Everyone flocks to the Yucatán for its truly stunning beaches. But ever the contrarian, my favorite beach in Mexico is actually not a beach at all.
Enter quiet little Lake Bacalar, a lagoon located inland in the very southern edge of the Yucatán Peninsula, close to the border of Belize. Once a largely unknown lake, Instagram and the Internet age have catapulted it onto the radar of many, including — oddly though perhaps not surprisingly — a huge hippie population.
I’m not mad about it, though — I ate some of the best pasta I’ve had outside of Italy there.
Bacalar is a small town located about 4 hours from Playa del Carmen or 3 hours from the other popular Yucatán hippie mecca of Tulum. Not as frenetic as Playa and more low-key than Tulum, Bacalar is truly a hidden gem on the Yucatán and a must-see if you’re heading overland south to Belize.
While there aren’t many things to do in Bacalar, it’s a place you can easily while away the days. I spent my afternoons sipping Negra Modelos in a hammock overlooking Lake Bacalar, which is aptly named The Lake of Seven Colors. Though I think they’re selling themselves a bit short there — I counted far more than that.
Things to Do in Bacalar
Admittedly, Bacalar isn’t the most exciting town in Mexico, but it’s not without its charms. My favorite things to do in Bacalar all revolve around its beautiful lake.
Stand-up paddleboard at sunrise
There are two partner hostels in Bacalar, The Green Monkey and The Blue Monkey, both of which offer stand-up paddleboarding tours daily leaving just before sunrise. For 400 pesos (approximately $20), you’ll get a guided paddleboarding trip through Bacalar that lasts about 3 hours, including a guide and paddleboard rental.
(If you’re planning a budget Mexico trip, check out this roundup of some of the best hostels in Mexico)
You’ll visit the sandbars with their many white birds, the Black Cenote, and El Canal de los Piratos (the Pirates’ Channel), where you can jump from the remains of a ship into crystal clear waters! This was definitely my favorite thing to do in Bacalar.
Kayak to the Black Cenote (Cenote Negro)
The Black Cenote is just a short kayak ride away from the Blue Monkey. In a matter of feet, the water goes from a peaceful turquoise to an inky black, where a limestone cavern has collapsed into itself to a depth of 90 meters.
There’s a rope swing nearby where you can catapult yourself into the water if you’re brave!
Take a boat tour
If you’re not up for paddleboarding, you can take a boat tour that will take you to all the best spots on Lake Bacalar, including the Pirates’ Channel, the Black Cenote, Cenote Esmeralda, and Cenote Cocolitos, where you can see stromatolites — the oldest living organism on the planet. They only can survive in highly salty bodies of water in a few places on earth, and Bacalar — living up to its nickname “Pueblo Magico” — just happens to be one of them.
Enjoy the Zocalo and the Fort San Felipe
Zocalo is the word for “main square” which virtually every Mexican city or town has at its heart. Right near Bacalar’s Zocalo you can find a number of restaurants as well as the ruins of an old fort, Fort San Felipe, built in the 1700s after the town was sacked by pirates. Now, it’s an open air museum.
Where to Stay in Lake Bacalar
Though Bacalar is a small town, there are plenty of places to stay depending on your budget.
For hostels, I recommend The Blue Monkey for great vibes, good breakfasts, and strong AC. However, be warned that the showers are cold water only and the wifi is absolutely horrible – I could barely log on most of the time. It’s a bit of a walk from town (25 minutes or a $1 taxi ride) but nothing outrageous. The views of Bacalar, however, make it all worthwhile.
The Green Monkey has a reputation for being a bit of a party hostel, so if that’s more your scene, it may be more to your liking. It’s closer to town as well.
If you want a touch of luxury in Lake Bacalar, it’s not hard to find. There are a few boutique hotels offering chic digs at affordable prices. My favorite boutique hotel offering is Toto Blue in the center of town.
Getting to Lake Bacalar
Getting to Bacalar is quite easy and painless with multiple daily ADO first class buses. With wifi, AC, comfortable reclining seats, and movies, ADO buses are simply the best way to travel in Mexico. For around 110 pesos ($6 USD) for a 3 hour bus ride from Tulum to Bacalar, in my opinion it’s worth the extra money to take a first-class bus. Second-class buses exist but may take up to twice as long to get to your destination as they will stop off wherever any passenger wants to be let off.