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Facts: Cenotes Yucatan Mexico

A cenote is a natural sinkhole in Mexico, uncovering great deposits of underground water; which at deeper levels are connected (or still filtrated) with subterranean rivers… this allows us to enjoy its crystal-clear waters.

Cenotes are classified as open, semi-open, or underground / cavernous.

Why, how and where are cenotes formed?

  • The Yucatan peninsula was under seawater until before the meteor which caused the extinction of the dinosaurs impacted the area of Chicxulub, a few kilometers east of Progreso

  • The water level decreased exposing the Caribbean coral reef barrier and forming a base of limestone

  • The limestone ground allows rainwater to filter underground; which after millions of years filled up underground rivers and has created the beautiful caves in the area with its stalactites and stalagmites

  • The edge of the crater from the impact forms a semicircle known as “Cenotes ring”, covering the Mexican states Yucatan and Quintana Roo

  • Some dense cenotes areas in Yucatan have several cenotes per square kilometer; such as Cenotillo, Homun, Cuzama, and Tecoh

  • These geological characteristics are mostly present in Yucatan Mexico; though you can find in other areas water holes: Northern Mexico, Belize, Australia, Canada, Dominican Republic, United States and Zimbabwe

  • The word cenote is only for Yucatan peninsula as it comes from the Mayan word ts’ono’ot or dzonot

How to age cenotes?

  • The type of cenote also reveals its age

  • Originally all cenotes are just caves with water access or covered by the river

  • The largest underground river flows underneath Yucatan connecting Sac Actun, Nohoch Nah Chich (2007) and Dos Ojos (2017) cave systems

  • With time the roof of the cave collapses forming semi-open cenotes; which deteriorate over the years creating the open cenotes

  • The most ancient cenotes become aguadas or lagoons when the subterranean river disconnects from the upper “cenote water”

Mayans and cenotes

  • Mayan communities used cenotes as a source of water; in their ideology, these were the entrances to the underworld, their god Xibalba

  • Cenotes were used by Mayan religious for offerings

  • As cenotes were sacred, Mayan people protected them with Alux - a clay made spirit; considered guardians and very playful

  • It is common practice to ask for permission to the Alux… most of the times the locals will ask in advance for all their visitors with recurrent rituals, in some others, they ask each time with the visitors watching so they can get a deeper understanding
    Better safe than sorry, you can always ask yourself for permission and take good care of this sacred places.


  • Visit cenotes in the Yucatan peninsula, Mexico

  • Find lagoons in the Yucatan peninsula, Mexico

What to bring and special care

  • Swimming suit and towel… remember to rinse off prior to getting into the water

  • Bring ecological insect repellent and sunscreen (which you should rinse off)

  • Take care, keep your distance and leave as-is the nature and any vestiges in the area

  • Take all your trash back with you

do you need...? Save in your trip

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