With world-famous white sand beaches set in a tropical paradise, many visitors to the Mayan Riviera never leave the beach at their resort. While this is understandable, it’s a bit of a shame as there are so many incredible things to do with kids in the Mayan Riviera. Two of our favorite things to do with kids near Playa del Carmen is to visit the best Mexican eco-parks and to swim in the best kid-friendly cenotes in the Mayan Riviera.
What is a Cenote?
A cenote is a natural pit or sinkhole of groundwater. Cenotes are typically created when the limestone bedrock collapses and the groundwater is exposed, which is why you typically see pictures of cenotes as caves.
Many of the Maya Riviera cenotes we visited with our were part of an eco-park, but don’t let this scare you off. Mexican eco-parks make it easy to swim in cenotes with kids. These cenotes near Playa del Carmen are well maintained, have adequate lighting and have staircases built in to allow easy entrance. Many of these cenotes will also have a change area.
Swimming in Mayan Riviera cenotes with kids is a truly fun family experience. Even better, you’ll often find that many of these Mayan Riviera cenotes are free for children under 10.
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The 4 Best Kid-Friendly Cenotes near Playa del Carmen
1. Punta Esmerelda
This very beautiful and unique Playa del Carmen cenote is located on one of our 2 favourite beaches for babies & toddlers in the Mayan Riviera. Punta Esmeralda is considered a “locals” beach in Playa del Carmen, but there were plenty of other tourists there and we felt very welcome.
What’s most unique about this Playa del Carmen beach is the cenote nestled in the middle of the beach. It’s a shallow lagoon of fresh water that you can see bubbling up to the surface that runs into the ocean.
What makes this cenote near Playa del Carmen so great for kids is how shallow both the actual cenote and the stream that runs into the ocean are. The cenote is calm, so there are no risks of waves knocking your child over. The stream does have current in it that parents should be cautious with their little ones around.
Your kids will have a blast playing in this “beach pool” and jumping off the side of sand into the stream.
Don’t forget any toddler beach essentials with our list!
2. Kantun-Chi Ecopark
Ecopark Kantun-Chi is 90 km (56 miles) south of Cancun or 22 km (14 miles) from Playa del Carmen. This small eco-park is set within the jungle and has 4 kid-friendly cenotes that are all ideal for kids of all ages.
The furthest cenote from the entrance (cenote 4 – Zacil Ha or “Clear Water”) can be reached by a horse-drawn wagon (that wasn’t operating when we were there) or by an easy 10 minute walk through the jungle. The cenote is almost completely underground with only a small amount of natural light.
This kid-friendly cenote has rock platform that a makes it easy to get into the cenote or for a toddler to sit and splash on. This cenote wasn’t too deep and also had a very low ceiling of stalactites in parts. There are also plenty of rocks you or your kids can stand on inside the refreshingly cool water.
Cenote 3 (Uch Ben Ha or “Ancient Water”) is probably the most picturesque cenote at Kantun-Chi with a large, open air cenote surrounded by lush vegetation. There are kayaks available for use and islands in the middle with hammocks on them. Our kids loved a ride through the cenote on the kayak.
The two family-friendly cenotes closest to the entrance (cenote 1 – Kantun-Chi or “Yellow Stone Mouth” & cenote 2 – Saskaleen Ha or “Crystal Clear Water”), are like entering a cave but with one side open to the jungle. Cenote #2 also had kayaks which was another fun experience since we were actually in a cave once we entered the cenote.
Lifejackets are included in the price and are mandatory. Change rooms and showers are also provided. Storage lockers are free (with a refundable 100 peso deposit). Don’t put on normal sunscreen or mosquito spray before entering the park as they are not allowed. They do provide mosquito spray, which you will want to use.
Combine your visit to the Kantun-Chi eco park with a visit to the beautiful, seaside Tulum Mayan ruins with this private tour.
3. X-keken Ecopark
While visiting Chichen Itza, you might be tempted to take the walk over to the popular cenotes there. Unless you visit Chichen Itza very early in the day, you’ll likely find these popular cenotes to be quite busy. Instead we opted to visit X-keken eco-park, which was a great, less busy alternative to the Chichen Itza cenotes.
There are two cenotes at X-keken eco-park, and we chose to swim in the Dzitnup cenote with our kids. You can pay to swim in one or both.
Though called an ecopark, X-keken is still quite rugged inside. You’ll have to walk through a nearly abandoned shopping area to the cave, where there is a small booth with a guy who will check your ticket and put your belongings in a locker. There are showers and change rooms near the cenote entrance.
The X-keken cenote is down a large set of stairs into a cave. We found it easiest to carry the kids down, but be careful of slippery steps.
Inside the cave is a very large rock platform which makes it easy to let your kids ease into the cenote water (which is a little chilly). This cenote is quite deep and the largest we visited. There are ropes that go across to help those that aren’t as confident in their swimming. Don’t be surprised by the tiny fish who are eager to clean your feet, a luxury you pay for in the resort areas!
4. Choo-ha Cenote
Realizing what a great day trip it made when we paired up a swim in a Mayan Riviera cenote after visiting the ruins, we planned to do something similar after our adventure at Coba. The cenotes were a short 10 minute drive from Coba and easy to find. There were 3 cenotes (Choo-Ha, Tamcach-Ha and Multún-Ha) in this park (which we had to pay a nominal fee to enter) that are owned by the local Mayan community and tourism supports the local people.
We chose to visit the Choo-ha cenote since we felt it would be the best for swimming with kids. They had simple, but good facilities with a row of change rooms, showers and toilets (it’s important to shower before entering to get the oils off). This Mayan Riviera cenote was another cavern style with a very long, steep set of stairs. Again, we found it easiest to carry the kids down.
Inside this kid-friendly cenote there are a lot of stalagmites, crystal clear water and multiple staircases to enter the water. Our toddler loved sitting on the edge and looking for fish in the water, while our preschooler loved to swim around. If you are looking for platforms to jump off, visit the other two cenotes in this area.
There are some large spotlights inside this cenote near Coba, which does take away from the authentic feel but is also necessary since it’s so far down.
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