After a month exploring Mexico, we’ve developed a curated guide of the most wanderlust-inspiring waterfalls in Chiapas, and the most atmospheric cenotes in Yucatán.
Mexico has stunning beaches. Long stretches of golden sand dotted with palm trees frame clean blue oceans. Comfy loungers, with cocktails on hand, provide the perfect vantage point for people-watching.
But deluxe beach clubs are not the only way to cool off in Mexico.
The cenotes of Yucatán are natural sinkholes created after limestone bedrock collapsed, exposing the groundwater underneath. Vines from the trees above stretch down their long cavernous walls reaching cool clear water at the bottom.
Further inland the remote territory of Chiapas has some of the best waterfalls in Mexico. Water cascades over deep valley walls into pools surrounded by lush vegetation and boulders big enough to carry a sunbather.
So put down the cocktail and try some remote and wild swimming. After a month on the road, here are our favourite cenotes and waterfalls in Mexico.
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MAP / WATERFALLS IN CHIAPAS & YUCATÁN, MEXICO
Along with popular tourist resorts, the Caribbean coastal state of Yucatán has several great swimming spots in thoroughly atmospheric places.
But on our Mexico road trip we headed further inland to discover some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Chiapas – an area of dense rainforest, dotted with incredible Mayan ruins. Cool off in deep cave systems or lush waterfalls in this thoroughly under-visited part of Mexico.
1 – MISOL HÁ
A tropical oasis with a beautiful natural pool under a waterfall
Misol Há is a 35-meter waterfall set deep in the jungle of Chiapas. It drops into a perfectly formed circular pool, surrounded by rocks and lush vegetation. A path runs directly behind the falls and leads to a small cave providing great views through the water.
A high concentration of mineral deposits maintains the water’s clear, brilliantly blue lustre. This makes Misol-Há the perfect spot for a refreshing dip before unwinding and warming yourself on one of the large rocks framing the pool.
In the late afternoon, the sun filtering through the falls creates a mesmerizingly tranquil scene.
For the sheer beauty of the place, and the pristine water, Misol Há is easily one of our favourite waterfalls in Mexico. It’s also close to some of the interesting archaeological sites in Mexico and a great way to cool off after a long day of sightseeing.
Getting to Misol-Há / Misol-Há is 20 kilometres from Palenque on the road to San Cristóbal | Location – Camino a Cascada de Misol-Ha, Chiapas | Hours – 06:45 – 19:45 | Costs – There’s a small fee for entry and parking.
2 – CASCADA EL AGUACERO CHIAPAS
An adventure to a deep canyon waterfall in Chiapas
Cascada el Aguacero Chiapas is located at the end of a makeshift road that looks like it was in desperate need of repair decades ago. A twisting drive down a steep rutted concrete road ends at a car park where a cheery Mexican will request 35 peso per person and promise to keep an eye on your car.
But, what makes Cascada el Aguacero one of our favourite waterfalls in Mexico is its stunning location. From the car park, 700 steps lead to the valley floor where steep canyon walls rise on either side, and a small river winds past large boulders.
If the water is high it’s a 30-minute hike through the jungle to get to the waterfall. However, from around December to May it’s usually possible to walk along the valley floor which only takes 15 minutes to reach the silvery strands cascading over mossy rocks.
A number of paths lead to hidden caves and an underground river. Bring a picnic lunch and a couple of beers to truly enjoy this relaxed atmosphere. Just keep in mind it’s 700 steps back up to the car park, so not too many beers.
Getting to Cascade el Aguacero / Cascada el Aguacero is about 1-hour drive from Tuxtla, look for the turn-off about 15 kilometres west of Ocozocoautla on the 190 (not the 190D) | Address – Cañón Río La Venta, Cascada El Aguacero.
3 – AGUA AZUL
Colourful turquoise waters in a lush jungle setting
Just under 40 miles from Palenque, the bright blue waters of Agua Azul cut a striking scene through the Lacandon Jungle. Numerous cascades race over orange rock, diverting then reconnecting, before forming pools of turquoise waters throughout the jungle landscape. The colour and the namesake comes from the high mineral content of the water, making Agua Azul one of the most striking waterfalls in Mexico.
Being so close to the ruins of Palenque it’s not exactly off the beaten track. Rows of tourist-targeted restaurants and trinket shops line the path. But if you’re not expecting to have the place to yourself Agua Azul is well worth the visit. Continue past the shops and eventually the path becomes more natural, the crowds disappear and you’ll realise why it is one of our favourite waterfalls in Mexico.
The top of the path is a great place for a swim and once you’ve worked up an appetite in the waters of Agua Azul, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from on your way back to the car park.
Getting to Aqua Azul / Agua Azul is 40 miles from Palenque off Hwy 199 | Colectivo – Shared taxis go from Palenque to “Crucero de Agua Azul” where pickup trucks will take you the rest of the way. | Tours – Alternatively, take a guided tour from San Cristóbal.
4 – CASCADA DE LAS GOLONDRINAS
A powerful waterfall for some energetic swimming
Between the popular ruins of Palenque and the slightly less popular archaeological site Yaxchilán, Cascada de las Golondrinas provides the setting for a great afternoon swim in one of the most energising waterfalls in Mexico. Here two cascades dramatically meet in a beautiful pool, surrounded by verdant jungle.
After a short walk up from the car park and along wooden boardwalks you will find picnic tables and easy access to the turquoise pools. But swimming at Cascada de las Golondrinas is more a test of strength than relaxation.
Fast-flowing water pushes even the strongest of swimmers away from the base of the waterfall, hurtling you back towards the edge of the pool.
Fortunately, the pool is big enough to avoid the strong currents and a rope and netting provide assistance if you fear being swept downstream. It’s a fun way to cool off from the heat of the day. Some basic facilities are available to enjoy a picnic at a beautiful waterfall in Mexico.
Getting to Cascada de las Golondrinas / Cascada de las Golondrinas is 56 kilometres from Frontera Corozal (the entry point for Yaxchilán), and 128 kilometres from Palenque. It’s a 10 kilometres drive off Highway 307.
5 – HACIENDA SAN LORENZO OXMÁN CENOTE
An atmospheric cenote deep cenote with vines stretching to the water
There are around 6000 cenotes in Yucatán which can be collected on a week in Playa del Carmen. The one at Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman is our favourite. Deceptively deep and fully collapsed, roots twist their way down its entire length, collecting water for the trees growing around the rim. Plants cling to the moss-covered rocky walls with water trickling down from above. It’s a beautiful cavernous swimming hole.
Like most cenotes in Mexico the water is clean (showering is compulsory before entering) but extremely refreshing. A rope hangs over the water, and it’s great fun to swing across and drop yourself into the pool to the approval of the cheering crowd. On our visit, we saw kids – particularly devoid of sanity – jumping in from the top.
Next to the cenote, there is a pool that visitors can use and a well-stocked bar. This gives Hacienda San Lorenzo more of a party vibe than a relaxing chill-out space, and it works its theme perfectly.
Getting to Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman / San Lorenzo is 5 kilometres from Valladolid. Bikes can be hired for around 80 peso for the day or taxis are easy to order. Parking is included in the entrance fee | Hours – 8:00 – 17:00 | Cost – 30 pesos per person | Location – Calle 54, Valladolid
6 – IK KIL CENOTE
Beautiful icy dip close to Chichén Itza
If you find yourself hot and sweaty after exploring Chichén Itza make your way to the wonder of Ik Kil Cenote. This particularly attractive cenote – sacred to the Mayans and used for ritual services – is a 26-metre climb down spiral stone stairs to get to the 40-metre deep swimming hole.
The steep walls and deep water make it particularly icy, but once you brave the temperature, the beautiful clear water, small waterfalls trickling down the rocky walls and vines descending from the surface, all make Ik Kil an atmospheric cenote that really shouldn’t be missed. Bring a pair of goggles to spot the friendly fish that have made this place their home.
As Ik Kil is only a 10-minute drive from Chichén Itza and has tourist facilities including a restaurant and a gift shop, you won’t exactly have it all to yourself. But on our visit, there were more people in the gift shop than the cenote.
Getting to Ik Kil Cenote / Many tour operators run from Chichén Itza, however, if you have your own car it’s a very easy drive | Location – Hwy 180, Km 122 | Hours – 8:00 – 17:00 | Cost – 70 peso for adults, 35 for children
7 – X’KEKÉN
An almost completely enclosed underground swimming cave
For a different experience to the other cenotes or the waterfalls in Mexico, Cenote X’kekén, is an almost completely enclosed cenote with just a small opening at the top letting in a dramatic shard of light.
It lacks as many vines and roots growing down from the top but it makes up for it in the uniqueness of swimming in an underground cave. Stalactites dangle gracefully from the limestone ceiling and the water is cool, clear and packed with inquisitive fish.
There is second cenote, Cenote Samulá, a 5-minute walk away. But although it is larger it’s much less attractive. Over recent years, facilities have started appearing at X’Kekén including a gift shop, lockers, bathrooms, showers and food stalls. Lifeguards are on duty in the cenote. Try to arrive late morning/midday when the sunlight is streaming through the opening.
Getting to X’Kekén / X’Kekén is 3 kilometres from Vallodlid | Cost – 80 pesos for adults, 50 for kids (1 cenote); 125 adults; 50 kids (both cenotes) Location – near Dzintup
MORE READING FOR MEXICO TRIP
Mexico has a vibrancy and energy that hits you the minute you arrive. There’s plenty to explore in Yucatán near the biosphere reserve of Celestun, plus here are some more of our guides:
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