Mexico’s Riviera Maya has won the world over with its unique freshwater cenotes, stunning for their visibility that extends 100ft (30m) and beyond. These dive sites give visitors the feel of a cave, but (thanks to ceilings that collapsed long ago) not overhead environments, making them suitable for beginner divers. Do note, however, that many cenotes have delicate formations that took centuries to form, so do log at least 10 or more dives before signing up for your first guided tour of a cenote and consider taking the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy course to improve your skills.
Casa Cenote, located 37 miles south of Playa del Carmen, is one of the best picks for beginner divers. The dive follows the bottom of a winding river for roughly 250 yards (228m), with nothing overhead blocking you from the surface. Plus, the bottom is never deeper than 30ft (9m), making for an Open-Water-diver-friendly experience. Along the sides of the river, you’ll see the root systems of the mangrove forests, as well as a host of freshwater fish, including platys, guppies and mollies.
This cenote, 20 miles south of Playa del Carmen, and no deeper than 42ft (12.8m), is a great pick for newer divers. You won’t find a lot of stalagmites on the bottom, so there’s less to worry about for those who haven’t yet perfected buoyancy. What you will find is stellar visibility of 150ft (45m) or greater, plus ceilings full of stalactites. In spots, divers will experience a halocline, where freshwater and saltwater mix, creating a cloudy visual effect. Plus, thanks to its position in the jungle, it’s known for amazing light shows as rays of sunlight dance through the water during the height of the day.
Nearby to Chikin Ha and Casa Cenote is Chac Mool cenote, which starts with a short walk downstairs into a pool surrounded by jungle. To start the dive, visitors must swim down beneath a rock ledge and into darkness, so one must have some level of comfort with overhead environments. However, this cenote is unique in that it winds between sections with limestone ceiling overhead and stretches that are completely open overhead with light pouring in. Plus, divers can look up in these openings and see the trees of the jungle above.
This cenote, so named “Two Eyes” for the two side-by-side cave systems, which, together form the largest cave system on the planet, is so long and varied in terrain that it accommodates newer divers in the cavern sections, which feature openings that allow access to the surface. Regardless of experience level, all divers can appreciate the white stalactites that decorate the ceilings of the cenote. In some parts, the formations are thin as candles, and in other places, they have formed to be as wide as traffic cones.
Many repeat visitors name Cenote Eden a favorite for its location amid the jungle and its topography that varies between small rooms, narrowing passageways and massive rooms where light pours in. Plus, with slider turtles, freshwater eels and several fish species, including tetras and sailfin mollies, this cenote is home to more wildlife than nearby sites.
Tours of this cenote, less than three miles south of the town of Puerto Aventuras, take divers through a figure-eight path that connects several rooms. The Points of Light Chamber contains stalactites that nearly reach to the floor, and, should you time your dive for midday, you’ll also witness the three shafts of light, bright and direct as spotlights. Reach the Sugar Bowl to find a circular pool that opens to the jungle above. Because of the large collections of stalactites, this dive requires divers to have decent control of their buoyancy. However, with a maximum depth of 50ft (15m), it’s still very welcoming for newer divers.