During a recent trip to Cancún, I was able to scratch one really fun item off my bucket list — I was able to swim in a cenote (underground cave) for the first time. And yes, it was just as cool as it sounds! I visited the Cenote Hubiku, which lies deep in the jungle of the Yucatán Peninsula.
Cover image water sources via Flickr CC 2.0. Clockwise from upper left corner: Pavel Yudaev | TS Lane | TS Lane
FTC Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means we’ll receive a small referral fee from purchases at no cost to you. You can read our affiliate policy here.
What is a Cenote?
They're very similar to what we refer to as sinkholes or “swimming holes” here in the U.S. The two swimming holes in Texas that most closely resemble the cenotes you'd find in Cancún are Krause Springs and Hamilton Pool — although the Texas ones are both above ground.
Cenotes are underground limestone caves filled with fresh water and all sorts of other interesting things. Some contain fish, some contain treasure, and some contain human remains — which you'll read more about below! First I want to describe my fun experience visiting a cenote.
Getting to Cenote Hubiku
I went on this particular trip with my best friend, Christopher, so you'll see him in many of my photos. Christopher and I stayed at The Westin Cancun Resort & Spa in Cancún, and we selected a guided bus tour from one of the pamphlets at the hotel's concierge desk.
Our tour was an all-day trip that included Cenote Hubiku, a jungle tour to meet local artisans, a buffet style lunch, a visit to UNESCO World Heritage site Chichén Itzá, and a brief stop in the beautiful town of Valladolid, Mexico.
Purchase Tickets in Advance: Chichén Itza All-Inclusive Tour with Cenote Hubiku & Valladolid
The Cenote Hubiku was about a two hour and fifteen minute bus ride from our hotel in Cancún. If you plan to rent a car and drive yourself, note that there are few places to stop for food or fuel. Take snacks, bug spray, and lots of water. Make sure to fill up with gas prior to your departure and definitely wear comfortable shoes!
You also need to take pesos to pay for the few areas where there are toll roads. If you plan to swim in a cenote, bring a bathing suit. There are private places to change once you arrive, so there's no need to wear one under your clothing and be uncomfortable during the rest of the tour.
Arriving at Cenote Hubiku
Upon arriving at the cenote, we had to walk through a touristy shop filled with vendors hawking their souvenirs. It's a bit annoying, to say the least! Unfortunately that's pretty standard practice for tourist attractions in Mexico.
If you decide to purchase anything, it helps if you speak Spanish and can haggle in the vendor's native language. Even if you don't speak Spanish, you should still attempt to get a lower rate. The majority of the items are overpriced and mass produced, and the vendors anticipate bargaining.
Once we made it past the souvenir shop, we were stopped by a photographer who wanted to take a picture of us. We obliged, and later you'll learn why he needed it!
After the photo, we had the option of swimming in the cenote or visiting the Don Tedeo Tequila Museum and sampling tequila. Since I have a habit of making very bad decisions when I drink tequila, we wisely opted for the cenote!
How to be Respectful in a Cenote
Cenotes were considered sacred areas to the ancient Mayans; their openings were believed to be a gateway to an underworld inhabited by Chaac — the God of Rain.
Although the cenotes are spectacularly beautiful, the surface below many of them is littered with bones from both humans and animals.
It is commonly believed that the remains were from sacrificial offerings during Mayan eras of extreme drought. Both people and animals were tossed into the deep waters and left to drown in an effort appease Chaac and bring much needed rain.
Divers have also discovered gold and jewels.
[photo source ©CadeButler]
When entering a cenote, please keep in mind that you are a guest in a sacred place and act accordingly.
Before we could enter Hubiku Cenote, we were required to visit a shower area to rinse off, change into bathing suits, and stow our clothes in a locker.
With hoards of tourists visiting Mexican cenotes each year, this process is necessary to remove sunscreen, oil, and perfume residue from the body so the cenotes will remain clean and pure for many years to come.
Life jackets are available near the lockers, and towels are provided with the entry fee. (Our fee was included with the tour, but if you're visiting on your own expect to pay a nominal fee.)
Getting Sidetracked by Monkeys
Prior to walking down the steps into the cenote, we were able to play with a few adorable little monkeys. That ended up being my favorite part of the cenote trip! (I seem to have a habit of running into monkeys during my travels.)
Click on any photo to learn more and view it larger.
As you begin the trek down the stairs into the cenote, there's a platform halfway down where you can pose with men dressed as ancient Mayan warriors. Christopher took full advantage of this to show off his fiercest warrior pose.
Inside Cenote Hubiku
The Cenote Hubiku is semi-open, so when you're inside looking up, you'll see a large hole with sunlight streaming through to illuminate the water below. There are also long vines hanging down from the ground above and the water is very clear. It's difficult to tell just how cavernous it is inside the cenote from a single photo. I tried capturing a panoramic shot on my cell to give you an idea.
Once in the cenote, Christopher jumped in the water first. He said it was refreshing, so I decided to give it a try. I'm pretty sure he stretched the truth just to get me in the water, because cenote water is very cold!! I wimped out long before he did and climbed out.
Christopher's favorite part of the trip was swimming in the cenote, and he stayed in until the guides made him get out. His advice was to float on your back and look up towards the ceiling, because it's very surreal. In case you're wondering, this particular cenote is about 150 feet deep!
Click on any photo to learn more and view it larger.
Although it's difficult to see them in the pictures, Cenote Hubiku is full of tiny black catfish. We saw hundreds of them! They didn't bother us, we didn't bother them, and it was pretty peaceful to watch them swimming all around us.
Tequila Souvenirs from the Trip
Once we finished our swim and headed back to our bus, we discovered we'd picked up additional passengers. They came bearing tequila from the museum and received a hearty welcome from our entire tour group! They proceeded to pour samples of flavored tequila and passed them out to everyone — even the teenagers.
Next they produced bottles of tequila personalized with the photo they'd taken of us when we arrived on site. Well played, tequila marketing team; well played. Of course we purchased one.
Christopher planned to take our personalized bottle home as a souvenir, but a crafty TSA agent had alternate plans. Unfortunately, he confiscated it at the airport. Somewhere in Mexico there's a drunk TSA agent, and I'd like to imagine him toasting us as he drank.
Advance Planning for Your Trip
You can save money by booking your reservations prior to your trip, which I definitely recommend.
You can read more about our trip to Cancun here, including the fun times we had rescuing baby sea turtles. Have you visited a cenote before or do you plan to in the near future? Please comment below if you have questions or want to share your experience and advice with others. Happy travels!