Any seasoned Riviera Maya traveler has been to a cenote or two (or 30). From the quiet beauty of Jardin del Eden to the zip line at Verde Lucero, these natural Yucatan Peninsula phenomenons are the lush, tropical Mexican version of the classic swimming hole. Formed by the peninsula's miles upon miles of underwater rivers combined with limestone erosion, cenotes appeal to almost every kind of Mexico traveler by combining the mystery of the jungle with the luxury of crystal clear, pool-like waters.

Each and every cenote in the Yucatan Peninsula has its own unique charm and natural beauty, whether it's a cliff for jumping, intriguing limestone formations or a school of tiny fish exfoliating your feet. The region's 6,000+ cenotes can all be categorized into only four different kinds, characterized by just how open they are to the sky.

1. Jug Cenote: Here, the body of water is wider than the opening into the cenote. Cenote Xkeken in Yucatan state, for example, has a skylight-style opening at the very top of a huge cavern.

cenote Xkeken Yucatan 

Cenote Xkeken, Yucatan


2. Basin Cenote: Many favorite Riviera Maya cenotes fall into this category, featuring shallower water that's completely open to the sky. Favorite swimming spots like Jardin del Eden and Cenote Azul are both basin cenotes.

 cenote Azul Yucatan

Cenote Azul, Riviera Maya: Photo by Michele Janezic

cenote Jardin del Eden 

Jardin del Eden, Riviera Maya: photo by Kelly McLaughlin


3. Cylinder Cenote: Just like it sounds, these cenotes are completely open to the sky, but lie deeper in the earth, creating a cylindrical shape. The most famous cenote, Ik Kil, is the perfect example of a cylinder cenote.

cenote Ik Kil 

Cenote Ik Kil, Yucatan: photo by 

4. Cave Cenote: These cenotes are less explored by your average traveler, but they're every bit as beautiful... if not more so. They have a horizontal entrance leading to completely enclosed caverns, usually with some dry areas and some underwater areas. Rio Secreto just outside of Playa del Carmen allows you to extensively explore the breathtaking formations of an immense cave cenote in a safe, guided environment.

Rio Secreto Playa del Carmen 

Rio Secreto, Riviera Maya