Last Updated on October 8, 2019 by Bryony Clapperton
Three years after getting my open water dive certification I found myself stood at the opening of a massive cenote in Playa del Carmen, Mexico ready to get in and explore.
I travelled to the Yucatan with one agenda: Cenote diving in Playa del Carmen but I didn’t really know exactly what this meant.
Despite, not having dived frequently or at all since my time in Utila, I was ready to embrace my fears and take the plunge. Literally.
Before arriving in Playa del Carmen I already knew that I’d be diving. I’d pre-arranged the trip ahead of time.
This may sound quite random, but there’s a perfectly good reason that I was so keen to do some cenote diving in Playa del Carmen.
The original dive master I had learnt with in Utila was now living and working in Playa del Carmen. As our paths would cross again, I saw this as the perfect opportunity to dive again.
I’d heard about Kaspers venture Halocline Divers and the opportunity seemed too perfect to pass up.
Before arriving in Mexico I got in touch with Kapser at Halocline Divers and before I knew it I was being picked up from my hostel and heading towards one of the Yucatans most popular cenotes. Dos Ojos.
Before we get to the Dos Ojos diving part, let’s discuss Playa del Carmen, Mexico in a bit more detail.
Playa del Carmen
Where is Playa del Carmen?
Playa del Carmen is a small but popular coastal resort just south of Cancun in Mexico. It is located in the popular tourist strip of Riviera Maya.
This fine slice of Caribbean shoreline is littered with 5 star resorts and spas that attract tourists year round.
The main town of Playa del Carmen is located in this area. Downtown Playa del Carmen isn’t home to any large resorts or 5 star hotels, but it is home to a lot of fun.
Smaller and less fancy than Cancun, Playa del Carmen has a more chilled backpacker vibe. It’s easy to see why so many people, like Kasper, arrive here and don’t want to leave.
It’s not quite as traditionally Mexican as other areas of the country, but there’s more culture here tan Cancun that’s for sure.
Playa del Carmen town isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing place, the beaches aren’t as nice as those in Cancun or further down the coast.
The lack of colonial architecture is a constant reminder you’re in the Yucatan as opposed to central Mexico. Although what Playa lacks in culture it makes up for in tourist attractions.
The town itself is packed with bars, restaurants and dive schools. The popular main street of Fifth Avenue is nothing short of a nightmare, but even so it’s hard not to enjoy.
Fifth Avenue is the main tourist street in Playa del Carmen. It runs pretty much the entire length of the beach and is where you’ll find all the tourist amenities you’ll need during your stay.
If you want to buy drugs, get arrested or do both at the same time Fifth Avenue is where you’ll want to be.
Most hotels in the Rivera Maya are are actually outside of Playa del Carmen, but if you are backpacking and stay in a hostel you’ll be close to the Fifth Ave area and it’s worth checking out some of the local bars.
Despite the hellish hustle and bustle of Fifth Ave, there is something cool about Playa del Carmen and the constant flood of tourists means just proves that.
Where to stay in Playa del Carmen?
If you’re looking for an affordable, but fun hostel with a great pool then Hostel Sayab is the one for you.
With clean, 6 bed, air-conditioned dorms and larger mixed dorms available you’ll be able to find the right price for you at Hostel Sayab.
There are also a bunch of private rooms too and a free breakfast on offer for all guests everyday. Basic as to be expected when free.
There’s a large bar and outdoor area around the pool and during the high season it’s not uncommon to find DJ’s playing at pool parties here.
The pool and outdoor common areas are actually quite fabulous, we spent a few hours soaking up the sun and enjoying the pool during our stay at Hostel Sayab.
You also get a cheeky lil welcome drink on arrival, which is always a vibe!
Things to do in Playa del Carmen
There are literally so many things to do in Playa del Carmen, from exploring the surrounding areas to taking a collectivo to the neighboruing towns.
You could easily spend weeks here and never get bored.
The best things to do in Playa del Carmen include;
- Take a walk around Downtown Playa del Carmen, try some traditional Mexican food in an authentic taqueria.
- Head to Cozumel on the ferry that leaves from the main tourist street Fifth Avenue
- Explore the beaches, bars and hotels dotted along the sands in the low season it’s easy to get a sun lounger.
- Check out some of the huge souvenir shops in Fifth Avenue and buy all the tacky gifts you can dream of. I say tacky but this is legit my faveourite thing to do.
- Hit put Fat Tuesdays on Fifth Avenue and drink refillable margaritas before heading to the beach to sleep it off.
- Explore the cenotes around Playa del Carmen. Even if not diving you can swim and snorkel in most! There are also a lot of other things happening at most cenotes.
- Take a collectivo from Playa del Carmen to Tulum or Cancun.
Collectivos from Playa del Carmen
If you are keen to do some cheap or budget friendly excursions from Playa del Carmen then listen up.
Collectivos are probably the quickest and cheapest way to travel between Cacun – Playa del Carmen – Tulum.
Although the ADO bus is comfortable and reliable, it is much more expensive than grabbing a collectivo.
If you are travelling with a lot of baggage I recommend taking the ADO between these locations. But if you are staying in one place and looking to spend the day in another then collectivos are perfect for you.
The journey from Tulum to Playa del Carmen or Playa del Carmen to Cancun costs roughly 40 pesos. There is an hour between each town, meaning you can get from Cancun to Tulum in just over 2 hours.
Collectivos from Playa del Carmen leave very frequently from a street close to the main ADO bus station on 5th Avenue.
If you haven’t taken a collectivo before, you should look for small white mini buses. Tell the driver where you are going and don’t expect to pay until the end or mid-way through your journey.
If you are unfamiliar with the area, sit up front with the driver and ask them to let you know where to get off. A small amount of Spanish is usually required.
Although there are a wide range of things you can do in Playa del Carmen, there is one that sits above all on that list.
Cenote diving in Playa del Carmen is a big deal. The entire area is filled with dive shops for pro-divers and people just looking to learn.
Cenote diving is extremely popular in this area due to the vast number of cenotes sprinkled across the Yucatan and Quintana Roo.
What is a cenote?
First of all, if you haven’t been to this part of Mexico it’s probably unlikely you’ve come across the term cenote, let alone cenote diving.
A cenote is a large natural hole in the ground that has been caused overtime by the collapse of layer limestone. This collapse then exposes a body of clear water underneath.
The Yucatan in Mexico has hundereds of cenotes which have become popular tourist attractions due to their natural beauty.
The first time I discovered a cenote was at Chichen Itza where I first began to read about the importance of cenotes to Mayan culture and history in the region.
If you decide to explore some cenotes either by diving or just snorkeling Playa del Carmen is the ideal spot. Most people are instantly captivated by the unique geology of a cenote.
They are filled with naturally forming stalactites and stalagmites. These occur over thousands of years as water drips from the ceiling of the collapsed cenote.
There is usually a small fee associated with visiting a cenote. Often if you are diving this will be included in your total price. If you plan on visiting and not diving you can pay at the entrance easily.
Cenotes Riviera Maya
With tourism comes popular tourist activities. As I mentioned earlier the Riviera Maya strip is home to many large hotels and resorts filled with people looking to get their fill of the Yucatan.
Exploring cenotes in Riviera Maya has become one of the most popular things to do in this area. You’ll even find theme parks up and down the coast that play on popularity of this.
If you want to visit any of the Riviera Maya cenotes your hotel or tour operator will help you book an excursion. However, many are accessible to the public without.
Most cenotes in Riviera Maya will charge an entrance fee but when booked as part of an excursion the cost is usually included.
Popular Riviera Maya cenotes
Some of the most popular Riviera Maya cenotes are;
- Cenote Jardin del Eden aka. Garden of Eden
- Cenote Dos Ojos
- Grand Cenote
- Cenote Ik Il
- Cenote Caleta Tanka (different because this one is on the beach)
Dos Ojos diving
As mentioned earlier before heading to Playa del Carmen I knew I wanted to do some cenote diving with Kasper.
I reached out to Halocline Divers and planned my Dos Ojos diving. Halocline Divers prefer to do trips with smaller groups, so you get a better more intimate experience.
We’d be diving Dos Ojos in a group of three. Myself, Kasper and one other diver. As a non-confident pro diver, this had me feeling very reassured.
We’d be doing two dives at Dos Ojos. The first dive would be The Bat Cave and the second dive would be The Barbie Line.
Both of these dives are very popular in the high season with cenote diving being one of the most popular things to do in Playa del Carmen.
Fortunately for us, we’d be cenote diving in the low season.
If you do plan on cenote diving in Playa del Carmen or any of the Riviera Maya cenotes note that the high season gets very busy.
What to expect from a cenote dive?
When I first considered diving in Playa del Carmen I wasn’t sure what to expect. Having only ever dived in the ocean I was a little nervous to experience a cenote.
Kasper is extremely professional, he’s so passionate about what he does it difficult to not feel completely at ease when around him!
During the dives you can expect to see crystal clear waters filled with the most incredible rock formations. The geology inside a cenote is truly unique with stalactites and stalagmites everywhere!
There’s also some wildlife down there and you can see fresh water fish and shrimp. Most of the time you are so intrigued by the rock formations you hardly even notice.
Cenote diving is peaceful, more so than I expected. The underwater world feels prehistoric and if you look carefully it’s not uncommon to spot a fossil on the floor or walls.
The water was chillier than I expected, but if you book a trip with Halocline Divers all your equipment is included.
During the dive you are constantly changing your depth as you follow the line through the cenote. There is a line to follow on both Dos Ojos dives – The Bat Cave and Barbie Line.
You’ll learn more about this in your briefing before you dive.
You’ll be diving with a torch, although there is never a point where you are in darkness it’t still nice to be able to illuminate the dark areas. This will also be supplied as part of your equipment.
The bat cave – Dos Ojos
As well as the underwater world, you get to visit the bat cave as part of your Dos Ojos diving experience.
Half way through the dive you can resurface in the main bat cave which is an amazing thing to experience as part of a dive.
You’ll see plenty of bats and also lots of nice cenote birds flying around. As someone who is an inexperienced diver, the whole ordeal was incredible for me!
If you are in the area and want to plan some cenote diving in Playa del Carmen then get in touch with Kasper at Halocline Divers.
A 20-something travel blogger and digital marketer based in Liverpool. Covering all things from Latin America, European City Breaks to Liverpool local guides and everything else in between.