Nearly every backpacker and Mexican we met travelling around Mexico told us, “you just have to go to Bacalar Lagoon, it is soooooo beautiful”. And they weren’t wrong. Laguna de Bacalar in Spanish and also known as the ‘Lagoon of seven colours’ is nothing but magical.
Beautifully crystal clear warm water, morphing from bright turquoise to deep indigo colours as the depths of the lagoon and time of day change. At 43 km in length and 2 km at its widest point, the Maldives of Mexico as it is also commonly referred to is Mexico’s second largest body of freshwater.
Bacalar Lagoon Mexico
Meaning “The place surrounded by reeds” in ancient Mayan language, Bacalar Quintana Roo was given the title of “Pueblo Magico” in 2006 by Mexico’s tourism board. Characterised by it’s peaceful vibes, it feels a world away from the tourist hotspots of Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
Often referred to as Bacalar Lake, it is actually a series of waterways feed by underground cenotes that eventually lead to the Caribbean Sea. Bacalar lagoon has a diverse ecosystem supporting unique freshwater mangroves, ancient stromatolites and rare wildlife.
Once a passage for traders and real life pirates seeking the treasure of precious Campeche wood, the area is steeped in culture and history. And the dense jungle that surrounds Bacalar Quintana Roo is also dotted with plenty of fascinating Mayan archaeological ruins.
What To Do in Bacalar
Belonging to Quintana Roo State, can be found on the south part of the Riviera Maya. We spent just over a week finding out what the best things to do in Bacalar are. Much of which is either in, on or next to the stunning water.
Cenotes are natural sinkholes formed as a result of the collapse of a cave ceiling, exposing the water underneath it. They are typical of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and in Bacalar some form part of the actual Bacalar Lagoon.
Cenote Azul Bacalar
At the end of Avenida Costera in Bacalar, you will find what looks like a big dark blue lake surrounded by thick vegetation. Don’t be fooled, it is actually a huge cenote. Reaching approximately 90 metres in depth, Cenote Azul Bacalar, is a popular diving spot.
It’s one of the deepest cenotes in the Yucatán and has unique illuminated underwater caverns. But it’s also a beautiful spot for just swimming or snorkelling, although visibility isn’t great because of the depth. There’s also a really high diving board for the daredevils.
Cenote Azul Bacalar is open everyday from 7am to 6pm and the entrance fee is $25MXN ($1.30USD/£1.00GDP). There are changing rooms and lockers and a restaurant on site. We didn’t eat there but it looked good and had a spectacular view.
Cenote Azul Bacalar is at the end of Avenida Costera, about a 15 minute drive south of Bacalar town. So get there you’ll need to either hire bikes, grab a taxi, or hitch a ride. We paid $50MXN ($2.60USD/£2.00GDP) one way for a cab and then hitched a ride back.
Located within Bacalar lagoon, the water in Cenote Esmeralda is crystal clear. This is due to the water being relatively shallow. Be sure to include stopping by here on your list of things to do in Bacalar.
Also known as Cenote de las Brujas (Witches Cenote), Cenote Negro or Black Cenote in English is just that. Black. As mentioned, due to the varying depths of Bacalar Lagoon, the water changes colour and here it is so deep that in contrast to the rest it looks black.
Entering from Bacalar Lagoon on kayak or sailboat you will literally go over the edge of the lake bed and see it drop into oblivion. It’s pretty damn cool, if not a little eerie. You can of course swim in it, it’s no different to the rest of Bacalar Lake, just a little colder.
There’s two main reasons to go to Cenote Cocalitos. For the Insta famous wooden water swings and the Bacalar Stromatolites. The first needs no explaining. But you may not have heard of stromatolites, we certainly hadn’t before visiting Bacalar Lagoon.
If no one told you about them, you could easily just pass by the Bacalar Lagoon Stromatolites thinking they were just some old rocks. And whilst they kind of are, they are also the oldest living fossils in the world. They are the planets oldest and earliest lifeform. Cool right?!
Also inside Lake Bacalar, you can get there either from the lake via Kayak, paddleboard or sail boat or from Balneario Cocalitos.
Balneario, kind of like a beach club, except rather than on a beach they are located along the sides of Bacalar Lagoon. Most are privately owned by hotels and restaurants, but there are some public ones that you can visit for free.
Less than 4 kilometres from Bacalar town, Balneario Cocalitos is easily reached. The entrance fee is $25MXN ($1.30USD/£1.00GDP). And there’s a restaurant and camping ground on site called by the same name, Cocalitos.
The food at the restaurant is delicious, be sure to try the Camarones Al Mojo De Ajo (garlic shrimp). We also hired a kayak from here. The cost for a 2 person kayak was $100MXN ($5.20USD/£4.00GDP) per hour.
Balneario Municipal is around a 10 minute walk from the town centre. Being Bacalar’s free public dock it can get quite busy. There is just a $15MXN ($0.80USD/£0.60GDP) parking fee. There’s a long pier, perfect for swimming. But no restaurant, so bring a picnic like the locals.
A little further south of Bacalar Lagoon, Balneario Sac-ha is out of the way, on the way to Chetumal. The good news is it’s really quiet and all but deserted on weekdays. So if you have a rented a car to explore Bacalar Quintana Roo, Balnerio Sac-ha is a good option.
The first ever Balneario created at Bacalar Lagoon, it is still the most popular. Favoured by big groups and families with kids, it has more of an “amusement park feel” than a relaxing vibe. Nevertheless, it’s waterslides are super fun and there is a good restaurant on site.
Los Rapidos or ‘The Rapids’ in English, is actually a river around 7km from Bacalar town, again on the way south towards Chetumal. There is a restaurant on site and the entrance fee is $50MXN ($2.60USD/£2.00GDP).
The idea is that you jump in, swim upstream a little, float down the rapids, then climb out and walk back up the bank. An don’t worry ‘the rapids’ is a huge over exaggeration, it’s just a mild current. You can also rent Kayaks. Again a great one to visit if you have rented a car.
Undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Bacalar is rent a kayak and go exploring Bacalar Lagoon independently. Pretty much every hotel or hostel has them to rent but you can also rent a Bacalar kayak from the Balnearios.
As well as Cenote Esmeralda, Cenote Negro and Cenote Cocalitos, be sure to stop by the following points of interest within Lake Bacalar.
Pirates channel or Canal De Los Pirates in Spanish is a must for what to do in Bacalar. Notoriously used by pirates to hide out adjoining but smaller Mariscol Lagoon. You’ll have to cross Lake Bacalar to get there, but it’s well worth the effort. By kayak, it’s about 20 minutes from one side the other.
The water is shallow enough to ground your kayak.. But you’ll want to park up anyway and take advantage of the high mineral content in this secluded spot. The sulphur rich mud in Pirates Channel makes for a great, natural, DIY, full body mask and exfoliation treatment.
Surrounded by thick mangroves and situated right in the centre of the lake you’ll find the tiny island of birds or Isla de los Pájaros in Spanish. Migrating bird species that hang out in this natural paradise include parrots, owls and hawks. Stop off and see what you can spy.
Because of the high visibility of the water, Bacalar Lagoon, Mexico, makes for an ideal snorkelling spot. The white limestone lake bed does however easily get disturbed so the Bacalar cenotes are best place to explore underwater.
More Things To Do In Bacalar
Fort of San Felipe
Built in 1733 to defend the region from the frequent pirates attacks it had long been receiving, the Fort of San Felipe is an impressive structure to wander around. There is also a small but interesting museum detailing the history of the area that is worth a visit. The museum entrance fee is $60MXN ($3.10USD/£2.30GDP) and it’s closed on Mondays.
Sunrise Paddle Boarding
Turning the sky from black to red to golden, the sunrises over Bacalar Lagoon are nothing short of magical. And there’s no better to experience one than by heading out over the water on a stand up paddle board.
Bacalar Sailboat Tour
If your arms aren’t feeling up to power you around Lake Bacalar Mexico, another popular way to get out on the water is on a sailboat tour. You’ll hit all the must see spots such as Pirates Channel, Bird Island and Cenote Esmeralda, Cenote Negro and Cenote Cocalitos with the stromatolites.
Explore Bacalar Town
Typical of any Mexican town, Bacalar zocalo is at the centre of the town. It’s a pretty square and there’s plenty of places to chill out in with a drink. After head across the park in the centre to take a stroll down Calle 22.There’s lots of colorful buildings, cool little boutiques and a pretty church, Parroquia San Joaquin, at the end.
And don´t worry about getting lost whilst exploring Bacalar town. Everyone we met was very welcoming and the area is very safe. It has a charming small village feel.
Street Art Hunt
For more fun and free things to do in Bacalar, you can head out on foot or bike around the town and check out the ever expanding Bacalar street art murals that are popping up. There are some seriously talented artists at work here.
Zip-Lining at Kan K’in Bacalar
Just 15 mins north of Bacalar, Mexico, is an awesome adventure park where you can go ziplining through the jungle. It’s not cheap and a 2-3 hour session will cost you $44USD. The views however over Bacalar Lagoon are spectacular.
Relax in Hammock
In such serene and peaceful surroundings another of the best things to do in Bacalar is to just relax. Watch the sunrise over the beautiful Lake Bacalar. Go for a morning swim. And just relax in a hammock by the water reading a book, listening to abundance of wildlife all around.
It’s impossible not to relax at Bacalar Lagoon.
Quintana Roo Mayan Ruins
Another typical characterisation of this area of Mexico, there are also plenty of Mayan ruins near Bacalar, Quintana Roo. Easily reached by car, you can also take a tour to explore the ancient archeological sites.
Meaning ‘writing on wood, these partly excavated lesser visited ancient Mayan ruins are around an 1 hour 15 minutes drive Southwest of Bacalar. Once a major city extending over more than 40 sq km, you can climb up the steps of the pyramids for incredible views across the wild jungle.
Right next to the Dzibanche is another archaeological Mayan ruin site called Kinichna which also has a climbable temple. The entrance fee of $55MXN ($2.90USD/$22.20GBP) gives access to both Dzibanche and Kinichna, there’s a small office to pay as you approach.
Another Mayan archaeological site worth visiting while you are in the area is Kohunlich. Instead of turning right off the 186 from Bacalar, go a little further and turn left where signposted. Made up of intricate residential complexes and temples, it’s possible to climb most of them.
It’s a 3 hour 20 round trip back to Bacalar through the beautiful countryside.
Steeped in more than 3000 years of Mayan history, the fully restored temples of Chacchoben are one of the more popular ruin sites in Quintana Roo. Believed to have once been an important ceremonial center, Chacchoben is just 40 minutes north of Bacalar by car.
Head south of Bacalar, around the bottom of Lake Bacalar through the seaside town of Chetumal and you’ll reach Oxtankah Mayan ruins. It’s around an hours drive by car. Thought to have once been a coastal trade centre, Oxtankah name means “Place With Ramon Trees”.
If you haven’t hired a car, there are also tours that run day trips to some of the Mayan ruins.
Lake Bacalar Restaurants
El Socio Taqueria
Calle 20, Centro
This place has some of the best sopes we have tasted in Mexico, they really are that good. And an absolute steal too at $15 ($0.80USD/£0.60GDP) each. It’s open 7am-5pm and 2pm Sundays.
Mango y Chile
Av.3 Fuerte San Felipe, entre calle 22 y calle 24, Centro
If you are vegan, this is going to be your go to place in Bacalar to eat. The burgers ($130MXN/$6.80USD/£5.20) and coffees ($30MXN/$1.60USD/£1.20GDP) are great and they have excellent wifi. They are closed Tuesdays & only open 1pm – 9pm.
Av 3 206, Centro
For sure one of the best places to eat in Bacalar, we went back a few times. Make sure you try their speciality La Pina pizza which has garlic prawns, pineapple and bacon on it, it sounds crazy but it’s seriously good ($95MXN/$5USD/£3.80GDP). The beers are $23 MXN ($1.20USD/£0.90GDP) and they even brought us very welcome free tequila one evening.
Calle 20 115, Centro
This Italian joint was also one of our favourite restaurants in Bacalar. It has a huge menu and seriously tasty food. The focaccia is $70MXN ($3.60USD/£2.80GDP) and the pasta $100MXN ($5.20USD/£4.00GDP). It also has great internet.
77930, col. Mario villanueva
If you like seafood this is the place to go, the sopa de Cameron is incredible, they definitely don’t scrimp on the shrimp here and it’s reasonable at $120MXN ($6.30USD/£4.80GDP) for a main. Beers are $25MXN ($1.30USD/£1.00GDP).
Calle 18 165, Centro
Head here for some tasty and seriously affordable pastor tacos. A meal for two here with a beer each cost us just $173 ($9USD/£6.80GDP). It’s open late into the evening.
Bacalar Lake Facilities
Bacalar town has everything you need in terms of tourist facilities. There’s a pharmacy, a supermarket selling toiletries and dry goods, lots of fruit and veg shops, off licences and a couple of launderettes.
There are two ATM’s right in the centre, just near the tourist information point. It is however wise to bring cash too, just in case.
If you have a Mexican SIM card and need to topup your phone go to Banco Azteca and they’ll do it there for you. And if you need a good internet connection to work or back up photos etc head to the Pues Si or Mango y Chile restaurants.
Do You Speak Spanish?
One thing to be aware outside of Mexico’s main tourism hotspots, is that not many people speak English. Unless you are staying at an international hotel or hire an English speaking guide, it’s rare. And as for taxi drivers and market stall holders, forget it.
You can of course usually get by, but since we started learning Spanish we found that it has hugely enhanced our travel experiences. Not to mention enabled us to travel around Spanish speaking countries more confidently.
Which is why we’d like to recommend this Travel Spanish Confidence course we took recently. It enabled us move beyond a basic level to being able to communicate effectively in Spanish.
If you don’t know a word of Spanish however, this won’t be for you yet. Better to get started with Duolingo or some basic language classes first.
Where To Stay In Bacalar
When it comes to where to stay in Bacalar, there are plenty of options for all budgets.
Yaxche Centro Hostal y Camping
For backpackers on a budget, the set up at Yaxche will be right up your street. Situated a couple blocks from the main square you have access to plenty of restaurants and bars. And a free shuttle bus takes you to the sister private beach club right on the water’s edge.
The facilities are clean, they have lockers, wifi, provide a basic continental breakfast and have bikes for rent. Dorm beds start at $11USD/£8GBP, private tents at $13/USD/£10GBP and double rooms with private bathroom at $33USD/£25GBP per night.
The Yak Lake House Hostel
The Yak Lake House Hostel is another great option for backpackers that have a little more in their budget. Located right on the edge of the water with a private pier. They have a weekly activity schedule including cocktail making, salsa classes and day trips to the rapids.
Dorm rooms start from ($21USD/£16GBP) per night and double rooms with private bathrooms from ($84USD/£64GBP) per night. Continental breakfast is provided, there’s wifi, lockers and each bed has a light and charge point.
Eco Hotel Casa Lamat
If you’re after somethnig more upmarket hotel Casa Lamat is a excellent choice. In a secluded spot right on Bacalar Lake, it as a private pier, gardens, restaurant and mini spa. Each rustic cabana style lodge has a private bathroom. Great for couples but there’s also a family room.
They care about the environment and have integrated systems for the eco management of water, energy and waste. Very relaxed vibe with yoga classes avaialble. A double room with breakfast included for 2 people starts from $835MXN ($58USD/£44GBP) per night.
Casa Sol y Luna Bacalar
If you’re still after something private but a little less rustic Casa Sol y Luna Hotel is an excellent choice. The location is one of the best on the Bacalar Lagoon, just near cenote Esmeralda, with the room terraces overlooking the beautiful blue water.
Prices start at ($153USD/£116GBP) per night for a double room. A continental breakfast is provided, there’s a shared kitchen for guest use and even an outdoor pool.
Bacalar Lagoon Ethical Tourism
Largely untouched by mainstream tourism in previous years, the popularity of Bacalar Lagoon is on the rise with lots of new developments are popping up. And there’s concern for how the increase in tourism will affect the natural habitat and delicate ecosystems of Bacalar Lagoon.
Therefore as responsible tourists, it’s extremely important to make sustainable choices when visiting Bacalar, Quintana Roo. First of all only use organic sunscreen when swimming in Bacalar Lagoon and do not touch the stromatolites in Cenote Cocalitos.
It’s also a more ethical option to opt for kayaking or sailboat tours over motorboat Bacalar Lake tours. And avoid using single use plastics as much as possible. The water isn’t safe to drink for tourists so invest in a quality water filter bottle before your trip.
What To Pack for Bacalar Lagoon
Here’s the essential you should pack to have an awesome time exploring Bacalar Lagoon, Mexico:
- Quick dry travel towel
- Dry bags
- Incognito insect repellent
- Water To Go filter bottle
- Organic sun protector
- Waterproof Camera
How To Get To Bacalar Mexico
When visiting Bacalar Lagoon you’ll probably either be on your way between Tulum or Mahahual and Chetumal or Caye Caulker in Belize. We got an ADO bus direct from Mahahual which is about and hour and a half north. It cost us $84MXN ($4.30USD£3.30GDP) each.
The ADO terminal is on the highway which is about a 20 minute walk, or 5 minute taxi ride. From Bacalar we went south to Chetumal to catch a ferry to Caye Caulker and took a taxi-collectivo from the main square right in front of the colorful Bacalar sign.
It was $45MXN ($2.35USD/£1.80GDP) each and they leave as soon as the taxi is full, we were only waiting for a few minutes. Or you can take a collectivo bus from near the ADO station for $37MXN ($1.90USD/£1.50GDP) each.
If you have any further questions regarding your trip to Bacalar, Quintana, ask away in the comments and we’ll do our best to help!
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance
We never go anywhere without travel insurance – and neither should you. This particularly goes if you’re planning to do any of the more adventurous activities above. World Nomads is our preferred choice for great cover and a no bullshit approach, grab yourself a quick quote below:
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**This post was originally published in October 2017 but has been completely revamped to provide you with the most up to date and accurate information**