Cenote Dos Ojos

Mexico’s Cenotes: Located In My Backyard

Derek Mexico 56 Comments

Cenote Dos Ojos

What does a person do when standing at the edge of a frigid pool of water, watching their friends jump, one after the other into that very pool? And what happens when these ‘friends’ begin yelling out insults once they surface, taunting the only person not willing to take the plunge?

Last week, I was that person as I stood, for a long time, at the edge of Cenote Eden, unwilling to budge.

If you’re not familiar with a cenote, they are basically sinkholes filled with groundwater that are connected to larger bodies of water that lie deep underground. They come in several forms including large open pools, small pools half-covered by a rocky roof and even massive underground cave systems full of stalagmites and stalactites.

And it just so happens to be that, stretching both north and south from Playa del Carmen, Mexico, lies an area full of these cenotes. Some are located only a short distance from the edge of the road and others require a 30 minute drive through the jungle along a bumpy dirt path in order to find them.

Here’s another photo of a cenote to give you a better idea:

Cenote Eden Mexico 3

So, back to the story. What did I do upon hearing the insults of my friends as I stood there at the water’s edge of Cenote Eden?

After a lengthy internal debate about whether or not to join the others, a debate in which I determined that jumping into an active volcano crater seemed infinitely more appealing to me (unfortunately there was no active volcano nearby), I eventually took five large steps back away from the edge followed by an uncomfortably deep breath. And then, after counting to three, I ran towards the water…

Upon reaching the edge I closed my eyes, lifted my arms into the air and then…I stopped running, sat down on the ground, dangled my feet in the water for a few minutes and finally began the torturous process of lowering myself ever so gently into the icy pool.

When it comes to cold water – and by ‘cold’ I am referring to any water with a temperature less than 80 F / 27 C – I normally stay away, far away. My body simply can’t handle it. It’s not only unenjoyable, it’s actually painful for me to be swimming around while shivering and convulsing as my body tries to figure out how to handle the sensation of cold.

However, on this particular day, it didn’t take long for me to realize that this was a unique occasion. Turning down an opportunity to swim in one of Mexico’s cenotes would simply be foolish, especially when everyone else in the group was happily jumping in the water, swimming through the caves, admiring the marine life that swam around them and continuing to throw insults in my direction.

Eventually, into the water I went.

And yes, I survived.

For anyone who has visited a cenote, I’m confident you will agree that the experience can really be quite therapeutic. In what way exactly, I’m not too sure, but there’s no denying that the clean, calm, crystal-clear waters and the typically wild jungle settings of these sinkholes and caves lead visitors into a most peaceful state of mind. I certainly felt this peacefulness, even if for only a brief moment and despite what I swear were icicles forming on the end of my nose. (My friends told me it was just a leaf but what do they know?)

It turned out to be this peaceful state of mind that I felt while shivering in the waters of Cenote Eden that convinced me to also go for a swim at Cenote Dos Ojos (Two Eyes), the second cenote we visited that day. And, if you can believe this, not only did I also take a dip in the cavernous cenote known as El Cristalino (The Crystal) later that afternoon, I even took a running start and leaped right in.

Here’s the proof:

Cenote Cristalino Mexico

Surprisingly, that wasn’t so painful after all. I wasn’t about to jump in again but I’m glad I did it that once.

So with that said, I hope this post may act as further evidence that there is even more to Playa del Carmen than hotels, tourist bars, good Wi-fi, divine tostadas and the white sand beaches that act as this town’s front yard. Now you know about the dozens upon dozens of cenotes waiting to be explored that fill the backyard as well.

Here’s a few more photos from my day out at the cenotes:

Cenote Eden

Cenote Dos Ojos Mexico

Cenote Eden Mexico 2


Have you been to any cenotes in Mexico? Anyone else out there who absolutely cannot stand swimming in cold water?

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Comments 56

  1. Manuela

    Hi Earl,

    I am going to mexico in October and I am very excited about the cenotes but the most interesting part is that apparently you can go diving in some of the underground caves. As you were very cold I assume you haven’t done that, but have you seen people doing it? are there some guides who can take you down in the cave safely?

    Cheers

    Manuela

    1. Earl

      Hey Manuela – It is very easy to find diving companies in Playa del Carmen who offer diving trips to the cenotes. As soon as you arrive in town you’ll see plenty of companies offering such trips 🙂

  2. Les Petits Pas de Juls

    I LOVE the cenotes! and there are still so many to see! they’re high on my to-do list, but living in Mérida will allow me to be close by. Have you been to the 3 in Cuzama? with the horse-drawn carriage between each? it’s awesome! and the colors are always wonderful! I don’t understand why you don’t jump in everytime but I can relate… 😉
    Jul’

    1. Earl

      @Les Petits Pas de Juls – I have not been to those 3 cenotes…another reason to head back to Mexico at some point soon!

  3. Craig O

    Earl….those cenotes are even more awesom when you scuba dive in them. I have dove Dos Ojos and Gran Cenote a couple times each, and also another one whose name escapes me at the moment. If you think they are beautiful on the surface, you should explore them underwater. Absolutely one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my life…..and I am not even a good swimmer at all.

    1. Earl

      Hey Craig – I can only imagine how incredible it would be to scuba dive in the cenotes! I’m not much of a diver but perhaps I should reconsider simply for this experience. A couple other friends have told me the same thing about the beauty below the surface.

  4. Heather Diamond

    I know this is sort of an old post, but I just had to say that those cenotes sound absolutely amazing, and the pictures are beautiful. I hope that I get down that way someday and can see some of them. Just goes to show what a magnificent world we live in and that there are always new wonders to see, if we care to look for them.

    1. Earl

      Hey Heather – That is the truth….there is a never ending list of amazing places to explore on this planet. All we need to do is open our eyes and we’ll find such locations all around us!

  5. Matthew Cheyne

    Thank you for introducing me to the wonders of canotes. I too don’t like cold water unless it’s on a very hot day in which case I’d gladly jump in. That said, if I was with a group of people and they all said the water was fine I’d have to go with the group like you did and jump right in.

    1. Earl

      Hey Matthew – It is hard not to jump in when everyone around you is diving straight into the cold water! But after the initial shock, it is enjoyable to be swimming around these unique cenotes.

    1. Earl

      Hey Matthew – I’m actually familiar with the Dzitnup cenotes as well as I visited it about 2 months ago. It was quite a ‘wow’ experience, especially during that first moment that you catch a glimpse of the cave and water. But I never went in the water during that visit 🙂

  6. Priyank

    Oh comeon 27 is “hot”…lol. I sawm in three cenotes near Valladolid, but my coldest swim ever was in a melting snow stream in Himachal Pradesh. I was hiking and hadn’t showered for about 9 days, so I had to do it… just a minute was more than enough.

    1. Earl

      Hey Priyank – Okay, come to think of it, the coldest water I have ever been in was in a river up in northern Ladakh when I stayed in a village without any running water. That was torture, even though I did get in, strictly out of necessity (similar to your experience it seems). I can’t believe the water was 27 but if it was, then perhaps I have just been tropical-fied over the years 🙂

  7. Sabina

    I love your description of how you entered the Cenote Eden! I enter water the same way, though, inch by slow inch, with people hollering at me to hurry up and get it over with. I just don’t like that initial one-second shock of throwing myself in, so I stretch it out over ten minutes instead :-/ Maybe not too smart, but whatever.

    1. Earl

      Hey Sabina – Haha…that’s definitely what I go through as well. If I need ten minutes, I’m going to take ten minutes. It’s not worth the suffering that goes with jumping straight in 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Leif – Apparently I’m one of the few people who would choose the volcano crater! Many people find the water to be quite comfortable it seems 🙂

  8. Jack Farmer

    All very interesting. With the ambient temp being so hot what is keeping the water cold? Without knowing anything about it I would have expected the ambient temp/sun to heat those waters up.

    1. Earl

      Hey Jack – It would seem to make sense that the water should be warmed from the outside temperatures but I think it’s because the water actually comes from underground bodies of water that are much, much colder. From what I’ve heard, the temperature of the water that we swim in is actually much warmer than when that water is still passing through the underground system, where it is completely out of the sunlight for a long time. Either way, that water is cold (to me at least)!

  9. Scott

    I had never heard of these cenotes until a couple months ago, and they actually seem totally up my alley. I like my water cold and crystal clear, I feel as though you get much more “refreshed” that way (assuming it is sunny). I will be in MEX on my RTW next year, and I am planning on hitting them up for sure. Thanks for the pics and info!

    1. Earl

      Hey Scott – If you like cold water you’ll have one mighty good time with these cenotes! There are dozens and dozens of them for you to enjoy 🙂

  10. Dusana

    It was funny to read this because I just visited the cenotes in the Yucatan a few months ago while living in Mexico City and when they told us we could borrow a wet suit for Dos Ojos we thought they were just being dramatic! But later we were sure glad for those wet suits that made snorkeling through the cold a wonderful and not-so-freezing experience! I agree that the white beaces of Playa are pretty but the cenotes are a much more unique experience! Oh & I must add that some really seemed colder (Dos Ojos) than others (like Cuzama), but it may have been the extreme heat getting to the Cuzama cenotes on the horse drawn carts!

    1. Earl

      Hey Dusana – I saw some people wearing those wetsuits and after I got in it really seemed like a good idea 🙂 It seemed the cenotes that are either caves or that have sheltered pools are much colder than the ones whose water could warm up a bit under the sun. And Cuzama is yet another cenote I’m not familiar with so I’ll try to get out there for a visit at some point!

  11. Shannon O'Donnell

    Hah! Love that you caved to the peer pressure 🙂 Jumping is the only way though…I hate inching myself into cold water–much better if it’s over and done with in a snap! Oh, and soooo pretty there.

    1. Earl

      Hey Shannon – Well, James can be quite relentless with his insults so I had no choice but to get in that water. And for some reason the thought of that ‘suprise’ moment when I hit the water when jumping terrifies me much more than lowering myself gently into the water. I know that seems backwards!

  12. Jason

    Hey Earl, I dove Dos Ojos a couple of years ago and you’re right, it’s cold! However, after lugging gear through the jungle heat in a wetsuit it was one of the best feelings ever! The cenotes are extremely beautiful and a must-see for anyone traveling through the area. Cheers!

    1. Earl

      Hey Jason – That’s very true. The key is to work up a good sweat before jumping in so that I want nothing more than a refreshing dip in the water. Next time I’ll go for a run around the car park first!

  13. Garrett Kubacki

    Cenote Eden is amazing. Some of the most beautiful places in that area I believe are the cenotes. I went in one before where we actually had to take a ladder down into the cave about 50 feet down. Amazing.

    1. Earl

      @The Travel Chica: Pretty to look at indeed and still worth a visit even for those who know they won’t go in the water at all!

  14. Craig Zabransky

    I always seek out the chance to take a plunge into a cenote or two when visiting the Riviera Maya. Love them. Although I would never say they are ‘warm,’ I would hardly consider them freezing. 75-80 is quite refreshing for me… your comments definitely beg the question

    “where did you begin your noble nomad quest from… where was home?”

    stay adventurous, Craig

    1. Earl

      Hey Craig – I’m originally from Boston but even then, while growing up, I would never get into a pool or the ocean when the water was cold (which was almost all the time). My body is just not wired to handle anything less than 80 degrees and even at 85 F I have trouble just jumping right in!

  15. Elise of Positive World Travel

    We were in Tulum for 4 months earlier this year and loved swimming in the cenotes….one of our favourites was xhunaan ha at Chemuyil….great for a picnic and a refreshing dip….although the water didn’t feel that cold to me! Normally I would never get in the ocean if it is colder than 27 Degrees…..maybe it was something about the cenotes that drew me in!!

    1. Earl

      Hey Elise – Xhunaan Ha is another one I haven’t heard of so I’ll add that to my list for my next cenote adventure. I actually just went to Chemuyil for the first time a few days ago and would love to explore that area a little more. And I’m not sure how the water didn’t feel cold to you! I can’t even fathom how anyone could find that water to be anything but painful 🙂

  16. Caz Makepeace

    I love how your shoulders are scrunched up ready to embrace the cold in that photo!!
    I am like you, I detest swimming in cold water, unless I am really hung over and then it snaps it out of me. The cenotes look beautiful and enticing though.
    Have you swam in the beaches of Cape Town. Boy is that cold water!

    1. Earl

      Hey Caz – I haven’t been to Cape Town yet but thanks for the warning! When I was in Sydney this past summer and staying near Bondi Beach, I couldn’t enter the water deeper than my ankles, so I’m quite sure I won’t be swimming in S. Africa either 🙂

      It’s just one of those things that I normally find to be completely unnecessary. Why suffer when I don’t have to? Of course there are exceptions, with these cenotes being one of the very few!

    1. Earl

      Hey Talon – The mosquitos out there were unreal. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else on the planet. Every step I took resulted in several bites, as you must have experienced. And I think the cenotes where the water is sheltered from the sun, such as Dos Ojos, are significantly colder than the others!

  17. Nick Robson

    I would love to swim in some of the beautiful cenotes you show here, it looks amazing. However, I am with you in not liking cold water. It makes me think of a mountain spring that was all we had to bath under in Nepal, it was so cold that it was literally painful. It was however, somewhat colder than Yucatan.

    1. Earl

      Hey Nick – I’m willing to bet that the water here is indeed somewhat warmer than the spring you encountered in Nepal. Perhaps that’s the perfect training for anyone who wants to go cenote swimming – take a trip to the Himalayas and bathe in a stream first!

  18. Meg K

    I went to a ceynote in Belize, I think they also call them blue holes in Belieze. Very refreshing. In Copan Honduras we went to a parrot sanctuary along side a river which had a lock that would divert some of the water into a natural pool and we swam with the parrots flying around us. Ahh good times. more reasons I’ll be leaving fridgid Chicago behind this fall and heading back down to those places with a stop in Playa del Carmen!

    1. Earl

      Hey Meg – Swimming in a natural pool with parrots flying around sounds quite ideal to me. In that kind of setting I could probably be convinced to go in the water again. And good call with heading down this way once the fall hits! If you have any questions about this region, do let me know…

  19. Alouise

    Nice post, I love the pictures. I went to Ik Kil with a Chichen Itza tour. The cold water didn’t bother me, it was really hot outside and I was actually looking forward to the “refreshing water.” What did worry me was the depth, 150 feet, and I can’t swim at all. I shelled out 30 pesos for a life jacket – I may have looked like a dork, but I was happy I got to go in, and not drown.

    1. Earl

      Hey Alouise – That’s the attitude! I’m sure you looked much less of a dork than me standing on the edge dipping my toes in the water and complaining about the cold while every single other person just jumped right in 🙂 I’ll have to look up Ik Kil as I’m planning a visit to Chichen Itza at some point during the next 10 days or so.

  20. April G

    The only swimming we get in where we live (Pacific NW Canadian Gulf Island) is in the FREEZING Pacific. It has to be a scorcher of a day before I’ll venture into the body numbing depths. Once I’m numb I’m good. LOL

    1. Earl

      Hey Cam – There are some great cenotes out by Coba as well. And I’m not sure I’ve heard of anyone having a bad experience at any of them!

  21. James Clark

    Well I have to admit that I was one of those “friends” taunting from the water. Nothing like a bit of peer pressure to make you jump into cool water (I was going to say icy, but it wasn’t that cold!). Anyway it was a great day out, and thanks living in such a wonderful part of the world.

    1. Earl

      Hey James – Well, now that you’ve mentioned it, yes, it was you. I left your name out of the post in order to give you one free pass but since you brought it up, I’m not holding back any more!

    1. Earl

      Hey Sam – Coba is actually my favorite of the Mayan ruins sites over. Whenever someone comes to visit I normally take them over there. And that first cenote is on the road heading south to Tulum, which is on the way to Chichen Itza. It’s located about 20 minutes north of Tulum. I had no idea you were such a cenote fan!

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