenote diving is cavern diving. It’s important to remember that cavern diving is not cave diving. Cave diving is tech diving.

In most cenotes, you’ll see at some point during your dive a yellow or white sign letting you know you mustn’t go further unless adequately trained (i.e. intro to cave & full cave diving training). Remember, never dive beyond your training. The golden rule in scuba diving remains “you don’t know what you don’t know”.

Stop Sign Cenote diving Carwash

Even close to the entrance and the daylight, you still dive in an overhead environment. Here are the main rules that apply when diving in the cenotes:

  • Independent diving without a guide is not allowed
  • Each dive guide must be at least a divemaster with a full cave diving certification
  • Each dive guide cannot take more than 4 scuba divers
  • Scuba divers must form a line allowing about 2 m between them
  • The rule of third applies in terms of air consumption: its means for a tank full at 210 bars, you turn back at 140 bars, not 100 bars
  • You should never go into deco mode on your dive computer
  • You must always keep the line as a visual reference, hoovering about 1 m above it
  • Do not use a classic fin kick but a frog kick to not lift the sediments in the cavern
  • Don’t go through restrictions smaller than where 2 divers can comfortably pass
  • Always remain in the daylight zone, 50 m away at the maximum from the surface
  • Don’t go beyond the warning signs that state “only cave divers”

Even by being the most careful scuba diver, don’t forget to be fully covered with a scuba diving insurance!

What gear do you need to go diving in the cenotes?

While most dive centres include the rental gear in their fees, you may prefer to bring your babies like me. Remember, cenote diving is freshwater diving (except when you go through the halocline, where the seawater meets the freshwater). It means you don’t need as much weight as usual.

Due to the temperature of the water (24-26°C), the most common choice is to dive in a full 5mm wetsuit with booties and adjustable fins. It means that in addition to diving with an aluminium tank if you are used to steel tanks, you may need an adjustment period.

cenote diving gear

Last but not least, for European divers, if your regulator is DIN, don’t forget your DIN adaptor. But to be fair, I was pleased to see more and more DIN tanks in Mexico this time!

While you can leave the SMB at your hotel, bringing a nice dive light will make a difference in your cenote experience. My video torchlight gave me a soft diffuse light all around, allowing me to appreciate each cenote’s details.

The best cenotes for scuba diving

Cenote Ponderosa Quintana-Roo Mexico

The beauty of the cenotes lies in their diversity. Some are about their geological formations, some about light effects, and others about aquatic life. This is why it is too hard to say which cenote is the best. I tried, but each time I finished a dive, I was like, “ok, this one is my new favourite one!”. Obviously, I just loved them all in the end. So instead of giving you a top 5, I thought sorting them by type of experience was more relevant.

The deep cenotes

These cenotes are only for Advanced Open Water divers as they reach 30 m (and more). One included a spooky sulfuric halocline and the other a breath-taking light tunnel when visited around noon time. While these offer exciting adventures, just consider doing them after diving a few easier cenotes beforehand to fully appreciate them.

The Pit (Pat Jacinto) – max depth 30 m – level 3

Located in the Dos Ojos Cenote Park near Tulum, the Pit is often seen as the ultimate cenote dive you can do in Yucatan. Also called “el Pit”, this is a deep cenote with a sort of island in the centre. When dived around midday, an impressive light tunnel enters the cenote. It may look like a perfect cylinder down to the halocline, but two tunnels descend deeper below it.

The dive is straightforward as we descend the cylindric cenote down to 30 m right above the sulfuric halocline floating around the island, and then ascend around 12 m to admire the stalactites and about 4 m to see some ancient pottery found in the cenote. For information, some prehistoric human and giant sloth remains were found between 35 and 45 m deep.

Be careful with the access to the entrance pool as you need to take very steep steps down fully equipped. The staff at the cenote can offer to descend your equipment with a dedicated pulley at an extra fee of 50 pesos. No snorkelers are allowed here, but its shape and depth make it a freedivers’ favourite too. As an underwater photographer, I loved watching them along the line in the midday light; it was highly photogenic.

Angelita – max depth 35 m – level 3

Angelita is the furthest cenote from Playa del Carmen and requires an early meet-up time if you want to be first on site to appreciate it quietly. But the reason is also for taking pictures: you may only see a wall of bubbles with too many divers.

Angelita is similar to the Pit as this is primarily a large vertical tunnel descending to 30 m where a sulfuric halocline floats around an island of tree branches. Deep divers can try the experience of going through it. It’s pretty spooky; you see nothing for 1 to 2 m, and then below it looks reddish-yellowish with scattered dead tree branches.

Between 13 and 10 m, there is a short swim-through tunnel and a giant stalactite worth the stop for a picture. As a deep dive site where you’re likely to spend some time at the bottom to take pictures hoovering above the spooky halocline, make sure you control your non-deco time on your dive computer.

The light effect cenotes

The Pit could also be included in this list, but the two cenotes below take the light effects to the next level. Lucky us, they are next to each other between Playa del Carmen and Tulum and then are easy to dive on the same day.

Ponderosa (Eden Garden) – max depth 12 m – level 1

Located closer to Playa del Carmen, in Puerto Aventuras, Ponderosa or Jardin del Eden (Eden Garden) is already a nature wonderland above the water’s surface. You’ll find iguanas, bearded dragons hanging around, and motmot birds flying above.

There is a large open natural pool which is perfect for snorkelers. The cavern’s entrance is on the very end of the right side of the cenote. At this point, your guide will draw a line until the start of the main line to state your group is underwater. The light effects in Ponderosa on a sunny day look like a light curtain. You’ll see it after crossing a first rather dark chamber.

The route then goes along this mesmerising light curtain above and below a halocline. Above you’re still in freshwater; below this is seawater, and it’s a 1 or 2 degrees warmer! Don’t worry, this is normal your vision gets blurry as you get through it. In this area, you can see many fossils on the walls and on the rocks, so open your eyes!

Tajma Ha – max depth 15 m – level 2

Tajma Ha (and not Taj Mahal) is located only 15 minutes’ driving away from Ponderosa, so these two make a great combo from Playa del Carmen. Like Ponderosa, the highlight of Tajma Ha resides in its beams of lights. Only here, they look more like vertical light sabres!

You might wonder why Tajma Ha would be a level 2 cenote with a relatively shallow maximum depth. It has mostly to do with the continuous change of depth through the dive. So, it could be difficult if you have some problems equalising your ears.

Beyond the light beam chamber, there is an interesting stalagmite named the Pisa Tower. You’ll quickly understand why, as the resemblance is baffling. Don’t forget to look up as the ceiling is covered in stalactites.

As you’ll pass another shallow open area, the part that is diving deeper again is where I found the most stunning halocline effect (where freshwater meets salted water). If you control your buoyancy and hoover above it properly without mixing it up, by shining your dive light at an almost horizontal angle, you’ll see something like the surface of a lake. It’s like flying above a lake, except you’re already in the water!

Before turning back, there is a third and last open area with rumbles and tree branches. It makes some nice pictures, too but watch out for the dirt in this area. One wrong fin kick and bye-bye picture!

The decorated cenotes

In a way, these cenotes are the pure essence of what cenote diving is. With their numerous geological formations, including stalactites and stalagmites, coming in all shapes and lengths, sometimes meeting to form some cages, diving in cenotes is about marvelling at nature’s work. However, the most beautiful ones are also the most fragile too, hence the different levels to ensure you have the proper buoyancy control.

Dos Ojos – max depth 7m – level 1

These famous twin cenotes gave their name to the cenote park around it. The gate is located 12 minutes driving from the centre of Tulum. Make sure to have a tour of the two “eyes” or the two pools as the grounds are stunning, and there are many fossils to see in the dry area of the cavern.

It’s an excellent site to start your discovery of cenotes since there is plenty of space for scuba divers and not too much to break in case some struggle with buoyancy. There are two lines, or two routes, in Dos Ojos. An introduction to cenote diving usually takes you to the barbie Line. If you feel comfortable and want to see more of Dos Ojos, you can do the batcave line as a second dive.

The barbie line dive is nice and easy as you go from one eye to the other and back. While being safer for beginner divers, there are quite a large diversity of stalactites and stalagmite to see in all sort of shape and length. This is why it’s such a great place to start diving in the cenotes.

Taak Bi Ha – max depth 7m – level 3

Despite being very shallow, Taak Bi Ha is a level 3 cenote due to the fragility of its delicate stalactites and tighter restrictions. Combined with shallow depths in freshwater, it can only be for scuba divers in total mastery of their buoyancy. Ever tried to remain neutral in 50 cm of water? That’s the kind of challenge that awaits you in Taak Bi Ha.

The dry area is also quite interesting since, contrary to most cenotes, the entrance pool is in an almost entirely closed cavern. This is why artificial lights are used there. But honestly, they did a good job, and the blue colour of the water beautifully contrasts with the white rocks.

Beyond the incredible diversity and beauty of the cavern’s decorations, the shallow areas are also highly photogenic to make shots upwards, making the surface look like a mirror. Another highlight: a giant fossil snail on a wall halfway through the dive.

The cenotes with a rich aquatic life

Who said cenote diving was only about rocks? Quite the contrary, some cenotes are packed with aquatic life, freshwater species indeed. From plants to fish and crustaceans, even birds, let you be surprised by the residents of these beautiful cenotes.

Casa Cenote – max depth 6 m – level 1

Casa Cenote is the other usual cenote dive for beginner divers. Although I absolutely loved its location in a mangrove next to the sea for its natural features, it is not necessarily the best introduction to cenote diving. It’s a somewhat different experience from the other cenotes.

The dive is following a river through the mangrove, where you’ll meet many species of fish like needlefish hunting below a red halocline right below the surface in some areas. I also spotted crabs and was lucky to see a cormorant (a bird!) diving in to fish underwater.

The cenote’s entrance is at the end, and you are at a maximum diving depth of 4 m and 6 m when in the cenote. This is why I did it only snorkelling/freediving (note you’re not allowed to enter the cavern without a guide).

Carwash (Aktun Ha) – max depth 16 m – level 2

Carwash is one of the closest cenotes from Tulum centre, only 8 minutes of driving away. Gran Cenote and Calavera are on the same road, closer to Tulum. This is the paradise for underwater photographers with fantastic aquatic life whose stars are not an animal but a plant: the water lilies! If you’re lucky, you’ll also see the adorable red-eared slider tortoises; despite my best effort, I never managed to get a shot underwater.

It is so beautiful that it is tempting to only stay in the open-air pool to take pictures. But it would be bad to miss the cavern part as it offers some stunning views too, especially when you turn back and look at the cave entrance. Besides, there is a school of small fishes swirling at the entrance that is magical for pictures.

The grounds around the cenote are one of the nicest I’ve seen. The owners made a charming café; even if it’s open to snorkelers, it tends to be quiet and relaxing. I wish I had stayed there to chill after my dive the rest of the day.

The best cenotes for snorkelling & swimming

snorkelling Casa Cenote Quintana-Roo Mexico

Unfortunately, not all cenotes are for scuba divers. While many cater for both divers and swimmers, it would be too bad to limit yourself to the cenotes where you can go scuba diving. The world of cenotes has so much to offer in Yucatan. Here is a selection of cenotes to extend your discovery of these wonders of nature without a tank.

Casa Cenote

I mentioned Casa Cenote in the scuba diving section, but really, due to its shallow depth and location in the mangrove, this is a great site to be appreciated snorkelling with a bit of free diving. Lots of marine life and even cormorants diving to fish.

Gran Cenote

I had the opportunity to scuba dive Gran Cenote back in 2010, but this is unfortunately not possible anymore as a recreational diver. I kept an excellent memory of Gran Cenote, so if you have some spare time and cash, it’s a fantastic option, even snorkelling.

Cenote Xcan Ché

For those who don’t want to suffer the crowds of Chichen Itza, there is an excellent alternative archaeological site in the surroundings of Valladolid: Ek Balam. It comes with a beautiful neighbour cenote nested in lush jungle, with motmot birds flocks flying above, catfish swimming below the surface, but also mosquitoes eating you up if you dare to nap in one of the hammocks near the cenote (repellent are prohibited in cenotes). The entrance price includes a rental bicycle from Ek Balam to link the two sites 2 km away.

Cenote Suytun

This is the Instagram famous cenote. If you want to appreciate it before the photo line forms, better to come early. Ssssh, you can enter a little before the official opening at 8 am. From then, you have about an hour to enjoy swimming in the super chilly waters of Suytun. Thumbs up to the organisation of the place for managing the crowds with professionalism and investing in quality facilities (showers, lockers, changing rooms, restaurant).

Cenote Cocalitos

It was one of the best surprises of my second trip to Mexico. To be fair, while the colour of the water is mesmerising, once below the surface, the silt of the laguna doesn’t allow a lot of visibility. When I finally found the cenote entrance, I could only see a bit of it by free diving at 8 m deep. Look for the long water lilies on the right side; this is where the entrance is!

But the interest of Cocalitos is equally about swimming in a warm turquoise milky freshwater and discovering a unique sanctuary of stromatolites. It is actually the largest in the world. The stromatolites may look like rocks, but they are living organisms, cyanobacteria, to be exact. These living fossils are the ones who started transforming carbon dioxide into oxygen and made the development of life on earth possible: how cool!

How much does it cost to go diving in cenotes?

cenote carwash Tulum Quintana-Roo

This is the major change since my first visit. Obviously, people in Yucatan know how special the cenotes are, and since they are all located on private lands, the owners apply the price they fancy. While I paid as little as 50 pesos in Bacalar, cenotes like the Pit request a 500 pesos fee.

All diving centres include the entrance cost in their scuba diving packages. However, if you want to extend your cenote experience by snorkelling by yourself and renting a car, you’ll have to pay a little less most of the time. Some cenotes where you can only go snorkelling have fees in the same range as scuba diving, like 500 pesos, but some even become attraction parks and request around 40-50 USD.

A scuba diving package to the cenotes, including 2 dives in 2 different cenotes, with all transportation, gear and entrance fees, is about 160-200 USD. Independent instructors can also offer some more competitive prices. Yes, far are the days where I was paying around 30 USD or 500 pesos per dive…

Note that you can get a better deal in Playa del Carmen than in Tulum. It may sound strange since Tulum is closer to most cenotes, but this is a market thing. Tulum has become a very trendy hipster destination in the last decade, which made all prices go up.

About the cenote camera fees

underwater photography cenote carwash Quintana-roo Mexico

Calling all enthusiast photographers and videographers. For sure, there is hardly anything more photogenic than the cenotes. However, get your wallet ready if you want to use your beloved camera since we now have to pay each cenote a fee (with a few exceptions). This will not be included in your scuba diving package, so budget ahead.

I spent 1450 pesos or 70 USD for diving in 7 cenotes with my camera (I hope you like the pictures featured in this article!). The exception was Ponderosa which didn’t apply any camera fee at the time of my visit as they have another policy of no picture above the surface. And if you ask why, the only good answer is “because they can”.

At the time of my visit in June 2022, the camera fees were the following:

  • Dos Ojos: 300 pesos / 15 USD
  • Angelita: 500 pesos / 25 USD
  • Carwash: 150 pesos / 7,50 USD
  • The Pit: 300 pesos / 15 USD
  • Taak Bi Ha: 200 pesos / 10 USD (small camera) or 300 pesos / 15 USD (large camera)
  • Tajma Ha: 200 pesos / 10 USD (small camera) or 500 pesos / 25 USD (large camera)
  • Casa Cenote: 500 pesos / 25 USD (small and large cameras)

Don’t hesitate to indicate in the comments if you see changes in these prices.

Most cenotes only apply the fee to large cameras (also called professional cameras, but they don’t care if you’re not a professional), which include my compact camera in its housing with its strobes and video light (not really easy to hide in a pocket). They tend to tolerate GoPros.

I know some of you will scream that it is stupid since now some small action cams have way better quality than some larger cameras, but it is what it is. However, everywhere you see a small camera on my list, even GoPro users have to pay. A suggestion to avoid all these hefty fees could be investing in a waterproof housing for your phone?

Which scuba diving centre to book your dives in cenotes with?

scuba diving in cenotes - preparing the gear

You can choose between 2 options to go diving in the cenotes between Tulum and Puerto Morelos: booking with a scuba diving centre or an independent diving instructor. I chose to explore both options so I could give you the advantages of each so you can choose accordingly.

Regarding dive centres, I was scuba diving with Koox Diving (pronounced Ko’osh). They have two offices, one in Tulum and one in Playa del Carmen. Usually, the meet-up is at their dive centre from 7.30 to 9.30, depending on the destination of the day.

I liked the dynamism of this Mexican-owned business with its crew of instructors from Mexico, Argentina and Spain who all speak excellent English. One of the advantages of booking with a dive centre is the availability they can offer to the different cenotes you may want to visit as they have a bigger team.

I also scuba dived with an independent cave diving instructor, Christine Loew, a German instructor who has been living in Playa del Carmen for more than 18 years. This is her who made me discover cenote diving 10 years ago when she was still working for another dive centre. I couldn’t be happier to count on her to introduce my buddy Steph to cenote diving.

The advantage of an independent dive instructor will be in the personalised service you will receive with pick-up at your hotel or hostel included. Cavern diving, and even cave diving for those who want to try the adventure, can be challenging and impressive at first. Having a detailed security briefing in coaching mode before and after the dive can make a real difference in how you live the cenote experience.

What is the best season to go scuba diving in the cenotes?

water lilies cenote carwash Quintana-Roo Mexico

Cenote diving is inland diving. It means you are always sheltered, then cenotes can be dived all year long. The water remains almost at the same temperature from 24 to 26°C.

However, since some are about light effects, having nice sunny weather helps enjoy the experience the most. Besides, if you want to combine your trip with some ocean dives in Playa del Carmen or Cozumel, you may want to avoid the hurricane season from July to October.

Where to stay to explore the cenotes?

where to stay to go diving in cenotes

Diving or snorkelling in the cenotes always includes driving time (from 20 to 90 minutes). Choosing your home base strategically is essential to make your trip as enjoyable as possible. The main question as a scuba diver visiting Yucatan will be to decide whether to stay in Playa del Carmen or Tulum. But if time allows, don’t miss the opportunity to organise side adventures to Valladolid or Bacalar.

Playa del Carmen vs Tulum

By reading this article, you’ll quickly deduct that to be as close as possible to the best cenotes for scuba divers, this is in Tulum you’ll need to stay. Well, well, well… it was before Tulum became the new hit destination for hipsters looking for their next Instagram selfie. Prices have skyrocketed, whereas the services in the town haven’t really changed outside of the luxury resorts and condos by the beach. This is why I recommend staying in Playa del Carmen, which offers better accommodation value, is walkable (contrary to Tulum) and has all the services you might need at the best price, including scuba diving and car rentals.

If you’re not a party animal, you might want to be careful where you book your accommodation if you want to get some sleep. The 5th avenue (or La Quinta in Spanish) has become an overgrown mall with open-air nightclubs concentrating along 12th street.

For those who want a comfortable stay in style, I recommend the Fives Hotel with its stunning swimming pool rooftop. Forget about the cocktails while enjoying the best sunset view, but beer always works in Mexico (the best cocktails in town are at La Perla Mezcal bar; on Calle 38, and I tried a few in a month!)

If you are on a budget, I recommend the We Playa Hostel for its strategic location close to the ADO bus terminal, the big supermarkets and on a quiet avenue (the 20th) while still being close to La Quinta. They even have two swimming pools!


Why stay in the centre of Valladolid when you can stay only 10 minutes away by driving in a delightful eco-lodge surrounded by fruit trees and tropical birds? To explore the Valladolid area, you’ll need to rent a car, so better take advantage to discover the village of Yalcon and its impressive cenote by the church.

At the Blue Ecolodge, you’ll have all the comfort you need, including free parking, a swimming pool to refresh (because Valladolid weather is hotter than on the coast), and a delicious home-cooked breakfast with products from the garden or from the market and locally grown.


It might not be the priority place to stay if you want to focus on diving cenotes during your trip to Mexico. Still, this is a perfect stopover if you are considering going to Belize or Guatemala or exploring the Calakmul ruins in Campeche. You can even explore a unique cenote, Cocalitos and its stromatolites sanctuary!

My favourite hotel is the Sun-Ha Hotel for a cosy stay with a delicious breakfast included. Their rooftop views the laguna and is the perfect place to relax. (Just hoping the road works in Bacalar will be over soon, please let me know if you get any recent updates).

Do you want to learn more about travelling and scuba diving in Mexico? Have a look at the following articles:

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Photo credits: additional underwater photography by Andres of Koox Diving & Steph from A Nomad’s Passport.


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Posted by Florine

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