I was determined to give the kids the best experience while in Mexico during our port stop with Carnival Cruise. The Carnival crew advised an organised Carnival tour was the best option for experiencing the cenotes near Playa del Carmen and given time constraints it is really the only option for a cenote visit.
That made the decision very easy, we would stick with the Carnival organised tour and have a stress free day. Our Carnival Cruise was docked off shore near the island of Cozumel, Mexico. This was our third and final stop before heading back to New Orleans. Our 7 day Western Caribbean Carnival Cruise had first stopped at Ocho Rios in Jamaica and Grand Cayman Island.
What is a cenote
A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. The water is often very clear, as the water comes from rain water filtering slowly through the ground, and therefore contains very little suspended particulate matter.
We boarded the tender that took us from the ship to the dock at Playa del Carmen, bypassing Cozumel altogether. From there we piled off the boat and along the dock to a waiting bus. We had 5 mins to have a look around and while I was having my photo taken we captured a young boy approximately 10 years old attempting to pick my pocket. What an introduction to Mexico! Luckily I had just taken my phone out of my back pocket and had placed it in my backpack.
We loaded onto the bus and headed off to the best Cenotes near Playa del Carmen which took about an hour to. On arrival we were presented with a welcome platter of fresh fruit, the kids hoovered that down! We then hired a couple of snorkels to share and off we went.
The best Cenote near Playa del Carmen
Due to the distance and the fact we had to cover 4 different Cenotes, the tour leader set a cracking pace so that we could maximise our time at each Cenote. I preferred this as we only had a very short time frame and I would hate to miss one of them because we were spending too long at another. We visited 4 and they all had a different activity.
Cenote La Cueva (the cave)
First up let’s challenge ourselves! Named after its natural arch, it has refreshing waters for swimming. The good thing about having kids, is they always want to go first on everything! This Cenote had a zip line across where you zipped out to the middle and dropped into the cenote. Sounds fun right, until you get out to the middle then realise it’s quite a drop!
Keira went first, although Alannah got up there but when it came to the crunch deferred to her little sister. Keira went out to the middle and promptly dropped into the Cenote. Same with Caelan, out he goes, lets go into the water. Then its Alannah’s turn! Out she zips and……. just hangs….! It felt like forever, we were all calling out to her, just drop Alannah, you can’t go back there’s only one way! We were all laughing and she was hanging for what felt like an eternity! After a long wait she eventually squealed and let go!
We all had a turn and I have to admit, when I got to the middle I did hold on a little longer than I should have! It was much higher than I had anticipated and I had to take a deep breath before letting go. The water in the Cenotes is a beautiful deep blue and crystal clear that you could see all the way to the rocky bottom and it was relatively deep water, deep enough to pin drop into!
Kay is a Mayan word for fish and this cenote was known for it’s small schools of cleaner fish. This swimming hole had a number of ledges and caves to swim into. The water was clear and deep blue and it was lovely to have a float around in. The kids and Craig of course had to make a grand entrance, jumping in from one of the above ledges.
A hole had been cut into the roof of the cave and you can swim under the ledge of the cenote and look up out through the hole to the beautiful blue sky. This cenote was most notably a sink hole, we had to climb into it and you could easily see the edges of there the sink hole had dropped into the ground. There was no fencing around and the water was pretty deep in places with a rocky bottom.
You could see the fish swimming around and if you put your snorkel on and swam around you could easily see loads of them swimming below. If you sat still long enough, the fish would actually come and nibble softly on your toes, it’s known for it’s schools of small cleaner fish and amazing natural light effects. The water is a little deep so if you are not a confident swimmer make sure you grab one of the life vests provided at each cenote. You do have to leave them at the place you found them and then grab another one at the next cenote. They are available for use at all 4 for anyone who wants them.
Cenote Naval looks more like a large lake, its the largest open cenote on the Yucatan Peninsula. There is a large zip line that goes across the cenote from one side to the other and you’ll zip line between the timber towers. As per usual the kids took off to the front of the line and I was a bit blasé to what was going on up the front. After Keira had gone, someone else on the tour said to me are you alright with the kids doing this? Alannah was already harnessed up and was about to go, Keira was already on the other side. We had zip lined before in Cambodia so I was cool with it.
Until I realised what was going on at the top! On the way in we were instructed to grab a harness and a large stick, kind of like a V shape stick with one side a little longer. I didn’t realise at the time that the stick was the brake for the zip line. By the time I got to the top and realised there was no safety latch on the zip line and only the stick for the brake, the kids were already on the other side! When we zip lined in Cambodia we had safety latches and were double latched on every platform. I assumed it would be the same here, lesson learnt, check it out before you through your kids on as guinea pigs!
I was a bit uncoordinated with the stick so it didn’t really work that well for me, meaning I nearly cleaned up the fella at the other end, all good though! This one was much higher than the Cenote La Cuera so I’m happy we didn’t have to drop in on this one. You are also able to go canoeing on this cenote, exploring the hidden channels and floating gardens but we were running short on time and gave that a miss so that we didn’t miss the last cenote.
Known locally as the blue cenote for its clarity and tonality of the water, this is also similar to Cenote Kay where it so obviously has sunk into the ground. The kids spent the whole time launching themselves of the rugged edge into the sparkle azul blue waters below.
The water here was also crystal clear blue, you could see the bottom and the water was very deep. The cenote is surrounded by lush green jungle and it feels like you are swimming in a beautiful fresh waterhole. There a timber platform that ensure easy entry and exit from the cenote. Underneath the ledges you can see the roots of the trees which dip through the above ledge into the water.
Traditional Mayan Lunch
After you have visited the 4 cenotes, you are taken to the outdoor kitchen and served a traditional Mayan lunch. The food was delicious and the kids couldn’t get enough of it the soft tortilla tacos. There was a choice of pork, chicken or fish tacos and the soft tortillas were cooked on site in the pottery oven that resembled a pizza oven. After the delicious tacos there was a variety of fresh tropical fruit which the kids hoovered down in a split second.
The food was so good, the kids are still talking about it today. The tacos were light and fresh and just how you would expect them to be in Mexico. I mostly want to return to Mexico to eat everything, I’d use the same strategies to avoid getting sick in Mexico as we do when we travel in Asia, however there wasn’t one Mexican meal we had while in the USA that wasn’t amazing.
Our Verdict on the best Cenote near Playa del Carmen
This was by far my favourite tour, I had been told about cenotes but hadn’t been to one before. When I decided on a cruise this was the tour I decided we would definitely be doing no matter the cost. I knew the kids would enjoy it and definitely put them out of their comfort zone and challenge them.
Having travelled the USA through the winter, we were very much looking forward to throwing on our bathers and soaking up some sun. The weather was great and about 28 degrees so not too hot or too cold. It was nice to get out and have a swim and do something challenging together. This is definitely not the tour to do independently, I’m glad we booked through the Carnival Cruise shore excursions team and we could just kick back and enjoy the day and have nothing to stress about, other than launching my kids off a semi safe zip line! But hey I didn’t know at the time and no one was hurt making this blog post!
I highly recommend doing this tour if you are in Playa del Carmen. I would definitely do it again and I was proud that my crazy kids didn’t bat an eyelid and did every activity. There were a few people there looking at me probably thinking I was crazy let those kids do those zip lines! They were the only kids in the group and they provided quite a bit of entertainment for all the adults. They will always remember all the fun things and experiences we had while on holidays.
Have you been to the Cenotes in Mexico? Tell me about your experience in the comments below.
Sal, Craig & Our3kids