X'tohil: A Guide to the Cenotes in Cuzama, Yucatan
The city of Merida makes for a great base when exploring Yucatan but this was our second time in the area and we were looking to venture beyond the well-worn path. We've seen Maya ruins, pristine beaches, pink salt flats and flamingos but knew there was more to uncover. While planning for our day trips from Merida, we read about a region not far from the capital where visitors can explore hidden cenotes by way of a horse and buggy on old railway tracks. Now that sounded like a real adventure. If you've seen any of our travel videos on YouTube, I'm sure you'd agree this would make for a great addition to our 99 Days in Mexico series. Little did we know this would end up being one of our most memorable days in Mexico...
Merida to Cuzama cenotes Day Trip
The town of Cuzama is located about 45 kms southeast of Merida. There is second-class bus service from Merida to Cuzama, Yucatan from the Noreste bus terminal. Though buses run daily, the times didn't suit our schedule when planning for our day trip to the cenotes in Cuzama. An alternative to the bus is the colectivo which is conveniently located directly across the street from the Noreste station. Colectivos in Mexico are shared vans providing transportation for 10 or more passengers along popular routes. They're an affordable means of getting around the Yucatan peninsula so we took a colectivo to the cenotes in Cuzama. The price per person was $27 pesos each way (March 2018) and the ride from Merida to our stop was just under an hour.
While we intended to visit the Cuzama cenotes we had read about online, that's not where we ended up. About 5kms away from Cuzama, I heard our colectivo driver yell "Cenotes!" Without thinking twice, I gave Wes the nod and we jumped out. We were joined by another traveller from Michigan and the three of us received a warm greeting from a group of guides. It wasn't until several hours later that I would notice the banner that hung at their entrance read Cenotes X'tohil (which is not where we intended to go). I like to think we were meant to get off at the wrong stop because we had an amazing day in the end and would recommend this to anyone wanting to explore cenotes near Merida with a local guide.
Cuzama Cenotes X'tohil
The most unique feature about the cenotes in Cuzama is the system of trails joining each cenote entrance. There's a railway track connecting the cenotes and you're transported between each via a horse and buggy. Led by our horse, Palomo, we visited 4 different cenotes in Cuzama, each with a different look and feel. All were underground and accessed by ladders and stairs built by the local guides. We were able to swim in 3 out of 4 of the cenotes and joined by bats, birds and even small fish. Our favourite cenote of the day had a rope swing and you can see the fun we had in our YouTube video linked at the bottom of this post. This was the day I learned I'm not the best at rope swings! 🤦🏻♀️
Before You Go to the Cuzama cenotes
If you're planning on visiting any of the Cuzama cenotes in this area, here are a few things to know before you go:
- We paid $400 pesos per cart (1-4 persons) in March 2018. The price is the same whether you're travelling alone or with 3 other people. In our case, we were joined by a solo traveller and split the fee three ways. Cash only.
- To maximize your experience, it's best to arrive around 10-11am. This ensures the sun is high enough in the sky during your visit and lots of natural light will enter each cenote. 10am to 2pm are therefore the busiest times of the day but we only encountered another group of people at one of the cenotes (the rest we had to ourselves).
- There are minimal facilities on site at Cuzama Cenotes X'tojil: free parking, basic washrooms, a small snack stand but not much else.
- All of the cenotes we visited were underground but we were able to bring our belongings down with us without getting anything wet. A dry bag would be useful just in case.
- Our guide spoke only Spanish but there are some guides who understand some English. Even if you're not able to understand the information shared in Spanish, the tour is worth it for the cenotes alone.
- The cenotes are accessed by wooden staircases and ladders. I struggled a bit in my flip-flops so you may want to bring better shoes than I did!
- The area is remote and you may not get a cell signal.
- Life jackets are available and are included in the price.
- Bring a towel with you to dry off between cenotes.
X'tohil versus the other Cuzama CENOTES
I had planned this Merida day trip with every intention of going to visit the 3 cenotes at Cuzama, largely inspired by Roaming the World's experience. We would have taken the colectivo all the way to Cuzama and then a short trip on a motorbike but ended up getting off at the wrong stop. I'm a firm believer in "what's meant to be will be" and I like to think we were meant to experience Cenotes X'tohil instead. It seems there are actually a handful of cenote tours being operated in the Cuzama area and an ongoing dispute as to who has rights to the land and the trails between cenotes. I didn't learn of this until after our cenote day trip so I'm not sure if any of these groups are operating unlawfully. What I do know is that we had a fun, positive and memorable day with our guide at X'tohil and I'd recommend their tours if you're looking to explore cenotes near Merida.
The People at Cuzama Cenotes X'toHil
These days, a lot of popular tours in Mexico have a corporate Disneyland-like feel to them with lineups, wristbands and tip jars. Our experience at cenotes X'tohil could not have felt more authentic. Everyone we met there genuinely wanted to ensure we had the best experience possible and it felt so much like a family welcoming us into their home. They called for our colectivo at the end of our day and were giving us regular updates on its anticipated arrival. Their faces lit up as soon a car with a new group of tourists pulled up. They handed us handmade flyers and business cards so that we could give them to our friends. We were really touched by their hospitality and left wishing we could have done more to help. Hopefully, at the very least, this post will inspire others discover these amazing cenotes near Merida. Maybe you'll be swayed to get off at the wrong stop, too.