4 must-see cenotes near Cancun

In addition to the magnificent beaches along the Mayan Riviera and archaeological sites such as Chichén Itza or the Cobá and Tulum ruins, it is well worth exploring the underground rivers and cenotes that dot the Mexican states of Quintana Roo and Yucatán.

All these with easy access from Cancun - if you don't mind leaving the beach for a while. So here are four of the most impressive cenotes in the region - to visit preferably with friends or family.

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Suytun Cenote

A truly amazing place, Suytun is certainly one of Mexico's most photographed cenotes - in large part due to the many tours leaving from Cancun, which make it an easy visit.

This is a fairly large cave with a circular, man-made platform in the center of the cenote and a small hole in the ceiling, through which a ray of light enters, making the atmosphere even more magical. No matter how many photos of the Suytun cenote you may have seen before, it will leave you dumbfounded.

Especially because it doesn't always look the same. Depending on the water level, the central platform may be submerged, unlike what you see in most photos. And I think it's even more beautiful this way...

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Ik-Kil Cenote

After visiting Chichén Itzá, I went for a swim in the picture-perfect Ik-Kil cenote - definitely one of Yucatán's most beautiful cenotes. Of course, Ik-Kil is by no means unknown to Mexican and foreign tourists. Quite the contrary. When I arrived, there were two fairly large and noisy groups disturbing the tranquility which is required for contemplating the site.

But it was just a matter of waiting patiently until I was able to enjoy the Ik-kil cenote to the fullest, even though it wasn't empty - I'd only get that if I arrived very early or was extremely lucky. This was definitely one of the highlights of my Mexico itinerary. It is beautiful, amazing, breathtaking...

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Nohoch Cenote

The Nohoch cenote is probably the most incredible cenote I've seen on the Yucatan peninsula, and I spent more than four hours there enjoying the bucolic atmosphere. Nohoch is a neighbor to the famous and more commercial Dos Ojos cenote, where I was asked for a lot of money to enter, so I looked at the map and randomly picked a nearby site to go for a swim after visiting the Tulum ruins. And I hit the nail on the head.

Nohoch is part of an underground river system whose caves and galleries can be explored by experienced divers or, in some parts, simply by swimming with a local guide. This is one of the best cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula – no doubt about that.

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San Lorenzo Oxman Cenote

The beautiful and serene cenote of the San Lorenzo Oxman Hacienda is another precious gem on the Yucatan Peninsula.

The combination of natural light with roots that grow vertically towards the underground cenote's crystalline waters lends it a special charm. Despite that, it is sort of discreet and free from big-group tourism. You will certainly not be alone – far from it! – but I unreservedly recommend going for a swim in the Oxman cenote.

In short, rather than spending the day in theme parks such as the famous Xcaret or going to the beach every single day of your vacation, venture out to the many cenotes that dot the peninsula. I promise you won't regret it!

By Filipe Morato Gomes / Alma de Viajante

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