Being trapped with a thousand spring break-ers at an all-inclusive resort is exactly the opposite of how Aaron and I wanted to experience Cancun – but somehow we ended up there anyway. Thanks to a bit of research and an eagerness to explore off the beaten track, we turned the trip into an absolutely unforgettable experience. Since we couldn’t find much information on La Ruta De Los Cenotes when we discovered it, we wanted to write a guide for others!
In April 2015, I had just returned from fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone a bit earlier than expected. I was stuck at home for three weeks waiting out the virus’s incubation period, and suddenly realized that I would be cleared to travel on the very day that Aaron’s spring break began! Moments later, I was hunting for last-minute deals to somewhere – anywhere – sunny.
We normally prefer to travel more independently, but the best deal we could get on such short notice put us in the all-inclusive Barcelo Costa Cancun. Not knowing much about Cancun besides my memories of spending all day in a hotel pool as a kid, we booked it and decided to explore once we got there.
The hotel was beautiful, of course, with azure ocean views and several restaurants on site to choose from. We sifted through the dozens of glossy brochures at the front desk offering everything from horseback riding to booze cruises. But organized tours just aren’t usually our cup of tea.
So once we had set up camp next to the pool and started sipping our all-inclusive drinks, I couldn’t help googling “Cancun off the beaten path” on my phone. I read about Mexico’s cenotes and my interest was immediately piqued.
The Yucatan Peninsula was once entirely covered by water; over the centuries, the seas receded, leaving underground rivers running below the surface. Cenotes are natural pools that are revealed when the limestone bedrock collapses and these waters are exposed.
I knew we had to see some of these for ourselves! Finally I stumbled upon something called “La Ruta de los Cenotes” – a road that leads to several different cenotes along a 20-ish km route. Although descriptions were sparse (and often in Spanish), we decided that exploring La Ruta was definitely worth a shot!
The next morning, we picked up the open-top jeep we’d reserved at Alamo the night before, packed to-go lunches from the hotel’s buffet, cranked up the radio and set off to see La Ruta. After comparing google maps to routes I’d found online (and doubling back a couple of times), we found the turnoff from the highway onto the dirt road we’d been looking for.
The moment we arrived at the first cenote, called La Noria, we knew that gambling on this experience had paid off. The elderly Mexican gentleman who owned the land welcomed us warmly – we were the only people there – and charged us $5 each to explore his cenote.
This particular cenote was almost entirely underground, accessible only by a small opening far above the water. We descended a staircase carved into the rock to enter the otherworldly cave below. Royal blue water reflected rays of sun back at us as we stood on the floating wooden platform and peered into the shadows beyond. Stalactites hung from the ceiling in fascinating formations, and little bats swooped from one crevice to another above our heads.
In no time, Aaron had his snorkel and mask on and was executing an enthusiastic cannonball into the previously-still water. As he explored the outer edges of the cave and dove beneath the surface to peek at the labrynth that extended underwater, I sat in the circle of sunlight feeling exquisitely as though we were miles away from the world above.
Next up was Cenote Verde Lucero – a completely different vibe from remote La Noria. This cenote is open air with beckoning bright green waters. It makes the perfect playground, complete with a zipline, a rope bridge, paddle boards, and a high cliff perfect for jumping.
Although it was busier than our first stop, we stayed just as long to frolic like children until we tore ourselves away to find out what awaited us further up the road.
Our next cenote once again hit a different note from the first two. We followed the footpath to a smaller pool of brilliant green surrounded by a stone wall and a wooden walkway above. It was complete with a zipline with a wooden seat attached, and a small waterfall filling the pool. Once again we were all alone, feeling like we’d discovered a secret sanctuary in the forest. The stone walls also gave us the perfect ledges from which to perfect our jump shots!
Last, but certainly not least, was Cenota Las Mojarras. We arrived here late in the afternoon, certain that nothing could top the places we’d already seen. We were greeted by the friendly owner, who showed us to the largest open cenote yet. Perhaps it was because we had outlasted all the other revelers, but we once again had the place to ourselves and took full advantage of the ziplines, rope bridge, and two diving platforms.
We dove and frolicked until we were exhausted, then retired to the hammocks strung up on the shore to enjoy a beer or two as the sun went down. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.
The magic of La Ruta de los Cenotes was so unique and unexpected that we still reference it today whenever we’re searching for something off the beaten track to experience: “You know, something like La Ruta,” Aaron will say, and we’ll lapse into reminiscing about what an awesome day that was.
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