Cenote diving in Mexico - 5 tips to follow
Cenote diving in Mexico is for sure one of the most exciting and impressive scuba diving experiences. Flying through passages rich decorated with dripstones and filled with crystal clear water is something you will never forget!
Do you need a special certification to do Cenote diving in Mexico?
That depends: Cenotes are mostly entrances to a vast underwater cave system. Some Cenotes are only sinkholes without connection, especially in the area of Ruta de los Cenotes, Puerto Morelos. Read more about the history of Cenotes in my blog post.
Depending on the Cenote a normal Open Water Diver certification is enough, hence others require a Cave Diver certification.
What is the difference between cavern and cave diving?
In common use cavern and cave are the same. In cave diving we use those terms to differenciate between different areas of a cave.
A cavern is defined as the area of a cave that has a maximum distance of 30-60m to the next exit. The distance depends on the definition of each diving agency, some include the depth, some not. TDI, one of the largest cave diving certification organizations, defines a cavern as the area of a cave that has maximum 61 linear meters distance to the exit and mostly access to natural light.
Hence everything beyond is defined as cave.
Secret 1: Is a cavern diver certification necessary for Cenote diving in Mexico?
No, to dive in the cavern area you only need a local cavern guide. Those guides must be at least Dive Master and certified full cave diver. Also they need to get access to each Cenote. A proof of residence and actual valid certifications guarantees that no self declared guides can offer services without proper training.
If you have a Cavern Diver certification you will anyway not be able to get access to the Cenotes on your own, that only works for certified full cave divers.
Do you have to buy special equipment for Cenote diving in Mexico?
No, if you aready have standard open water diving equipment this will also work for Cenote diving.
Can I rent good dive gear in Mexico?
Yes, for sure. But like everywhere in the world there are different qualities in the offered service. The cheaper an offer, the more careful you have to read what is included.
Secret 2: What equipment should be included in the tour price?
A dive light is necessary and should be included in a guided Cenote dive.
Make sure that the lights have at least 800-1000 Lumen, otherwise you will not be able to see much in darker areas of a Cenote.
Some offers include also the whole set of dive gear. Be careful with those offers, because usually you get very cheap and worn out equipment, leaking eveywhere - not recommended for diving in general and especially not for cavern diving.
Make sure to check the quality of the rental gear before you book. A shop that has nothing to hide will send you a recent picture of its rental equipment without hesitation.
Secret 3: What dive suit you should use
Very important is a proper wet suit. The water temperature in Cenotes is around 25 Celcius, a 3mm shorty is not enough except if you are used to ice swimming. A very common offer of big dive shops is all gear included except wet suit, those you can rent for another 10 USD. In most of the cases you will get besides the above mentioned worn out gear an also worn out shorty. Especialy slim ladies will end a Cenote dive shivering with blue lips.
Make sure to get at least a 5mm long suit, if you are very sensitive to cold ask for an additional shorty that you can wear on top. Shops that offer high quality long suits usually charge 15-20 USD per day.
Secret 4: What else should be included in the tour price for Cenote diving in Mexico?
There are a few more services that are sometimes use to hide the true tour price and catch you with a cheap initial price.
How much is a Cenote entrance fee?
A basic formula is: the more famous a Cenote, the higher is its entrance fee. To avoid a bad surprise of up to 40 USD additional costs, choose a tour that includes the entrance fee.
Is lunch included and if yes, what type of lunch?
Food and beverage is another service many companies try to save money. Everybody includes it, but often all you get is purified water, maybe some of the cheap local softdrinks and a mushy sandwich from a fast food chain.
Mexico has so much amazing local cuisine to offer, it is a shame when a salami sandwich is all you get. Shops and guides will mention this in their offer, also if vegetarian and vegan alternatives are possible.
What about transportation?
Pick up and drop off at your hotel is always included, I have so far never seen a tour without it.
Secret 5: What is the group size for guided Cenote diving in Mexico?
A certified cavern guide is allowed to guide a group of maximum four divers per dive. So you can be sure that at least during the dive you have not too many people around you.
What if the group has more than four divers?
Especially big dive shops that are present in several hotels collect guests from all their sales points and try to get as many divers per tour as possible. This results often that they calculate 8 divers per guide - but he can take only four per dive.
To solve the problem the large group is split in two, one is waiting at the surface while the other is diving and then switch.
To stay within decompression limits and shorten the waiting time, your guide has to limit your dive time. Two rushed dives of maximum 30 minutes for all the waiting and an endless transportation due to many different pick up places can ruin your whole experience!
Look out for small shops and private guides!
To avoid "cattle diving" look out for small dive shops and private guides. In the paradise of cave diving you can find many guides that are specialized on cavern and cave diving. Many of them follow high quality standards that are usually reflected in their comments on Tripadvisor or facebook.
A good guide will first ask you a few questions about your diving experience level and then recommend you where to go for your first Cenote diving in Mexico. Not every Cenote is easy to dive, some require a higher level of experience than others:
If you have 10 logged dives no one should take you to Cenote Zapote where the dive is happening on 35-29m.