The word cenote comes from the Mayan word “D’zonot”, which means “cavern with water”. Cenotes are formed due to the disintegration and collapse of rock, followed by the birth of stalactites and stalagmites.
There are several types of cenotes:
Vertical wall cenote
Here we present a guide to cenotes of the area surrounding Tulum to use for your next trip in the campervan. The wonder of exploring them in a camper van is that, in some of them, you are able to sleep right on the water’s edge. Be the first and last to enter the water!
All these cenotes are a maximum of 50 km distance from Tulum, and most of them, less than 20 km. With this guide you will be able to visit at least a couple per day. It is an ideal reference for a refreshing oasis dip after a jungle tour or walk through the ruins, wherever you are in the Yucatan.
Click on the image to enlarge it and see the list in detail. Open to the public with limited services:
Nohoch Nah Chic
Lunas y sombras
Cenotes open to the public that have services:
Va a Ha
Cenote caleta Tankah
Casa tortuga (cenote Campana, cenote Wisho, cenote Tres Zapotes)
Lab Na Ha
Yax Kin/Nohoch Kin
Tal Be Ha
Tak Be Lum
Cenote at the Archaeological Zone of Xelha
Ni te Ha (Cenote Mitzi’s Ha)
Sac Actún Región
Parque Aventuras Mayas
Corazón del paraíso
So, what do you think? More than 50 cenotes a few minutes from Tulum. And to think that you have all this in the Yucatan Peninsula to explore aboard a campervan, RV or motor home. Remember that you can combine this guide with the iOverlander application to find places to park the campervan and sleep. Onboard the van you will find this and other guides to make your trip more awesome!
Avoid weekends in the most popular cenotes such as Gran Cenote, Kaan Luum and, in general, those closest to Tulum.
Do not use sunscreen, oily skin products or insect repellent before entering the water.
ALWAYS take your garbage. And if you can, pick up some that others have missed.
Now that the 2018 World Cup in Russia is in the knockout stages the pressure is ON! Travelers and locals in Tulum are gathering at the most vibrant places for good vibes, and a mini stadium feel, to watch the games.
We have compiled our top 5 places to watch World Cup matches..
This is our favourite spot to watch the games. A large patio garden with several food trucks offering different types of food and a bar with some of the best bar staff in town. It´s affordable, friendly and there´s always good vibes. A true local place to hang out and watch the games. There´s a kids park too, leaving parents to shout and chant freely with others! Ask Memo and Jorge for their tropical fruit mezcal cocktails!
El Capitan is located on the road from town to the beach. It´s got a great vibe during the World Cup games and is popular for seafood. Avoid the fish ceviche as they use farmed sea bass imported from east asia.
Humo is a photographer´s dream! It has a beautiful bamboo structure, comfy cushions to lounge on, deliciously wholesome menu and a garden for those who want to be basking in the sun. There´s been a real nice vibe there during the games. Highly recommended!
El milagrito is a restaurant/bar palapa located on the party street (Calle Centauro Sur) in Tulum town. They have a couple of decent sized screens, food is good, plus they´re mezcal specialists! There´s always folk watching the games there so get there a little earlier to get a well positioned table.
Cheers to all the fans who have lit up this awesome event with passion, humour, tears and celebrations! And cheers to the establishments who have gone out of their way to create a special vibe for the games!
The entire coast of the Mexican Caribbean has been receiving an unwanted guest over the last few summers.
When I fist arrived to Tulum (2004-2006), I had never seen or heard of sargasso. There were a few crispy bits of seaweed on the beach now and again. Nothing floating in the sea except for turtles taking a breath and the occasional fishing boat.
There is widespread controversy as to what is causing the red invasion of these turquoise, crystalline waters and whether the unusual escalation of it, is actually good for the environment and marine life, or not.
Tourism and real estate agencies are speculating that it is just a passer by. A phenomenon that comes and goes and that is not here to stay forever. That it may or may not be present when you arrive to stay in your dream Caribbean beach cabaña and pay several hundred dollars for the privilege.
Recently, there have been many reports with scientific studies, opinions and counter-opinions from official and unofficial sources. Some say that the increase of sargasso is due to the increment of pollutants in the sea and subsequently becoming an ecological disaster. While others are stating that it is beneficial to marine life and a completely natural process.
This blog is not to discuss whether it is good or bad for the environment. We have decided to offer some outstanding alternatives so visitors can fully enjoy the beautiful Yucatan without even seeing a tuft of the stuff!
For those who visit the Caribbean to bathe in the sun and dip in the warm turquoise waters it is very unpleasant. Not only does it cover a vast amount of the beach, there is sometimes a thick soup of it from the shoreline to the first few sets of waves. Of course, there are “good days” and “bad days”. The sargasso may be present at a section of the beach one day, and move with the currents the next.
The “nortes” or northern weather systems that travel south from North America in winter (Nov-Mar) seem to be the only thing that moves this red mass away from the Mexican Caribbean beaches.
You may be thinking, “VanBalam, why shoot yourself in the foot? You also rely on tourism and you are pushing it away by writing this blog!”
Well, actually, NOT AT ALL! What people often forget is that this region is one of the most diverse in the world. There is so much more than just beaches!
The SARGASSO-FREE Top 5 guide to the Yucatan Peninsula
Cenotes (or sinkholes) of the Yucatan Peninsula make up the world´s largest network of aquifer systems. The meteor that is associated with the extinction of the dinosaurs, smashed in to the north-western part of the Peninsula approximately 66 million years ago. According to sources, there are over 6000 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula alone. Cenotes may be fully collapsed creating an open water pool, or partially collapsed with some portion of a rock overhanging above the water. The stereotypical cenotes often resemble small circular ponds, measuring some tens of metres in diameter with sheer drops at the edges. Most cenotes, however, require some degree of stooping or crawling to access the water.
There are lagoon-type cenotes where people practice activities like snorkeling, stand up paddleboarding, SUP yoga, and free diving. Then there are spectacular cavern and cave type cenotes which are visited by thousands of tourists (mainly for diving) each year. There are many dive schools offering beginner courses to technical cave diving certifications. We recommend our friends at Protec Dive Centers,Easy Chango and La Calypso for courses and guided tours to the Mayan underworld (Xibalba).
Our friend and travel writer Anna Lysakowska wrote a blog in 2016 with information about some of the nicest known and not-so-known cenotes in the region. It was written 2 years ago, so opening times and rates may vary slightly.
Even if you are not interested in donning a mask and exploring underwater, you can still enjoy a refreshing cool down on a hot day and gaze at the exposed formations of stalagmites/stalactites.
IMPORTANT: NEVER ENTER THE WATER WHILE YOU HAVE SUNSCREEN, REPELLENT OR ANY OTHER LOTIONS ON YOUR SKIN.
2) Archaeological Sites
The Peninsula is full of Mayan archaeological sites to visit. There are off-the-beaten-track sites like Yaxuna with quiet cenotes nearby and there are popular sites likes Chichén Itzá, Tulum and Cobá. Chichén is the most well known Mayan archaeological site as it is now one of the wonders of the world. Due to that, every day, endless bus loads of tourists swarm the site. Tulum is also another outstanding site due to the spectacular backdrop of the Caribbean Sea. We recommend that you visit these sites as early in the morning as possible to avoid the masses. Why not take the breathtaking sunrise tour at Chichén Itzá? Book tickets before 5pm at the INAH office the day before. It costs 1440 pesos for up to 6 people.
Cobá is around 44kms from Tulum and definitely worth visiting. There is a sunset pass (4:30pm-7pm) which can be bought at the ticket office. At this time most visitors are leaving so you can enjoy a much quieter experience. And where better to watch the spectacular sunset, than atop the Ixmoja Pyramid!
In the south of the Peninsula there is the spectacular site of Calakmul (UNESCO World Heritage Site). Calakmul was one of the largest and most powerful ancient cities ever uncovered in the Maya lowlands and boasts one of the tallest Mayan Pyramids.
Whichever historical locations you decide to explore, you will be amazed by the architecture, history, culture and mythology of the ancient Mayans.
Our tip: dig deeper, look for the hidden gems as there are hundreds! Occasionally you will be the only ones there. Enabling you to drift back in time and share a special moment.
3) Bacalar: Lagoon of the Seven Colours
Located close to the Belize border at the south-eastern part of the peninsula is the beautiful Lake Bacalar. It is approximately 42 km long measured from north to south, and less than 2 km at its widest. The lake is renowned for its striking blue color and water clarity, partly the result of having a white limestone bottom. Like most bodies of water in the Yucatán peninsula, the lake is fed by underground rivers or cenotes.
There are many entrances to the lake from the highway with a variety of lakeside hotels, campsites and restaurants to choose from.
One of our favourites is Cayuco Maya. A peaceful, eco-conscious lakeside establishment with cabañas to rent, campsite and parking for RV/campervans.
Here are some wonderful activities to do on and around the lake:
Bacalar sailing: Tours to several spots on the lake with lots of talks about history, pirates and hurricanes!
Magic Bacalar: Cabañas, camping, campervan parking spot, hostel, marina and tours. Really good customer service and competitive prices.
There are lots of good places to eat in Bacalar Town. We loved the seafood tostadas at La Tostada, breakfast in the beautiful garden at El Manatí and breakfast and sandwiches at Enamora. On the opposite side of the road of Enamora, there is a “barbacoa de borrego” diner offering tacos with earth-oven cooked lamb. So good!
The nightlife in Bacalar is fun. There is live music and good vibes at Ojitos La Catrina and El Galeon Pirata. Look out for Willie and his band playing reggae classics and Cenote Sam and his classic rock covers and wild guitar solos!
4) Holbox Island: Swim with the Whale Sharks
Holbox is a beautiful island located off the North-Eastern tip of the Peninsula. You can drive or catch a bus to the port of Chiquilá and cross over by passenger ferry. There are very few cars in Holbox as it has narrow, sandy roads. Tourists leave their cars in large, secure car parks at the port of Chiquilá (approx. 50* pesos per day) and walk a few metres to the ferry. If you have a lot of luggage, don´t worry, there are people there to cart it to the ferry for you for a tip. The ferry ride takes about 25-30 minutes and costs 140* pesos for adults (and children over 120cms / 4ft) and 90* pesos for children under 120cms. To get around on the island, there are golf carts, quad-bikes, golf cart taxis and bicycles.
*Pricing: June 2018
The best time I had in Holbox was when I took a tour to snorkel with the whale sharks. The whale shark season is from mid-May to mid-September. It is one of the most incredible things I have ever done. At the time, my son, who was 6 at the time, also snorkeled with them. So, yes, it is for everyone! The world´s largest fish is an absolute sweetheart. Despite it´s enormous size, it really is a gentle giant. When you see it from the boat, instinct kicks in and says, “hmmm, is this really safe?!” But once you are in the water, it´s like observing a giant aquatic angel. Gentle, graceful and simply beautiful.
Please take in to consideration that you may have to navigate for a while on choppy waters to reach them. So if you suffer from sea sickness, take some good seasickness pills. We had 2 people on our trip who suffered a bit but were stoked when we arrived to the whale sharks. We sailed for 2 hours from Holbox to find them.
There are many places to stay, beaches to chill out on, and tours to do. If you are going to stay, I highly recommend Marvin Suites for value for money. I have stayed there many times and seen Marvin and his family slowly develop their humble hotel. Real people, real service and they are always willing to offer you advice on where to go and what to do. Hotels on the beach are beautiful but, like in Tulum, you´ll be paying top dollar for the privilege.
As for tours, I highly recommend Vip Holbox Experience. You can find cheaper ones but these are proper tour guides with years of experience and place marine life before anything else. Our conscientious captain, explained to us that many years ago, the locals would fish absolutely everything. With an abundance of marine life, fishermen became insatiable. He talked openly about the past and how he too, was involved as a young man. He explained how the community started to change. They became aware of the importance of the natural balance of the sea. By keeping it balanced, it was beneficial for all beings. The marine life thrived and the tourists came to observe them. Over-fishing evolved to tour guiding.
On the way back from swimming with around 10 whale sharks we stopped by a small bay and swam with some green turtles. We were the only ones there and the turtles came right up close to have a good look at us and stayed for while! I had never seen such an abundance of marine life in all my travels.
Holbox is also known for millions of bright little stars in the sea. Bioluminescent plankton are found here in one of the highest concentrations in Mexico. The water is level is at around knee level until about 20 metres from the shoreline. This allows these little glowing animals to accumulate in large numbers during the summer. Truly magical!
For those interested in water sports such as Kiteboarding and Paddleboarding, Holbox is a paradise with it´s flat, warm waters and pumping winds during the season (Nov-June). Get in touch with Kukulkite for classes, rentals and information about kite spots and the wind forecast.
Holbox not so sargasso-free?
We have some friends on the island who are always monitoring the beaches, currents and wind directions as they own a kitesurfing school. So we asked them about how the sargasso has affected them this year. Sergio told us that very little sargasso has washed up on the beaches this season. And that during the “norte” season (Nov-March) large amounts sargasso wash up on the beaches. Which is interesting, as it´s the opposite of the coast facing the Caribbean Sea.
5) Wildlife Observation
So by now, you have climbed a pyramid while gazing across the jungle canopy. You have dived in to a cool cenote and had a taste of Xibalba. You have had a close encounter with the gentle giant whale sharks and you have traced the wake of the old pirates in Lake Bacalar. All without seeing a tuft of sargasso!
Now it´s time to meet some more of the residents of the Peninsula.
If you take a guided tour with an expert you can expect to observe an incredible variety of wildlife in their natural habitat. From toucans to flamingos, from fishing eagles to ocellated turkeys. From crocodiles to jaguars and from white tailed deer to spider monkeys.
Our top two spots are Punta Laguna (spider and howler monkey reserve) and Nojoch Keej (animal rescue sanctuary). They are both close to the archaeological site of Cobá and all can be visited in one day. For our RV/campervan folk, you can reserve a lakeside spot at Punta Laguna which has been a hit by campervanners so far!
Don´t forget that this guide only scratches the surface!
It is based on what we, our friends and clients love to do that is non-related to the Mexican Caribbean beaches.
A trip begins to take shape when we start to manifest a dream that brims with breathtaking places that have been inspired by travel magazines, guides, documentaries and social media content. The next step is to create an itinerary to incorporate them. With so much information available, you can start planning way ahead of time. We recommend the following tools to aid you in converting a dream to an experience.
iOverlander:This app is FULL of data fed by an international community of campervan/RV travelers. With this app you can find those hidden spots that the masses are unaware of. It is free for Apple and Android (and it works offline!)
WikiOverland Mexico: The bible for travelers on wheels.An extract of recommendations and preparations to enter, travel and leave Mexico.Although once you enter, I doubt you’ll want to leave the country!
Lonely Planet Mexico:A classic travel guide. In this book you will find tips to discover places to camp, restaurants and activities throughout Mexico. Make sure you get the latest version.
Don´t Go There. It´s Not Safe. You´ll Die:For those who want to go further, this guide covers Mexico and Central America. Includes 11 chapters of information to plan your trip and 9 chapters on what to expect while driving.
Playa del Carmen is renowned for being an bustling party city. It is, but there are many hidden places of interest to discover. Just 15 minutes away from the 5th Avenue and on the edge of the city lies the settlement of the Temple of the Goddesses.
A community that loves nature and lives in harmony with it. Where the sense of sharing and loving one’s neighbor is breathed into the environment. Residents and travelers from places like France, Slovakia, Mexico, Colombia, Canada and many other countries come together to learn and share teach their talents.
They have events and workshops on bioconstruction, circus / acrobatics, alternative therapies, healing cuisine, dance and music.To find out about their events, we suggest you check their facebook page.
The “NosAmo” collective reactivated this space a couple of months ago. Their mission is to offer an alternative way of life experience.
The hostel and camping area allow you to enjoy a night in the jungle. There is enough space and privacy for everyone. If you come in the VanBalam campervan, you can shelter under the shade of trees. The price of the camping is $100 pesos per person and a breakfast is $30 pesos (fruit) and $ 30 pesos (eggs with vegetables).As you can see the prices are very accessible.
In addition, the entrance to the campsite includes a visit to the cenotes. If you like climbing, they are perfect for bouldering.We started a climbing route which we be completed soon.It is a challenge to climb in the caves but it´s definitely worth trying!
Curious Pau by the wood oven (which pays homage to the woman).Those who stayed for the feast spoke of how delicious it was! I missed it!