Cenote Cristalino and The Nibbling Fish

Yesterday morning we woke up to sunny skies and strong winds. They were forecasting rain for the next 3 days and the previous day had been the wettest one we’ve had so far. We were pleasantly surprised to see blue sky that morning and decided we needed to go on an adventure. We keep hearing and reading about this area’s popular cenotes (say-NOH-tays) and were thinking of heading to one. With the strong winds we knew the beach would be rough but the cenotes are inland and are therefore more protected.

Contemplating a Plunge in Cenote Cristalino, Playa del Carmen
Contemplating a Plunge in Cenote Cristalino, Playa del Carmen

To those who haven’t yet been to this area, a cenote is basically a large (or small) freshwater hole composed primarily of limestone and fossilized coral. They essentially get created when the water level drops and the rooftop caves in revealing a pool of crystal clear water. Because these pools are often connected to extensive underground rivers they’ve become very popular with cave divers like diving Cenote Dos Ojos. Some of the deepest can go down to 200 feet while others can lead to miles of underground caves. As luck would have it, the Yucatan Peninsula has some of the nicest ones in the world and we thought we’d check one out.

After getting the kids prepped and ready and making sure the sky was still clear we headed out. We had heard that the cheapest way to get there was to take a taxi to the collectivo depot (a small van that basically acts like a mini bus that has a specific destination but you can literally get off and on anywhere along it’s route). Micki and I knew that the cenote we were headed for was relatively close so I had asked the taxi driver how much to get there. He grabbed a chart and pointed to the price. It was around $20 US. Not wanting to spend so much I told him no too expensive and that we just wanted to be dropped at the collectivo lot.

I think my Spanish was especially bad that morning because next thing I knew we were outside of the city and heading to the cenote. We had not even gotten close to the collectivo stand. Micki was nice enough to point this out to me but we had already driven so far (we weren’t 100% sure where the collectivos met to begin with) that we decided to just pay to take the taxi all the way there. $20 wasn’t so bad after dealing with the Taxi Mafia on Cozumel considering the distance we were going.

About 20 minutes later the taxi had pulled over in front of a big cenote sign. I think it was either Cenote Azul or Cenote El Edén (they’re all close to each other). It wasn’t the right one but I did get to try out my Spanish again as a local tout tried selling me on going to that one instead. Basically it was 3 cenotes for the price of 1. It was actually a good deal but we had researched and decided on Cenote Crystalline (also known as Cenote Cristalino). It’s one of the best in the area and gets great reviews. So on we drove (it was only a minute farther to be honest) and arrived at our cenote. There was a big billboard at the side of the road and a little shack selling tickets and simple snacks. It cost us 100 Pesos (40 for us, 20 for Cole and Jordan was free) which is about about $8 US.

As we followed a little rock and gravel path all the way down to the main attraction we were a little excited. It’s not everyday you get to see a natural wonder a minute off the highway in a foreign land. When we got there we were a little surprised. It didn’t look like much compared to the ads. It was a small pool with a fair bit of leaves and stuff floating on the top. It looked interesting but none of us had the urge to just jump in. Luckily, that was only a small part of it and as we followed the boardwalk it opened up into another larger area. The main pool was much larger and was both leaf free and crystal clear. The water was also deceptively deeper than it looked.

I think the biggest shock we had was that the place was empty. There were two Brazilian women (I’m pretty sure they were speaking Portuguese)  and another couple checking out the cave pools. The two women were interesting because one was incredibly pregnant and the other was taking tons of pictures of her in different outfits. It looked more like a photo shoot than anything else. Anyway, we had heard the place was very popular and were expecting it to be more crowded than it was. The two women left soon after we got there and we basically had the place to ourselves almost the entire time.

One of the neatest things about the pools is that they are teaming with fish. Some are actually quite colorful and you wouldn’t expect that in a fresh water pool. As we sat down along the edge and put our feet in, a dozen of the 3 inch ones started nibbling on our toes. We had read about that and I didn’t mind the tickling feeling that much. Micki and the kids couldn’t get used to it though so they made sure to keep their feet moving all the time. The fish wouldn’t bother you if you stayed in motion.

Nibbling Fish at Cenote Crystalline, Playa del Carmen
Nibbling Fish at Cenote Crystalline

After throwing on our swimgear and hanging by the edge for an hour I finally jumped in. The pools were a little cool (though warmer than our swimming pool) so Micki and I were a little hesitant to jump in at first. Once I was in the water it was gorgeous and I got Cole to throw me my snorkelling gear. After swimming a few laps of the main area I got out and let Micki have a turn. She basically jumped in and then got out. No matter how much coaxing I tried I couldn’t get either of the kids in with me. Jordan was a little overtired and Cole was enjoying dropping pebbles into the water and watching the fish go after it thinking it was food.

When people finally started showing up we decided to call it a day. As Micki and the kids changed I went for a longer snorkel starting in the cave and arriving into the main pool. The cave was quite different to snorkel in and to be honest was a little intimidating. It gets dark in there! I found it much easier to swim from the cave out to the light than the other way around mind you. I think if the place had a bunch of people hanging out it wouldn’t have been bad but when you’re alone your mind starts to wonder what exactly is hiding under that ledge or in that dark spot in the corner.

Path Beside Cenote Crystalline, Playa del Carmen
Path Beside Cenote Crystalline

When we got to the main entrance we stopped for a quick snack at the little shack and then crossed the road to hail down a collectivo. We had no idea how to do that but as we stood on the median one came flying by, slammed on it’s brakes and then backed up to pick us up. We didn’t even have to flag it down. We had a nice little ride back (Jordan fell asleep again) and it only cost us 50 pesos (about $4 US) to the terminal. The van passed only 10 blocks from our place and we could have jumped out then but we wanted to see exactly where the terminal was for our next excursion. We then grabbed a $2 taxi to our place since Jordan was sleeping and Cole looked like he was about to fall asleep any minute. We all had a nice little siesta when we got back and enjoyed a quiet night in with the kids.

As a side note, we’re thinking we might end up staying in Playa for the holidays so if anyone is heading out here let us know and we’ll meet you for Christmas drinks. Next on our must do while here list is probably going to be snorkelling with the turtles in Akumal. We have some friends coming out for the week later today and they’re staying in that area so we might end up doing that sooner than later. We’ll put out a post as soon as we do. Hope you all have a great weekend!