Eternal Arrival
Mexico

Bacalar Lagoon, the Maldives of Mexico

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Everyone flocks to the Yucatán peninsula for its truly stunning beaches. But ever the contrarian, my favorite beach in Mexico is actually not a beach at all.

It’s a lake, and it’s the most beautiful lake I’ve ever seen in the world.

Yes, I’m talking about quiet little Lake Bacalar. Not quite as coastal as it looks, Bacalar Lagoon is 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 5 hours from Cancun, 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 Lagoon is truly a (not-so-hidden gem) on the Yucatán peninsula. It’s a must-see if you’re heading overland south to Belize, as it’s quite close to Chetumal, where you can easily catch chicken buses to Belize City to start your Belize trip. Check out my extensive guide on what you should do and see in Belize if you’re headed that way.

While there aren’t many things to do in Bacalar, it’s still 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 Lagoon

Admittedly, Bacalar isn’t the most exciting town in Mexico, but it’s not without its charms. Most of my favorite things to do in Bacalar revolve around its beautiful lake, but there are also a few other reasons to visit this lovely town.

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Planning to visit Riviera Maya Mexico? Get off the beaten path in Mexico and visit Lake Bacalar, the lake of seven colors. Bacalar is 3 hours from Tulum and makes a perfect place to visit in Mexico if you want something different. Here are the best things to do in Bacalar!
Planning to visit Riviera Maya Mexico? Get off the beaten path in Mexico and visit Lake Bacalar, the lake of seven colors. Bacalar is 3 hours from Tulum and makes a perfect place to visit in Mexico if you want something different. Here are the best things to do in Bacalar!

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 Lagoon.

paddleboarding is one of the best things to do in Lake Bacalar
Jumping into the water a great thing to do in Lake 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! Spoiler: I was not, because I have the coordination of a drunk toddler and jumping off a rope seems like a recipe for me to test the generosity of my travel insurance.

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 designation of “Pueblo Magico”, magic village — just happens to be one of them. Pretty freaking awesome.

Check out boat tours here.

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.

When looking for a place to eat, don’t miss Antojitos Orizaba, where you can eat authentic Mexican-style quesadillas — hint the

Where to Stay in Lake Bacalar

Though Bacalar is a small town, there are plenty of places to stay depending on your budget.

Budget: I stayed at The Blue Monkey and had mixed feelings It’s got a good lakefront location and strong AC. However, 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.

Instead, I’d probably try one of the newer offerings in town; there are some boutique hostels that offer more comfort at good prices. Next time I’d pick The Yak Lake Hostel (rated 9.0 with over 900 reviews on Booking.com) for its in-town location, excellent design and reputation for cleanliness. They also offer paddleboarding and kayaking tours if that’s something you want to do when you’re in Bacalar.

Mid-range: If you want more privacy than a dorm affords, I’d recommend Casa Zazil (rated 9.3 with over 100 reviews on Booking.com), which is no frills but comfortable and private. Located in town, it’s a 10 minute walk from the lakefront. Kulu Tubohostel is an interesting concept and has good reviews though I’m not sure I could commit to sleeping in a tube!

Luxury: Bacalar is a pretty laidback beach town but there are a few affordable luxury options. Casa Bambu is the best option in town, with a 9.3 rating on Booking.com. Its lakefront location and private rooms look super dreamy and that hammock has views for days.

Getting to Bacalar Lagoon

Getting to Bacalar is quite easy and painless with multiple daily ADO buses. With wifi, AC, comfortable reclining seats, and movies, ADO buses are simply the best way to travel in Mexico. You can book online at clickbus.com.mx and show it to the driver on your phone.

For around 110 pesos ($6 USD) for a 3-hour bus ride from Tulum to Bacalar, in my opinion, it’s well 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.

There are also daily buses from Playa del Carmen if you’re skipping past Tulum, but you’ll have to add on about another 1.5 to 2 hours for this trip.

Pin this guide to Laguna Bacalar!

Planning to visit Riviera Maya Mexico? Get off the beaten path in Mexico and visit Lake Bacalar, the lake of seven colors. Bacalar is 3 hours from Tulum and makes a perfect place to visit in Mexico if you want something different. Here are the best things to do in Bacalar!

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Annie Aguilar
    June 26, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    This is gorgeous! My husband and I usually travel to Mexico about once a year. We’ll add this to the list! Also, signed up for your e-book.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      June 27, 2017 at 6:53 am

      I hope you guys get a chance to visit Bacalar next year, it’s one of my favorite spots in Mexico! Definitely a true hidden gem. Thanks so much for signing up, hope you can learn a few tips from the e-book!

  • Reply
    Edgardo Vega
    October 7, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    Just one correction most cities, etc that you mentioned on your writing, mainly Bacalar, belong to the also peninsular state of Quintana Roo instead of Yucatan.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      October 8, 2017 at 5:30 pm

      Hi Edgardo, thanks – I meant the Yucatan peninsula, not Yucatan state, but I will make that clear 🙂

  • Reply
    Eduardo Estrada
    June 25, 2018 at 1:56 am

    I go there with my family each year, and it is the most gorgeous place in Mexico. I do not reccomend going to the normal tourist places becuase of the heavy volume of people and rising costs of entry. If you try to find a place with no people, it will cost you 5 to 20 pesos at the most, and is twice the fun and without the little kid screaming for his mom. Very instagram worthy place

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      June 25, 2018 at 3:16 pm

      It really is one of the most gorgeous places in Mexico, how lucky you are to go each year!

  • Reply
    Deborah L Dewitt
    December 25, 2018 at 2:53 am

    Me and my husband are looking to retire next year to Mexico and would like to be on the water. We have a friend that lives in Merida and she recommended Bacarla how costly is it to live there year round???

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      December 27, 2018 at 6:24 pm

      Hi Deborah, I’m sorry, I have no idea how expensive it is to live there year round as I just visited as a tourist. I’d check the house style you want on Airbnb and then figure it’d be about half that if you rented it full-time directly from the owner.

    • Reply
      Christian Cantarell
      December 27, 2018 at 11:02 pm

      Hi Deborah, this would be paradise for you to retire. As Allison says, its as well one of my favorite spots in Mexico and perfect place to retire. A lot of Medical Tourism and Retirement projects coming that way. I would love to be able to tell you more about Bacalar and retiring there. I live in Playa del Carmen and go to Bacalar every chance I get. Its my happy place. my email is c.cantarell7@gmail.com or my cell +52 1 984 183 5146 or look for me on FB like Christian Cantarell.

  • Reply
    ellie
    March 10, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    where was the pasta from

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      March 11, 2019 at 5:13 pm

      I believe it was called Pues Si right and it’s right on the Zocalo next to the ice cream shop. Will update this article in a few days as I just returned from a second trip to Bacalar!

  • Reply
    Patricia Brunelle
    March 18, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    Hi!. We will staying in playa del carmen..how much is a round ticket to Bacalar from there?and how late do the busses run from Bacalar to come back to playa del carmen. Thanks

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      March 19, 2019 at 1:36 pm

      Hi Patricia… from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar it’s 370 pesos (about $19 USD) each way, so about $39 USD total. The last bus from Bacalar goes back to Playa at 10:50 PM and takes about 4 hours on ADO buses, which are the ones I recommend. You can find more info online at clickbus.com.mx

  • Reply
    Roxanne
    September 5, 2019 at 9:15 pm

    Hi! Planning on heading to Bacalar in December 2019 🙂 I was looking for Casa Bambu, as suggested, but I cannot find it on Booking.com. However, it’s says that the hotel has a 9.3 rating on Booking. Is it possible to help me please?

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      September 6, 2019 at 11:20 am

      Hi Roxanne – it may have been removed, you could try reaching out to them directly or finding one of the other lovely hotels in Bacalar. I’ve been meaning to update this post so I’ll edit the suggested hotels next update!

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