Since we started our scuba journey in Thailand years ago, we've continually explored new diving destinations and honed our skills. We've compiled a bucket list of must-visit diving spots along the way. Honestly, when I first saw a photo of a diver in a cenote on Instagram, I was captivated and immediately started my research. It didn't take long before diving into cenotes was added to our bucket list. At first, I found only general information about cenote diving in Mexico, which needed to be more detailed. It wasn't until we travelled to the Yucatan Peninsula, started conversations with local dive centres, and actually dived in the cenotes, that I truly understood what skills we need. If you're interested in cenote diving and wondering where to start and what to expect, this post will share everything you need to know. You can also watch our cenote diving video on YouTube.

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What are cenotes?

Cenotes are natural sinkholes, they are formed when the limestone bedrock collapses and exposes the groundwater beneath. Recent discoveries confirmed that many cenotes are interconnected below the surface forming a vast underground river system. Their creation dates back millions of years, and they were considered sacred by the ancient Maya, who believed cenotes were portals to the underworld and used them for various rituals, including offerings to the gods.

Garden of Eden cenote near Playa del Carmen in Mexico

There are around 8,000 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula, all of them are private property and have different owners, and each owner decides which services to offer to visitors. 

Do you need to be a cave diver for cenote diving?

Diving in cenotes does not necessarily require cave diving certification, since it is mostly cavern diving.  If you're not familiar with the differences between cavern diving and cave diving, let me explain briefly.

The differences between cave diving and cavern diving

Diving in cenotes in Mexico

Cavern diving refers to diving in a natural overhead environment within 60 meters (200 feet) of the light zone or the entrances. The maximum depth allowed in cavern diving is 30 meters (100 feet). Cavern diving is basically recreational diving and only needs the basic Open Water certification.

Cave diving, on the other hand, involves exploring deeper and beyond the reach of natural light, requiring advanced training and certification due to the technical challenges and increased risks. Cave divers use specialised equipment to navigate complex passages and manage potential hazards in complete darkness. Cave diving is considered a form of technical diving.

What qualification do you need for scuba diving in cenotes?

Not all cenotes are the same. It might come as a surprise that you can dive at some cenotes with just an Open Water certification, but definitely not all of them. To be able to dive in some cenotes, you are required to have at least an Advanced Diving certification and have completed at least 50 dives. When we first went to Mexico to dive in cenotes, we had about 40 dives in our log book, but since we had experience with deep and wreck diving in the Philippines and some cavern diving in the Dominican Republic, we were allowed to dive. I understand why some dive centres won't let you dive if you don't have enough experience. You should be able to manage your buoyancy and movement in tight spaces.

Things to know about diving in cenotes

The best time for cenote diving

Unlike ocean diving, which can be highly seasonal, cenote waters maintain a consistent temperature and clarity throughout the year. This makes them an excellent diving destination any time you choose to visit. And let's not forget, the Yucatan is always warm, so even if you don't want to dive, you can enjoy swimming in the cenotes all year round.

Things to see in cenotes

Cenotes offer the extraordinary opportunity to dive through caves and caverns that have been shaped over thousands of years. These underwater structures feature dramatic stalactites and stalagmites, creating surreal landscapes vastly different from oceanic or other freshwater dives.

However, this doesn't mean there is a lack of marine life in cenotes. Each cenote has its own unique ecosystem. Certain species like the blind brotula and pale catfish are common inhabitants across various cenotes, others such as crocodiles, cenote shrimp, and turtles can also be found in some cenotes.

The visibility in cenotes

The water in cenotes is naturally filtered through limestone, which removes particulates and results in some of the clearest waters found anywhere in the world. In some cenotes, visibility can reach up to 100 meters, allowing divers to see stunning details of the underwater landscape. This exceptional clarity not only enhances the diving experience but also makes for spectacular photography opportunities.

Visibility is cenotes can reach up to 100 m

In some cenotes, you might encounter a halocline, where fresh water and salt water meet. This natural phenomenon creates a visually striking effect, where everything appears blurry due to the mixing of the two different types of water. During my dives, I've noticed this firsthand. As we passed through the halocline, I could feel the warmer salt water rising from below, contrasting sharply with the colder fresh water above. 

Water temperature in cenotes 

The water in cenotes typically maintains a constant temperature of around 24-26°C (75-79°F). While this might feel refreshing, especially on a hot day, the cooler temperatures can feel quite chilly during extended periods underwater. Due to the water temperature, the most common choice among divers is to wear a full 5mm wetsuit. Since our wetsuit is just 3mm, we had to put on a layer to stay warm during the dive. If you still think you might feel cold, you can wear a wetsuit hood but you definitely don’t need a drysuit to dive in cenotes

Swimmers and snorkelers often find it comfortable to enter the water in just their swimwear due to the relatively warm air temperatures. However, adding an extra can be beneficial for staying warm during longer periods in the water.

What equipment to bring for cenote diving

two divers using torch in a cenote in Mexico

Diving in cenotes, while breathtaking, requires specific equipment to ensure both safety and enjoyment. I have already discussed the necessary certifications and the appropriate wetsuit. Now, let's talk about the weights. When diving in cenotes, you are in freshwater, which means you will need less weight than you typically use in the ocean. It’s crucial to adjust your weight system accordingly to maintain proper buoyancy control.

You will also definitely need a diving torch for cenote diving. If you don’t have one, don’t worry, you can rent one from any local dive centre. 

While rental options are readily available, using personal gear, such as masks and fins, that you're already comfortable with can significantly enhance your diving experience. For instance, I have been using the ProShot Tidal Mask, which is equipped with advanced anti-fog technology, ensuring a clear and fog-free diving experience. This familiarity and reliability can make a substantial difference in both comfort and visibility while exploring cenotes.

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Where to stay for scuba diving in cenotes

Beach in Mexico

When planning a scuba diving trip to explore cenotes in Mexico, choosing the right place to stay is crucial for convenience and access to the best dive sites. During our one-month trip, we stayed in various locations around the Yucatan Peninsula, particularly in areas around Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Cancun. Here’s a guide to where you might consider staying based on proximity to popular cenotes and quality dive services:


Tulum is not only a beautiful beach destination but also a prime location for accessing some of the most famous cenotes. With a range of accommodations from eco-friendly boutique hotels to luxury resorts, Tulum offers a tranquil base close to cenotes like Gran Cenote, Cenote Calavera, and Dos Ojos. 

beautiful sandy beach in Tulum

Besides being close to numerous renowned cenotes, Tulum is also rich in Mayan culture and has beautiful beaches, making it a perfect spot for relaxation after a day of diving. 

Tulum offers a mix of boutique hotels, adult-only hotels and eco-resorts. Many of these are dive-friendly and can arrange tours or provide information about local diving operations. 

Where to stay in Tulum

For a luxurious eco-friendly experience: Papaya Playa Project

For an all-inclusive family-friendly resort: Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa

For a cosy  boutique hotel: Hotel Boutique TerraNova

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen in Mexico

Playa del Carmen is one of the best places in the Yucatán Peninsula for scuba diving. Here, not only do you have access to spectacular cenotes such as Chac Mool, Taj Maha, and the Garden of Eden, but you're also a short ferry ride away from Cozumel, renowned for its world-class reef diving. Plus,  Playa del Carmen is a vibrant town with a lively nightlife, great restaurants, and shops, providing plenty of entertainment options.

Playa del Carmen offers a wide range of options from luxury resorts to affordable guesthouses. 

For an all-inclusive adult-only: Royal Hideaway Playacar

For a a luxurious experience: Platinum Yucatan Princess

For an authentic experience: Hacienda Maria Bonita Hotel