Tulum is a Mexican town on the Caribbean coastline of the Yucatán Peninsula. We spent 4 days in this gorgeous area known for its beaches, well-preserved ancient Mayan ruins, and CENOTES!
There are over 3,000 unique cenotes throughout the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. A cenote is a freshwater filled Mexican sinkhole. The word Cenote is of Mayan decent originally called dzonot or ts’onot, meaning well. The cenotes played a crucial role in the development of the Mayan civilization as the main freshwater source inland. The cenotes are mostly found in the crater area that formed from the meteorite impact (the same meteorite responsible for the dinosaur extinction in this area).
The cenotes are great for swimming, diving, snorkeling and spotting wildlife! The extensive underground river systems, make this area of Mexico the best place to experience cave diving, snorkeling or other water activities!
Important Know Before You Go:
Keep in mind that most cenotes are swim at your own risk. If you are not a strong swimmer, it is recommended that you rent a life vest if available.
Mexican dive laws don’t necessarily align with other countries laws. Some cenote dives can be dangerous for inexperienced divers- dive your experience level, and if you feel you can’t dive, opt for snorkeling or swimming instead, like I did!
Do not wear sunscreen or insect repellant in the cenotes; the chemicals are damaging to aquatic life.
Bring cash to cover the entrance fees
Most cenotes are remotely located and can be difficult to get to. When you arrive, some may have limited or no concessions for food/drink so plan accordingly
Instagram Worthy Caleta Tankah
Caleta Tankah or the “secret cenote” was magical. The colors of the cenote are absolutely breathtaking. Maybe I’m a bit biased this being my first cenote encounter and all… but Caleta Tankah was my favorite cenote we visited.
Of the 6 travelers in our group four of them were certified while myself and one other were not. While the divers explored the cenotes below the 500 meters below the surface, I snorkeled around the surface! There wasn’t a ton of fish to see, but the rock formations above and below the surface were incredible.
Kayak at Casa Cenote
As with most cenotes, Casa Cenote offered scuba diving and snorkeling. But what the others didn’t have, this cenote did! This time as the diving crew submerged below the water, I kayaked! It was great, because the water is crystal clear and following them was easy.
Scuba Dive in Cenotes!
Until they would disappear under a mangrove. Keep an eye out for the local that lives at Casa Cenote, he’s adorable.
Family Friendly Grand Cenote
Located a short drive from Tulumthis popular cenote will amaze you. Contrary to it’s name, the Gran cenote is actually several cenotes connected by wooden walkways. The water is crystal clear and colorful! To keep it that way, they require everyone to rinse off in an outdoor shower before entering the cenote. This is a great family spot, as there are lots of green space and picnic areas.
Zip Line at Xunaan-Ha Cenote
For $100 pesos you can zipline yourself into this adventurous cenote until your hearts content. Xunaan-Ha cenote is located down a long bumpy dirt road in the small town of Chemuyil, just a short drive from Tulum or Playa Del Carmen. This cenote is not as crowded as the more popular surrounding cenotes such as the Gran.
High Dive at Car wash
The last and final dive the travel crew did was in the car wash cenote. We asked where the name came from… and it is exactly as it sounds. Due to its close proximity to the roadway- this cenote used to be used to wash the locals cars!
What cenotes did you explore on your Yucatan adventure?!
More importantly WE REALLY NEEDED A BEACH DAY. Our AirBnb host and locals that worked or lived in the building all recommended Caleta Tankah for the best beach day in the area. We decided to check it out for our first day in Tulum.
The Hotel and Beach Club, are on a National Park beach facing the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. More importantly, there are clean flush restrooms and changing areas in the Beach Club.
You pay a $15 usd entry fee that gets you a towel, access to the beach/cenote and Beach Club area where you can order drinks and food. We grabbed a tropical drink at the bar and headed out to the beach to claim some chairs with a shaded area before the shenanigans began.
Follow the signs to the Cenote…
Caleta Tankah or the “secret cenote” was magical. The colors of the cenote are absolutely breathtaking. Maybe I’m a bit biased this being my first cenote encounter and all… but Caleta Tankah was my favorite cenote we visited. Why Hello, Gorgeous.
Quintana Roo is a Mexican state within the Yucatán Peninsula. The state and the country Mexico in general typically get a bad rap from the American media stations. In fact, just days before my departure from Detroit to Cancun, there was a media story covering several brutal murders on the Cancun beach. My facebook feed BLEW UP with this story… friends warning me not to go to Mexico and to cancel my trip because of the danger.
It’s hard to ignore travel warnings your country is publishing, especially when most of your family and friends are encouraging you to stay home. But is home any safer? 7 days after our trip to Mexico, my friend landed home in Chicago. Home- during a stabbing incident at the Chicago airport that day. Despite the danger being very real and very near- Facebook stayed quiet.
My travels over the years have taught me that there are always multiple viewpoints to the story. I’m a firm believer in “not judging a book by its cover”, and applying that concept to life situations. Was I nervous for my first adventure to Mexico? Hell yes! I could feel that scratchy feeling of uneasiness you get when you’re about to step out of your comfort zone. Experience has taught me- the uneasiness will go away, replaced by the wonder and awe that is travel.
Adventure with me to the Caribbean coastal towns of Mexico as I spend 7 Days in Quintana Roo!
Spend 2 Days in Cancun
What To Do:Head to the north side of the hotel zone and spend the day beach hopping down to the Caribbean side. There are 11 public beaches within the hotel zone, each unique, but all offering warm turquoise colored water along white sand.
We spent one full day in Cancun at the end of our trip with nothing planned. We enjoyed wandering the markets and exploring, but wish we would have done a water activity. Next time we come back we plan to rent jet skis, or paddleboards to explore the area further.
Transportation:We flew in and out of the Cancun Airport, giving us a full day to explore the Caribbean version of Las Vegas. Renting a car in Mexico can get tricky with insurance, some rental centers require high deposits up to $2,500 usd. Do your homework on how insurance works in Mexico prior to arrival. My recommendation if you’re traveling in the off season as we were- wait until you’re at the airport to book your rental car. The rental companies at the airport will have more competitive pricing opportunities then you will find online and will negotiate with you. Have them explain the two different insurance options to you before you agree to rent with them.
Where To Eat: Quieres un, café?Brunch at the delicious Café Huayacán. This was a great first stop for coffee and food after leaving the airport before heading into the hotel zone. The adorable coffee shop had a huge menu of pasteles, and traditional Mexican dishes ranging from sweet crepes to savory huevos ranchero. We had a tough time choosing, so we ordered both (plus a chilaquiles verdes con pollo).
Where To Stay:Our last night in Mexico we spent at an AirBnb listed as “Breathtaking Caribbean Sea View”. Well, the view was just that, putting us right in the center of the Hotel Zone. We stayed in the Hotel Zone to be close to the beach but not too far from the airport for our early flight.
Notice the “red tide” or mounds of decaying algae in my Cancun beach photos…Scientists have warned that the algae are a grave new threat to the Caribbean, not just Cancun. In the open ocean the algae support birds and other sea life. But when washed ashore, as they start to decay they become an environmental nightmare. The decaying algae, emit hydrogen sulfide fumes that kills fish, coral and sea grass. Still don’t care?
It also causes headaches and nausea in people- especially those that must clean it each morning before the tourists arrive. When not cleared, the algae becomes piled high blocking endangered sea turtles from reaching the shore to lay their eggs. Oh, and if the ugly, decaying man caused algae wasn’t bad enough- it also prevent the baby sea turtles from migrating to the ocean once hatched. This issue was seen across the region, as we journeyed south. East-facing beaches were the hardest hit, due to ocean currents. Each city we explored during the week as well as Cozumel and Playa del Carmen has been flooded with the red tide. Climate change and human pollution near the shores around the globe has made this red tide outbreak the worst in history.
Day Trip to Akumal
Akumal is a small carribean community known for its sea turtles! Spend a day swimming with Sea Turtles in Akumal. The town is just a short drive from Playa del Carmen or Tulum making for an easy day trip. You can see the sea turtles on your own or take a guided tour. We decided to try our luck and to explore on our own. Vendors will try and tell you that you MUST join a tour/wear a life vest to see the turtles- this is not true. There are roped off buoyed areas protecting major turtle feeding areas; if you stay inside the designated swim areas you can explore on your own as we did.
My recommendation would be to arrive at the beach early, the visibility in the water goes down as people swim throughout the day and stir up the sand. I would recommend not going through a guided tour and arrive to the beaches early for your best chances to see some turtles.
Make sure each person has their own mask/snorkel if you choose to search for turtles on your own. Our group had two snorkels/masks for 6 people to share, and only a few of us were able to spot some turtles. There are plenty of vendors along the town center that sell masks and snorkels for your convenience.
Spend 4 Days in Tulum
Along the Caribbean coast, the town of Tulum offers seaside Mayan ruins to explore, sandy beaches for relaxing and undersea caves for diving. September is the birth month of my two favorite traveling partners. My best friend Grace, and my boyfriend Logan both celebrate birthdays, just two days apart. This year was a big one for Grace as she turned the big 3-0. Logan would like for me not to mention his new age (it’s old people 😊).
What To Do: Explore the many cenotes! A cenote is a freshwater filled Mexican sinkhole. The word Cenote is of Mayan decent originally called dzonot or ts’onot, meaning well. The cenotes played a crucial role in the development of the Mayan civilization. There are over 3,000 unique cenotes throughout the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. The cenotes are mostly found in the crater area that formed from the meteorite impact (the same meteorite responsible for the dinosaur extinction in this area). The cenotes are great for swimming, diving, snorkeling and more! The extensive underground river systems, make this area of Mexico the best place to experience cave diving.
Go Scuba Diving in a Cenote
Logan received his PADI certification just weeks before our Mexico departure! Dos Ojos was unanimously the favorite dive of the group. Noted as “The World’s BestCavern Dives.” The name Dos Ojos translates to “two eyes” and refers to two nearby cenotes that connect by a massive underwater cave system that is shared between the two. The two caverns start and end in the same place but are two very different dives. The first dive is 500 meters (1,600 feet) along The Barbie Line and leads divers along the opening of the second eye with plenty of daylight to see the stalactites. The second dive is along The Batcave Line and is a much darker route with little to no daylight entering the cave system during the dive. Divers will ascend up the cave to an open air pocket filled with bats flying everywhere!
*They also dove in casa cenote and the car wash cenote. Check out my post on 6 Must See Cenotes Here!
Best Tacos: Las Antorcha Food Truck; location varies
Instagram Worthy: Kin Toh; Mayan-Mexican cuisine in a tree house venue offering guests an experience they’re sure to remember. From the time you enter the restaurant until the time you leave, every one of your senses will be interacted with. Make reservations in advance, $$$$$
Best Ocean View: Mezzanine; Authentic Thai and casual beach menu includes a legendary Happy Hour if you’re looking for a boozey brunch on the beach.
Where To Stay:We spent four nights in a jungle paradise we discovered on AirBnb.The three bed three bath penthouse came with a private rooftop pool.
Check out AirBnb for other amazing places to stay, and enjoy jungle views! New to AirBnB? Click here for $40 usd towards your first trip!