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Big splashes in Riviera Maya: Snorkelers explore Cenote Azul, the original blue lagoon. Credit: GOC53.

By Amy Drew Thompson

In the 80’s classic “Purple Rain,” a puckish Prince asked Appollonia to purify herself in the wintry waters of Lake Minnetonka. No offense, Minnesotans, but why jump into a freshwater Slurpee when the cenotes of the Yucatan – along with those sumptuous Riviera Maya hotels—beckon, ready to invigorate weary spirits with the refreshing waters of the ancients?

After couple days’ decompression — pulse appropriately slowed by decadent buffets at the family-friendly Barceló Riviera Maya or relaxing via spa, sunbathing and mercifully child-free silence in one of El Dorado Royale’s romantic oceanfront casita suites — you’ll likely be ready for some adventure on what locals call the “cenote route.”

Running roughly 20 miles along the main road near Puerto Morales you’ll find countless azure pools where you can snorkel, scuba, commune with nature, and get your general sense of Eden on. All you’ll need is a backpack and bio-friendly sunscreen. Depending on your degree of inertia, you can visit one or several in a single day.

Cenotes Cristallino and Azul, in ridiculous-close proximity to the aforementioned Barceló Maya, make an easy twofer; both are large, deep and popular with the locals (skip Sunday to avoid peak crowds). More off the path is Tankah. This quaint blip lies on the edge of the famed Tulum; its cenote is calm, rife with colorful marine life and sits, quite literally, just steps from a Caribbeanbeach.

Got divers? Travelers whose skill levels (and enthusiasm for underwater cave exploration) vary: stare into the depths of Dos Ojos. About a mile south of the Xel-Ha ecological theme park, here swimmers and snorkelers can marvel at the intricate limestone formations overhead while scuba enthusiasts explore life below the surface on two separate dives (one of which allows participants to surface and observe a beautiful—and inhabited—bat cave).

After a day of snorkeling, jungle zip lines and the many other activities available on the Cenote Route, you will—almost certainly— be ready to participate in Mexico’s other sacred aquatic rite of passage: the swim-up bar.

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Freelance travel writer and former PLAYGIRL editor Amy Drew Thompson has seen London and France (and a bunch of other places). Visit her compendium at

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