In Mexico underneath the Yucatan Peninsula flows an extensive underground river system with about 30,000 cenotes serving as open access points to these cavern and cave systems. Tulum in Yucatan has a great location to access these amazing dive sites in the jungle. The water in these caves are crystal clear making for beautiful and very interesting dreamlike dive sites.
Thousands of miles of these underwater caves have already been explored by divers. These caves are filled with stalactites and stalagmites, overhangs, and cave divers exploring the underwater cave system have found amazing stone age fossils and Mayan cultural artifacts. It is unreal to drive with a jeep in the jungle to a dive site that you access by jumping through a hole in the jungle floor. Some of the unreal cenotes near Tulum are classified as caverns not caves and Scuba divers without special cave diving qualifications can dive in them. Dos Ojos is an amazing cenote for divers with an openwater certification and deeper sites like The Pit and Angelita are deeper dives for advanced divers.
What is a Cenote ?
Cenotes are freshwater-filled sinkholes formed when the roofs of limestone caverns collapse. The word cenote has its origin in the Mayan word “D’zonot” refering to a subterranean chamber filled with water.
The Yucatan Peninsula is home to the longest network of underwater rivers in the world. Millions of years ago the peninsula was underwater and was part of a massive coral reef. The ocean level dropped and eventually the reef was above the surface and land and jungle covered the dead coral. The porous coral limestone originating from the dead coral reef dissolved to form these massive cave systems .
The jungles around Tulum are filled with cenotes that provide divers with an entrance into the cave system. Rainwater filters through the earth into the cave system. Consequently many cenotes are filled with crystal clear, turquoise water perfect for diving. The Yucatan cenotes are entrances to intricate cave systems that draw divers from around the globe.
Some cenotes are not filled with water to the roof and are also accessible for snorkelers and activites like zip-lining, kayaking and swimming.
Dive Qualification Needed for Cenote Diving.
There is a distinction between cave and cavern diving making it possible for anyone with an open water qualification to dive in the cenotes. Cavern diving is the exploration of overhead environments such as caves always keeping the entrance in sight. Cavern divers do not go no further than 60m without access to the surface. They use a guide line to prevent getting lost that is already attached to the cave floor. Even though there is always some light during a cavern dive it can still get pretty dark and places and divers always carry a light during a cavern dive.
To dive in caverns a special qualification is not a requirement, but cavern diving specialty courses are offered by PADI and TDI to equip you with the skills to safely and with confidence dive in caverns. The PADI cavern specialty includes theory and 4 dives during which you will learn proper emergency procedures, reel and line handling, use of lights and redundant breathing systems, avoiding disorientation and anti-silting techniques and improve your dive planning and air management skills for cavern diving.
It differs from cave diving in that cave divers may penetrate very deep into the caves. Cave diving is technical diving and specialized training is required. For cavern diving the same qualifications as for openwater dives are required. You will need an Advanced Openwater Qualification to do deep cavern dives like diving Cenote The Pit.
To truly penetrate and explore caves you can do the PADI Full Cave Diver Course. This complete course is a nine-day program that includes the Cavern Diver, Intermediate Cave Diver and Full Cave Diver curriculum. The course includes theory, land-based skills and 16 dives.
For technical cave training going beyond the normal range of recreational diving you can do the PADI TecRec Full Cave Diver course.
How to Get to the Cenotes in Tulum
Some of the cenotes are very close on the main beach road and can be reached by walking from Tulum or renting a bicycle in town. If you dive with a dive operator in town they will take you with a jeep, if you want to go independent your options are using the public transport, by colectivo (minvan).
If you want to visit many cenotes the easiest way is definitely going to be to rent a car Rental Cars is a great service comparing all the main agencies.
Cenote Dos Ojos
Cenote Dos Ojos is one of the most popular cenotes to visit for the day in the Yucatan peninsula and is a fantastic dive site, it is also one of the largest underwater cave systems in Mexico, the whole cave system is at least 61 km long. Dos Ojos (two eyes in Spanish) refer to the two cenotes about 70m in diameter each, connected by a 400-meter long cavern.
The great visibility, lots of natural light and warm water at about 25C throughout the year makes the site perfect for great snorkeling.
Cenote Dos Ojos is easy to reach from the main holiday spots located just three kilometres off the Highway 307, 22 km north of Tulum and 50 km south of Playa del Carmen.
The cenote has good facilities, including bathrooms and changing rooms, as well as lockers for rental.
Life jackets are included in the price of the entrance ticket
Diving in Cenote Dos Ojos
- Average dive time – 45 min
- Dive Qualification – Openwater
- Max Depth – 10m
- Water temperature – 25C
- Visibility – 15m to 40m
- Entrance – Stairs, wooden deck, easy entrance
- Accessible from – Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Merida, Cancun
The Dos Ojos Cenotes are an amazing cavern diving site and is very popular receiving around a hundred visitors per day, many snorkelers. The average diving depth here is 5–7 meters (16–23 ft) so you can dive as long as your air allows. The majority of diving packages here include two dives in one day, 45 min to 1 hour each with an hour service interval. You only need an openwater qualification to do these spectacular cavern dives. We did two dives in this cenote diving both caverns, The Barbie line and The Bat Cave. These two caverns start and end in the same place but are very different from each other.
The Barbie line, it is a 500m circuit and containing plenty of daylight. It also gives divers a lot of space to swim around huge columns and stalactites. The light and beautiful scenery is very nice for taking photos.
The Bat cave is completely filled with bats above water. Diving the Bat Cave line feels almost like a cave. It is is very dark diving in some parts of this cavern due to the fact that it leads around an air filled bat cave with little daylight entering. You will need a torch to dive here!
The Dos Ojos underwater cave system was featured in the 2002 IMAX film “Journey into Amazing Caves” and the 2006 BBC/Discovery Channel series “Planet Earth” and parts of the Hollywood 2005 movie “The Cave” were filmed here.
Qualified cave divers do dives of many miles in the Dos Ochos cave system
Snorkeling in Cenote Dos Ojos
Dos Ojos is a fantastic spot for snorkeling, if you are not a diver, snorkeling here is an adventure not to miss! Snorkeling here can be done independent or guided. Snorkeling gear is for rent at Dos Ojos or you can take a guided snorkeling tour.
Snorkeling without a guide in Dos Ojos is primarily around the entrance of the cenote, the water here is a beautiful blue hue and very clear, but you will miss out on the whole cave snorkeling experience. Taking a guided snorkeling tour, you get a dive light and your guide can lead you through the dark caverns, showing you the bats, caves and awesome underwater scenery. A cenote snorkeling package usually include rental of a wetsuit, snorkeling gear, fins, transportation, beverages, flashlights, entrance fee and a guide.
Cenote The Pit
El Pit is a sinkhole inside the deep jungle near Tulum, it is a part of the Dos Ochos system. The incredible cenote is located about 22km from Tulum and 54km Playa del Carmen inside Dos Ojos Natural Park. The topography of the cenote explains the name. An amazing dive site, swimming is allowed, but facilities here are limited and the spectacular scenery underwater is what draws hundreds of tourists to this unreal place.
Diving Cenote El Pit
- Average dive time – 45 min
- Dive Qualification – Advanced
- Max Depth – 40m
- Water temperature – 25 – 27C
- Visibility – 25m to 40m
- Entrance – Stairs, easy entrance
Cenote el Pit is known as the “Dream Dive”. This unreal dive was definitely my favourite cenote and one of the most beautiful places that I have ever dived. It is a deep dive and an advanced qualification is required. Diving at El Pit divers usually descend to about 32m but a max depth for recreational divers of 40m is possible. An advanced qualification is thus necessary.
The Pit is located inside the Dos Ojos Park, drive past Dos Ojos to a parking area for The Pit. Registration is upon entrance, if diving with a diveshop they will register for you.
The absolute highlight of this dive are the rays of bright turquoise light that reach more than 30 meters straight down with what looks like unlimited visibility. You will need a sunny day for maximum sunlight diving this site. Diving in the morning is the best time for maximum light penetration into The Pit.
The Entrance to The Pit – The entrance to the cenote is a fairly small hole in the jungle floor, a cylindrical cavern with a diameter of about 10m. Climb down to the water and platform with a ladder, gear can be sent down. The cenote opens wider as you decend and at about 10m you can swim under the cavern roof with some stalactites.
The Halocline Layer – At about 10 to 12m you descend through a hazy halocline. Less dense fresh water from the land forms a layer over salt water from the ocean. The blurry interface layer, the halocline, results due to the varying index of refraction across the boundary.
The Hydrogen Sulfide Cloud – at around 26m you will descend through a 3 to 4m thick hydrogen sulfide cloud. The Hydrogen Sulfide is formed by organic material that decomposes at the bottom of the cenote. Tree branches piercing through this chemocline makes for a very unique dive with an eerie feeling. Good buoyancy control is necessary for this dive.
Technical Diving in The Pit
Deeper passages and caves in the cenote can be explored by technical divers with the appropriate qualifications. The Pit is 119 deep so there are caves to explore beyond the 40m floor of the cenote. At a depth of about 15m there is a cave splitting from the main cavern. This arm has a permanent line attached to the bottom, but exploring the cave is not allowed without appropriate qualifications.
Cenote Angelita “Little Angel” about 16 km from Tulum is located in the jungle and you have to walk on a jungle trail to reach the dive site. Lots of debris decomposing form a thick hydrogen sulfide that looks like an ‘underwater river’ of Hydrogen sulfide when diving and descending in the crystal clear top layer of fresh water. Little crocodiles that live here can sometimes be seen in this cenote!
Diving Cenote Angelita
- Average dive time – 45 min
- Dive Qualification – Advanced
- Max Depth – 35m
- Water temperature – 25C
- Visibility – 25m
- Entrance – Stairs, easy entrance
This cenote is about 60m deep but max depth for most divers is around 35m. Water crystal clear, about 20 to 30m visibility until you reach the famous hydrogen sulfur cloud at 25m about 3m thick. Salt water clear below the cloud, giant trees coming from the cloud, large stalagmite, some stalactites. Many interesting things to see diving here; some swim throughs, trees, branches.
Carwash Cenote, also known as Aktun Ha is located about 9km from Tulum. A popular cenote, with interesting life including little crocodiles sometimes present here. Usually not too busy, nice and peaceful pond in the jungle. The cenote gets its name from the fact that people loved to wash their cars here, located so close to the road, years ago. In the jungle, kids love swimming here and jumping from the platform into the water. Relatively shallow so great for snorkeling.
Diving Carwash Cenote
Shallow dive with bottom at 15m, good to do as a second dive in combination with deeper cenote like The Pit or Angelita. The opening of the cavern is partly covered by big trees and is nice to swim into. Nice light play in the cavern, stalactites and interesting rock formations. Many dead trees, covered in lilly pads, many small fish and even turtles and a crocodile with some luck.
Well rated accommodation with plenty of good reviews at good location.
Scuba Diving in Mexico
Scuba diving in Mexico there are three main attractions in the Riviera Maya and Cancun region of the Yucatan peninsula for more experienced divers. Diving with whale sharks, diving with bull sharks and cenote diving in the spectacular cave systems of the Yucatan peninsula. Diving with whale sharks and bull sharks are both season bound and unfortunately we were here out of season for diving with either.
We dived several places in Mexico, our favorite spot was diving in Xcalak near Belize with schools of massive Tarpons!
Diving in Mexico – seasons in the Yucatan Peninsula
- Whale sharks June – Sept
- Bull sharks Nov – Feb
- Cenotes Jan – Dec
Many dive locations are remote with minimal medical facilities. Accidents do happen, be prepared. Evacuation and decompression can be very expensive. World Nomads Diving Insurance
Going on a dive trip? – Dive Trip Packing List+Tips
More Stingy Nomads Dive Adventures
I have been traveling and diving around the world for 8 years now and my two favorite dive spots is Komodo National Park in Indonesia and Sipadan Island in Malaysia, see what makes these places so special.
In my opinion I think Indonesia is home to the best diving on the planet, check out our guide on Best Places to Dive in Indonesia. Bali is the most popular holiday and surf spot in this incredible island country, check out all the fantastic dive spots around Bali.
About Author – Campbell
The strong half of Stingy Nomads, a nomadic Aquaman that would be happy to spend all his life in the water diving, surfing and spearfishing but often has to compromise with Alya and go hiking instead. Campbell is responsible for all our marine adventures and following them with write-ups. He loves traveling, braai (BBQ in South Africa), red wine and spending the day in a wetsuit.
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