Cenotes at Cuzama
NOTE: DUE TO AN ONGOING DISPUTE BETWEEN THE VARIOUS INTERESTS WHICH OVERSEE CUZAMÁ, ONE OR MORE OF THE 3 CENOTES MAY NOT BE ACCESSIBLE. We reccommend you go with Mayan Ecotours, who has arranged access to the 2 best cenotes at Cuzamá: Chak-zinik-che and Bolom-chojol.
An antique wooden buggy type of cart called a 'truck' pulled by a horse is the mode of transportation used on the increasingly popular "Chunkanán" or "Cuzamá cenote trip." Traveling through the lush (or bone dry, depending on the time of year) sisal plantations of the Yucatán with three wonderful refreshing cenotes as the goal of the trip, this day trip is something truly unique that you can do while visiting the Yucatán Peninsula. EDITOR'S NOTE: PLEASE READ THE 2 COMMENTS INCLUDED AT THE END OF THIS ARTICLE FROM DEC. 2011 AND JUNE 2013.
Take a look at the Yucatán State map and locate Cuzamá and the tiny village of Chunkanán, which lie southeast of Mérida. Then read our general article on Cenotes. And then, start planning! You can count on a car trip of about 45 minutes from Mérida to these cenotes. The time you take at the cenotes will, of course, be up to you, keeping in mind that on a busy day, you will be allowed 30-40 minutes per cenote.
Once you arrive in Cuzamá, turn right at the main square (the town hall and church are located here) and find the road that leads out towards Chunkanán and the cenotes' entrance. There are two ways to access the cenotes:
1. There is a "paradero" or stop where you will see a man waving a red flag, with a parking lot on the right, to indicate that this is where you turn to start your cenote adventure. From here, the excursions are run by the folks from Cuzamá.
2. Ignore the red-flag man and continue along another 5 minutes to the tiny village and former hacienda of Chunkanan. This is where the tour originally got its start and these tours are run by the folks from Chunkanán (see Yucatan Today Editor's note below).
Both groups charge the same rate, about $200 pesos, and visit the same 3 cenotes, called Chelentun, Chansinic'che and Bolonchoojol along the 9 kilometers of narrow gauge railway once used to transport workers and henequen leaves from and to the now-ruined hacienda. Two of the three cenotes now have concrete stairs leading down into the crystal clear water. The last cenote is accessed by a wooden ladder that disappears dramatically into a round hole cut into the rock.
Keep in mind that the drivers will be happy to lash your cooler onto the 'truck' so you can take your refreshments with you; there are no stores once you are enroute. On weekends and holidays, some ladies from Chunkanán will set up tables with snacks and souvenirs at the first cenote, close to town.
Also, at the first and last cenote, there are change rooms and washrooms available, not so at the cenote in the middle.
Change rooms and washrooms are also available at the new restaurant in Chunkanán called El Dzapacal, which serves good Yucatecan fare at very affordable prices under a huge palapa (thatched with palm leaves) roof. Or you can stop at the restaurant at Hacienda Tepich on the way back to Mérida. The restaurant serves international and Yucatecan cuisine using chicken, pork, beef or rabbit. Tepich is on the way back to Merida, after Acanceh, about 24 kilometers from Cuzamá.
Article and photos courtesy of William Lawson of Lawson's Original Yucatan Excursions.
There are bus departures from Merida at 9.15 am, 10.45 am, 12.30 pm, 2.30 pm, 4.30 pm, 9 pm. Trip takes 1.5 hrs, costs 18 pesos. Returns at 2 pm and 7 pm. The bus terminal is at Calle 67 x 50, Centro. Tel. 924 7865 to confirm schedule and cost.
Editor's note: further to the two options about accessing these cenotes, we recently received the following comments from readers:
JUNE 2013: "Due to squabbling between the villages surrounding the 3 cenotes, the tour has been slashed. Chunkanan was the starting point for the cenotes tour and it was a great tour that quickly became very famous. Then the nearby village of Cuzama became envious and claimed ownership of one of the cenotes and added their own access route (rails) to the cenote rail line. They also posted a stop sign and red-flag waving individuals on the road to Chunkanan to stop all traffic, saying that that entry point was closed. Behind them, green-flag waving individuals urged visitors to ignore the red flag waving ones. This effectively decimated the traffic to the dirt-poor village of Chunkanan and a minor conflict soon became a major one, including fist fights and no one doing any of the maintenance on the attraction. Wooden railings have crumbled, platforms have collapsed and rubber sandals prop up dips in the rail line. Garbage is a problem. Water is spotty at the bathrooms and they are filthy. Then Acanceh, which is even larger than Cuzama got into the act, claiming ownership of one of the three cenotes as well and asking for a cut of the monies collected. The final result, as it stands at the moment, is Chunkanan offering one cenote and a newly created cave, Cuzama offering one cenote and nothing else and the third and most dramatic cenote being completely cut off from the tour, the Cuzama folks having gone as far as to remove the vertical ladder that served as the access. The Chunkanan cenote (Chelentun) is pretty, the cave so-so but visitors should know what is going on before thinking they are getting the original 3 cenote tour. No one is reporting on it and tourism officials have not become involved to settle the dispute." Ralf H.
DECEMBER 2011: “I took my cousins to the 3 Cenotes in Chukanán. When we were leaving Cuzamá, the town just before Chunkaná, there was a new parking lot on our right with services for tourists, and a young man flagged us down and said THIS was where to park and be taken to the Cenotes. I asked if it had changed and he said yes. I thought this was weird, but didn't want to be impolite and said we were visiting a friend in Chunkanán, which was true. When we arrived in Chunkanán, the drivers there were upset to hear what happened. Apparently, a former local politician started his own business to compete with the local, original cenote guys. They almost force you to stop at a spot which isn't even the actual village where the cenotes are located. It was very misleading and it has caused an uncomfortable competition. The newer group has even carved out another route to get to the cenotes, beginning with the deepest and ending at the most accessible, which destroys the excitement, to boot. Our friend who has a home there said it's been terrible for the locals, as driving the “trukas” is their only means of making a living. They also have a new restaurant there, but of course, hardly anybody knows about it now. The Chunkanán drivers are very polite when the others come and force them off the track...I assume because they don't want to make a scene in front of visitors - both national and international.” Bette S.
- Map of the Yucatan Peninsula
Tours to cenotes:
- MAYAN ECOTOURS
Calle 51 # 488 x 56 y 54
Centro Histórico, C.P. 97000
Mérida, Yucatán, México
Tel: 52- 999-9 87 37 10
Cel: 52-1- 99 91 05 46 14