A visit to the bohemian beach paradise of Tulum isn’t complete without a visit to a cenote. A cenote is essentially a sinkhole filled with crystal clear freshwater, often in low lying areas. Formed thousands of years ago when the limestone bedrock collapsed and exposed the groundwater underneath, these natural swimming holes are the perfect place to spend an afternoon. There are over 4000 cenotes in the Riviera Maya regions, but most of them aren’t exactly easy for kids to navigate. We found Cenote Cristal to be the best toddler-friendly cenote near Tulum.
All Cenotes Aren’t Created Equal (for kids)
There are beautiful pictures of awe-inspiring cenotes all over the internet. While every bone in my body ached to see them all in person during our trip to Tulum, I knew that most of them would be out of the question- or at least really challenging- with a young toddler and a baby.
Many of the cenotes in the Riviera Maya are cavernous, completely underground, or surrounded by rocky cliffs. Some, such as Cenote Tamcash-Ha, can only be accessed by steep spiral staircases or a tight squeeze through cavernous tunnels, while others can be extremely crowded. I don’t know about you, but crowds and wrangling kids don’t always mesh well.
Recommended by a guy working at our hotel, we decided to visit Cenote Cristal. He’d already steered us to our favorite local taco stand, so we knew we’d like his picks. Our little guy was only 11 weeks old at the time, so we needed plenty of flat, shaded ground for him to relax while we took turns swimming. We also wanted to make sure people weren’t swimming all over our three year old and that she could enter and exit easily.
Why Cenote Cristal is Toddler Friendly
Cenote Cristal, located just a few miles outside of Tulum, is right off of highway 307. After parking in the small lot near the admission and walking a short distance, the jungle opens up to a huge 165 foot wide natural pool. The crystal clear swimming hole is surrounded by towering trees and bushy mounds of ferns and wild grasses as tall as a child.
There are three separate platforms at various locations around the cenote, each with wide wooden steps, offering easy entry for toddlers. About a foot above the water, a guide rope can be used to rest or quickly pull yourself across the huge pool.
Cenote Cristal is perfect for toddlers. Everything is flat, and the cenote is at ground level. There are no high cliffs for a wandering child to walk off. There are a few picnic tables spread around for picnic lunches (or diaper changes on the bench) and toilets on site. You could truly spend all day here.
Jumping into Cenote Cristal
On the far side of Cenote Cristal is a 12 foot high platform, just waiting for the thrill seekers of the bunch. Our little thrill seeker exclaimed that she wanted to jump from there as soon as we arrived. I, on the other hand, was terrified. David made his way up and was immediately followed by our brave girl. She jumped right in like it was nothing!!
Somehow, after that, I got coaxed into attempting the jump. It didn’t seem too bad, until I stood at the top of the platform. I could feel a tight ball forming in my stomach and my palms were beginning to get clammy. My heart was racing like I’d just finished running a 200 yard sprint. I was sure my life was going to end. It was like one of those scenes from the movies where everything goes in slow motion as the unlucky character recounts memories from her life, just as the lights are about to go out.
After several minutes of cheering from all the onlookers, I made the jump. It felt like I was falling to my death. Have I mentioned I’m terrified of heights?
A Bonus: Cenote Escondido
As a bonus, with the entry to Cenote Cristal (120 pesos per person), you also gain access to Cenote Escondido, located right across the highway. You might as well visit both while you’re here.
I would advise a little more caution at this location. The Cenote is several feet below the rocky cliff that you arrive at. It is obvious as you are approaching, but maybe not to an excited little one.
There are stairs off to the side, and while higher than those at Cenote Cristal, they are still manageable for a toddler. For those so inclined, there is a rope swing too.
There wasn’t quite as much open space for me to sit on the side with the baby, but we were able to make it work just fine. There is also a table and toilet facility here.
Tips for Visiting Cenotes with Toddlers:
- Do your research. Some cenotes will be difficult for small children to access, due to steep stairs, etc.
- Ask the locals for input. A guy at our hotel told us about these two. He also told us about another one near our hotel that we didn’t make it to. He said he often had to bike to work and would stop at the one near the hotel to cool off before heading into work.
- Sunscreen and bug spray are not allowed in the cenotes, so make sure to wear appropriate clothing and pack hats. They want to preserve the ecosystem and crystal clear water. You are in the middle of a tropical jungle. There will be bugs, but not in the water so swim away. Both cenotes did have a fire going in the distance to help ward off the pests. There are a few reef-friendly sunscreens you might could try.
- Keep small babies cool and protected from bugs. I used our cooling towel and a clip on fan to keep little man cool in his infant carrier. We kept him in the shade and covered with his mosquito net. I was worried the water would be too cold for him, so we took turns watching him while the other swam with our daughter.
- Don’t forget to pack towels, lifejackets, snorkeling gear and anything else you may want.
- Pack a picnic lunch and some waters for an all afternoon outing
Read here for our tips for visiting Mexico with a baby. Would you go swimming in the middle of the jungle?