THINGS TO DO IN BACALAR & HOW TO VISIT RESPONSIBLY
While recently exploring the Yucatán, we met several savvy travelers who told us that we had to visit Bacalar. We’re happy we did, but to be real, we had reservations about promoting this beautiful destination. On the one hand, it’s an idyllic place that deserves to be recognized, on the other, we may be contributing to its destruction by blogging about it.
The raw beauty of these places lures travelers in, but like many other locations around the world these days, Bacalar faces a future threatened by over-development, environmental threats, and unsustainable tourism. However we realize tourism in Mexico isn’t ending anytime soon, so instead of ignoring Bacalar, we decided to inform travelers on what to be aware of and help show how we can all make less of an impact on it.
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Where is Bacalar and What is it Famous for?
Bacalar is a small unassuming town in the south of Quintana Roo near the border of Belize. It’s long been a popular destination with Mexicans, but because of its southern location, it’s far less visited by tourists in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum (at least for now).
The town’s claim to fame is its gorgeous freshwater lagoon known as the Lagoon of Seven Colors (Laguna de Siete Colores). Since it’s further inland, Bacalar is spared from the invasion of seaweed currently affecting the beaches along the Gulf Coast.
Watch the video above to get a birds-eye view of this magical place! Bring your drone if you have one…
The lagoon is surrounded by lush mangroves and is home to what was likely the first living organism on Earth, stromatolites. Stromatolites might just look like rocks, but they’re floating pancakes, just kidding, actually, they’re mounds made of layers upon layers of cyanobacteria. These photosynthesizing microbes are responsible for pumping oxygen into our atmosphere and are basically the reason we exist at all. Pretty wild right?
Stromatolites were once growing all over the planet but nearly went extinct around a billion years ago. Today Bacalar is one of the few places in the world where stromatolites can still be seen, so if you see one, please don’t touch or disturb it in any way.
1. TAKE A DIP IN LAGUNA DE SIETE COLORES
There’s a reason it’s nicknamed the ‘Maldives of Mexico’. The breathtaking beauty of Bacalar’s lagoon is a result of the contrast between the lake’s white limestone bed and crystal clear water. Because of the varying depths and changing reflections of the sun, the water gives the appearance of having every hue of blue you can imagine.
There are no beaches on the lake, instead, there are balnearios (docks) that extend out into the water. The lagoon is mostly privatized, but fortunately, there are a few public docks you can use for free or for a few pesos. (Check out the map at the end of this post for exact locations).
Municipal El Aserradero: FREE access, kayak rental (end of Calle 14)
Municipal: FREE access, this is a long pier, it can get crowded later in the day (between Calle 14 and 12)
Ejidal Mágico: 20 pesos to enter, there’s a restaurant on-site with tasty seafood and reasonably priced beer, good for swimming, walk left down the shore past the water slides for a quiet spot to yourself (end of Calle 28)
2. FOLLOW THE PIRATE TRAIL ALONG CANAL DE LOS PIRATAS
Canal de los Piratas (Pirates Canal) is a waterway connecting the Hondo River with Bacalar Lagoon. It used to be a link between the Maya of Mexico and the Maya of Central America. After the Spanish conquest, it became a trading route between the Americas and Europe. As the name suggests, this caught the attention of pirates who exploited this commercial passage for wood and other goods.
It’s about a 20-minute kayak ride over from the shore, and because the water is pretty shallow it’s easy to dock your boat and lounge in the sun for a while. You can even give yourself an exfoliating spa treatment with the sulfur-rich mud if you’re into that.
3. KAYAKING, SAILING, OR STAND-UP PADDLEBOARDING
Want to Sail the Lagoon in Style? Book a Private Sailboat Tour
There are several ways to get around the lagoon, but we recommend sticking to low-impact sustainable activities. The easiest way to get around is to take a sailboat. Sailing on a normal group tour will cost you around 650 pesos for a 3-hour ride and will take you to 4 different locations. We highly suggest this over a speedboat because it’s far less polluting and more relaxing.
If you’re in the mood for something more adventurous and active, try kayaking or SUPing (stand-up paddleboarding). Kayak prices vary, but the cheapest we found was 400 pesos a day from Villa Corsario.
Kayak over to Isla de los Pájaros (Bird Island) to see Spoonbills, Herons, Wood Storks, Egrets and more. You can’t dock at the island, so you’ll have to quietly observe them from your kayak. Be sure to bring a telephoto lens in a dry bag if you want to get photos. Sunrise SUP tours are also available.
Looking for Peace and Serenity on the Lagoon? Book a Sunrise SUP Tour
4. DRIFT DOWN LOS RAPIDOS
About 20 km (13 miles) from Bacalar is a narrow passage of water with gentle rapids. You can either kayak down or just let the water carry you. It’s fun to swim against the current or latch on to one of the ropes that stretch across the water and just hang out for a while. Be careful not to harm any stromatolites!
There is a restaurant here with lounge chairs and food if you get hungry. Entry is 100 pesos per person and a taxi ride from town will cost you around 150 pesos.
5. RIDE BIKES AROUND TOWN IN SEARCH OF STREET ART
It’s no secret that Mexico has some of the best street art anywhere, and for how small it is, Bacalar has a large amount of it. You’ll find creative murals all over town and they really add that special something to the feel of Bacalar.
Renting bikes is an enjoyable way to get around and see more in less time. You can rent bikes for around 200 pesos per day either from your accommodation or from shops near the center.
6. TRY THE ECO-CHIC RESTAURANTS & LOCAL FOODS
Bacalar has both trendy healthy food and quality cheap eats, here are the ones we recommend trying…
La Piña – A restaurant set in a shady tropical garden serving healthy plates made with fresh, local ingredients.
Enamora Bacalar – A cute corner cafe with inventive dishes and drinks. Try the French press coffee, mango, and cardamom smoothie, or chicken and kimchi sandwich.
El Manati – This is more than just a restaurant. It contains an art space, artisanal crafts for sale, as well as a beautiful backyard serving delicious food with super-friendly service. Be sure to try the Maya omelet and vegan hotcakes.
Mr. Taco – This is the place to get the most bang for your buck! The specialty here is tacos de guisado (stew-filled tacos) of several varieties. You can choose what types you’d like for only 16 pesos each. Great flavors and plenty of vegetarian options. They also make mouthwatering shrimp ceviche tostadas!
Read Next: Exploring the Lesser Known Cenotes of Homún
La Tlaxcalteca – A friendly family-run place offering cheap antojitos (snacks). A “mega sope” for 45 pesos should fill you up for a few hours.
La Playita – This is a very trendy place, mostly because of the atmosphere with vibey music, big trees, and string lights. It also has a dock and water access making it a chill spot to post up for a few hours.
Mango y Chile – The place to come for vegan/vegetarian options. It sits right next to the fort on a hill and offers views overlooking the lagoon.
Navieros Bacalar – If you’re into drinking your cervezas with fresh ceviche head to this local hangout.
7. WANDER ANCIENT RUINS
The Maya inhabited Bacalar long before the invasion of Spanish conquistadors. The name Bacalar means ‘surrounded by reeds’ in the Mayan language. Several Mayan ruins within a two-hour drive see very few visitors.
The most well-known are Kohunlich, Dzibanche, and Kinichna. The best way to reach them is in a rental car or by taking a tour. You can see both Dzibanche and Kinichna for the same entrance fee. (See map below for exact locations).
8. JUMP INTO SOME CENOTES
Like the rest of the Yucatán, Bacalar is home to several cenotes (natural sinkholes). These are fed by the largest underground river in the entire world!
Cenote Negro – Easily accessed from the road or the lake. From the lagoon, you can go over the ledge of the cenote in a kayak and see the drop-off where the water changes from turquoise to black.
Cenote Cocalitos – This is where you’ll find swings and hammocks over the water. It’s one of the best places to go in Bacalar but go early, the crowds arrive later in the day. Again, be careful not to harm any of the stromatolites in the area.
Cenote Azul – This is one of the deepest cenotes in the Yucatán at 90m (295 ft) deep. You can even scuba dive here!
Cenote Esmeralda – The shallow water makes this cenote a good one to try out stand-up paddleboarding.
Though still worth visiting, in our opinion, they’re not as impressive as other cenotes in Mexico.
9. EAT A MARQUESITA
Bacalar’s Zócalo is very quaint and surrounded by cute restaurants and shops selling local handicrafts. At night, the food stalls open up and you’ll notice no less than five stands selling sweet waffle-like hand-rolled treats affectionately known as marquesitas.
Marquesitas are crispy crepes rolled and filled with things like fruits, Nutella, chocolate, jams, and nuts, or if you prefer the savory kind you can go for meats and cheeses.
Whatever you choose, don’t forget to try it with shredded cheese! Yes, it sounds weird, but trust me when I say the mixture of fruit, Nutella, and sharp cheese will send your mouth on a rollercoaster of flavors.
10. FUERTE SAN FELIPE BACALAR
This 18th-century fort was built on a hill overlooking the lagoon to protect the pueblo from pirate attacks. It’s still in great condition (restored in 1938) and offers amazing panoramic views. Inside you’ll find a museum about the history of pirates in the region. The cost is 100 pesos ($5) for foreigners.
So as you can see, whether you’re looking to be active in the water or just hang out, Bacalar is a slice of heaven. Please help preserve this natural wonder by traveling responsibly with some of the following tips…
- Don’t put on sunscreen or insect repellant before getting in the water.
- Use biodegradable sunscreen and insect repellant out of the water.
- Stay at eco-friendly hotels or hostels that treat their wastewater and care about the local environment. Although it may be tempting to stay right on the water, consider that your Instaworthy bungalow might be dumping sewage directly into the lagoon. Yeah, not cool.
- Don’t touch or step on the stromatolites.
- Don’t pick up the snails or touch any shells.
- Avoid tours with motorized boats as gasoline pollutes the waters. Consider sailing or kayaking instead.
- Avoid using plastic by asking for no straw (sin popote) every time you order a drink, carrying a reusable water bottle, and bringing along cloth bags when you leave your hotel.
- It may seem obvious, but don’t litter. Pack out all trash, cigarette butts, beer bottles, etc. Better yet, bring a bag to pick up trash that you see along the way.
- Bacalar is a super walkable town, so walk or ride bikes as much as possible.
WHERE TO STAY
Budget eco-friendly camping – Book Guarumbo
A small humble eco-friendly place with cozy tents, Wi-Fi, clean bathrooms, and very helpful owners. It also includes a solid breakfast!
Best eco-friendly hotel – Book Hotel Eco Boutique Makaabá
It’s a beautiful hotel! One of the best eco-friendly options in Bacalar. They have an ecological pool, rainwater collection, lights on sensors, and an evapotranspiration tank that treats wastewater properly.
Best eco-friendly luxury option – Book Mia Bacalar
A unique and sustainable place where luxury meets nature. Mía Bacalar is a winner of TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Award 2022: Best of the Best. This is an excellent hotel choice overlooking the lagoon.
We hope this post helps you find things to do in Bacalar and encourages you to consider your impact. We believe that when we educate ourselves more about the places we travel to, the result of our trips can be a net positive!
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Had you heard of Bacalar before? What are your thoughts on visiting sensitive areas?