How do you paddleboard a cenote? You’ve may have seen sunken pools like the pictured hidden below the ground before… but what are they, where do they come from and can you even paddle one? Read on to have all your questions answered in this guide to paddleboarding cenotes.

What is a cenote anyway, and how are they formed?

Millions of years ago, much of what’s now the Yucatan Peninsula was underwater. The rich sea life, corals, and plants found on the sea floor deposited minerals that formed porous limestone rock. After the seas receded, thousands of years of rain, subterranean river systems, and weather wore away at the rock creating caves, tunnels, and as erosion continued, the sinkholes found today that are called cenotes. 

Healthy cenotes are bursting with life from their sweet waters and the surrounding jungle. They are connected by underground tunnels in the limestone which makes it possible for water to flow through them like a vast underground river constantly regenerating the ecosystem that keeps the plants and animals that live there alive. Young cenotes may only have a small opening into the dark pools below. From the look of these deep dark caverns, it’s not hard to imagine why the Maya considered them sacred places and believed they were connected to the underworld, where gods and spirits reside after death. As cenotes mature the cave mouth widens until they are completely open to the sky.

Paddleboarder on Thurso Surf Waterwalker demonstrates how to paddle a lush jungle cenote in the Yucatan paddling near the distant wall

Well off the beaten path, photographer Graham Merwin was able to steal a few private moments in this jungle cenote. Photo cred: Graham Merwin

Where are the best cenotes to paddleboard found?

There are literally thousands of cenotes in and around the Yucatan Peninsula and more still are being discovered. Getting Stamped put together a great list of the Best Cenotes in Mexico to start exploring. Some cenotes like Cenote Manatee near Tulum are very mature like an open lagoon. This makes it one of the more popular SUP destinations for exploring the surrounding mangroves and the cenote itself. Other younger cenotes are less accessible and well below ground level. In some cases paddleboards may be restricted or the area might be too small for much of a paddling adventure. It’s not possible to SUP at every cenote so make sure to do your research beforehand or join an organized tour.

Sea Conditions and Activity Level for Paddleboarding Cenotes

Cenotes are protected environments surrounded by rock walls in younger cenotes or as they mature, mangroves. Wind and waves won’t be a problem. It’s always easier to paddle on calm water and apart from a mild current, cenotes are quite calm making them a great place for beginners to experience SUP. Add to that the fact that they’re limited in size and you’re in for a gentle but active experience. If you’ll be paddling longer distances on a nearby lagoon or on the ocean as part of your cenote paddling tour, you might be in for more of a challenge, depending on the weather. If it’s your first time, consider taking a lesson prior to booking a tour. 

Paddleboarder on Thurso Surf Waterwalker spots his friend who jumpsinto a lush jungle cenote in the Yucatan

Spotting a jumper from the deck of the Waterwalker. Photo cred: Graham Merwin

Best Time of Year to Paddleboard a Cenote

The Yucatan Peninsula is warm enough to enjoy paddleboarding year round. The subterranean waters of the cenotes can be surprisingly cool even on the warmest of days. It’s refreshing most of the time but in the winter months you may want to wear a rash guard to stay warm.

Best Time of Day to Paddleboard a Cenote

Standup paddleboarding is fun to enjoy at any time of day, especially sunrise or sunset. While you may not see an impressive sunrise or sunset from down in a cenote below the horizon, arriving early enough to beat the crowds can give you a lot more elbowroom to paddle around and have fun on your board. Again, with the limited size of many cenotes, you may not be able to enter with a SUP during peak hours.

Paddleboarder on Thurso Surf Waterwalker demonstrates how to paddle a lush jungle cenote in the Yucatan paddling under dangling roots and vines

Jungle vines cascading into the cenote. Photo cred: Graham Merwin

What to Bring When Paddleboarding a Cenote

Cenotes are great for snorkeling and diving. A mask, snorkel, and fins will help you make the most of your experience. They can be secured under the deck rigging of your board, or in many cases you can rent them on site. A deck bag like the 20-can Deck Bag from Thurso Surf will give you plenty of room to pack a towel, a cold drink, sunglasses, flip-flops, even a change of clothes if you want to dry off and grab a taco at some point. Since sunscreen should be rinsed off before entering the waters of the cenote, a wide-brimmed sun hat is also a good idea. Don’t forget to record your adventures with a GoPro or even just your phone which you can mount to the deck of any Thurso Surf SUP.

  • Mask
  • Snorkel
  • Fins
  • 20-can Deck Bag
  • Towel
  • Drink Bottle
  • Sunglasses
  • Flip-flops
  • Sun Hat
  • Action Cam

What to Wear When Paddleboarding a Cenote

Cenotes are great for snorkeling and diving so even experienced paddlers who are confident of their balance should expect to spend time in the water. A swimsuit is a must. Because they’re fed by subterranean rivers, the waters of cenotes doesn’t have time to warm in the sun and can be surprisingly cool even on warm days. Unlike divers who are swimming in the cool waters the entire time, you’ll be able to spend time basking in the sun on the deck of your SUP whenever you like. However, you might want to wear a rash guard for a bit of added warmth and sun protection. Sun screen is not allowed in cenotes because it is a hazard to the delicate environments and endangered corals and most have a shower area you are required to use before entering.

Paddleboarder on Thurso Surf Waterwalker demonstrates how to paddle a lush jungle cenote in the Yucatan sheltering in a cave behind roots from rain

Relaxing out of the rain under the cave walls. Photo cred: Graham Merwin

What Kind of Paddleboard to Bring to a Cenote

Based on the calm conditions, a wide variety of boards can be used. Since you’ll spend the day, paddling, lounging, diving and just having fun, an all-around board shape is an ideal choice.

Waterwalker All-around SUP

There’s nowhere this board doesn’t go. Choose the best size for your paddle style and you’ll have a nimble but stable platform for all the activities of the day, from snorkeling and diving, to splashing around with friends, to weaving your way through the mangroves. The Waterwalker is built to handle a full day of all the different kinds of adventure you can throw at it.

Tranquility Yoga SUP

Can you imagine anywhere more inspiring to practice yoga than a subterranean river system in the heart of the jungle? If you can catch a yoga class on a quiet morning, definitely go for it. The Tranquility makes an amazing platform for your yoga practice, a stable base for snorkeling, and a relaxing paddle on the calm waters throughout the day.

Let us know if you go!

Have you tried paddling a cenote? If you’ve already been or are planning to go, drop your questions, plans, and/or recommendations in the comments. We can’t wait to see what insights and adventures you come back with!

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