Cenote Yokdzonot is one of the best hidden gems in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, offering a dreamy place to cool off less than half an hour from Chichen Itza. Beyond its otherworldly beauty, this locally-owned and operated cenote offers all kinds of activities besides just swimming, from ziplining to rappelling down into its crystal clear waters.
If you want to explore this incredible spot for yourself, here’s everything you need to know about Cenote Yokdzonot.
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Cenote Yokdzonot is seriously SO gorgeous, with ancient roots and vines dangling over a hundred feet down its limestone sides and into its crystal clear turquoise water. But before I rave on and on about the awesomeness that is Cenote Yokdzonot, let’s back up for a second.
What are cenotes in Mexico?
If you’re planning a trip around the Yucatan, you’ve almost certainly heard of cenotes. But what are they exactly?
Well, I’m so glad you asked!
Cenotes (pronounced suh-NO-tay) are essentially sinkholes, formed when the Yucatan Peninsula’s limestone bedrock collapses and exposes an underground cavern. Given the porous nature of the ground here, rainwater drains into the ground and has created a massive network of underground rivers. When one of these sinkholes forms, the chilly groundwater from these rivers (usually no warmer than 75°!) flows into the exposed cavern, leaving behind a perfect clear pool to cool off in.
Cenotes are actually found all over the world, from Canada to Zimbabwe, but the Yucatan Peninsula is unique in its sheer number of them- with over 7,000 found in its footprint.
While we know and love cenotes today as places to swim and scuba dive, they used to serve integral functions in Mayan culture and religion. In fact, cenotes were used by the Mayans for everything from practical purposes, like providing fresh water for drinking and bathing, to the more mystical, like as a burial site for human sacrifices.
How to get to Cenote Yokdzonot
Perhaps the best thing about Yokdzonot (pronounced YOLKED-zuh-naut) is its location– its one of the best cenotes near Chichen Itza! If you have a rental car (and I’d strongly recommend that you do so that you can go on a Yucatan road trip!), it’s just an easy half hour drive west of Mexico’s famed Wonder of the World. The cenote has a small gravel parking lot that holds about 10 cars.
Alternatively, you can hop on one of the second class buses or a collectivo heading from the town of Pisté (the actual town Chichen Itza is located by) towards Merida and get off in the teeny town of Yokdzonot.
Similarly, Cenote Yokdzonot is conveniently located in between the tourist hubs of Valladolid (about an hour away) and Merida (an hour and a half away). If you don’t have a rental car and lack the sufficient Spanish skills to figure out the public transit system here (*raises hand*), several Chichen Itza tours make a stop here, like this Chichen Itza and Cenote Yokdzonot combo tour.
How Much Does Cenote Yokdzonot Cost?
As compared to some of the cenotes near Tulum, like the Gran Cenote, and the other surrounding areas, Cenote Yokdzonot is quite affordable, costing just 150 MXN (or $7.50 USD) per person. Your entry fee will include a life jacket rental and access to its clean and well-maintained facilities.
And one of the coolest things about Cenote Yokdzonot is where the money goes.
Yokdzonot is the name of the teeny town where it’s located, which literally means “on top of a cenote” in Mayan. While Cenote Yokdzonot had been used for centuries by the Mayans for drinking water, the cenote was used less and less, as more modern means of getting freshwater became available to the residents.
For years, the only way to reach the cenote’s waters was to—quite dangerously—climb your way down a rope hanging precariously along the cenote’s vertical walls. Accordingly, the only people who elected to climb down to swim in the cenote for decades were thrill-seeking young men. With such little use over the years, the cenote slowly fell into disrepair, filling with trash and debris.
In 2005, a collective of local women put their heads together to figure out how to develop some kind of economic prosperity for the tiny town, as most of the Yokdzonot’s residents depended on low-paying agricultural jobs. Recognizing the growing popularity of cenotes, they formed a cooperative and got a concession for the cenote and the surrounding land.
It took over a year for them to clean out the cenote and another to build out its infrastructure, like the trails and stairways so that visitors could safely enjoy it (you know, other than simply scaling your way a hundred feet down a dangling rope). Given that the women were doing all this work—for free—in addition to their day jobs and responsibilities, many of these co-op members quit.
The remaining members’ hard work paid off, though- now, hundreds of visitors each month come to enjoy this jaw-dropping geological wonder. So, when you visit Cenote Yokdzonot, not only will you get to enjoy one of the most stunning places to cool off in the Yucatan, but you’ll also quite literally be supporting the local community!
By the way, it’s worth noting this post isn’t sponsored in any way by the cenote—I just REALLY enjoyed my visit and, after finding out about its history while writing this post, I’m even more of a fangirl of this hidden gem!
What to Expect When Visiting Cenote Yokdzonot
Entering Cenote Yokdzonot
Once you pay your admission fee, you’ll walk along a beautiful and well-maintained path.
An attendant will then help you pick out a life jacket of your size. It’s worth noting that it’s required to wear life jackets here—a rule that appears to annoy a handful of reviewers on TripAdvisor.
I initially didn’t realize this was a hard and fast rule and was quickly asked to put on a life jacket as I began to swim around the cenote. While I admittedly initially was irritated by this as well, the life jackets allow you to easily float in the incredibly deep water (believed to be about 145 feet deep), making for a more relaxing (and safer!) visit, as opposed to treading water or swimming the entire time.
Continuing down the path, there’s a viewpoint to your left, where you’ll get to see your first glimpse of the sparkling turquoise water, over one hundred feet below.
The trail will eventually lead to a few palapas. Here, you’ll find a restaurant dishing up simple, yet seriously good Yucatan dishes (the guac and panuchos are on point!), as well as bathrooms and showers.
Like other cenotes in the Yucatan, you’ll be asked to shower off before you get in the water. This is to prevent your body’s natural oils and any sunscreen or lotion you’ve slathered from leaching off while you’re in the water and wreaking havoc on the cenote’s delicate ecosystem.
From here, you’ll make your way down a series of steps—some of them carved into the limestone walls and some built out of wooden stairs. While they’re well-constructed and sturdy, some of the steps are quite steep and slippery when wet—so be careful!
Eventually, you’ll reach a wooden platform right above the water, where you can leave your shoes and towel. There’s also a lifeguard on duty who hangs out on the platform.
As noted above, the water is cool and crystal clear, which feels AMAZING after spending hours and hours under the hot sun while visiting Chichen Itza. There’s lots of little fish swimming around in the water—so be sure to include some snorkel gear and a GoPro on your Mexico packing list to bust out here!
Even if you’re sans snorkel, it’s so much fun to swim around and explore the cenote, which has lots of caves that have eroded into its walls and a veritable maze of massive roots and vines, dreamily hanging from above. If you get tired of bobbing around with your life jacket, there’s a rope strung down the middle of the cenote that you can stand or sit on.
Yokdzonot is just as stunning, if not moreso, than Cenote Ik Kil, which is the de facto cenote near Chichen Itza that all of the tour groups stop at. But unlike Ik Kil, there won’t be tons and tons of tour buses- when my husband, Justin, and I visited, there were, at most, four other people in the massive cenote with us and at times, we even had it all to ourselves!
Other Activities Beyond the Cenote
Yet another amazing thing about Cenote Yokdzonot?
There’s a ton of stuff to do beyond just swimming in the cenote, including:
- Bike rentals and a bicycle path to a second cenote (that’s beautiful, but sadly not open for swimming)
- A zipline where you can zoom over 100 feet above the cenote
- Rappelling down the vertical limestone walls into the cenote
- Camping at any of the six tent platforms right around the rim of the cenote—this is TOTALLY on my bucket list next time I’m in the Yucatan!
If you’re interested in any of these services, I’d recommend reaching out to the cenote ahead of time to make sure they’re available during your visit. Some of the activities, like rappelling, require having a guide onsite.
Now, go check out Cenote Yokdzonot for yourself! Do you have any questions about this off-the-beaten path gem? Let me know in the comments below!