Cenote Calavera: Why It’s Called The Temple of Doom

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at www.caves.org or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

If you looked up a list of cenotes just near Tulum, you’d have quite a few options. Today we will cover Cenote Calavera, which translates to “Skull Sinkhole” in English. If you’re unfamiliar with what a cenote is, be sure to check out comprehensive guide on Mexican Cenotes first.

Tulum is the name of a town on the Yucatán Peninsula coastline in Mexico, where as many as 2 million tourists visit per year. Popular for beautiful beaches and well-preserved ruins of an ancient Mayan port city, this is a location that every caver and diver ought to have on their bucket list.

A group of people play in the water of Cenote Calavera with a professional diver among them.

Everything to Know About Cenote Calavera

Did we mention this cenote is shaped like a skull? The deep turquoise water and mysterious aura around the cenote attract people throughout the year. There are three holes, with one main opening providing the easiest access. These three holes form a face that contributes to the name ‘calavera’.

Cenote Calavera is part of the same cave system that presents the Sac Actun Cenote and one of the longest underground rivers in the world. Inside, you’ll find “halocline water”, which is a mixture of freshwater and saltwater. The saltwater flows in from the ocean nearby, where it then separates from the freshwater.

Cenote Calavera is not the most massive, nor the most attractive, but many cite that it is still quite enjoyable. A ladder has been installed to allow swimmers to enter and exit with ease, though most prefer to jump right in. The jump is only about 10 feet, and the water is not too cold. Once inside, you’ll see tiny fish, and even bats that congregate around the ceiling above.

Taking in the views is a must. The sunlight that penetrates the small holes in the ceiling creates gorgeous light rays under the water. When the halocline is undisturbed, it turns the light into something magical.

A woman holds on to a vine while treading water inside Cenote Calavera.

How to Get to Cenote Calavera

You have a few options when traveling to Cenote Calavera, because it’s not too far from Tulum.

If you’re on your own, take QROO 109 and follow signs toward Coba. After a few minutes, a large white wooden sign will say “CENOTE” in all caps. Tourists often miss this sign, so be on the lookout for it on the right side of the road.

Renting a car: This is the easiest method, and takes about ten minutes to get there from Tulum, and fifteen minutes from the hotels. Some recommend hiring a personal driver for the day, which would cost around $100-150. If you have the funds and want to make a day trip out of it, bring some friends and go for it! Spending the whole day at one location will not be ideal.

Taxi: If you don’t have a car, a taxi works fine. But as we’ll cover more later, keep the taxi company’s phone number ahead of time! Don’t wait until it’s time to leave to realize that you’ll have to wait a long time if you’re not lucky.

Biking: The bike ride will be about 20-25 minutes, but might be a great way to get a quick workout before diving into the cool waters inside. In the summer, expect the air to be very hot and and humid.

Walking: Some people elect to walk to Cenote Calavera, but be aware that you will be walking along a highway the entire time. The walk will take about 45 minutes, and if you end up reaching the cenote in the mid-afternoon, you’ll have to contend with a huge influx of visitors. Going early will help avoid a crowd as well as the overbearing humidity most of the year.

Activities at Cenote Calavera

Perhaps it goes without needing mentioning, but we’ll mention it anyway. Diving, snorkeling, swimming, and simply relaxing – all are possible at Cenote Calavera and most cenotes in general.

For the more adventurous, you can try cliff jumping. There are several naturally formed diving spots, including multiple holes into the cenote itself. In the images you are shown the main opening, but there are two other smaller holes where one person can jump in at a time.

The two holes form the “eyes” and the main opening forms the mouth, which gave Calavera Cenote its name.

Diving in cenotes is a great way to explore them further. However, we recommend a guided diving excursion, such as the one provided by Ko’ox Diving Tulum. This is a popular diving center that offers a safe way to experience diving in many cenotes besides just Cenote Calavera.

A map of Cenote Calavera and diving locations.

Tips and Tricks

There’s a few ways to make sure you have the best experience possible.

First of all, keep cash on you. The entrance is cash only, and bringing the exact pesos required will save time.

Secondly, as we touched on earlier, have the phone number of a taxi handy if you did not drive or bike there. It’s been said that there may be a long wait for a taxi if you don’t have the company number ready.

In addition to having some extra cash, keep your phone with you. For some reason, the staff here is annoying about photography. If you try to bring a camera, a go pro, or a drone, you will have to pay extra.

When you get there, you have to shower off any sunscreen, bug spray, lotion or other applied products. This is to protect the fragile ecosystem that accompany each cenote. Don’t worry about mosquitos too much – the bats do help keep the population down. But be prepared for a public shower without much privacy!

Finally, if you are planning on going early, keep in mind the gates open promptly at 9 AM, and will close at 5 PM. Your best bet will be to reach there sometime before 10 to avoid the afternoon rush.

One drawback is that due to its massive popularity, there are times when it’s too busy for personal comfort. Some lines form as visitors all want to take turns getting the right selfies or videos of them diving into the cenote. It’s best to plan accordingly and try to go at a time that is less busy.

In addition, there is a charge for bringing a go pro camera or drone. You may be able to hide your smaller camera from the staff and do whatever you like once you’re past the entrance. We recommend this, because the charge is rather nonsensical, another 100 MXN ($5) or so.

The bone remains of something lay on the rocks inside Cenote Calavera.
Sometimes animal bones are found here, contributing to the aura of the Temple of Doom.


Cenote Calavera is one of the more well-known yet consistently visited cenotes, despite being relatively small. Its entrance fee has steadily climbed over the years, now up to 250 MXN ($13 USD). Compared to other cenotes, this is definitely an overpriced location.

The taxi ride from the main town to Cenote Calavera is typically under 100 MXN ($5), but some opt for a bike instead. Bicycle rentals are just 150 MXN for an entire day ($7.75).

As mentioned earlier, there is another charge for people bringing cameras or drones. Your phone will be permitted, but prepare to pay 100 MXN ($5) if you want to use any extra devices.

Cenote Calavera Tours

There are a few tours available that include Cenote Calavera, but it’s not as easy to find one as it is with some other cenotes.

Cenote Triple Adventure Tour in Tulum

Price: $116.00


Av. Tulum Mza 4 Lt 5. Departs from an office on Avenida Tulum.

Time: Begins at 9:00 AM, for roughly 4 hours

Description: This tour takes you on a trip through three separate cenotes: Gran Cenote, Cenote Zemway, and Cenote Calavera. GoPro photos are provided, along with necessary equipment and transportation.

Note that the description mentions Casa Cenote, but the “What to Expect” section mentions Cenote Zemway.

Hotels by Cenote Calavera

We’ve compiled a list of the best and closest hotels to make the trip easiest. Note that other hotels may provide a better experience depending on other cenotes you are visiting, but these are all relatively close to Cenote Calavera.

Because Cenote Calavera is more inland from the beach, these resorts offer you a great chance to soak up the sun and relax when you return from your trip.

Esplendor by Wyndham Tulum Nook

Distance: 7.5 km (17 minutes) via Av. Kukulkan.

Rating: 8.4/10 (80+ reviews)

Hotel Poc Na Tulum 

Distance: 4.0 miles (6.4 km)

Rating: 8.6/10 (1100+ reviews)

Jashita Hotel & Pandano Restaurant

Distance: 16.9 km (18 minutes)

Rating: 9.3/10 (100+ reviews)

Hilton Tulum Riviera Maya All-Inclusive Resort

Distance: 25.7 km (25 minutes)

Rating: 7.9 (30+ reviews)

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