Cenotes – A lifeless Space?

Cenotes are access points to a massive underground water system that is slowly flowing out into the ocean. The caves through which this water flows are pitch-dark with no natural light and so are home to only a few species. But where the cave roof has collapsed and cenotes were formed, light floods in creating a great habitat for many kinds of fish, plants, turtles, crabs and much more. 


Some of those cenotes are located by the ocean and get visitors swimming in. Manatees, tarpons, snappers, moray eels, crocodiles, and so much more can be found enjoying these jungle oases. 

Let us introduce you to some of the most remarkable inhabitants found in the Yucatan Cenotes. And while there are many specialized microorganisms, we will focus on those that you can actual see with your naked eye.

This is a snapshot of « Inhabitants of the Cenotes » in the Cenotes Dive Guide & Log Book published by UWE/ Underwater Edition – Save the Ocean.



Meso-American Slider Turtle

Trachemys scripta venusta

These turtles can mainly be found basking on a sunny rock or munching away on the algae covered rocks. Cenote Kulukan is a great place to spot them in the early morning; and if you are lucky you can even see a baby. 

Meso-American Slider Turtles have clawed webbed feet. Yellow stripes cover their heads and legs. And most distinctly, they have a bright red blotch behind the eyes. Their oval shells are olive with sharp edges, marked with numerous dark-centered, orange-ringed spots. Their life spans up to 30 years. 



Blue Crab 

Cardisoma guanhumi 

This guy has been spotted in Cenote Chikin Ha’s cave section. Although a rare sight, as they usually inhabit coastal areas, we were excited about observing this crustacean in this particular environment. Blue Crabs can sense vibrations and tend to quickly hide in burrows. While male adults are blue, females and juveniles can be white or red. 

Blue Crab


Pale Catfish & Blind Brotula 

Rhamdia guatemalensis & Typhliasina pearsei 

Little is known about how the fish populations in these cenotes are connected. Some pools are low in diversity and others high. Some species are commonly found across all cenotes and others less. 

However these two fish, the catfish and bind brotula are the only ones known to migrate between cenotes. 

Pale catfish are commonly seen in all cenotes and have a distinctly “catfish-like” body with 3 pairs of barbels. However the blind brotula is more allusive.  This albino eyeless fish has evolved this way as it lives in complete darkness and is rarely seen near the daylight zones. They can be seen in Cenote Tak Be Luum and occasionally in Cenote Hermanito, though possibly in all cenotes if you are really lucky.



Yucatan Molly or Giant Sailfin Molly 

Poecilia velifera

The males of this species put on an amazing courtship show flaring up their huge dorsal fin and swimming back and forth in a hurdling-like manner around a female. This beautiful display can be seen in the shallow open waters of Cenote El Eden by divers and snorkelers alike. 

The Yucatan Molly is sexually dimorphic with females being a pale brown and larger than males, while the males are colorful and spotted.



American Eel 

Anguilla rostrata

This long slender and snake-like eel can be seen in Cenote El Pit. Its color is based on its age going from dark gray to green to yellow with prominent large black eyes. They can live in both fresh and salt water and like muddy habitats between the rocks and down the bottom of the pit. 

American Eel


Mexican Crocodile 

Crocodylus moreletii

Relaxing on the rocks in Casa Cenote is Panchito, a crocodile that has made this cenote its home for the past 5 years. It is relatively harmless, naturally living on a diet of small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. We are luckily too big to be on its menu. 

It is so used to humans by now, you might get a shock as Panchito swims right by you! There is also a crocodile that inhabits Cenote Carwash part of the year.

Panchito @Laura Rose


Feet Nibblers 

Often a mix of different fish

Nibblers at your feet! Have you seen those fish-spas where fish nibble off the dead skin from your feet? Here we have the natural version. In most cenotes a number of fish will come up and start to give you a pedicure if you stay still. Sit back and relax in a sparkling pool in the jungle surrounded by nature for your next treatment.



Jack Dempsey Fish

Rocio octofasciata 

Did you just spot a Jack Dempsey fish nibbling on a right small toe? You did! Most likely, this is the most stunning fish in the cenotes. A dark fish with turquoise flecks and very bright iridescent blue, green, and gold flecks. Its colors even changes under stress! They are commonly found in the darker areas of Cenote Kukulkan and Cenote Hermanito. Their name refers to Jack Dempsey, the famous world heavyweight boxing champion from the 1920’s, as the fish’s aggressive nature and strong facial features remind of Jack. See the resemblance? 😉



Cenote Shrimp

Creaseria morleyi

The blind hunter of the Yucatan Cenotes. Those white spots that appear in front of you when shining your torch in the dark distance are the infants of this species. They provide nutrition for most of the other fish. If they manage to reach adulthood they can become fearsome hunters in their own right even resorting to cannibalism.



Mayan Goby

Gobiomorus dormitor

Known as Bigmouth Sleeper, this fish mainly remains in the same spot eating whatever comes along, although hey are capable of traveling short distances out of the water by crawling to reach other feeding areas.



And sooo many more can be seen in the mesmerizing underwater world of the famous caves and caverns of the Cenotes in the Riviera Maya!

Did you expect that? Let us know, and share your experience with us at marketing@prodiveinternational.com!


How to start your Cenote Adventure?

  1. Join Pro Dive International’s Cenotes Dive Excursion as a certified diver.
  2. Boost your skills and experience by becoming a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver, and/ or Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialist, and/ or Cave Diver, and/ or Enriched Air Diver, as Nitrox is FREE with Pro Dive.
  3. Explore the highlights of the Riviera Maya & Cozumel with the Yucatan Explorer or Yucatan Great Explorer.
  4. Go cave diving as a certified cave diver.
  5. Sign up for our Cenotes Snorkel Adventure, Sacred Mayan Ruins & Cenote Discovery, Mexican Snorkel Adventure, or 3 Cavern Snorkeling Tour. 
  6. Contact us for guidance.