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Bacalar is a town along the stunning lagoon of seven colors (Laguna de Siete Colores in Spanish). Most things to do in Bacalar revolve around water, but the town has plenty to offer outside of it.
Whether you are traveling to Bacalar for the first time, or want to come back, this article is for you. After visiting this town multiple times, I wrote this guide to help you prepare for your visit and avoid mistakes.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN BACALAR
1. Take a tour of the lagoon
If you are visiting for the first time, start your trip with a boat tour of the gorgeous lagoon.
You will visit several areas of the lagoon such as Isla de los Pajaros (Bird Island) and Canal de Los Piratas (pirates’ channel), and Cenote La Bruja, also known as Cenote Negra that can only be accessed by boat.
Taking a tour of the lagoon is a magical experience and even after doing it several times, I look forward to it every time I visit!
Best tours of the lagoon
If you want to book a tour of the lagoon, I recommend Bacalovesailing, a local company, that has all-female crew. They use sailboats, which are a much better than speed boats which can be harmful to the lagoon.
2. Rent a kayak
Kayaking in Bacalar is so much fun! There are many places in the area where you can rent a kayak or paddle board for a couple of hours to enjoy this breathtaking place.
Many hotels also offer kayaks to their guests free of charge. Ask how far you can go since the lagoon is 26 miles long and it can take you hours to explore it.
Best kayak and paddle board tours
While the lagoon is tranquil and doesn’t have any currents, the wind can pick up in the afternoon. Plan your kayaking trip for the morning when the lagoon is calm, and it’s easy to paddle around.
3. Swim in the Bacalar lagoon
Nicknamed “The Maldives of Mexico,” this town boasts seven colors, because of various depth levels and the contrast created by limestone at the bottom of the lagoon and its clear waters.
Does Bacalar have a beach?
While there are no beaches in this town, many hotels have docks or balnearios (wooden piers) from where you can jump in the water. There are also public balenarios where you can swim at no additional cost or for a few pesos.
Balneario Municipal is between Calle 14 and 12 has a nice, long pier and is free to the public. It can get a bit crowded by the afternoon, so arrive early.
4. Take a dip in cenotes
Aside from the gorgeous lagoon, the town also boasts several cenotes. Two of them, Cenote La Bruja (also called Cenote Negro) and Cenote Esmeralda, are located within the lagoon, and can only be accessed by boat.
Two others, Cenote Cocalitos, and Cenote Azul can be accessed by land, and require an small fee.
Cenote La Bruja (Cenote Negra)
While this cenote can only be accessed by boat, it’s a perfect place to see the changing color between the lagoon and the edge of the cenote.
Most boat tours make a stop here.
Cenote Azul sits on the southern side of town and is less than 10 minutes by driving. This cenote has tons of space and the water is incredibly warm, so you will definitely want to stay here!
There is a small restaurant, bathrooms and souvenir shops on site, and many visitors spend at least a couple of hours here.
One of the deepest cenotes (about 300 feet) in the Yucatan, Cenote Azul is also popular for scuba diving, but you will not see much wildlife there if you dive, since this cenote is not connected to the lagoon and is more like a mini-lake.
Cenote Cocalitos is one of the most popular cenotes because of its incredible color and overwater hammocks and swings. To enter Cenote Cocalitos you need to pay 35 pesos in cash, and you can stay here for hours if you want to chill in hammocks and swings over the water.
Estromatolitos on Bacalar Lagoon
When you enter Cenote Cocalitos, you will see round formations on the water that look like mounds of dirt floating on the surface. They are called estramatolliots (stomalites in English) and are made up of many layers of cyanobacteria that are critical to maintaining balanced life in the lagoon.
This cenote is not the only place where you can spot estromatolitos, as they can found in many parts of the lagoon.
👉 Estromatollitos are believed to be the oldest organisms on the planet and have an important role of photosynthesis which helps to produce more oxygen. While most of them have become extinct, Bacalar is one of the few places in the world where they still exist!
Do NOT touch estramatollitos or tamper with them because it can easily damage them. You well see many signs around Bacalar warning you about getting close to estramatollitos.
Why you should not wear sunscreen
Try not to use sunscreen or minimize the use of it when you are in cenotes or the lagoon. It has a very delicate ecosystem that can be easily damaged by harmful chemicals in sunscreen or other cosmetic products.
Even biodegradable, eco-friendly sunscreen can damage this fragile ecosystem and harm stromatolites.
Another cenote located within the lagoon, Cenote Esmeralda is shallow and is perfect for trying swimming and paddle boarding.
5. Learn Bacalar history at Fuerte San Felipe
The fortress of San Felipe (or Fuerte San Felipe in Spanish) is a must when visiting Bacalar. Located in the heart of the city, this fortress is a great place to learn the pirate history of the area.
Right near the fortress, there is a colorful sign Bacalar that is popular for taking photos.
This impressive fortress was built back in the day to protect the area from pirates roaming the region. While you won’t find any pirates these days, you can check out a cool museum and 360-degree views of the lagoon inside the fortress.
The entrance fee is 100 Pesos for foreign visitors.
6. Visit Parroquia San Joaquin
A few blocks north from the center of Bacalar sits the San Joaquin church that is dedicated to the patron of the city, San Joaquin. It’s a nice stop on your itinerary that will help you to learn more about this gorgeous town.
7. Marvel at Bacalar street art
Bacalar has a budding art scene and you can find cool murals throughout this small town. The best way to explore local street art is by renting a bike which is pretty easy since many hotels offer bike rentals.
8. Dive in Mahahual
Located in Mexico’s Costa Maya, Mahahual is a hidden gem of Mexico’s Caribbean that until recently was mostly known as a stop for cruise ships.
Mahahual is a popular diving spot thanks to its proximity to Great Mesoamerican Reef (the second largest reef in the world). It also has a lively restaurant scene and one of the best beaches in Mexico. I recommend spending a few days in Mahahual, if you want a nice getaway.
9. Take a trip to Chacchoben ruins
Chacchoben is the closest Mayan ruin site to Bacalar about 25 minutes north from the town. You can easily visit Chacchoben by taxi or by renting a car.
Chacchoben is one of the lesser-known Mayan ruins in Yucatan. Translated from the Mayan language as “red corn,” this archaeological site was discovered only in 1972 by Dr. Peter Harrison.
Why visit Chacchoben
Only a small part of Chacchoben has been uncovered with many pyramids and structures still covered by vegetation. Look closely while walking around the site and you will see big structures covered by soil and trees – these could be hiding a lot of secrets!
How to get to Chacchoben: The best way to visit Chacchoben is by renting a car, as the drive can be about 30-40 minutes, but you can also book a guided tour of this area.
Entrance Fee: 70 Pesos
Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Can you climb the ruins: No
10. Explore the ruins of Kohunlich
Kohunlich is a remote Mayan ruin site just over 1 hour away.
Kohunlich is one of those less-visited Mayan ruins in Mexico that doesn’t see the traffic of Chichen Itza or Tulum ruins. This archaeological is pretty remote, and if you want to have this amazing place to yourself, come early morning when the site is about open.
The most notable feature of Kohunlich is the temple of the masks that was built to honor the God of the sun. Inside the temple, you will find six incredible stucco masks along the staircase that played an important role in the Mayan traditions and culture.
Price: 55 Pesos
Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Can you climb the ruins: Yes
Just north of Kohunlich, there are ruin sites Dzibanche and Kinichna, but they are more remote, and the road has many bumps and potholes, so spare extra time for your trip. Just like other ruins in Mexico, the entrance is in pesos, so don’t forget to bring enough cash.
PRO TIP: If you don’t have a rental car, book a guided tour of Kohunlich and Dzibanche from Bacalar.
If you decide to combine Kohunlich, Dzibanche and Kinichna in one trip, you will need between 5-7 hours for your adventure.
To get to Kohunlich, take a road south from Bacalar and get on a highway to Campeche before making a left turn toward the ruins.
Entrance fee: 55 Pesos (covers both Dzibanche and Kinichna)
Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Can you climb the ruins: No
11. Take a day trip to Calakmul
If you are ready for an adventure, take a day trip to Calakmul. Located in the neighboring state of Campeche, Calakmul is one of the most incredible ruins in Mexico.
The drive to Calakmul is about 3,5 hours, but it is worth the effort: this archaeological site sits deep in the jungle and covers nearly 2 square kilometers.
Fees: To enter Calakmul, you have to pay three separate fees that total about 160 Pesos.
First, you need to pay 40 pesos as you enter Highway 186 leading to the site. Second, you need to pay 65 pesos to enter the national park where the ruins are located. And third, you need to pay about 55 pesos at the welcome center when you get to the ruins.
All of these fees have to be paid in cash.
12. Swim in Los Rapidos
Los Rápidos is Bacalar’s best-kept secrets that’s quickly getting discovered. Located about 20 minutes away, Los Rápidos is a canal with fast currents where you can swim and kayak.
The water here is so clear that you can see tons of fish swimming right next to you.
Many visitors who come to Los Rapidos spend a few hours here but stay much longer. You can buy some food at the restaurant, chill in the hammock in the water, get a kayak and grab a chair and a table to enjoy the view.
Come here early morning or later afternoon as it tends to be less busy and you can snag a sun lounger near the water. Leave your sunscreen at home and NEVER touch estromatolitos.
13. Explore best restaurants in Bacalar
Bacalar has a great restaurant scene for its small size. Here you can find vegan eateries, authentic Mexican restaurants, and fine dining options where you can try Mexican and international dishes.
- NAO Bacalar – a Japanese-style restaurant located on the lagoon. The options include a mix of Japanese and Mexican food such as ajillo japonés – sautéed vegetables with garlic with a dash of sake; a variety of sushi, soups and poke bowls which are excellent for vegans and vegetarians.
- Mr. Taco – If you are craving more authentic Mexican food, head to Mr. Taco located on the main square. As the name suggests, this place serves a wide variety of tacos that are made right on the spot. They also have burritos, tostados de ceviches and various breakfast options.
- El Manati – One of the most popular restaurants in Bacalar with a beautiful ambiance and tropical vibes.
- Ixchel Bacalar – This restaurant offers Mexican food, such as chilaquiles, tortas and pancakes. Visitors particularly like Ixchel’s breakfast options and the restaurant’s casual vibe.
14. And don’t skip best cafes in Bacalar
- Mango y Chile – one of the most popular vegan restaurants in Bacalar near Fuerte San Felipe. It offers a mix of Mexican and Western comfort food such as hamburgers, tacos, salsas and enchiladas. They also have delicious vegan ice cream and brownies, so even if you are not a plant-based eater, you will love these yummy deserts.
- Maracuya – A great spot with a view of the lagoon that is home to several cafes that also offers kayak rentals.
- Mi Burrito – A small cafe along the main road along the lagoon that offers yummy burritos. A must try!
- El Pasta Hidalguense – A new cafe that offers delicious pastas and empanadas
- Enamora Bacalar – One of the best breakfast places in town a few blocks away from downtown with plenty of healthy options.
Is there Uber in Bacalar?
There’s no Uber in Bacalar, but if you need to get around, you can take a taxi – a quick and inexpensive form of transportation. If you want to take a taxi, have some cash on you, because credit cards are not accepted.
What to know before visiting Bacalar Lagoon
Before visiting this place, you should know that you need to travel responsibly.
Do NOT apply sunscreen or any chemicals before swimming, and do not touch any animals while swimming.
Bacalar is facing several threats like unsustainable development, over-tourism, and environmental factors.
I wasn’t sure if I should write about this place, but after seeing it become more popular, I decided to tell you about how to visit responsibly.
Tips for visiting Bacalar Lagoon
- Don’t touch or tamper with estramatollitos in any way.
- Don’t use sunscreen or any cosmetics before entering the lagoon. Same applies to bug repellent. Ideally shower before going in the water.
- Support sustainable hotels and local vendors who sell their crafts and street food in downtown Bacalar.
- Skip tours with motorized boats because they do pollute the lagoon, and instead choose tours that use sailboats. Bacalovesailing is a great option.
- Walk and ride a bike whenever possible. Bacalar is small, so you don’t need a car unless you are away from cenotes and other places of interest.
- Minimize your us of plastic. Skip single-use items and plastic straws whenever you go to restaurants or grab a take-out.
- Don’t touch any marine animals, such as fish, snails, and others. They play an important role in keeping this delicate ecosystem in check.
Where is Bacalar?
Bacalar is located in the Yucatan, in southern part of Quintana Roo State. While Bacalar doesn’t have any beaches, it’s also not far from Mahahual and Xcalak, two small towns that are famous for some of the best beaches in Mexico and world-class diving.
Where to stay on Bacalar lagoon?
If you are looking for the best hotels in Bacalar, you have two options: stay in town or stay on the lagoon. Hotels on the lagoon are more expensive, as they offer views of the water and fun activities like yoga and kayaking.
Hotels in downtown tend to be more on a budget side. They are perfect for backpackers and budget travelers who visit before continuing their trip to other parts of Mexico.
I stayed at Casa Delia, a nice family-run hotel with a pool and patio about 10 minutes away from downtown and within walking distance from the ADO bus station. Another great budget stay is Asile Hotel Boutique in downtown Bacalar.
While Bacalar has several luxury hotels such as Hotel Casa Hormiga that offers a spa with wellness treatments and a designated area for yoga and meditation. Another luxury property is Habitas, a 5-star hotel with beautiful waterfront cabanas and a lush garden.
Mia Bacalar Luxury Resort and Spa is one of the most well-known luxury hotels in Bacalar with a restaurant, pool, spa and awesome amenities, so you technically don’t even have to leave your hotel.
Not ready to drop a few hundred dollars for a night stay on the lagoon? No worries! The town has tons of less-expensive hotels for under $100 within a short distance from the lagoon.
For example, La Galuna is a great mid-range option with cool minimalistic design and big swimming pool. And Hotel Aires boasts stunning garden views, clean design, continental breakfast and affordable prices.
Bacalar might be one of the most beautiful destinations in Mexico, but you don’t have to break your bank to afford a stay here. There are many budget-friendly hotels here.
Hotel Casa Ariana is a simple, but cute property within walking distance from the lagoon with spacious rooms. And hosts are super friendly!
A cute hotel with terra-cotta colors, Hotel Sur Bacalar is an excellent option if you want to spend a few days in town before continuing your travels, and only need basic amenities.
Located in the heart of town, Hotel Sur offers a great combination of affordable price and a nice quiet atmosphere. The hotel has a nice swimming pool and spacious rooms with a great design that get rave reviews from customers.
It’s also one of the only pet-friendly hotels in town!
How to get to Bacalar?
To get to Bacalar, you can catch the ADO bus from Cancun to Chetumal. The bus also makes stops in Tulum and Playa Del Carmen.
✅ Another option is to rent a car in Cancun after you land at the airport.
Driving to Bacalar
The drive to Bacalar is pretty straightforward: Whether you are starting your trip to Bacalar in Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, or Tulum, you need to take Highway 307 toward Chetumal and continue all the way south until you arrive in Bacalar.
I always rent my car at City Car Rental in Cancun and love their service and prices. Another option is Discovercars where you can choose from dozens of rental car companies who offer competitive prices.
Taking a bus to Bacalar
Taking a bus from Cancun is the most economical option for budget travelers and everyone who has some extra time, as the bus ride takes a bit longer due to all the stops. ADO is Mexico’s largest bus company that serves this a route and can also help you get around the entire Yucatan Peninsula.
You can buy tickets on the spot, but keep in mind that there could be a line, which means you will need some extra time, or online through the ADO app that can be downloaded on your phone.
Cancun to Bacalar by bus
To get to Bacalar from Cancun, take ADO bus to Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo about 25 minutes south of Bacalar.
The bus station in Bacalar is located right along the main highway, and you can easily fetch a taxi to your hotel from there. If your hotel isn’t far, you can take a walk from the bus station since Bacalar is perfectly safe.
The bus from Cancun takes slightly over 4 hours, but ADO buses are clean, comfortable and air conditioned, so you will enjoy the ride.
Tulum to Bacalar by bus
If you are traveling from Tulum to Bacalar by bus, head to ADO bus station in downtown Tulum. The same bus that departs from Cancun also makes a stop in Tulum, which is great if you want to visit both destinations.
Chetumal to Bacalar
If you are traveling from Chetumal, you can either take a taxi or catch ADO bus. A taxi will cost more, but you will travel quicker, while taking a bus is a better option for budget travelers.
Taking a private shuttle from Cancun to Bacalar
If you want a more comfortable ride, take a private shuttle from Cancun. Private shuttles have fewer passengers than ADO buses and are faster. A driver will pick you up at the airport and drive you to your hotel.
Flying to Chetumal International Airport
Although Cancun is the largest airport in the region, Chetumal International Airport is the closest airport. It has flights from Mexico City and Guadalajara and also has flights from Miami.
Bacalar Lagoon: FAQ’s
Even after reading this article, you probably still have a few questions. I did my best to answer some of the most common questions that I often hear from the fellow travelers.
What makes Bacalar special?
Bacalar is a quiet pueblo less than one hour away from Belize that has become famous because of its incredible lagoon of seven colors. The lagoon has various depths and you can observe different shades of blue here thanks to the clear bottom.
Is Bacalar expensive?
Bacalar is not an expensive destination. In fact, it’s very popular with backpackers and budget travelers who often make a stop here. You can budget about $50 USD per day for one person which will allow you to stay in a hostels, eat street food and visit some cenotes.
How many days do I need in Bacalar?
I recommend no less than 3 days for your trip. Ideally, plan to stay about 5 days to get the most out of your experience. The town might be small, but time will fly once you get here! The lagoon has many activities, and once you come here, you will most likely want to extend your stay.
Does Bacalar have nightlife?
Bacalar is a small pueblo with good restaurants ad some bars. While you can go out and have a drink, don’t expect a bustling nightlife scene here like in Tulum, Playa Del Carmen or Cancun. Most people come here to relax and explore the gorgeous lagoon, and partying is not really a thing here.
Is Bacalar safe to visit?
Yes! Bacalar is safe to visit, and, it’s much safer than popular destinations like Cancun, Playa Del Carmen or even Tulum. I’ve walked around at night and rode my bicycle in the area and never felt unsafe. Bacalar doesn’t have violent crime or other serious safety concerns, but you should always be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye on your belongings to avoid pickpocketing and petty theft.
✅ If safety is a concern, get World Nomads insurance that will protect you in case of lost or stolen luggage, accidents, hospital visits and many other unforeseen events.
To stay safe on your trip, take a look at my list of Mexico travel tips.
Are there crocodiles in Bacalar lagoon?
Yes, crocodiles live in the Bacalar lagoon. I have never spotted a crocodile while taking boat tours of the lagoon, but was told by many travelers that they had seen crocs here!
How many colors does the Bacalar lagoon have?
The Bacalar lagoon is called the lagoon of seven colors (or Laguna de Siete Colores in Spanish) because of the many shades of blue that can be found around the lake. For example, areas around the edges of the lagoon tend to have lighter colors due to their shallow depth, while the middle of the lake is darker as it’s deeper.
What’s the best time to visit Bacalar?
If you are looking for mild sunny weather, the best time to visit is from December through mid-April. However, it is also the most expensive time to visit Bacalar as many tourists from colder climates make their way here.
November through early December is a shoulder season in Bacalar – this time marks the end of the rainy season and is also a perfect downtime, before it gets busy in winter.
Is Bacalar worth visiting?
If you are still wondering whether you should visit Bacalar, my answer is a resounding yes! While it might not have a vibrant nightlife or many bars, it’s a perfect destination if you want to enjoy the nature and outdoor activities. The stunning lagoon is worth your time and money, because there’s no other place like it.
I hope you enjoy your time here as much as I do and have the best time of your life!
Bacalar lagoon: final thoughts
Bacalar is one of the best destinations in all of Mexico and is quickly gaining popularity among travelers from all over the world. While you will not find a big party scene here, you will have an opportunity to enjoy the tranquil atmosphere and spend time on the most beautiful lagoon in Mexico!