While planning my trip to Merida, Mexico, the number one thing I wanted to do was swim in cenotes. I’d seen gorgeous photos of the crystal-clear, underground pools of water, with tree roots and jungle vines hanging around, and just HAD to swim in one. Luckily, there are dozens of cenotes near Merida and some of the best ones were just an hour’s drive away, in the town of Cuzama.
After some research about how to get there, I pulled on my swimsuit and hopped on a collectivo that was headed to the cenotes in Cuzama. It wasn’t until the end of my adventure that I realized I had been dropped off at a lesser-known site and, along with the two awesome bloggers from Feather and the Wind, had an incredible time! If you’re looking to visit some fantastic cenotes near Merida, you should definitely check out the four cenotes on the X’tohil Ecotour.
Why choose X’tohil?
Before the collectivo even reached the town of Cuzama, the van stopped and the driver called out “Cenotes!” Now, I wasn’t 100% sure where exactly I was supposed to get off the bus, but this seemed like the right place. It turned out that the site was not the place I had intended to visit, but was, instead, just as exciting and less busy. It was like fate played a role in my adventure. What are the odds that three bloggers with an online presence would accidentally end up at a new business offering tours of four cenotes near Merida, in competition with another cenote tour that had been heavily written about by other bloggers? I strongly believe that we were meant to visit X’tohil and share our experience with others.
Aside from the fact that my adventure with X’tohil was totally meant to be, I also have to highlight the warm hospitality that was shown to us during our tour. The people that work here genuinely want you to have a good time and learn about the cenotes in the area. The price for the tour was fair, we never felt rushed at each cenote, and I felt completely comfortable leaving my backpack under their watchful eye while I swam. They even called in advance to get our ride back to Merida, which saved us from having to wait alongside the road in the heat for any random ride to pass by.
Even though our guide only spoke Spanish, and I could pick up about half of what he was saying, I could tell he felt truly passionate about the land and about keeping it safe for people to enjoy for years to come. While I can’t compare the quality of service to the other cenote tours in Cuzama, I can say that I felt so welcome and safe with the X’tohil guides and highly recommend choosing to explore the cenotes with them.
How to get to X’tohil Cenotes Cuzama
Getting to X’tohil Cenotes is easier than I thought it would be. I had originally planned on taking a second-class bus to the town of Cuzama to get to the cenotes I’d originally researched. But on my walk there, a collectivo driver asked if I was headed to Cuzama, and I ended up taking his collectivo there. Going that route ended up saving me a bit of money and taking me to even better cenotes! Probably the one and only time that getting into a stranger’s van will ever turn out so well. If you’re also traveling to the cenotes from Merida, Mexico, here are your best options for getting there.
There are lots of places around Merida where you can rent a car. You can choose to rent for your entire stay, or just for the day. The drive from Merida’s city center is about 43 kilometers and should be just under an hour. If you use Google Maps to navigate, you can find the cenotes under “Parador Turistico X’Tohil” with the address: Carretera Yucatán 10 144 Km. 12.5, Cuzamá, Yuc., Mexico.
If you want to use a collectivo like I did, you can find them across from the Noreste bus station on Calle 67 and 50. The collectivos don’t have a set schedule and will only leave when full, so get there early in case you have to wait. Find the one headed to Cuzama, and ask the driver to drop you off at X’tohil cenotes. The collectivo should cost you 27 pesos one-way.
The Four Cenotes
The X’tohil cenote ecotour will take you to four different cenotes. They have constructed a small rail system between the cenotes, and you ride on a small cart pulled by horse to each one. The first cenote we visited was a fantastic introduction to cenotes in Mexico. We pulled up to a big hole in the earth, and looking inside only revealed darkness. Going down the steep stairway into the hole revealed a whole different world, with some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen. You could see way down to the deep bottom, and even some fish swimming around.
The second cenote is like a two-for-one special! This cenote was inside a larger cave, which let in more light, but also more birds and bugs. The water inside was not as clean and clear, so we opted not to swim here. But once inside the cave, there is a small bridge that leads you further inside. Here is another small pool of water with insanely clear water, but again we chose not to swim due to the cave’s lighting flickering on and off like a strobe light.
The third cenote was possibly my favorite. Climbing down the ladder, we discovered that this cenote had a long rope swing that allowed you to gain momentum in the air before splashing down into the cool water. My sad amount of upper body strength was definitely put to the test, and I got a delicious combo of rope burn/bruise on my inner thighs, but it was so worth it!
The fourth and final cenote requires just a little bit more of a thrill-seeking attitude. The stairs into the cave are very rugged, made with long tree branches rather than actual steps. The cenote inside is a bit smaller, but still quite beautiful.
What to know before visiting
Because I wasn’t quite sure how my Mexico cenote adventure was going to play out, this was the kind of trip that required an open mind and a go-with-the-flow attitude. But now that I’ve experienced the cenotes of X’tohil, there are some things that would be good for others to know before they visit.
- Cost – The cost for X’tohil’s cenote ecotour is 400 pesos (around $20USD) per cart, and each cart can hold 4 people. I suggest joining a small group if you’re a solo traveler, to help split the cost.
- Bathrooms/Changing Rooms – At the time of writing, the facilities at X’tohil are minimal. The toilet is very basic and located in a small concrete shelter without a door. This is also where you can change into your swimwear.
- Horse Conditions – It’s unfortunate, but standards of animal care in Mexico are not the greatest. The horses that are used to pull the carts to the cenotes are pretty skinny. There’s no other way to see the cenotes than the horse carriage, so consider bringing them some carrots to snack on!
- Swimming – There are no official lifeguards at the cenotes, so you will need to be a decent swimmer to enjoy them. Some cenotes start shallow, but quickly deepen. The cenote with the rope swing is very deep, and there is not really a place to rest once in the water.
- Parking – If you’ve rented a car to drive to the cenotes, you’ll be glad to know that X’tohil offers free parking and a large area to leave your car.
- Snack shop – There is also a small shop in the parking lot, where you can purchase from a limited selection of drinks and chips, and relax after your cenote tour.
- Spanish – Most of the tour guides speak limited English. However, if you have a decent grasp of Spanish you’ll be able to understand a good amount of the tour.
What to bring to the cenotes
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- Swimsuit – You can probably still swim in the cenotes in your clothes, but it’s best to have a modest swimsuit with you.
- Swimsuit cover – Riding in between the cenotes will be a bit more comfortable wearing some kind of cover-up over your suit.
- Towel – Bringing a towel will help dry off in between the cenotes. I recommend bringing a quick-drying microfibre towel, like this one.
- Water shoes – The ladders and stairs down to the cenotes can be a bit rickety. In addition, the cenotes themselves can be pretty rocky on the bottom. Wearing water shoes/sandals can help. My Teva sandals worked perfectly!
- Waterproof photography – If you want to take any photos in or under the water, you’ll want waterproof camera gear. I like to bring my underwater digital camera, and a dry-sleeve for my phone. If you don’t plan on taking these kinds of photos though, don’t worry about having to waterproof all your gear. There will be dry spaces to keep your belongings.
- Small Backpack – Having a backpack to carry around your things will make life a lot easier! I clipped a carabiner onto mine and it helped in some of the cenotes where there isn’t much space to put your things. I love bringing my packable backpack from Eddie Bauer, so I can fold it up and put it away when I’m not using it.
- Sunblock – Just because you’re spending a good amount of time underground, doesn’t mean you are free of the sun’s potent rays. Bringing a biodegradable sunblock like this one is a great way to protect your skin and keep the cenote water clean and clear!
- Bug Spray – If there are two things that mosquitos love, it’s water and warmth. Cenotes have that magical combo, so there’s about a 99.999% chance you’ll encounter some on your tour.
- Life vest – If you’re not the best swimmer, or you’re bringing your kiddos along with you to the cenotes, I’d recommend bringing a life vest. This way you can enjoy the cenotes without worrying about your swimming skills.
Other cenotes near Merida
There are currently 2,400 known cenotes on the Yucatan peninsula. Some are even located right in the city of Merida. However, these are not ones that you can swim in. If you’re staying in Merida and thinking about visiting some cenotes, there are many to choose from. The ones in Cuzama make a popular day trip, and are fairly easy to access via public transportation. Aside from X’tohil, there is another tour in Cuzama that will take you to three other cenotes. You can read more about them here.
Another cenote that makes a great day trip from Merida is Cenote Xlacah, which is located in the Dzibilchaltún ruins. You can easily pair an afternoon of exploring these ruins and swimming in the cenote. This is another site that’s fairly easy to reach via public transportation, but you only get to visit one cenote.
If you have a rental car and want to pack your Merida travel itinerary with other cenotes near Merida, here are a few more you may want to visit:
- Cenote Xbatun – San Antonio Mulix, Mexico (46.2 km from Merida city center)
- Cenote Dzonbacal – San Antonio Mulix, Mexico (46.4 km from Merida city center)
- Cenote Sambula – Motul, Mexico (47.4 km from Merida city center)
- Cenote Santa Rosa – Homún, Mexico (49.3 km from Merida city center)
- Cenote Yax Bacaltun – Homún, Mexico (52.5 km from Merida city center)
- Cenote Canunchen – Homún, Mexico (55 km from Merida city center)
Swimming in cenotes is definitely a must-do while in Merida. If it’s a hot day and you’re looking for a fun adventure, I highly recommend this ecotour with X’tohil! If needed, you can find a bit more information on their Facebook page. or check out this awesome video made by the other bloggers who did the tour with me.
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