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What is a cenote? Yucatán Travel Guide Destinations

Cenotes, incredible places to swim in the Yucatan Peninsula

The term “cenote” can be unknown or little spoken in the place where you live, however, in the Yucatan Peninsula (Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatan) this word is in the mouth of all citizens and travelers who are anxious to live what what this word represents.

What does the word “cenote” mean?

Originally in prehispanic Mayan language this word was pronounced ts’oon’ott and is interpreted as: hole with water, depth or sunken zone. With the passage of time this word changed to Spanish and the result was “cenote”.

Explained in the simplest way, the cenotes are wells filled with crystalline water connected to other wells by means of tunnels or underground caverns, the impressive color is due to a mixture of:

  • Depth
  • Particles and minerals in the water
  • Sunbeams that illuminate the background and reveal the color of minerals

Recommended: History of the cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula


How are cenotes formed?

Karst-type geological depressions, or cenotes, are formed from the infiltration of water in the subsoil, rain containing carbon dioxide (carbon dioxide) penetrates the floor formed by sedimentary rocks such as limestone, the calcium of these rocks suffers a transformation by the carbonic gas and they dissolve like thin sand escaping in the current of water, thus, forming small spaces that increase their size they fill partially or totally of water increasing their size through many years until forming a cenote.


In a few words the water charged with carbon dioxide is responsible for creating large caves under the ground; in the Yucatan Peninsula there are more than 2,000 cenotes (not all are tourist) thanks to the type of soil and the impact of the Chicxulub meteorite that in the Cretaceous period approximately 65 million years ago left a crater of 180 km in diameter around Yucatan that greatly favored the formation of cenotes.

The impact of the meteorite caused an impressive destruction, rocks, plants, trees and animals died because of the explosion or lack of oxygen; These sank and were covered by layers of sand, earth and stone particles that over time solidified forming a layer of karstic soil (soluble rocks) on which many centuries later the cenotes were formed.

Observe this photo taken inside a cave, it shows a gecko (type of small lizard) and behind on the rock various marks and remains of seashells, evidence of what was once seabed now solidified.


Cenotes recommended to visit:
Cenotes of Homún
Cenotes of San Antonio Mulix
Cenotes of Valladolid
Cenote Ik-kil
Cenote Zacil-ha
Cenote Oxman


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