Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Where to find cenotes for non-swimmers in Mérida

The crystalline waters of Mexico’s prehistoric sinkholes can be daunting, especially for non-swimmers, but some sites are accessible to visitors of all kinds. These beautiful natural freshwater pools, formed by collapsed caves, attract thousands of visitors to the Yucatán Peninsula, each searching for their piece of paradise. An experience that will stay with you forever, the journey through the gateway to the ancient Maya underworld, known as Xibalba, is not to be missed.

While all seems picture perfect, there are some who may take cenotes off their Mexico wish list over safety and accessibility concerns. However, there are a number of alternative ways to enjoy these wonders of nature that are inclusive and safe to swim or snorkel. With that in mind, here is a list of three cenotes close to Mérida, Yucatán, that should satisfy all visitors to the peninsula.

El Corchito

Within a spectacular lagoon surrounded by mangrove forests, El Corchito Nature Reserve in Progreso consists of three open-air cenotes shallow enough to stand in. There is also plenty of wildlife around for nature lovers, from exotic birds to friendly resident coatis (members of the raccoon family), who will greet you on arrival. You will even find a small pool where you can dip your toes and get a free pedicure from tiny fish. The water is rich in minerals, giving it a silky texture that feels amazing against your skin. It is a perfect place to relax for hours idling in serenity.

A five-minute boat ride from an onshore jetty takes you through manmade canals and onto flat wooden walkways created by local fishermen. In 2019, the Mexican Government upgraded El Corchito, providing proper accessibility for visitors of all kinds. Now, it serves as a starting point for children, the elderly and others who want to experience cenotes but remain uncertain about the options available.  

How to get there from Mérida: Taxis and buses run from Mérida City Center to Progreso (22 miles ). El Corchito is a few miles from the drop-off, where taxis are available.

Cost: 90 pesos

Hacienda San Nicolás Dzoyaxché

If you’re looking to combine history, cenotes and family fun, then this former colonial estate is just the place. Apart from several attractions, including a kids area, rustic camping and a restaurant, the swimming pools are filled with water drawn from a cenote below. The children’s pool is shallow, while the adult pool has two levels, one of which is waist-deep. The relatively small cenote is open to visitors and has a mysterious cavernous feel with its overhanging stalactite walls.

Hacienda San Nicolás was once a hefty contributor to the old henequen fiber industry that dominated the peninsula and filled Spanish coffers. It is one of seven former estates within the Cuxtal Nature Reserve and still maintains much of the heavy machinery used in production. It has now been converted into a museum and leisure center for the community of Dzoyaxché.

How to get there from Mérida: Taxis and buses run from Mérida City Center to Dzoyaxché (15 ½ miles).

Cost: 20 pesos

Cenote Aketzali 

Have you ever wondered what having a cenote in your backyard would be like? Well, one family from the village of Tixcocob has exactly that, and they are happy to open it up for visitors. This small, semi-open cenote with translucent water looks more like a romantic grotto than an intimidating bottomless cave. A stone platform extending halfway across Aketzali allows you to paddle safely in a knee-deep environment, while a stone table and chairs give it a unique picnic option. For those who may find it difficult to navigate down the stairwell, a pool is also filled with water from the cenote.

The welcome gets even better because Aketzali includes local Yucatecan cuisine at a reasonable price. A pleasant shaded area beside the pool provides another option to relax in a natural environment away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

How to get there from Mérida: Taxis and buses run from Mérida City Center to Tixcocob (15 miles )

Cost: 60 pesos

Mark Viales writes for Mexico News Daily.

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