Bacalar Lagoon, The “Maldives of Mexico”
Planning on traveling to beautiful Bacalar Lagoon, Mexico? Lucky you!
There’s good reason why Bacalar, Mexico is known as the “Maldives of Mexico”. If you’ve seen the crystal-clear blue waters of the Maldives, you’ll know exactly what to expect when coming to explore Mexico’s beautiful Bacalar Lagoon!
Bacalar has many nicknames. Besides the “Maldives of Mexico”, it is also known as the pueblo magico (“magic town”, an official designation it was given in 2006), and “the Lagoon of Seven Colors” (nicknamed this by the locals, since you can actually see seven beautiful shades of blue in the lagoon!)
Though it is technically a pueblo (small town), there is still so much to see and do in Bacalar, beyond just blissfully swimming in the lagoons! Some people visit here on a simple day trip from Playa Del Carmen or Tulum, but this guide will show you why you need to spend at LEAST a few days enjoying all Bacalar has to offer.
Read on to discover my ultimate travel guide to Bacalar Lagoon, Mexico – and start packing your bags!
Quick Links – BACALAR, MEXICO:
- A Brief History of Bacalar
- Where is Bacalar Lagoon located?
- How do you get to Bacalar?
- Best Time to Visit Bacalar
- Best Things to Do in Bacalar
- TAKE A BOAT TOUR OF BACALAR LAGOON
- SWIM IN BACALAR’S CENOTES
- GO KAYAKING ON BACALAR LAGOON
- GO STAND-UP PADDLEBOARDING (SUP) ON BACALAR LAGOON
- LET THE CURRENT CARRY YOU AT LAS RAPIDOS DE BACALAR
- EXPLORE FUERTE DE SAN FELIPE (DOWNTOWN BACALAR)
- CHECK OUT A BACALAR BEACH CLUB
- TAKE PHOTOS OF THE BEAUTIFUL BACALAR MURALS
- GO ZIP-LINING IN BACALAR
- CHECK OUT NEARBY MAYAN RUINS
- DISCOVER BACALAR’S AMAZING RESTAURANT OPTIONS
- STAY AT THE BEST BACALAR BOUTIQUE AND LUXURY HOTELS
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A Brief History of Bacalar
Bacalar is believed to have received its name from the term “b’ak halal” which means “surrounded by reeds” in Mayan.
Bacalar was the first Mayan city in the region and was inhabited for centuries before the Spanish arrived in the area. It was the first town in the area that the Spanish conquistadors succeeded in conquering, which happened in 1543.
Bacalar was then continuously raided by pirates throughout much of the 17th Century. They would enter through a canal in the lagoon (now known as ‘El Canal de Los Piratas Bacalar’, which many boat tours will take you to see).
It wasn’t until the “Fortress of San Felipe” was constructed that Bacalar could successfully defend itself against these pirates. However, this did not stop an indigenous Maya army from taking back the town during the Caste War of Yucatan in 1848. Mexican authority didn’t rule again over the city until 1902.
Where is Bacalar Lagoon located?
Bacalar is located in Mexico’s SE Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo. It is only a few hours of driving distance from many of Mexico’s most popular travel destinations, such as Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Tulum. It’s also located just 30 minutes from the Belize/Mexico border!
Bacalar is not located on the coast, and does not have a beach, despite its Caribbean-like vibrant blue waters. However, just an hour or so away is Mahahual on the Costa Maya, which has some of the most gorgeous beaches in the this region! You could combine both together in a trip to this region if you’re craving sea and sand, too.
As of 2022, Bacalar is still somewhat of a secret gem, beloved by locals and off-the-beaten-path travelers alike. However, it is quickly becoming a must-visit Mexican hotspot that is topping bucket lists, as the word spreads about its beauty and charm. More and more developments are going up here, but if you visit soon, you can still witness it in all of its splendor.
How do you get to Bacalar?
There are a couple of different options for getting yourself to the Bacalar Lagoon area:
FLYING TO BACALAR
WHERE TO FLY INTO:
INTO CHETUMAL: The closest airport to Bacalar is the Chetumal International Airport (CTM), which is located less than 45 minutes away. Note: This is a small airport, so you will most likely need to take a connecting flight through Cancun, Mexico City, or Guadalajara.
Chetumal to Bacalar: If you do arrive at Chetumal, you can hire a private transfer service, rent a car and drive, take a taxi, or the ADO bus.
INTO CANCUN: Most people visiting Bacalar arrive at Cancun airport, which has affordable flights from Canada, the USA, and more since it is such a popular destination to fly to. Once you arrive in Cancun, you can hire a private transportation company, rent a car and drive, or take the ADO bus to Bacalar. A shuttle driver will meet you in the terminal, and there are rental car companies and ADO buses available right outside the Cancun airport.
PRIVATE SHUTTLE FROM CANCUN AIRPORT: I highly recommend using the transportation company Cancun Airport Transportation for your private transfer to Bacalar. When you arrive at the airport, an English-speaking driver will meet you right inside the airport and drive you to do your accommodations in Bacalar – easy, peasy!
DRIVING TO BACALAR:
Once you arrive at the airport of your choice, you’ll need to find a way to get to Bacalar itself, either by car rental, or private transportation/driver. (There is also the option of taking the ADO bus)
RENTING A CAR:
Are you thinking about renting a car in Mexico? That’s great, and I highly recommend it! Many travelers going to Bacalar will also embark on a Yucatan road trip around this part of the country, and there’s so much to see and do. This part of Mexico is mostly safe to drive in, too, so renting a car is something I recommend so that you can see as much as possible.
I can recommend booking your rental car using Discover Cars. They’re a unique and affordable car rental search to use because their website will search both international rental car companies, as well as local Mexican rental car companies. Because of this, you can be sure you’re getting the best rates possible! They also rate all of the car rental companies so you can know their rating ahead of booking with them. Also, you can purchase insurance right from them at great rates, which is important to have when booking a rental car in Mexico.
Tip for Driving to Bacalar: Download your driving directions via Google Maps ahead of time, as you will likely lose cell phone signal during your drive.
Driving to Bacalar – Driving Times
Driving from Cancun / Playa Del Carmen to Bacalar
Starting from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or the rest of the Riviera Maya, you will take Highway 307 (Chetumal-Cancun) south to Bacalar. The drive from Cancun and area to Bacalar will take around 3.5 – 4.5 hours.
Driving from Tulum to Bacalar
From Tulum you will take Highway 307 (Chetumal-Cancun) all the way south to Bacalar. This drive to Bacalar from Tulum will take around 2.5 – 3 hours.
Driving from Chetumal to Bacalar
From Chetumal, you will take Highway 186 (Villahermosa – Chetumal) to Highway 307 (Chetumal-Cancun) all the way North to Bacalar. This drive to Bacalar from Tulum will take only approximately 35 minutes.
TAKING A BUS TO BACALAR:
Taking the ADO Bus to Bacalar Mexico
Mexico’s largest bus company is ADO. They offer bus trips from almost all locations in Quintana Roo and the Yucatan regions right to Bacalar. You can take an ADO bus to Bacalar from Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Tulum,
Bus prices in Mexico will vary, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $82-$1,000 pesos for roundtrip tickets (around $5 to $60 CAD), depending on where you are leaving from.
ARRIVING IN BACALAR BY BUS: When you arrive in Bacalar, there is only one bus station stop. When you disembark the bus at the Bacalar station, you will be greeted by many taxis waiting outside to take you where you want to go. Keep in mind that haggling (negotiating) is normal and expected in Mexico, so give it a go and negotiate down their starting asking price. (Make sure you agree on the final price before getting in the taxi, though! Taxis are known to try to rip off unsuspecting tourists in many parts of Mexico)
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Best Time to Visit Bacalar
When is the best time to visit Bacalar to ensure amazing weather, affordable rates, and avoid the crowds?
The average temperatures in Bacalar vary only slightly. Considering Bacalar’s humidity, the temperatures feel hot all year long!
There is a fair chance of rain for about half of the year. This area is less temperate than others, in about the 15th percentile for pleasant weather.
If you’re hoping for the very warmest months to visit Bacalar, they are August, July, and May.
If you’re after the driest time to visit Bacalar, the months with the lowest chance of rainfall in Bacalar are April, February, and March.
The coolest months to visit Bacalar are December, January, and February. However, when the sun is out it is still plenty warm enough to go for a dip in the lagoon!
You’ll likely want to steer clear of storm season in Quintana Roo, which is late summer and early fall. The cyclones during this time can be pretty strong and can even disrupt your travel (not that getting stuck in the paradise that is Bacalar for a few extra days would be the worse thing ever!)
If saving money is the most important thing to you, you’ll want to travel in the low season (between May to September). Once the temperature begins to cool down in the winter months, the number of visitors increases, and prices go up! However, you can still find some great deals in the winter months as long as you avoid visiting around any major holidays (Christmas, New Years, school holidays etc.)
AVOIDING THE CROWDS:
Of course, visiting in low season will mean you will have many spots all to yourself. However, if you decide to visit during the high season, you can still avoid the crowds by visiting your destinations early in the morning or later in the day. Also, weekdays tend to be less busy in Bacalar than weekends, due to local visitors to the lagoon.
MY ADVICE ON WHEN TO VISIT BACALAR:
Aim for visiting Bacalar in the dry season, which runs from December to early April, where Bacalar sees at least 50% less rain than other months. The temperature is less muggy this time of the year, too. Of course, avoid any major holidays to ensure the crowds aren’t at their worst!
Best Things to Do in Bacalar
Bacalar is incredibly stunning, no doubt about that! Naturally, much of how you will want to experience Bacalar will center around taking in those gorgeous turquoise-colored lagoon views. I have some great ideas for you about how to best enjoy the lagoon!
However, there’s more to see in the area, including some fun things to see in Downtown Bacalar, Mayan ruins to explore, and a nearby beach town if you’re craving some beach time!
Here are some options of the best ways to spend your time in this magical area:
TAKE A BOAT TOUR OF BACALAR LAGOON
If you only do one thing during your time in Bacalar, this is it!
Bacalar Lake is the second-largest freshwater lake in the entire world! It is a whopping 26 miles long. That’s a LOT of lake to see! There’s no better way to experience as much of the lagoon as possible than by taking a tour on a boat.
On the majority of boat tours of Bacalar Lagoon, you’ll hop on a motorboat or sailboat, which will take you to see some of the lagoon’s most beautiful sites. A few of the best things to see in Bacalar include the Pirate’s Channel (Canal de los Pirates), Witch’s Cenote (Cenote la Bruja), and Isla de los Pajaros (Bird Island).
We took a Bacalar Lagoon sunset sailboat tour with Aleana Sailing Tours Bacalar and couldn’t have been happier. Ana (the owner) is the sweetest human, and our captain was very funny and friendly! They also offered drinks and a massive fruit + homemade guacamole snack plate and allowed us to choose where and when we wanted to swim in the lagoon during the tour. Highly recommend them!
SWIM IN BACALAR’S CENOTES
A cenote is basically an underwater sinkhole that is filled with freshwater flowing beneath the Yucatan Peninsula. They are unique and fun to explore. There are roughly 6,000 in Mexico alone! And several of them are located in and around Bacalar, with three cenotes located right in the lagoon itself.
The cenotes located right in the Bacalar Lagoon are:
Witch’s Cenote / Black Cenote (Cenote la Bruja): Many boat tours will take you to see this cenote. It is sometimes referred to as Black Cenote (Cenote Negro) because the water here is so dark, due to it being 250 feet deep! Swimming here isn’t encouraged due to the depth, but it’s still enticing to see the water with such a dark blue color that it almost appears black!
Cenote Cocalitos: You can swim in this cenote by heading out to Cocalitos Beach Club (Balneario), as it is located basically right onsite this popular Bacalar beach club (more about those below!)
Emerald Cenote (Cenote Esmeralda): Another cenote located right in the lagoon, in between the two cenotes mentioned prior!
There is one other cenote in the Bacalar area, but not located right in the Lagoon itself:
Cenote Azul (Blue Cenote): After Bacalar Lagoon, the second most popular place to swim in Bacalar is at Blue Cenote (Cenote Azul). At around 300 feet deep, it is one of the deepest cenotes in the entire Yucatan Peninsula! This cenote is not connected to the lake, but it’s still an awesome spot to spend the day. You’ll find an on-site restaurant, lockers and bathrooms.
Note: The cenotes in Bacalar are all ‘open’ types of cenotes. If you’re looking for the ‘cave’ type cenotes, these are all located in other areas of the Riviera Maya.
GO KAYAKING ON BACALAR LAGOON
Looking for.a relaxing and fun way to see the lagoon at your own pace? Consider renting kayaks, a super popular and enjoyable way to cruise along the crystal clear water at your own pace.
Most Bacalar hotels and resorts (and even hostels) have kayaks for rent (some may already be included in your room rate!) You could also consider joining a kayaking tour, too.
The lagoon is so massive, so you’ll want to research ahead of time where you’re planning on going. Your hotel or hostel staff can help you out with an overview of the best places to launch off and where to paddle to.
GO STAND-UP PADDLEBOARDING (SUP) ON BACALAR LAGOON
Another relaxing way to see the lagoon at your own pace is to try out stand-up paddleboarding! Bacalar is seriously the perfect place to learn to SUP thanks to the lagoon’s incredibly calm and still waters. Many resorts and hotels, like kayaks, will have SUPs available for rent, for free, or for a small fee. Also, there are several different companies around Bacalar that offer SUP lessons and tours (and you may even be able to find a SUP yoga class on the lagoon!)
LET THE CURRENT CARRY YOU AT LAS RAPIDOS DE BACALAR
Located down a dirt road off the main highway on the southern end of the lake (and about 13km south of Bacalar town), Los Rápidos de Bacalar is a must-do while in this area of Quintana Roo! Essentially, it’s a natural paradise teeming with channels of crystalline waters of different shades, ranging from light sky blue to deep jade green. You can see dozens of types of fish here of varying sizes and colors, as well as colorful vegetation and stunning rock formations.
Los Rapidos is technically a balneario (a type of “beach club”), and there are plenty of amenities here for you, such as a restaurant, bar, kayaks and life jackets for rent, beach chairs, water hammocks, swings, and bathrooms! When you arrive, you will pay a small entrance fee (around $5 CAD), and you’ll be expected to order food/drinks from the restaurant to use the amenities. If you get there early enough, you can score one of the comfy beds by the edge of the lake to blissfully hang out in all day.
There are also a couple of fixed cords that you can hang onto and resist the water flow. Or, simply go upstream and let the water take you down, and then walk back up!
The water is not deep, and you’ll be able to stand on your feet most of the time. The current is strongest in the middle of the river. There are a few cute hammocks and docks to hang out on, too!
At Los Rápidos de Bacalar, make sure to learn about the stromatolites, which only grow in unique, special and privileged places of the planet like Los Rápidos de Bacalar. They are mineral structures that look a lot like rocks, but are actually living beings! Stromatolites are unique to this area and of great importance for aquatic life. They formed due to bacteria activity and their living part is found in the first five cm of their surface. Bacalar’s lagoon has the largest stromatolite reef in the entire world! They are extremely fragile and can easily be damaged, so please be careful and take care of them during your visit, as it can take hundreds of years for them to recover.
TIP: Avoid going here on a weekend or holiday if you can, as it gets quite busy. Or, do what we like to do and arrive early!
Explore Fuerte de San Felipe Fort (Downtown Bacalar)
While Bacalar does not have a very large downtown, there are still a few cool things to see and do in Downtown Bacalar.
I recommend checking out:
- Parroquia de San Joaquin (Saint Joaquin’s Parish) – an 18th Century Spanish colonial church
- Take photos at the big, colorful Bacalar letters sign
- Tour the Fuerte San Felipe Bacalar (historic fort).
Check out a Beach Club
There may not be actual “beach” clubs in Bacalar (there’s no sand, so they’re more of lagoon clubs!), but the views are amazing nonetheless, and visiting one is a must-do in Bacalar! You can sit and enjoy the sun and the colors of the lagoon while munching on delicious food and sipping fruity beverages.
There are a handful of beach clubs in Bacalar, but we decided to check out Bacalar Beach Club and were very happy with our decision! The main pool overlooking the lagoon is gorgeous too, but we had fun cooling off in this private plunge pool.
Take Photos at the Beautiful Murals around Bacalar
There is a STUNNING assortment of murals around Bacalar, and wandering the town and shooting photos in front of the murals is a must! Such beautiful artwork adorns this city so make sure you go for a walk around this smaller town to find it all.
Ride the Bacalar Zip Lines at Tirolesas Kan K’in
There’s something in the area for adrenaline junkies, too! If you’re looking for fun, check out Tirolesas Kan K’in Park and go for a ride on their zip lines. They offer numerous zip lines, providing great views of Bacalar Lagoon and the surrounding Mayan jungle tree canopy. There are also hiking trails you can explore here!
Wonder at Mayan Ruins Near Bacalar
Itching to explore some ancient Mayan Ruins in Mexico? You’re in luck! There are a few Mayan archeological sites that are close to Bacalar: Chacchoben, Kohunlich, Dzibanche, Kinichna, Oxtanka, and Santa Rita. (If you’ve been dreaming of seeing Chichen Itza, this site is quite far from Bacalar, so here are some other alternatives to consider!)
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The Absolute BEST Restaurants in Bacalar:
Even though Bacalar is a small town, the food scene here is not to be underestimated! We had some excellent food here and recommend the following restaurants. Just like much of the Yucatan Peninsula, the seafood is fresh and delicious, but they also have a great selection of vegan and vegetarian options!
La Playita: This is a beautiful restaurant-meets-beach club lush jungle oasis that is located right on the lake! Enjoy a meal and some drinks here, then hop in the lagoon. Bonus: they have live music most evenings, and cute hammock chairs to lounge in!
Sisimite Caverna Moderna: You’ll love the interior of this restaurant, which models a type of cave disco! Their food and drinks are yummy. A fun overall experience!
Chacá Restaurante: Relaxing vibe, delicious charcuterie boards and friendly staff! Hit up this place for truly amazing tapas.
Lanai Poke Market: Delicious Hawaiian poke bowls with fresh fish and produce. Features a beautiful view of Bacalar Lagoon!
Mi Burrito Bacalar: Only a short 5 minute walk from the center of town, this restaurant boasts great staff and really tasty (yet affordable) street food-style burritos wrapped in banana leaves!
Jaguara Cocina Mexicana: Unique and delicious Mexican cuisine in a dreamlike garden setting, with incredible lakeside view. Also – pet friendly!
Barbanegra Bacalar: Known to have the best tacos in Bacalar!
Nao Sushi Bacalar: This is indeed the place to go for the best sushi in Bacalar. They have both their own unique and traditional sushi rolls, with fresh seafood.
Cerveceria Bacalar: Bacalar’s only brewery! If beer isn’t your thing, they also offer fun colorful cocktails and a hopping atmosphere. By night, Cerveceria Bacalar becomes one of Bacalar’s best bars!
La Cabañita Grill & Cantina: Crafty cocktail menu and delicious unique local food – visitors are known to come back a second time!
Nixtamal: Here you’ll find delicious cooked meat options, which specializes in yummy grilled dishes.
Pizzeria Bertilla: There’s actually a sizable Italian expat population in Mexico (including the owner of Pizzeria Bertilla!) This restuarant specializes in making brick-oven pizzas and pasta dishes.
Where to Stay in Bacalar, Mexico
There is absolutely no shortage of charming places to stay in Bacalar! And the prices aren’t bad at all. Here are some of the best Bacalar hotels, Bacalar resorts, Bacalar hostels and Bacalar boutique hotels that I recommend:
Best Bacalar Boutique Hotels
We chose to stay here, and I couldn’t recommend a better hotel. The entire vibe of Agam Boutique Hotel Bacalar is lovely and relaxing, with greenery throughout the building, cute and cozy rooms, and a stunning pool to lounge in during your downtime from exploring! The food and drinks here are also exquisite, the staff are so friendly, and the place is secure and very safe. Also, the location is perfect to walk around exploring Bacalar on foot, going out to dinner, etc. One of our favorite hotels in the area by far, and at a great price!
Best Bacalar Luxury Resorts
Mia Bacalar is aesthetically stunning. It focuses on green, ecological, privacy and luxury, with a soothing and natural aesthetic in one of the most impressive settings possible in Bacalar.
Hotels Cabañas Luxury is an avant-garde, stunning hotel that integrates nature with its architecture. It is a sustainable complex designed to help spread romance and charm to its visitors.
An oasis of tranquility in Bacalar with beautiful suites and a free-form pool you won’t want to leave!
El Búho Glamping Bacalar – Connect with the great outdoors of nature in these cute n cozy (and affordable!) glamping tents
Hotel Casa Poblana – Charming, safe, super cute, and affordable!
Posada Mykonos – Clean, simple, safe, and all the Greece vibes. You can’t go wrong with this price and value!
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As you can see, Bacalar is an incredible oasis getaway, located reasonably close to the touristy craziness of the Mayan Riviera – yet it feels worlds away. Don’t let this amazing place miss your growing bucket list – it’s entirely worth the journey.
Hope you have so much fun!