Most travellers tend to visit Tulum as their last destination in the Quintana Roo region, but they’re the ones that are missing out.
Continue south and you’ll stumble upon the Lagoon of 7 Colours, also known as Bacalar. The lagoon’s turquoise hues and crystal clear waters is what attracts most people to the area. It’s perfect for those looking for the chance to laze in a water hammock or paddle in its shallow waters.
A great thing about Bacalar is that it’s not on most people’s radars yet. This means the town allows you to escape the craziness of the rest of Quintana Roo and experience a more traditional Mexican town.
Apart from water-based activities around the lagoon, there’s not much else going on in Bacalar, but this just makes Bacalar the perfect place to relax and enjoy the tranquility of the area.
For such a small town, the selection of food and quality is both surprising and outstanding. Some of the best dishes in Mexico can be found in Bacalar. Continue reading this post to find out about the restaurants you can’t miss!
How many days should you spend in Bacalar? Bacalar is the perfect place to spend 3-4 days, exploring the lagoon by boat, kayak or paddleboard and visiting some of the surrounding attractions like the nearby rapids.
Alternatively you can just grab a book and a hammock and just relax. Sounds pretty perfect doesn’t it?
Note: Unfortunately, a big proportion of the lake has lost its turquoise colour that Bacalar is famous for due to the hurricane in July 2020. Despite this, we still think it’s worth the trip, as there are still spots that have managed to maintain its spectacular colour.
#1 Spend the day exploring the lake on a boat trip
The lagoon can be explored by cycling or driving around the lagoon and by kayak, but we think you’ll get the best experience by exploring the lagoon by boat. It allows you to visit multiple areas of the lagoon and it’s a really fun way to spend the day.
The lagoon is renowned for its crystal blue waters and it’s famous cenotes. During the boat trip, you’ll get the chance to swim and snorkel in the gorgeous lagoon and cenotes.
Note that the hurricane in July 2020 brought a large amount of silt into the lake. Unfortunately, this has caused a big proportion of the lake to lose its turquoise colour that it’s famous for. Despite this, we still think it’s worth the trip as there are still spots that have managed to maintain its spectacular colour.
Where you visit on your boat tour will depend on which tour you join. Below we’ve summarised the places the majority of tours will visit:
Bacalar’s Cenotes – Cenotes are essentially a sinkhole that results from the collapse of the bedrock exposing groundwater. Cenote Esmerelda, Cenote Negro and Cenote Coclitos are all set within the lagoon. You’ll be able to distinguish where a cenote is by the change in colour of the water. If you don’t join a boat trip, you can also visit the cenotes by kayaking on the lake or driving/cycling to their locations.
Isla de Los Pájaros – an island paradise for migratory birds that flock to Bacalar. Amongst the many types of birds who’ve made the island their home you’ll find parrots, owls and calendar hawks.
Canal de Los Piratas – originally used as a trading channel between the Mayans of the North and Central America, the channel is now a stunning place to see. The lakebed in this area also has high mineral content, perfect for exfoliating your skin.
To join a boat tour you can either book it with one of the street vendors in the main square for 350 MXN ($17) for 3.5 hours or book it online via Viator.
If you want to turn the trip into a boat party then the Viator tour includes an open bar!
#2 Go with the flow at Los Rápidos de Bacalar
Located at the southern end of the lagoon is Los Rapidos, which as the name suggests is a set of slow-flowing rapids. Just like the rest of the lagoon, the rapids also boast a beautiful azul colour.
The experience is pretty simple. You get your lifejacket, walk upstream along the banks of the rapids (which can be quite a task against the current).
Once you reach the start of the rapids, you’ll realise the effort was worth it! All you have to do now is sit back in your life jacket and let the rapids take you downstream.
Floating down the river is the epitome of peace and tranquility as you’re surrounded by the towering reeds on the banks and birds flying overhead.
You can repeat this as many times as you like, or instead relax in the onsite restaurant which is the perfect place to spend the day.
Entrance into the rapids is 100 MXN ($4.80).
#3 Stand up paddleboard during sunrise
One of the top things to do in Bacalar is to see the sunrise. Seeing the day in as the sun rises over the lake is the perfect way to start your day.
To take the sunrise to a whole other level, you can opt to go paddleboarding instead. This way you’ll experience the true peacefulness of the lake, away from the town’s noise.
The paddleboard tours of the lake tend to last for around 3 hours and can cost between 400-500 MXN ($19-23). You should be able to organise a tour through your accommodation or one of the street vendors. Alternatively, you can book in advance with Viator which also includes breakfast and refreshments.
#4 Admire Bacalar’s cenotes from the land
If you don’t want to join a boat tour or kayak then you can still visit Bacalar’s cenotes independently by driving or cycling to the different locations. From the land, it’s still easy to enter the water and swim in the cenotes.
If you want to get a good view of the cenotes, you may get a better view from the land than when visiting the cenotes with a boat or kayak. From the water, you can only really identify the cenote by a change in water colour.
To remind you, cenotes are essentially a sinkhole that results from the collapse of the bedrock exposing groundwater.
See here an overview of the cenotes in Bacalar that you can visit:
Cenote Azul– is one of the deepest cenotes in Yucatan, reaching depths of around 90 metres. Due to its depth, visibility isn’t great for snorkelling but divers love it.
Cenote Esmerelda – is a relatively shallow cenote with crystal clear waters. It’s a lovely place to relax and just float around in the refreshing waters of the lagoon.
Cenote Negro – most travellers visit this cenote on a boat trip, but as the cenote is right next to land, it’s also possible to just hop in and swim around.. The interesting thing about this cenote is the contrast of the black of the cenote against the rest of the lagoon.
Cenote Cocalitos – this cenote has the added bonus of containing stromatolites, some of the oldest living fossils in the world.
#5 Enjoy some outstanding food
When travelling to such a small town like Bacalar, many travellers won’t have high expectations for food. Bacalar defies this assumption.
There are so many amazing restaurants that you’ll want to extend your stay just to visit more of the restaurants.
One of our favourites is Mango y Chile, a vegetarian/vegan burger restaurant that makes the best burgers and huge portions! Another one not to miss is Mr Taco, who doesn’t just serve your standard taco. They have 15 different filling options from mole to chorizo and potato.
#6 Spend the day lounging at La Playita
Continuing with the food theme, La Playita is a restaurant set on the lagoon.
They describe themselves as ‘the place to eat, drink and swim: that sums it up!’ And that’s exactly what you can do all day.
Sit back and relax in one of the hammocks whilst enjoying the great choice of music and unbeatable atmosphere.
In between your lounging sessions in the hammock or swims in the lagoon you can indulge in the Latin fusion cuisine on offer. Sounds like a perfect day right?
#7 Explore the lagoon by kayak
If paddleboarding or joining a boat trip is not your thing, you can hire a kayak for a few hours and explore the lagoon yourself.
It’s a great form of exercise and can be another way to explore some of the lagoons cenotes that you can also visit from the land (mentioned in #4).
You can hire a kayak for around 100 MXN ($4.80) per hour.
#8 Visit San Felipe Fort in the centre of town
Situated right next to the Zocalo (main square) you’ll find San Felipe Fort. No more excuses to not to visit it!
The fort’s original purpose was to protect Bacalar’s Mayan community from attacks by English, French and Dutch pirates. Now the fort has been converted into a museum that houses a collection of Mayan and colonial artifacts such as ammunition, weapons, blueprints and maps.
To really bring the fort to life, they also project recreations of what the pirate attacks would have been like.
The fort is open every day apart from Mondays between 9am-7pm and costs 70 MXN ($3.35) to enter.
#9 Adventure through the jungle admiring the ruins of Kohunlich
An hour south of Bacalar you’ll find the Archaeological Zone of Kohunlich. The archaeological site is set across twenty acres of flat terrain with trails winding through the rainforest.
There are a number of structural groups to explore, but one of the main attractions of the site are the large Sun God masks that aren’t featured in many other ruins in Mexico.
The ruins are open between 8am-5pm and entrance costs 80 MXN ($3.80)
The owners of Zayali homestay welcome you as if you’re part of the family and make you instantly feel like you’re at home. The rooms are clean, spacious and well air-conditioned, guaranteeing a great night's sleep.
The rooms also include a fridge, microwave and coffee-making facilities. Plus, there’s also a great communal hangout area with hammocks and a rustic bar.