Exploring cenotes is one of the most amazing adventures we’ve had visiting the Yucatan.
Cenotes are technically sinkholes. They are underground wells formed by a collapse in the limestone bed. Rainwater is filtered through the stone and runs through underground rivers that connect many of the Yucatan Peninsula’s nearly 6,000 cenotes. Many were water sources for ancient Mayan communities.
Merida’s Costco store has a cenote in the parking lot. You can’t swim in it but it’s fun to see.
It seems the area surrounding Homún has LOTS of cenotes. Along the drive in we passed numerous signs for other properties, and at every speed bump, you’ll see someone parked with signs trying to sell you a cenote experience.
While researching cenotes, Chuck found the Cenotes of Santa Barbara. Located near Homún, it’s about an hour and fifteen minute drive from Merida.
Why Santa Barbara?
During one of our early visits to Merida, we booked an Airbnb experience and visited two cenotes. We had a great time. The water was amazing. But, they lacked any kind of amenities. They were run by a local family, and lunch was two options- take it or leave it.
In researching the Cenotes at Santa Barbara, we saw that the price of admission included one, two or three cenotes, life jackets, and transportation with either a horse-drawn tram or by bicycle. And you could add on lunch at their restaurant if you choose.
We, joined by our friend Laurie, opted to explore all three cenotes and added on lunch. You picked your lunch options from a dozen or more items when you purchased your ticket. Lunch did not include beverages or tip. The cost of each of us for three cenotes and lunch was 350 pesos or about $18.00 US.
There were clean restrooms and changing rooms in the main building. It also has a small gift shop, lockers and a snack stand in addition to the restaurant.
There were plenty of lifejackets and bicycles all were clean and in excellent condition. They even had lifejackets in our “Big Boy Sizes!”
Horse of a Different Color
We are NOT fans of any kind of animal-driven tourism. While visiting India, we took jeeps to the top of the fort rather than riding an elephant. We passed on camel rides and avoided the tiger ‘sanctuary’ in Thailand. – Just a personal preference.
We seriously weighed our options of tram vs. bicycling, and after looking at the bike path and the thought of three over 60 travelers biking across the property in 90-degree weather, we seriously looked at the tram option.
All of the horses appeared to be in good shape. They were grazing in the shade under trees and had plenty of water. They seemed to be rotating them to get them plenty of rest, and on our way back, we saw the stables, which were in surprisingly good condition.
There were just three of us on a single cart with the driver. Other people were directed to the next cart. It seems like the horses really liked to run, as the driver barely had the horse hooked to the cart when he took off down the track.
We’re glad to see that the horses seemed to enjoy it and were treated well. But, not something we’re fans of.
Types of Cenotes
Santa Barbara has three very different cenotes.
Closed, which was almost cave-like. Semi-open with a good size opening and some smaller holes that also let in light. And open, which was flooded with sunlight.
As you see, they vary greatly in water depth and access, and each has its own allure.
The first cenote on the track was Cenote Cascabel. It is a closed-type cenote. We ducked to enter the cave and followed a short rope into the opening. We then took the wooden stairs down to a platform above the water. Because it is a closed center, it was high with artificial light.
The water was cool and refreshing, clear, and about ten meters deep.
When we entered, we were the only ones there and swam for about 20 minutes before a couple, and another small group arrived. So, we made our way out and onto the second cenote.
The second cenote was a short walk past the tracks and small shaded palapa. This cenote is semi-open and with natural sunlight. We made our way down several flights of wooden stairs to the water.
There was a young woman we had seen previously doing what appeared to be a photo shoot for a quinceañera. We saw them several places across the property, and it was fun to watch the entourage with her.
Aside from a lifeguard, who appeared to be checking the bottom, and another who looked to be shooting social media videos of him, we had the place to ourselves the entire time. They said the maximum depth here was sixteen meters.
We had no idea what to expect with this next cenote. The entrance was a long, wide stone and concrete staircase leading into a tunnel.
As we entered the tunnel, we walked straight into the main cavern of the cenote. The stone walkway led to a few wooden steps and right into the water.
This is an open-type cenote and as you can see was pretty amazing! It was flooded with light, there were trees all around the top edge, and the reflections on the water were magical. They estimate the water here is about forty meters deep.
Go For The Cenotes, Stay For Lunch
The food was delicious and authentic! Adding lunch onto our package was 70 pesos each. (About $3.60 US). Drinks and gratuities are not included.
When we purchased our entrance, they took our lunch order and a name. When we arrived at the restaurant, they seated us and asked our names. Within minutes we had ordered drinks, and our food arrived.
The Panucho and Sopa de Lima platters were outstanding. Maybe the best Sopa de Lima we’ve had in Merida. The Cochinita was tender, flavorful, and a huge portion. And lastly, the Chicken Empanazada was crisp, a good size portion, and had delicious sides.
Things Know Before You Go
First – GO EARLY! When we arrived, there were about four other cars on the lawn. By the time we left after having lunch, there were a dozen or so cars, several tour vans, and a bus!
Second, skip the sunscreen and insect repellent. You are asked not to wear them and required to shower before entering each cenote. There are restrooms and showers near each cenote.
We had an incredible time and will absolutely take house guests there as well as enjoy a nice escape from the city with local friends.