So what is a cenote? It’s a natural pit or sinkhole of groundwater. They are typically created when the limestone bedrock collapses and the groundwater is exposed, which is why you typically see pictures of them as caves.
Many of them are quite deep, may be used for snorkeling, diving or cave exploring and have platforms to jump into the water from. These aspects obviously make them much less toddler friendly. While in Mexico, we looked for ones that had either easy entrance into the cenote or a shallow part where a toddler could splash around. Many of the ones that we visited were part of an eco-park, but don’t let this scare you off. They are still relatively cheap to visit and typically they are well maintained, meaning they aren’t completely dark and they have staircases built in to allow easy entrance. Many of them will have a change area.
This is truly a fun experience and not one you should miss out on just because you are travelling with a toddler. And often you’ll find it free for children under 10.
Located right in Playa del Carmen and also included as one of our 2 favourite beaches for babies & toddlers in the Mayan Riviera, Punta Esmeralda is considered a “locals” beach. There were plenty of other tourists there and we felt very welcome. What’s most unique about this beach is the cenote nestled in the middle of the beach. It’s a shallow lagoon of fresh water that you can see bubbling up to the surface that runs into the ocean.
What makes it great for toddlers is how shallow both the actual cenote and the stream that runs into the ocean are. The cenote is calm, so there are no risks of waves knocking your toddler over. The stream does have a current in it that parents should be cautious with their little ones around.
Your toddler will have a blast playing in this “pool” and jumping off the side of sand into the stream.
Ecopark Kantun-Chi is 90 km (56 miles) south of Cancun or 22 km (14 miles) from Playa del Carmen. This small eco-park is set within the jungle and has 4 cenotes that are all ideal for taking a toddler.
The furthest one from the entrance (cenote 4 - Zacil Ha or "Clear Water") can be reached by a horse-drawn wagon (that wasn’t operating when we were there) or by an easy 10 minute walk through the jungle. The cenote is almost completely underground with only a small amount of natural light. It has rock platform that a makes it easy to get into the cenote or for a toddler to sit and splash on. This one wasn’t too deep and also had a very low ceiling of stalactites in parts. There are also plenty of rocks you or your kids can stand on inside the water.
Cenote 3 (Uch Ben Ha or "Ancient Water") is probably the most picturesque with a large, open air cenote surrounded by lush vegetation. There are kayaks available for use and islands in the middle with hammocks on them, not that you’ll get time to relax in them with a toddler. We took our toddler into the kayak and he loved it.
The two cenotes closest to the entrance (cenote 1 - Kantun-Chi or "Yellow Stone Mouth" & cenote 2 - Saskaleen Ha or "Crystal Clear Water"), are like entering a cave but with one side open to the jungle. Cenote #2 also had kayaks which was another fun experience since we were actually in a cave once we entered the cenote.
Lifejackets are included in the price and are mandatory. Change rooms and showers are also provided. Storage lockers are free (with a refundable 100 peso deposit). Don't put on normal sunscreen or mosquito spray before entering the park as they are not allowed. They do provide mosquito spray, which you will want to use.
While visiting Chichen Itza, you might be tempted to take the walk over to the popular cenotes there. Unless you are early enough in the day, you’ll likely find these to be quite busy. Instead we opted to visit X-keken eco-park, which was a great, less busy alternative. There are two cenotes here and we swam in Dzitnup. You can pay to swim in one or both.
Though called an ecopark, this one is still quite rugged inside. You’ll have to walk through a nearly abandoned shopping area to the cave, where there is a small booth with a guy who will check your ticket and put your belongings in a locker. There are showers and change rooms near the cenote entrance. The cenote is down a large set of stairs into a cave. We found it easiest to carry the kids down, but be careful of slippery steps.
Inside the cave is a very large rock platform which makes it easy to let your toddler ease into the water (which is a little chilly). This cenote is quite deep and the largest we visited. There are ropes that go across to help those that aren’t as confident in their swimming. Don’t be surprised by the tiny fish who are eager to clean your feet, a luxury you pay for in the resort areas!
Realizing what a great day trip it made when we paired up a swim in a cenote after visiting the ruins, we planned to do something similar after our adventure at Coba. The cenotes were a short 10 minute drive from Coba and easy to find. There were 3 cenotes (Choo-Ha, Tamcach-Ha and Multún-Ha) in this park (which we had to pay a nominal fee to enter) that are owned by the local Mayan community and tourism supports the local people.
We chose to visit the Choo-ha cenote since we felt it would be the best with a toddler. They had simple, but good facilities with a row of change rooms, showers and toilets (it’s important to shower before entering to get the oils off). This cenote was another cavern style with a very long, steep set of stairs. Again, we found it easiest to carry the kids down.
Inside there are a lot of stalagmites, crystal clear water and multiple staircases to enter the water. Our toddler loved sitting on the edge and looking for fish in the water, while our preschool daughter loved to swim around. If you are looking for platforms to jump off, visit the other two cenotes in this area.
There are some large spotlights inside this one, which does take away from the authentic feel but is also necessary since it’s so far down.
Have you taken your baby or toddler to a cenote in Mexico? Have a favourite that we missed here? Comment below!
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