The Complete Guide to Visiting Cenote Sac Actun

Picture of Travel Jael exploring the world's largest underwater cave-network Sac Actun in Mexico.For many travellers, visiting a cenote is one of the highlights of the trip to the Yucatán peninsula. Swimming in these freshwater-filled sinkholes is a fascinating, unforgettable and exhilarating experience and an excellent opportunity for underwater photography thanks to the unbelievably clear water. Touring cenote Sac Actun you’ll see more than just a cenote – you’ll have the chance to explore the world’s longest underwater cave-network known today. Read on to learn more about cenotes, how to visit Sac Actun and what to expect.

Photo of the world's largest underwater cave-network Sac Actun

Imagination or reality?

The light from the flashlight illuminates the icicle-like stalactites dangling from the ceiling of the cave, making them sparkle as if encrusted with thousands of tiny diamonds. It takes a hundred years for just one square centimetre of stalactite to form and there are thousands of them here in Sac Actun, some long enough to reach the surface of the water. Everywhere from the ceiling thin spiderweb-like threads hang, evidence of the continuous growth of new stalactites.

We reach a cavern and a small, dark shadow swishes by. Suddenly, I notice there are tens of shadows flying about or just chilling upside down, hanging from the ceiling – bats! As we float further into the underground cave-system I realize this is the type of experience that could usually leave me feeling pretty uneasy, but somehow I feel surprisingly calm. Maybe it’s the beauty of it all or how fascinating it is to see what nature is capable of. Or maybe it’s the fact that everything looks so unbelievably other-wordly that it’s hard to grasp this is actually real.

It’s almost like being part of a fantasy or exploring some fairytale-world and even though I’m an atheist I get the feeling there’s some greater power present here, keeping me safe. Perhaps it was the same feeling the ancient Mayans got when they entered these sites over a thousand years ago, for the cenotes quickly became a very significant and sacred part of their lives. Of course, back then the cenotes also supplied the population – and all living creatures of the peninsula for that matter – with the only source of vital fresh-water.

Photo of Travel Jael exploring Sac Actun and information on how to visit Sac Actun and entrance fee

Photo: Swimming around Sac Actun is an experience you’ll never forget!

New archaeological discoveries in cenotes

Ancient Mayan people believed that cenotes were portals to the underworld Xibalba, so sacrificial objects were often thrown into cenotes. Even humans are believed to have been sacrificed into the cenotes from time to time! Many remains have been found in cenotes, which today have become increasingly important underwater archaeological sites. In fact, due to recent discoveries in the cave-system Sistema Sac Actun, many are now calling it one of the most important underwater archaeological sites in the world! In this article by the Telegraph, you can find out more about the recent archaeological findings in Sac Actun – prehistoric animals for instance – and the work scientists are doing.

As the water starts to get deeper swimming through the cave my thoughts suddenly go to all those people who died in these places. I peer into the deep abyss (as deep as 100 metres at some points!) to my side and can’t help but wonder how many undiscovered remains there might still be down below for future archaeologists to find. Not every archaeologist is a certified diver and diving in caves requires some pretty advanced diving skills. Therefore, obviously underwater cave-systems aren’t the most easily accessible archaeological sites, thus also making them fairly unexcavated and well preserved.

Learn how to visit Sac Actun

Photo: The water in Sac Actun was unbelievably clear, just look at the visibility, those people are over 10 metres away (and this isn’t even a good camera, the quality of this photo is fairly poor)! At the left side you can see the water growing darker as the depth grows deeper – up to over 100 metres at the most.

What is a cenote?

The Yucatán peninsula is known for many things, among them its vast number of cenotes. There are believed to be around 6000 cenotes just in this area and more are being found every year. Many of these holes have filled up with fresh water over time (ground water), forming cenotes. In other words, cenotes are like natural wells of fresh water and have provided humans, animals and vegetation with a much-needed source of water.

The reason cenotes have been able to form in such large quantities in this area is the porous limestone that can be found here. The Yucatán peninsula is often described as a great Swiss cheese filled with these cavities and sinkholes. There are small cenotes, large cenotes, open-air cenotes and underground cenotes. Many cenotes are connected to each other, form large networks – like the Sistema Sac Actun.

How to visit cenote Sac Actun

A cenote is a sinkhole with fresh water

Photo: Have you ever seen water this colour? It felt almost magical dipping into it, although it can be quite cold if you’re not used to cold water (around 20 degrees Celsius according to the guide).

How to see Sac Actun

Snorkel tour of cenote Sac Actun in Mexico

Photo: There were only a handfull of us on the tour. I recommend arriving before lunch to be sure to be able to enjoy the cave in a nice, small-sized group.

You can tour Sac Actun snorkelling or diving, but for the latter you need a lot of specific diving experience. Sac Actun is only for the very experienced diver. Since that description doesn’t apply to neither my boyfriend nor me, we opted for the snorkelling tour, which was excellent! The water is so incredibly clear that you could see even without the mask on, but the mask really came in handy when the ceiling started closing in and we had to go really low through tight passageways.

Coming from Finland, I’m no stranger to cold water-temperatures and I didn’t feel cold without a wetsuit until the last ten minutes of the tour. Some of the others joining our group didn’t feel the same, though, and were freezing even in a wetsuit. The temperature stays at around 20 degrees Celsius according to the guide, so bear that in mind while deciding on whether or not to splurge on the added cost of renting a wetsuit for the tour.

Admiring stalactite in Sac Actun

Photo: Admiring the beautiful stalactites in Sac Actun was one of the highlights of exploring this cave-system.

As I understand, seeing Sac Actun on your own is not possible – you need to be in the presence of a guide. Considering how fragile this environment is, I think this is a good thing. Plus the caves and passageways really are like labyrinths and believe me – you don’t want to get lost here! The entrance fee, guide and gear (lifejacket, snorkel tube and mask) are included in the price (450 pesos). However, consider renting a flashlight! We weren’t told about this option until during the tour and it would have been nice to have our own light. Two of the people joining our tour hadn’t been told about the possibility to rent a wetsuit, so I guess it’s good to know these things in advance so you can ask about them at the site.

The lifejacket seemed to be non-negotiable, I felt I didn’t need one, but wasn’t allowed to go without. On the bright side, there’s a minimum of swimming to do if you wear a lifejacket. On the downside it was pretty uncomfortable and hard to navigate through the small passageways and trying to stay low with the lifejacket pushing me upwards.

While touring, remember to avoid touching the stalactites since this will interfere with their growth due to the oils on the human skin and avoid wearing sun block unless it’s biodegradable (you won’t need it in the cave anyways!).

How to visit Sac Actun

Photo: The story of how Sac Actun was discovered is like the plot of a movie. According to our guide, the owner of the property just bought himself a regular piece of land and started walking around, checking out his domains. Suddenly he fell through the ground ending up in the water-filled cave! The legend has it, it took him some 9 hours to find his way out of the pitch-black cave. Of course this does sound like one of those stories guides make up to entertain their audience, but who knows, it might be true!

How to get to Sac Actun

Driving to cenote Sac Actun

Photo: We rented a car and drove to Sac Actun, which is probably the easiest way to get there. However, watch out for the very bumpy road! The sign in the picture was also just about the only sign we saw, so make sure to check out the map in this blog post before you head towards your destination.

Sac Actun is not one of the main tourist attraction-cenotes (at least not yet!), and it’s located on privately owned property, so you won’t find big tour organizers taking hoards of tourists there. This of course is a good thing; at least we got to explore the cave practically by ourselves! This was refreshing considering the crowds at the Tulum ruins for example. However, it also means that getting to Sac Actun can be tricky. There’s no colectivo (those Mexican shuttle buses) going there and it’s located at some 20 kilometres from Tulum, so walking is not an option.

In other words, there are two ways to get to Sac Actun: taxi or car.

If you’re taking a taxi it’s probably best to have the driver wait for you while you do your tour, so you can get back from Sac Actun as well.

If you’re driving on the other hand, be careful! The road is in pretty atrocious shape at some points with gigantic craters and holes everywhere. You can make the drive, but just watch out and don’t speed – take your time.

Leaving Tulum, head towards the highway that leads to Playa del Carmen. Take the exit for cenote Dos Ojos and just keep going past the entrance to Dos Ojos (they might stop you, but just tell them you’re headed for Sac Actun and they’ll let you pass). Sac Actun is some 6 kilometres further inland. There aren’t a lot of roads or turns and basically you just go straight forward for a while and then take a left turn. But since there aren’t a lot of signs for Sac Actun you might get a bit unsure, so my advice is to check a map beforehand (screenshot of a map of the road down below).

There’s plenty of parking by Sac Actun and it’s free.

how to get to Sac Actun

Sistema Sac Actun – in a nutshell:

  • This cave-system is believed to date back to the Pleistocene epoch, around 2,6 million years ago
  • 101,2 metres is the deepest point.
  • 346 kilometres is the length of the cave-system, thus making it the longest underwater cave-system in the world and the second-longest cave in the world. The longest being the Mammoth Cave Complex in the U.S.A.
  • Home to many archaeological discoveries, some dating as far back as 2,6 million years ago!

The fast facts – Read this before touring Sistema Sac Actun:

  • Arrive before lunch to avoid crowds (there’s no big crowds here, but it’s still nicer to enjoy this tour in as small a group as possible).
  • Entrance fee is 450 pesos and includes gear and a guided tour (for the snorkelling option). This may seem like a pretty steep price considering you can visit some cenotes for around 30 pesos, but I really feel this is worth the investment.
  • The tour lasts around 40-60 minutes.
  • You can expect to see: stalactites, clear water, bats and most likely catfish, prawns and maybe even a tarantula hanging out on one of the stalactites (I did not enjoy this in particular considering I’m terrified of spiders and wasn’t expecting to be confronted with one).
  • There’s parking free of charge.
  • Water is around 20 degrees Celsius. If you’re not used to cold temperatures consider renting a wetsuit for an additional expense.
  • Bring an underwater camera, you’ll want to take pictures.
  • Bring your own flashlight or rent a flashlight on site. You’ll be fine without one, but having one will allow you to see more and gives you that extra comfort.
  • Considering taking a towel with you for afterwards.
  • You can change into and out of your bathing suits in the toilets on the site. You might also want to consider using those toilets before hitting that cold water!
  • You can find the website for Sac Actun here (there’s not that much information, but nice pictures and contact details if you need them).
  • This tour is NOT FOR YOU if you have severe anxiety in cavelike places (for example if you’ve had a panic attack in a cave before), if you suffer from claustrophobia or can’t stand water temperature below 28 degrees Celsius (in that case I don’t think even wearing a wetsuit will help you).

Low ceiling in Sac Actun

Photo: At some points of the tour the ceiling starts dipping pretty low (here in this picture it’s just getting started, it got to the point where the stalactites were basically scraping our heads!). If you are prone to claustrophobia, you might be more comfortable on a different kind of cenote-adventure.

Entrance fee and how to visit Sac Actun

Photo: After the tour we had some time to check out the entrance to Sac Actun on our own. Sac Actun provides the jungle above with much-needed fresh water. Many trees will share a root, so these intertwined roots you see in this photo can function as “straws” for dozens of trees above. Fascinating how trees can work together like that!


Did you find this post helpful? What could I do better? Let me know by leaving a comment or if you prefer, by sending me an e-mail to – thank you for letting me know what I’m doing right and what I could improve!



  1. Allyria
    February 23, 2019 / 12:19 pm

    Awesome 🙂 That water looks amaaaazing!! It’s so clear and blue! Sounds like a great adventure!

    • February 25, 2019 / 6:51 pm

      Yes, it was definitely one of the highlights of our Mexico trip! It felt like we were in some kind of fantasy place – out of this world!

  2. Cass
    April 3, 2019 / 1:15 pm

    how long was your tour?

    • April 3, 2019 / 5:14 pm

      Hi Cass! The guided part of our tour was something between 45-60 minutes. With time for changing in and out of swimwear before and after plus some walking around the area I think we stayed at Sac Actun for 1,5 hours in total. Are you thinking about going? I highly recommend it, it was one of the highlights of our Mexico trip!

  3. January 9, 2020 / 1:32 am

    This post was so informative! It is rare to find blogs with so many concrete, useful details such as the specifics about renting a flashlight, water temps, spiders, etc. Thanks for all the deets!!

    • January 25, 2020 / 10:57 am

      Thank you so, so much for your kind words, made me really happy especially since being informative is one of my main goals with this blog <3! And sorry for the late reply, was in Tanzania without reliable wifi 😉

  4. Christy
    June 27, 2020 / 8:44 pm

    This was so helpful! How much of it would you say was low stalactites? Was it brief and then you passed through to higher areas or was it like that for most of the time?

    • June 28, 2020 / 4:13 pm

      Hi Christy! Thank you so much – it always makes my day to hear someone finds my posts helpful 🙂 It was just like you said: there were only a few spots were the stalactite dropped low and passing through was very brief (at least in my opinion). Just a few metres of ducking down low and the rest of the tour we spent in big caves and it really was a truly amazing experience. Highly recommend it!

    • Carolina López
      March 7, 2021 / 8:10 pm

      Hi!!!! I have a 2yo boy, do you recomend me to take this tour with him?

      • March 21, 2021 / 1:58 pm

        Hi Carolina!

        I would definitely not recommend doing this tour with such a young kid. The good news is there are thousands of other cenotes in this region – perhaps try one of the open-air cenotes instead 🙂

  5. August 21, 2020 / 5:48 pm

    How long would you say you were in the really low part? My daughter is slightly claustrophobic so I am a little concerned if its a very long stretch she may have an issue. And is there an option for her to just wait for us in the main pool area at the beginning?

    • March 21, 2021 / 1:42 pm

      Hi Christy,

      So sorry to keep you waiting so long for a reply. I’ve been taking time off blogging to deal with some health-related issues. As it has taken me so long to reply I don’t know if this is relevant for you anymore, but in case someone else is reading and wondering the same thing I’ll reply anyways 🙂

      See the second last photo in this post? You see how it gets lower and lower? I’d say this was one of the most claustrophobic sections of the tour and perhaps it lasted 3-5 minutes (sorry, hard to give a more exact time since we didn’t have any watches on us). There were a few briefer tunnel-like spots and then open cave-like areas.

      Like I wrote in the Fast facts -section of this blog post, I wouldn’t recommend it if you have claustrophobia… But I guess it depends on how bad yours is and what kind of places trigger it, as that can be very individual.

      As this is a real under-ground cave cenote there’s no main pool. In contrast to many of the other cenotes in the area this one is a cave experience, as opposed to for example Cenote Carwash that’s an open-air cenote. So it might get cold waiting – depending on what you’re used to. But again, this all depends as it’s very individual what everyone’s used to.

      In a nutshell, I stand by what I wrote in the blog post: In general, I wouldn’t recommend this particular cenote for people with claustrophobia (but remember, I don’t know you – you know yourself best to decide what you can handle).

      I’m assuming this question was about an adult daughter, but just in case if not, or if anyone else is reading this answer: I wouldn’t recommend this cenote for kids either. At least not younger kids. Why? You’d have to be sure your kid understands how sensitive this place is and acts responsibly (no touching the stalactites for instance). And for many kids I think being able to swim for 45 minutes in pretty cold water is quite a lot. For example, I don’t know if it would be possible to turn back mid-tour in case you get tired or need the restroom as you need the guide with you (at least we weren’t allowed to tour the cave on our own when we did this tour in 2018). The good news is there are thousands of other cenotes to choose from, so there’s something for everyone – even those with younger kids 🙂

      Again, sorry for the late reply and hopefully this additional information will be helpful to someone.

  6. Marisa
    January 22, 2021 / 3:29 am

    Hello My name is Marisa I am a college student doing a GEOG course right now. I am doing my final project on Sac Actun underwater caves. Would I be able to use your photos for my slides presentation? I would not be using this for commercial use, just in my presentation. I wanted to ask your permission because I don’t know if I can use it for creative use.

    • March 21, 2021 / 1:54 pm

      Hi Marisa,

      Sorry for the late reply, but you got a reply via e-mail earlier. I just want to reply here as well in case someone else is wondering.

      It was so nice of you to ask, as some people will just copy without asking. It’s good to always ask permission and always remember to credit the photographer (in this case me :)). And in this case when you were so kind to ask I was happy to give you permission to use it. Hope your presentation went well!

  7. Audrey Barnhart
    January 26, 2021 / 5:20 am

    Did you pay your entrance fee upon arrival?

    • March 21, 2021 / 1:55 pm

      Hello Audrey,

      Sorry for the late reply. I’ve been dealing with some health-related issues. Yes, we payed the entrance fee upon arrival, before the tour began.

  8. Ellie
    May 19, 2021 / 5:32 am

    Hello, great post. Thank you for sharing! May I ask how much swimming is involved? Could someone who can’t swim do this tour with a life jacket?
    How long are the areas where the feet can’t touch the ground?
    Thank you so much in advance. Really looking forward to your reply. All the best

    • May 30, 2021 / 10:19 am

      Hi Ellie,
      Thank you so much, glad you liked it!
      I would definitely not recommend this for someone who can’t swim (that’s of course my personal opinion). There’s a lot of areas where the feet don’t touch the ground and you need to be able to move forward quite a bit. I mean it’s not super demanding or anything, but I can’t see how it would be possible if you can’t swim. It’s so hard to give an estimate of how long the areas are where your feet don’t touch the ground, but I’d say maybe half the tour(?). Of course that depends on how tall you are (I’m fairly short and felt like I was swimming most of the time).
      In case this wasn’t what you were hoping to hear, remember that there are sooo many cenotes to explore and there’s something for all levels and tastes 🙂
      Lots of love, Jael

  9. Trillium
    April 20, 2022 / 7:15 pm

    Did you have to book the guide to go into the water beforehand? Or were there guides at the entrance?

    • August 7, 2022 / 3:27 pm

      Hi! I’m so sorry you had to wait so long for a reply. Perhaps you already found the answer somewhere else, but just in case (or if someone else is reading and wondering the same) – here’s my answer:
      It’s been a few years since my last visit, but yes, there were guides by the entrance and we didn’t have to book in advance. If you want to make 100% sure to be able to join a tour at a specific time you can of course always check with Cenotes Sac Actun in advance. I included a link to their website with their contact details in the Fast Facts section of this post.

  10. Amy Turnipseed
    September 14, 2022 / 1:54 pm

    Awesome post. Thank you so much for the detailed information.

    • October 16, 2022 / 2:16 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind words 🙂

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