Riviera Maya Beach Trip: Snorkeling in Yucatan Cenotes

by Chris on August 18, 2010

Cenotes, essentially sinkholes filled with fresh water, are one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s best natural attributes where you can swim, dive, cave or – in this case – snorkel to the Caribbean Sea.

Snorkeling in the Cenote, Hacienda Tres Rios, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Mexico

I’m now convinced: A trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where Cancun and the Riviera Maya are located, is not complete without a swim in a refreshing cenote.

Say what? I’m talking about cenotes (pronounced say-NOH-tay), essentially sinkholes filled with water that go deep into the ground. Most contain fresh water and were used by the Mayans as a primary water source.

Kayaking through a Yucatan cenote, Hacienda Tres Rios, Riviera Maya, Mexico

Hacienda Tres Rios, which hosted me for a three-night stay, has 10 cenotes on its 326-acre property. Snorkeling, kayaking and swimming in the mangrove-shrouded pools is included in the price of the room (between $276 per person to $1,000, all-inclusive, depending on the season).

Don at the cenote, Hacienda Tres Rios, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Mexico

But you don’t have to stay at Tres Rios to find a cenote, as they are located all over the Yucatan Peninsula. Many are under caves, perfect for SCUBA divers and snorkelers to explore. And others are family friendly, with ropes hanging over them that children can hang on to as they swim. This article in the Playa Maya News has some good listings (prices may be outdated).

Cenote, Hacienda Tres Rios, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Mexico

I have to admit, I was a little worried when I saw my first cenote. It looked like a ladder leading into a swamp, quite frankly, and I worried that the water would be stale and murky. It turns out that the water in cenotes is usually some of the freshest around, and delightfully cool on a hot Mexican summer day.

At Tres Rios, they offer a snorkeling adventure where you start in a cenote, then swim down one of the resort’s three rivers toward the Caribbean Sea. The water in this particular cenote is a bit more brackish than most, as it connects with the ocean. They ask you to wear  a floatie for safety reasons.

Yucatan cenote, Hacienda Tres Rios, Riviera Maya, Mexico

(The guy checking out the water in the photo above is Craig of the blog, Stay Adventurous. True to his name, he leaped into the cenote with a huge splash).

We donned our gear and hopped in. Almost immediately, I started seeing fish on the cenote floor and others nibbling plankton near the mangrove roots. While they weren’t the brightly colored species that you’d find on a coral reef, these fish were interesting, primarily for their size – some were as long as my arm!

(I wish I had photos, but I forgot to charge my underwater camera battery, much to the dismay of my husband. As Craig said, “that’s a a rookie mistake.” Oh well. We all make them!”)

Snorkeling in the cenote, Hacienda Tres Rios, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Mexico

We let the current carry us downstream. Besides the large fish, we saw a massive blue crab and several schools of medium sized fish. I enjoyed floating and watching the sunbeams stream through the water. Others may get their spiritual fix through temazcales; for me, swimming peacefully down the river, the trees forming an arch above me, proved more mentally cleansing.

Yucatan cenote, Hacienda Tres Rios, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Mexico

When we reached the end, I didn’t want to get out. I was surprised at how close we had been to the resort, as I couldn’t hear a thing while we were on the river. My husband liked the almost instant access to a beach bar.

Where the cenote meets the sea, Hacienda Tres Rios, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Mexico

The tidepool between the river and the Caribbean provided a perfectly protected swimming area.

Cenote, Hacienda Tres Rios, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Mexico

Almost to a person, the bloggers on our trip ranked the cenote snorkel and river swim as one of their favorite activities. Unfortunately, the cenotes at Hacienda Tres Rios are just for guests. But if I go back to this area of Mexico in the future, I’m going to look into further cenote snorkeling opportunities around the coast. It’s one of the best ways to explore and appreciate the region’s natural attributes.

Read cenote stories and see pix from other bloggers on the trip! @Solotraveler, @LandLopers

Have you been to a cenote in Mexico? Which one and how was it?

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Michele in Playa August 19, 2010 at 10:06 am

Ahh!! Cenotes are one of my favorite things about the Riviera Maya. It’s the perfect place to spend a hot day! Great pics!


Chris August 19, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Cenotes… so that’s what they’re called. I’ve always wondered if they had a special name. Well I must say that Hacienda Tres Rios looks like an amazing place and if I ever head down to the Yucatan Peninsula I’ll look into staying there. At the very least I’ll go find some Cenotes to explore. 🙂


Barry Stepe August 31, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Great article on Cenotes. I went on a press trip to Yucatan years ago and got to experience an underground cenote where the kings used to bath. The roots from trees surrounding the circular “hole” in the rock ceiling drooped down about 30 feet into the water. Amazing Place!


Chris September 2, 2010 at 11:48 pm

Barry, if you can remember, let me know which cenote that was. I’d love to check out some different ones next time I go back down there. Thanks for commenting!


Craig Zabransky September 15, 2010 at 9:30 am

Wow, i do recall saying that… “rookie mistake,” it seems so harsh. Please know I did say it in jest (mostly). Plus, having an underwater camera is no rookie move at all (just the battery charging).

I agree there is a certain magic swimming the refreshing cenotes. And during my days in the Riviera Maya I was fortunate to swim in a few others outside HTR too. amazing. You can expect a Cenote week on my blog (next week). I look forward to sharing the photos and stories. Definitely a ‘must-do’ when heading to this part of Mexico.

stay adventurous, Craig


RumShopRyan September 21, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing. I can’t wait to visit that area of Mexico.



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