Cenote Cristalino is one of a handful of spellbinding water-filled sinkholes, or cenotes, within short driving distance from the popular Yucatan tourist hub of Playa del Carmen.
It’s stunning, it’s mesmerizing, it’s utterly refreshing.
But is Cenote Cristalino really worth a day trip from Playa del Carmen?
Lori and I set out to discover this amazing place for ourselves and report back with what we find, including whether the rumors of overcrowding are true and what people actually do at cenotes.
We also offer a bunch of helpful tips and considerations for planning your own visit, if you choose to do one.
Visiting Cenote Cristalino | An Easy Day Trip from Playa del Carmen
Why Visit Cenote Cristalino
Just twenty minutes from the heart of Mexico‘s Playa del Carmen, Cenote Cristalino is a family-run, well-maintained natural recreation area, perfect for cooling off and rejuvenating on a hot day.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting a Mexican cenote, think of the clear, tropical pool of your dreams and triple it.
Cenotes are limestone sinkholes that have filled with water over time and tend to be extraordinary clear. Some cenotes create a sort of cavern. Cenote Cristalino is of the open-air variety, akin to a fairytale swimming pool.
Cristalino features multiple natural pools that, true to the spot’s name, are impossibly clear and verdant.
Cenote Cristalino is easy to find, affordable, and can be peaceful and relaxing, if you play your cards right (more on that later).
Getting There (and Back Again!)
Cenote Cristalino is located on the Riviera Maya and easily accessed 15 miles south of Playa del Carmen, right off of the Carretera 307 (the main highway connecting Playa and Tulum).
The best way to access Cenote Cristalino is by private vehicle. However, you can also take a colectivo from Playa del Carmen (starting at 2nd Street), or hire a taxi.
Getting back to Playa can be a bit more challenging, but northbound taxis can be flagged on the main highway (307).
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Fees & What’s Included
Like most other cenotes in the Yucatan, Cenote Cristalino is a small, private operation, so there is an entrance fee for visitors (150 pesos, last we checked).
In addition to access to the cenote, your entrance fee also gets you a life jacket and access to a tidy toilet and changing facilities.
If all of this fun in the sun makes you hungry or thirsty, it’s helpful to note that the main office also doubles as a small snack shack.
Pools & Surroundings
The walk from the parking lot to the pools is less than 100 yards (100 meters) down a gradual slope.
Cenote Cristalino is actually a series of natural pools connected by small mangroves. As you enter the complex, you are greeted by the smallest of the set — as you go to your left, the pools get larger and more spectacular.
Paving stones border the pools making for a nice walkway, with aluminum ladders into the water at three different points.
There are numerous shaded sitting areas with wooden benches and a lounging area in the upper portion accessible by a gravel path and stone staircase.
On some days, it appears there is a lifeguard on duty, but there wasn’t one on the weekday we visited.
We felt really fortunate on the day we visited, as there was only one other person in the entire complex when we arrived (around 9:30am), with no more than 4-5 people in the water during the busiest time.
Granted, we were there on a pre-Spring Break weekday in late February, but it still could have been much busier.
We hear that Cenote Cristalino can get very busy, especially on Sundays when local families tend to visit, and as things heat up later in the day.
The water may have been a bit brisk at 9:30am, but it was well worth it to have the cenote essentially to ourselves.
What to Do at Cenote Cristalino
After arriving, it was difficult to decide what to do first. Given the time of day and temperature of the water, we decided the modest jumping cliff was a good place to start.
Not to be out-done by my wife, I busted out my finest form.
However, it took four jumps to finally capture it on camera. By that time, my form could have placed me into Olympic medal contention…given the right group of judges, of course
Natural Fish Spa
Another fun thing to do at Cenote Cristalino is to get your feet cleaned “Dr. Fish”-style.
The fish were hungry that day, my friends…which surprised me a bit given that the place wasn’t deserted later in the morning when the fish had a variety of feasting options.
A few particularly large fish enjoyed their mid-morning snack a little too much, if you ask me, and were absolutely insatiable.
I usually do alright with the small guys, but the big guys tickled to the point of holding back tears.
Lori’s mom indeed proved much stronger-willed than myself as she was able to sit there for what seemed like hours and just let the fish go about their business.
I, on the other hand, could only last in 1-2 minute increments. Shameful.
Lori’s dad enjoyed the show from the bench, but eventually got in the game to check out the tropical feet-nibblers himself.
I didn’t hear much giggling, so either the man has nerves of steel or the fish wanted nothing to do with him. I’d like to think the former.
Jumping off rocks and getting your feet nibbled on is fun and all, but the real draw to Cenote Cristalino might just be the surprisingly amazing snorkeling. The water, true to the cenote’s name, is crystal clear.
Depths reach about 20 feet (6 meters) and visibility on this particular day was virtually unlimited.
In addition to the foot nibblers, we saw catfish and an array of small, colorful fish which we weren’t able to readily identify. We also came across a turtle about 6-8 inches long, milling about, getting into trouble.
While none of the fish were as large as what you might typically find in the waters off the Yucatan seashore, the abundance of small fish and otherworldly environment made it a very unique morning.
Is Cenote Cristalino worth a Visit?
The million dollar question seems to be if clear and convenient Cenote Cristalino is worth bothering with, given its relative popularity and number of visitors it attracts each year.
We would say a resounding YES! Cristalino is totally worth your time and money. BUT, with the caveat that you really need to plan your visit carefully and follow the recommendations we mentioned above for when to visit.
Do keep in mind that there is no guarantee that you are going to get the place largely to yourself midweek at 9:30am like we did. But it’s certainly worth a try!
The whole experience was quite unlike anything we’ve done before, making Cenote Cristalino a worthwhile visit, indeed.
A Word About Health & Safety in Mexico
Despite the headlines, the vast majority of travelers to Mexico these days don't encounter serious issues with health and security. With that said, we've had plenty of stuff happen affecting our travel over the years no matter where we travel — severe weather, road accidents, broken bones, foodborne illnesses and other nasties.
When we've had these sorts of setbacks while traveling, it's been a huge relief to have solid international travel insurance — from a financial standpoint, but also to have the support of English-speaking health care experts at any hour.
We use World Nomads for all of our short-term travel outside of the U.S. and our experiences have always been positive.
Have you visited Cenote Cristalino?
What did you think? What is your favorite cenote in the Yucatan? Let us know in the comments below.
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