Tulum, in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, is known for its pristine beaches, lively nightlife, and plethora of otherworldly cenotes. Cenote Calavera is one of its most bucket list-worthy swimming holes, with tons of options for adventurous travelers to jump into its cool waters—plus it’s a bit more under-the-radar than some of Tulum’s most popular cenotes, meaning you’re more likely to enjoy it without as many crowds.
Here’s everything you need to know about Cenote Calavera, the best cenote in Tulum for thrill seekers.
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What are cenotes in Mexico?
Before we talk about Cenote Calavera, you might be wondering what the heck a cenote is.
Well, I’m so glad you asked!
Cenotes (pronounced suh-NO-tays) are essentially large sinkholes that are formed when the porous limestone bedrock of the Yucatan Peninsula erodes and collapses, creating an underground cavern.
Because of the Yucatan’s limestone foundation, water seeps into the ground and forms a vast series of underwater rivers. When a cenote forms, these underground rivers flow into them and create pools of crystal clear groundwater, which are perfect for cooling off under the hot Mexican sun.
Cenotes are definitely not unique to Mexico—you can actually find them all over the world, including Zimbabwe, the Dominican Republic, and Australia.
But Mexico is unique in that it has more than any other country on the planet, with over seven THOUSAND scattered across its footprint. Scientists actually believe that an enormous meteor that collided with the Earth in Chicxulub, Mexico 66 million years ago caused the proliferation of cenotes here (and, oh, yeah—the extinction of dinosaurs too!).
While cenotes have grown popular today for swimming and making top-notch TikTok content, they used to play a much more functional role for the ancient Mayans, providing fresh water for drinking, cleaning, and agricultural purposes. The Mayans also believed that cenotes were the portal to the underworld and even used them for sacrificial purposes (yes, even including human sacrifices).
What is Cenote Calavera?
Cenote Calavera gets its name because, from an aerial view, it looks like a skull (“calavera” means skull in Spanish). The cave has three openings—a large one (which I suppose would be the mouth), with a wooden ladder you can climb down and two smaller ones (for the eyes), which you can jump down. This has earned the cenote the names “Skull Cenote” or the “Temple of Doom Cenote”—pretty hardcore sounding, I know!
And Cenote Calavera actually lives up to its spooky name—it’s suspected that it held spiritual significance with the Mayans, given that up to 120 bodies, dating back over 1,500 years, were once found in the cenote!
While you won’t find any human bones here today, if you scuba dive in Cenote Calavera, you can still actually see animal bones and pieces of pottery that are along a small altar-like ledge deep in an underwater cavern.
How to get to Cenote Calavera
Whether you’re staying close to the beach or in downtown Tulum, Cenote Calavera is about a ten minute drive, 20 minute bicycle ride or an hour and 20 minute walk north. There’s a big ol’ white sign in front that says “Cenote”—you can’t miss it!
If you don’t have your own car, a taxi ride here should cost around 100 MXN (remember to always agree on a price ahead of time!). Alternatively, if you rent a car (which I highly recommend so that you can go on a Yucatan road trip!), there’s plenty of parking here.
How Much Does Cenote Calavera Cost?
At the time I’m writing this, entrance to Cenote Calavera is 250 MXN (about $15 USD). To be honest, this is kind of expensive in my book, but it’s aligned with what you’ll pay at most of the other popular cenotes near Tulum. You can definitely find cheaper cenotes a bit further off the beaten path, like Cenote Yokdzonot near Chichen Itza.
One of my least favorite things about Cenote Calavera (and several of the cenotes near Tulum) is that they charge you extra for each different type of camera equipment you want to use—approximately 250 MXN each if you want to use a camera other than a cellphone, GoPro, and drone.
For what it’s worth, after paying the incremental fee to use our full-frame camera and grumbling a bit, the attendant said we could use our GoPro as well without paying extra. So I’m not sure how strictly they adhere to making people pay these extra fees.
There’s also a handful of other rentals you can choose from here, like life jackets (50 MXN).
What to Expect When Visiting Cenote Calavera
Like most cenotes in the Yucatan, you’ll be asked to shower off in your swimsuit to remove any lotions or oils that might be on your skin to protect the cenote’s fragile ecosystem. The water from the shower is chilly and I’ve read some travelers complain that there’s no privacy near the shower (to be honest, since you’re wearing your swimsuit, I don’t really understand this complaint, but to each their own).
After you’re done showering, you can either enter the cenote by climbing down the wooden ladder or by simply jumping in from any of the openings.
The water is about 8-10 feet below the large opening and 10-12 feet from the smaller openings. If you jump in from one of the smaller holes, be super careful—they’re quite narrow and it would be quite easy to hit your head while you’re jumping. I actually didn’t pull my arm in close enough to my body while jumping one time and hit my elbow against the jagged rocks so hard that I bled!
On that note, regardless of where you jump from here, be careful—Cenote Calavera can get crowded in the afternoon and it would be a decidedly unfun way to spend your vacation to Mexico to either hit or be hit by someone jumping from above.
Given that there’s limited ways to get down to the water, if you have mobility issues, Cenote Calavera might not be the best choice for you—but not to worry, there’s plenty of other cenotes near Tulum for you to explore!
Once you get down to the water, the actual pool is much bigger than the openings would suggest.
The water is cool and generally quite clear—in fact, Cenote Calavera, which is up to 50 feet deep, is a popular location for scuba diving. If you’re interested in scuba diving here, you’ll have to arrange a tour with a local dive shop, like Koox Diving Tulum. Alternatively, you can rent or bring your own snorkeling gear to enjoy the underwater formations, light beams, and tiny fish here.
There’s also a rope swing for maximum Instagrammability.
It’s also worth noting there’s TONS of swallows and tiny bats in Cenote Calavera that flit in and out of the cave opening—remember that bats are friends, not foes (they eat up all the teeny pesky mosquitoes in the Yucatan)!
We spent a couple of hours here, jumping from the opening of the cave and splashing around. However, if you wanted to make a whole day of it, you definitely could, alternating between soaking up the sun in the Adirondack chairs surrounding the cenote and jumping in its cool waters.
Facilities at Cenote Calavera
The facilities at Cenote Calavera are pretty basic—simple bathrooms, chairs and tables around the cenote to hang out around, and a bar that sells (pretty pricey) snacks and drinks.
The one important thing that Cenote Calavera is missing is lockers—there’s really nowhere to put your stuff other than on a chair. So if you have anything valuable with you (like a fancy camera), I’d really only suggest bringing it if you have a car that you can lock it away in once you’re done using it.
For what it’s worth, we covered our expensive camera and tripod with a towel and just left it on a chair while we were enjoying the cenote. This is generally a travel no-no, but we didn’t have any issues!
When does Cenote Calavera Open?
Cenote Calavera is open every day from 9 AM to 5 PM.
When to Visit Cenote Calavera
If you want to get photos or videos at Cenote Calavera, I’d suggest going early—Justin and I came right when it opens at 9 AM and had the place completely to ourselves for almost an hour!
Otherwise, while the cenote was once pretty under-the-radar, it’s definitely grown in popularity in recent years, especially on weekends—so, as always, if you want to minimize crowds, consider visiting on weekdays or shortly before the cenote closes at 5 PM. Otherwise, you’re most likely going to be dealing with an “Instagram vs. reality” kind of situation—it’s not unusual for there to be 100+ people enjoying the cenote in the afternoons.
We’ve heard that Cenote Calvera has a party vibe in the afternoon, with music blasting and the beer a-flowing. Accordingly, if you’re traveling with a family, I’d recommend trying to come before lunchtime.
Tips for Visiting Cenote Calavera
You’re not allowed to wear sunscreen.
Most cenotes in the Yucatan, including Cenote Calavera, do not allow you to wear sunscreen, as the oils and chemicals in it can harm the fragile ecosystem of these enclosed bodies of water. Accordingly, we always try to time our visits to cenotes early in the morning to avoid the harsh rays of the midday sun.
You’re not allowed to bring in outside food.
Some blog posts on Cenote Calavera suggest that you’re allowed to bring in outside food and drink. However, these posts were written before the cenote opened its own snack bar—and because they want to drive sales, you’re no longer allowed to bring in your own food and drink (if you’ve visited recently and experienced something different, please let us know in the comments below!).
This might not be the best choice for families with little kids.
To be honest, the largest draws of Cenote Calavera are how unique it looks and the cliff-jumping aspect. If you’re traveling with little kids or are a traveler that doesn’t enjoy the sound of jumping eight feet, I’m not sure that Cenote Calavera is worth the price point. There’s definitely better cenotes for snorkeling in Tulum, like Cenote Carwash or Yal Ku, or cheaper cenotes, like Cenote Azul or Casa Cenote.
I hope you have a better idea of what to expect from Cenote Calavera. Do you have any questions about visiting this unique swimming hole? Let us know in the comments below!