Looking for a great way to experience cenotes in Mexico? Cenotes Santa Barbara is your answer, boasting four different cenotes in the one place! It makes a great day trip from Merida.
Cenote is a Yucatan term for a sinkhole, formed when limestone collapses and exposes groundwater below.
If you want to have a relaxing day without worrying which cenote to go to next, this place is for you. It’s laid out more like a water park, but in a good way! It also boasts a great restaurant where you can eat lunch or grab a snack.
Cenotes Santa Barbara is also suitable for people with disabilities because the last cenote has an elevator to take you down. Stairs are usually unavoidable in most of the cenotes in Yucatan as they are mostly located underground.
When we arrived at the entrance to Cenotes Santa Barbara, we almost turned around once we realised how commercialised it was. We always try to explore places that are more off the beaten path and support smaller businesses. But in this case, we were so happy that we stuck with it and tried it anyways!
Price and facilities
The entrance fee to Cenotes Santa Barbara in January 2024 was $350 MXP per person. You could also get a package including food for $470 MXP. There is no difference in price if you decide to eat later, so no need to pay in advance if you’re not sure about that option.
The entrance price is higher than most cenotes in the area, but you will have access to four cenotes. The fee also includes transportation between the cenotes and use of all the facilities and services, including rest areas, life jackets, life guards, lockers, changing rooms with showers, snack bar, restaurant, and a small waterpark for kids.
When you see all the work and infrastructure that has been put into Cenotes Santa Barbara, the price seems more than fair.
How to get to Cenotes Santa Barbara
If you rent a car, it’s an easy one-hour drive from the centre of Merida. It’s located between Cuzama and Homun, two little towns in an area filled with cenotes.
You can also take a colectivo/combi (local shuttle) to get there from the Noreste bus station in Merida. Head to Calle 52 right in the middle between Calle 67 and 65. You will see a sign saying Homun Cenotes, turn left there and you will find a parking lot full of minivans.
Just let the guys there know where you are going and they will help you. The colectivo leave every 30 minutes but there is’t any schedule as such, they will wait until the car is full and take off. We came just before 9AM and were lucky as the van was almost full so we started driving at 9AM.
The price for the colectivo was 34 pesos per person. It took us 1 hour and 15 minutes to arrive to the cenote as we made a couple stops along the way. If you let the driver know, they will drop you off right at the entrance.
When you are done exploring Cenotes Santa Barbara, just let a guard or receptionist there know that you would like to get a colectivo back to Merida. One will come and pick you up.
Just make sure you order a colectivo no later than 5:30PM, as there will be no-one there at 6PM. You will have to take a moto taxi to the nearby town of Homun and then take a colectivo from there to Merida if you leave it too late. The last colectivo from Homun leaves at 6PM, so it would be quite risky.
Having said that, we encourage you to take a colectivo to Cenotes Santa Barbara. It’s better for the environment and better for your hip pocket too. It also takes about the same amount of time as renting a car.
What you need to take with you
Once you have purchased your tickets, you can use the changing rooms located behind the reception desk. They also have some lockers where you can leave your belongings. We recommend leaving everything that you won’t need to use in these lockers, as it can be very annoying carrying too much around the cenotes!
Here are the items you will need: bathing suit, reef shoes or sandals to get from one cenote to another, hat, mask, camera, towel, and a water bottle. Note you can’t use sunscreen or mosquito repellant in the cenotes. If you have a sensitive skin or are worried about sunburn, take a rashie (rash vest) with you and try to visit the open cenotes early in the morning or later in the afternoon.
Once you have changed and dropped off your belongings in a locker, you will be given a life jacket. The staff members did a pretty good job selecting a suitable size for us both. Wearing a life jacket in the cenotes is mandatory. Life guards patrol each cenote and will call you out if enter the water without it.
Transportation between cenotes
You will be provided with a choice for transportation between the cenotes. Cenote Santa Barbara offers you a bicycle or to take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. A horse drags the carriage on railway tracks that wind around all the cenotes.
If you are a sustainable traveller and care for animals, choosing to take a bicycle is the obvious choice. The way the horses were being used is dangerous for their health and we highly recommend to avoid this activity.
Note once you pick your transportation option, you can’t change it!
If you aren’t confident on a bicycle or can’t ride because of health issues, please talk to a staff member. We saw that some people were being transferred between cenotes in a van.
Otherwise you can walk. It’s just over 1 km from the main entrance to the furthest cenote and then it’s 200 metres to the second and third cenotes.
Exploring the four cenotes of Santa Barbara
There is a bike path running in one direction alongside the railway tracks to the first cenote. From there you can hop between the next two cenotes. The final cenote is further along the path back near the entrance.
The first cenote is named Cascabel. It’s a fully enclosed cenote with stalactites and no sunlight coming through. There was a lot of artificial light instead with lamps positioned around the platform and along the walls of the cenote.
When you arrive, you have to duck your head to enter a cave overgrown by tree roots. Then you will go down three flights of wooden stairs before you reach the bottom of it.
It’s not a very big cenote and the maximum depth of the water is relatively low. It was very crowded because we arrived quite late at 11AM. The echo inside the cave made everyone’s noise sound even worse.
It was definitely our least favourite cenote. If you have already seen cenotes in the area, or you don’t have a lot of time to spend at Santa Barbara, you could even skip it.
If you arrive in the morning, we highly recommend you to go to straight to the second and third cenotes and come back to the first one later if you still want to check it out. Most people will explore the cenotes in order and you will have a chance to see the middle cenotes without the crowds.
Even though we arrived at 11AM, after a quick visit to Cenote Cascabel, we decided to skip the second cenote and go straight to the third one in the hope that there would be less people.
It turned out to be the right call! We were there with just a few other people for at least an hour before big crowds started to arrive.
The third cenote is called Chacksinkin and is completely open. After walking down some wide stairs, you will go through the entrance to a cave. At the end of the opening, you will see a beautiful light-filled cenote with a big tree in the middle.
We witnessed a lot of wild life in this cenote. There were various types of fish, different-sized iguanas, and two big vultures hanging around amongst the cave rocks and on the tree.
Chacksinkin is quite big, so even when there were some people, it wasn’t as disturbing as the first cenote. You can jump In from a platform, but it’s not very high. Make sure to bring your mask to this this cenote and explore the underwater world. The water is very clear and it’s especially beautiful to witness the sun rays breaking through underneath.
After we had enough of swimming in Chacksinkin, we headed back to the second cenote named Xooch. As mentioned previously, the first three cenotes are quite close to each other so you can always go back and forth between them easily if you want.
This is a a semi-open cenote. We found it really picturesque. You get the feeling of being in a cave with stalactites, but you still have enough sunlight to reveal the beautiful blue hues of the water.
As with many other cenotes, it requires some stair climbing to get down to the water. You will have to climb three flights of wooden stairs at Xooch. The stairs get really muddy and slippery by the afternoon, so be careful when going up and down.
We recommend snorkelling here too, as you can clearly see the stalactites that have fallen in the water and the differences between the depths. If you visit between 11AM and 2PM during sunny weather, you may also see the sun’s rays under water.
It’s a really mesmerising experience if you’re able to look under water through a mask. If needed, you can rent one for $20 MXN at the cenote. You can also dive in from a platform. It’s not that high above the water, but still a lot of fun.
After you have seen the three cenotes Cascabel, Chacsinkin and Xooch, it's time to cycle back to the starting point to return your bike. If you love swimming like us, you will probably be starving after visiting the three cenotes, so you can grab lunch at the nearby restaurant or snack bar first. Or you can continue exploring by going to the fourth cenote.
Cenote Pool Cocom
The newest offering at Cenotes Santa Barbara is Pool Cocom. It’s actually more complex than a normal cenote. It includes a big canyon between two bodies of water. The size of it is really impressive.
You have two viewing platform to absorb its scale. Then you walk down a series of wide stoned steps. There is also an elevator available for people with disabilities. There is a wide platform with a ladder at either end to enter the water.
There is a small section of water where you enter which leads into the canyon. We really liked just floating along the canyon and admiring the nature along and above its walls. You then enter a round lake with lots of space to float.
There is also a small cave to the right which has water falling down the side to form a small waterfall. It was fun floating through the waterfall and exploring the cave.
Having lunch at Cenotes Santa Barbara
If you decide to buy lunch on site, there are a few options. You can have some western food like fries and pizza at a small restaurant near the kids playground or at a snack bar outside near the reception area.
But our recommendation is to head to the main restaurant located to the side of the reception area to have the most delicious Mexican food. If you haven’t been to the last cenote yet, you can pop on a shirt and keep your life jackets to use there later.
Originally we weren’t planning to eat here at all and instead wanted to find something authentic in the nearby town of Homun. But once we saw some ladies making fresh tortillas, we could’t resist!
If you have never seen how tortillas are made, you can watch this process just outside of the restaurant performed by two women in the most traditional way.
For only $120 MXN (not including gratuities), we had a delicious set menu including lime soup and a main dish of our choice. If you are vegetarian or vegan like us, let the staff members know and they will explain your options.
The meat-free lime soup came with corn chips and was delicious. For the main dish, we had panuchos, which are fried tortillas stuffed with beans, lots of yummy veggies, and some other protein of your choice. In our case, we had a cheat day and had eggs, but you can skip them to remain vegan.
The second main dish was vegetarian empanadas stuffed with cheese and chaya (tree spincah). Unfortunately this dish can’t be made vegan, but you can order guacamole or a salad instead. The portions are really big and the quality of food was surprisingly amazing.
This is one of the reasons we loved Cenote Santa Barbara so much! Despite being very commercialised, they still provide great value and quality in everything including the food.
Our final thoughts of Cenotes Santa Barbara
As an overall experience, we really loved Cenotes Santa Barbara. It’s suitable for everyone and has a great variety of cenotes. If you only have one day to explore cenotes, this is a great introduction to them.
It’s also a great place to just relax as everything you need is in one place. Although we try to avoid commercialised and crowded places, this one still felt special to us.
Because it’s so big and well planned, the crowds weren’t a big issue. If you really want to avoid them, just come as soon as they open and head straight to the second and third cenotes. We guarantee you will enjoy them!
The tourists that come to explore cenotes near Merida are mostly local tourists compared to the cenotes near Tulum and Chichen Itza. They don’t rush around as much and in general have more respect to the cenotes due to their local knowledge. Maybe that’s why the food was so good too!