I could call this article “Diving the Cenotes of Tulum”..or “Playa Del Carmen” or “Cancun”..but the reality is the Cenotes are all over the dang peninsula. They’re like holes in the swiss cheese. The cool thing is, a lot of them are connected making cenote to cenote traverses a possibility. Doing a traverse would require actual “cave diving” though and is for highly experienced/certified cave divers.
Most people who visit the peninsula to dive the cenotes are actually “cavern diving”. Meaning that a light source/exit point is visible at all times. This is what we did and what I recommend. No course is required as long as you hire a guide and the only pre-requisite is very good buoyancy.
*if you want more freedom (and to save money) you should take the cavern diving course, then you could simply hire tanks and a pick up, and dive the sites with your buddy. If you want to learn to cave dive, then you need to take the Cavern course + a Cave course.
Just because you are doing the “easy” version of the experience doesn’t mean it’s not fascinating. I’ve dived Belize’s blue hole, with Thresher sharks on Monad Shoal, the Ghost Fleet of Chuuk Lagoon, and the Rainbow Warrior off New Zealand’s Coast. Diving these cenotes are one of the most unique diving experiences I’ve had so far. If you’re going to dive the Caribbean, don’t miss out on this.
Getting there is easy thanks to Cancun’s spring break popularity. Fly to Cancun, rent a car, and drive south.
The Cenotes are closest to Tulum, but Playa Del Carmen is a nicer place to stay in my opinion. In Playa Del Carmen, avenue 10 is the tourist street and the food here is most expensive. If you want cheaper options just go 1 or 2 blocks back to avenue 20 or 30 and the same food is cheaper. We stayed in the AirBnB Hacienda San Jose which had a pool, kitchen, and was close to everything. Very cheap too.
Hiring a Guide
It doesn’t really matter what dive shop you go to because it seems that all the guides freelance anyway. I guess pick the shop who has the best gear. We brought our own gear and dived with Cenote Experience because they were closest to our home. We were very pleased with our choice. They allowed us to pick what Cenotes we wanted to do (definitely go with a 3 dive day) based on our experience. We met up in the morning and jumped in a truck with A/C, it was only us and the guide. The shop loaded the truck with tanks, suits, and a cooler full of snacks and drinks. On the way to the first cenote we stopped to buy sandwiches (our lunch) and get some morning coffee.
“The Pit” and “Dos Ojos” in the Dos Ojos cave system is the primary cenotes that people go to, so we started there. The Dos Ojos system is one of the largest in the world with 51 miles of mapped cave length connected to 28 different cenotes.
“The Pit” is the deepest cave in the area at 391 ft. It’s not a straight drop from the surface though so don’t worry about a deflated BCD death. The cave descends at an angle below the 100 ft. marker along a mountain of rubble. During our dive we dropped straight to the top of the rubble mountain (our deepest depth) than slowly circled the cave as we came to the surface. We stopped by the underwater passage way that connects “the Pit” to “Dos Ojos” 1,500 meters away. With some proper cave training and a big set of balls you could traverse from the Pit to Dos Ojos in a matter of hours. In fact, that is how the pit was discovered, on a mapping trip from Dos Ojos.
“Dos Ojos” is fitted with a hand line system (like most other cenotes besides the pit) and to do a cavern dive you simply follow the hand line. Dos Ojos has 2 lines, the Barbie line and Batcave line, they are named accordingly, you’ll see. In Dos Ojos people usually do 2 dives, 1 on each line, but since we had good air consumption we knocked out both in 1 go.
“Dream Gate” a very shallow but stalactitey and picturesque dive. It’s shallow and the bottom is dusty so have good buoyancy or you’ll ruin every else’s dive.
“Taj Mahal” was my favorite site next to “the pit”. During a dive in Taj Mahal you will emerge inside 4 different Cenotes. Taj Mahal is not for people who have trouble equalizing because to get to all the different cenotes you frequently change depths between the 0- 30ft gap.
All the dives are shallow so dress for a 60+ minute dive. The water is around 70F. Our guide wore a semi dry suit. We shivered our way through in full body 2mm suits.
If you’re just diving the Cenotes, you could do this easily in a week or less. If you want to tack on seeing the ruins and some boat diving, then 2 weeks would be perfect.
What else to do?
Take the ferry over to Cozumel (from Playa del Carmen) for a day of diving. It’s a nice island, easy to get to, and the dive shop will pick you up from the ferry dock.
Check out all the Mayan Ruins. They are everywhere and if you rented a car for the trip (recommended) then it’s easy to hop around to see them all. Chitchen Itza was the most impressive. Tulum was worth the stop but very crowded. If you do go to Tulum, skip the bus ride to the ruins, it is less than a 1/4 mile walk.
Mahahual was a nice and quiet beach town. We spent a week here trying to get a boat ride out to Banco Chinchorro (a marine reserve) for some scuba diving. We heard good things about it and were willing to wait. The weather never cleared though so we’ll have to save that one for next time. Highly recommend this town though, much more pleasant beaches and less haggling than Playa Del Carmen, especially more so than Cancun.
We stayed at Hotel Arenas in Mahahual. This is the beach out front. It’s a gem.