Bacalar, a small town located 200 km south of Tulum, is a hidden gem that should be on every traveler’s bucket list. In 2006, Bacalar has been declared a Pueblo Mágico (Magic Town), a label given by the Mexican government to some of the most beautiful villages in the country. This title is mostly due to the incredible lagoon of the same name. Known as the “Lagoon of Seven Colors,” the Bacalar Lagoon is a natural wonder, with crystal-clear waters that range in color from deep blue to turquoise (hence the nickname “Lagoon of Seven Colors”). Still relatively off the beaten track and not overloaded with tourists, Bacalar is a great place to relax and unplug. But if you feel active there are a lot of great things to do in Bacalar, from stunning boat trips to diving into beautiful cenotes and visiting Los Rapidos. At the end of this post, you will also find information on how to get to Bacalar and the best hotel to stay at. Without further ado, here are my recommendations on the best things to do in Bacalar.
SAILING ON THE BACALAR LAGOON
One of the best ways to explore the Bacalar lagoon is to spend half a day on a boat, Most of the tours take you around the lagoon, giving you the chance to see all of its different colors and the wildlife that calls it home. Some tour companies even offer snorkeling and diving trips, allowing you to get up close and personal with the lagoon’s inhabitants. We booked a half-day private tour on a sailing boat (here), and it was spectacular! We stopped by the Pirate Channel, a shallow channel with crystal clear waters, Birds Island, and the Black Cenote, one of Bacalar deepest cenotes whose dark blue color contrasts drastically with the rest of the lagoon. For lunch, the team prepared homemade guacamole with chips, some fresh fruits and offered us some local beers!! What else could we ask for?
More info about our private sailing trip:
- The tour lasts 4 hours, and can be done in the morning (10 am) or in the afternoon (3 pm), The afternoon tour gives you the chance to witness the sunset on the lagoon.
- There is no tour organized on Wednesday, as it is a rest day for the lagoon!
- To preserve the fragile ecosystem of the lagoon, it is very strongly recommended to not wear any chemicals, such as makeup, sunscreen, etc … Even the more eco-friendly ones can be detrimental to the environment. As the sun can be quite strong, I recommend bringing a long sleeve shirt and hat to protect yourself while on the boat. Bring your own towels too.
Overall I highly recommend this tour. The staff was very kind and knowledgeable, and it is amazing to explore the lagoon at the quiet path of a sailboat. Alternatively, you could also book a catamaran tour.
KAYAKING IN LOS RAPIDOS, BACALAR
Los Rapidos is a narrow channel lined with stromatolites and mangroves, located all the way to the south of Bacalar lagoon. The current there is quite strong, hence its name Los Rapidos (the rapids in Spanish). Most visitors reach Los Rapidos through the balneario also called Los Rapidos. From there you can rent a kayak, eat at the restaurant, lounge in the overwater hammocks or walk alongside the channel to observe the impressive stromatolite formations. The place is open every day from 10 am to 6 pm. The entrance fee is 150 MXN (7,5 USD) and the rental of the kayak is 200 MXN per person.
If you wish to escape the crowd or just pay less to explore Los Rapidos, you could also rent a kayak from Sac-Ha (see below) for only 100 MXN / hour. From there it is around 1.6 km of paddling to reach Los Rapidos. But beware, the current can be quite strong!! This is what we did, and we were completely exhausted once we reached the baleario. So much so that we didn’t have the energy anymore to kayak up Los Rapidos itself! The way back was a bliss through, as we were gently pushed by the current.
Good to know: Bacalar is home to one the largest freshwater stromatolites formation in the world, The stromatolites are big, pillowy beige structures that grow upwards from the limestone bottom of the lake. They might look like rocks, but they are actually living things, acting as the the lung of the lagoon: absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen. Stromatolites are very unique and fragile and should therefore be protected. Do not touch it, try to grab piece of it, walk on it, etc… Pay particular attention not to damage it while kayaking in Los Rapidos as there are a lot there.
PADDLE-BOARDING ON THE LAGOON
One of the amazing ways to discover the lagoon is by paddle boarding. In a place like Bacalar, where the ecosystem is so unique and fragile, I find a lot of value in a water activity that has a very low environmental impact. You can book a group sunrise tour, or explore at your own pace using the paddles available at your hotel, or in various beach clubs along the lagoon coastline. We took some paddle boards from our hotel Habitas Bacalar, and absolutely loved being all alone on the lagoon ! And it is good exercise too!
VISITING BACALAR’S BALNEARIOS
Another popular activity in Bacalar is simply to swim or relax in one of Bacalar balnearios, aka. local “beach clubs”. . The water of the lagoon is warm and crystal clear, making it perfect to lounge and swim for hours. We visited Sac-Ha, one of the cute baleario in Bacalar facing an absolutely gorgeous, shallow part of the lagoon. The water was crystal clear! Honestly, if you had dropped me there without any indication, I would have guessed it was the Maldives, Tahiti, or something like that!
The entrance fee is 40 MXN for the day + 100 MXN for a palapa (total l± 7.5 USD). To rent kayaks, we paid 100 MXN / hour (±5USD) and didn’t have to pay any entrance fee.
DISCOVERING BACALAR CENOTES
Bacalar is home to some of the most stunning cenotes in Mexico. For those who don’t know, a cenote is a natural swimming hole that is formed by the collapse of limestone bedrock, revealing crystal-clear underground water. Unlike other cenotes in the Yucatan region, all the Bacalar cenotes are the open-air type and most of them connect to the lagoon, so they look more like coves than classic cenotes.
One of the most popular cenotes in Bacalar is Cenote Azul. As the name suggests, the water in this cenote is a deep blue color and is perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Completely enclosed, just by the side of the lagoon, Cenote Azul is surrounded by lush vegetation, making it the perfect spot for a refreshing dip and a picnic. There is also a restaurant on site.
Cenote Negro is one of the most unique cenotes in Bacalar. Connected to the lagoon, the underwater floor suddenly drops from 2 m to 90 m, so there is a very sharp difference in color that is cool to observe. It is a typical stop during a boat tour.
Cenote Esmeralda is another beautiful cenote in Bacalar. The water there is a vibrant green color, giving it its name “Esmeralda” which means “emerald” in Spanish. This cenote is perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
The Cenote Cocalitos is a great place to admire the stromatolite formations in Bacalar. It is very well developed with one of Bacalar’s popular Balneario. There is a restaurant, bathrooms, a camping site, some kayaks & loungers to rent, and hammocks in the water. It is definitely more a beach club / balneario on the lagoon than a wild cenote, but it is a chilled-out place and a good family-friendly option.
All in all, the Bacalar cenotes are a must-see for any nature lover visiting the area. Each cenote has its own unique features and charm, making them all worth visiting. So put on your swimsuits and get ready to explore the beautiful Bacalar cenotes.
EXPLORING BACALAR TOWN
Although most of the activities in Bacalar revolve around the lagoon, it would be a shame to miss visiting the village, strolling along its colorful houses, admiring the mural paintings, and doing a bit of shopping. The main place to visit is the San Felipe Fort, a colonial-era fort built to protect the town from pirate attacks. The view of the lagoon from the fort is stunning.
To shop authentic Mexican art & craft or just to grab a bite, stop by El Manatí Bacalar, just off the main square. We also had a great lunch at La Playita, a relaxed restaurant by the lagoon with a large menu and colorful vibes.
Bacalar is an amazing destination to include in any Yucatan itinerary, with something to offer for everyone. With its stunning lagoon, beautiful cenotes, colorful streets, and plenty of activities, Bacalar is a destination that you won’t want to miss.
SHOP MY BACALAR ESSENTIALS!
WHERE TO STAY IN BACALAR?
Habitas Bacalar: We stayed in Habitas and there is no doubt in my mind that this is the best hotel in Bacalar. Located in a quiet part of the lagoon. the hotel has beautiful cabana-style bedrooms, a large deck facing the sunrise, and an exceptional food and drinks menu. You can read my full review here. If you can’t stay at Habitas Bacalar, you could consider visiting for dinner at the Siete restaurant.
Although I think Habitas is the best hotel in Bacalar, I believe Casa Hormiga would also be an amazing option. A block away from the lagoon itself, Casa Hormiga is a boutique hotel dedicated to well-being. The vibe of the hotel is raw modernism meets warm organic materials and the result is absolutely stunning! Casa Hormiga is well known for it wellness rituals such as Temazcal, soothing baths, cacao ceremony, sound healing, water meditation, etc… These rituals can be booked by non-staying guests. The photos below are courtesy of Casa Hormiga.
Lastly, you should check out Akalki Hotel y Centro Holistico. With warm neutral bedrooms, some of them directly on the lagoon, a farm-to-table restaurant, and a host of mindfulness activities, Akalki Hotel y Centro Holistico looks like one of the best hotels in Bacalar. The photos below are courtesy of Akalki Hotel.
HOW TO GET TO BACALAR?
Since Bacalar was part of our Yucatan road trip we reached the lagoon by car. Renting a car is pretty easy and affordable, from Cancun airport itself or in any main town on the Riviera Maya. Here are a few distances to keep in mind:
- Cancun to Bacalar is 345km, a 4h drive
- Playa del Carmen to Bacalar is 280 km, a 3h30 drive
- Tulum to Bacalar is 215 km, a 2h30 drive.
Depending on where you come from, you could also consider flying to Bacalar. The closest airport is Chetumal International Airport, located less than 40 km southeast of Bacalar. From there you could rent a car or organize a pick-up with your hotel.
Lastly, there is always the bus option, which is said to be easy and comfortable and connects major Yucatan cities, such as Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Tulum to Bacalar. We didn’t use the bus, but I did some research and here is what I found:
- The main bus company connecting the Riviera Maya is called ADO
- You can find the schedule, pricing, and booking information here
- For reference, on that website Cancun to Bacalar costs 33 USD, Playa Del Carmen to Bacalar costs 24 USD and Tulum to Bacalar costs 21 USD.
Here you go! I hope you found this article about the best things to do in Bacalar useful and that you are now ready to discover this beautiful lagoon. Bacalar was my favorite stop in our 2-week road trip in the Yucatan, in large part thanks to our stay in Habitas, which is one of the best hotels I ever stayed at. I hope you get to visit Bacalar soon, and in the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to reach out in the comment box below, or directly on Instagram.