Bacalar Mexico complete travel guide

Is Bacalar expensive: How to visit the Maldives of Mexico on a budget?

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Nicknamed the Maldives of Mexico, Bacalar is one of the most popular up-and-coming destinations in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. This small town is located along the Lagoon of Seven Colors (Laguna De Siete Colores) which boasts many shades of blue from a dark ink to stunning emerald colors.

Bacalar is one of the most popular destinations for budget travelers and backpackers, but as it has become more discovered in recent years, there have been some changes.

In this article, we will take a look at whether Bacalar is expensive, and how you can visit it whether you are a budget traveler, a luxury jet-setter, or somewhere in between.

➡️ Check my Mexico travel tips to help you plan your trip to Bacalar

How to calculate your budget for Bacalar (aka the Maldives of Mexico)

Although the secret is out and now many travelers know that Bacalar is awesome, it still has options for all types of travelers.

As a solo traveler in Bacalar, expect to spend between $50-70 USD per day, if you are on a budget. Mid-budget travelers need between $70 to $120 USD per day, and if you are a luxury traveler, you can stay in some of the best hotels in Bacalar like Carolina Bacalar on the Bacalar lagoon or Hotel Khaban.

Read: a complete guide to Los Rapidos Bacalar

Unless you plan on taking guided tours to Mayan ruins near Bacalar or taking a day trip to Mahahual to do some diving, your biggest expense most likely will be your hotel. Bacalar is not a flashy place, and you won’t find glitzy resorts or expensive places to eat like some restaurants in Tulum.

Most things are kept local in Bacalar, and the tourism here is small-scale, which has made this place so attractive in the first place.

Hotel Habitas is one of the best Bacalar hotels on the water
Photo courtesy: Hotel Habitas Bacalar

Best Bacalar Hotels

When it comes to hotels, Bacalar has plenty of options from small hostels like Kulu Tubohostel Bacalar to some of the best all-inclusive hotels along the Bacalar lagoon like Habitas Bacalar and Bacalar boutique hotels like Blue Palm Bacalar

  • Budget: Hotel Casa Ariana is a simple, no-frills stay within walking distance from Bacalar Lagoon with spacious rooms with free Wi-Fi. If you want to visit Bacalar on a budget, look no further than this place!
  • Mid-budget: Hotel La Galuna is one of the most beautiful boutique hotels in Bacalar with a cool minimalistic design and a big swimming pool tucked in a quiet corner away from all the noise.
  • Luxury: Kulu Tubohostel Bacalar 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. 

➡️ Click here to read my complete guide to some of the best hotels in Bacalar

What to know about Bacalar hotels

If you are looking where to stay in Bacalar, you need to know that hotels on the Bacalar lagoon tend to be the most expensive due to their location and views, while hotels in downtown Bacalar are less expensive and are perfect for budget travelers who are looking for a basic stay.

How much money do I need for accommodations on Bacalar?

Set aside at least $30-40 USD per day on a hotel in Bacalar.

Bacalar restaurants

I loved visiting Bacalar restaurants and had a lot of fun exploring the town’s food scene. If you are a vegan eater, you will love Mango y Chile, where you can find plant-based comfort food and if you are in the mood for something fancier, I recommend Nao, a Japanese-style restaurant on the Bacalar lagoon.

Nao has a fusion of Mexican and Japanese food. While it’s more on the fancy side, it’s not too expensive, and you can have a meal for about $10-12 USD per person. The owner and staff are super nice and will go above and beyond to accommodate your requests.

If you want a savory breakfast or brunch at great prices, visit El Manati, a popular restaurant in downtown Bacalar.

Best Bacalar restaurants

Here’s a quick overview of the best restaurants in Bacalar for any budget:

  • Budget: Mr. Taco – One of the best budget restaurants in Bacalar located along the main square. It serves a wide variety of tacos that are made right on the spot. They also have burritos, tostadas de ceviches, and various breakfast options. You can expect to spend between 100-150 pesos per person on a meal.
  • Mid-budget: La Playita – A popular restaurant near Bacalar Lagoon, La Playita serves Mexican classics like empanadas, ceviche, and tacos and Western staples like burgers on a beachfront terrace with lush green plants and hammocks.

Prices at La Playita range between $10-20 USD per meal.

  • Luxury: Macario – One of the best restaurants in Bacalar, Macario is the perfect spot for a fancy dinner whether you want to celebrate something special or just treat yourself.

Expect to spend between $30-50 USD on your meal in Macario, if you want to do the full course.

➡️ Check my guide to tipping in Mexico

How much should I expect to spend on food in Bacalar?

Expect to spend anywhere between 20-30 USD on food in Bacalar for one person per day on the low end. You can cook your meals and eat inexpensively in local cafes. If you want to go out and don’t feel like cooking, budget from 30 to 40 USD per day for one person.

Best Bacalar Boat tours

Bacalar tours

Taking a tour of the amazing lagoon is one of the best ways to learn why this place is called the Maldives of Mexico. When you walk the lakefront street of Bacalar, you will see many local tour companies selling tours of the Bacalar lagoon.

My advice is to take a sailboat tour of the Bacalar lagoon, as regular boats use diesel oil and pollute the lagoon. The price of the Bacalar boat tour depends on how many people are on the tour and what’s included in it.

Group tours of the Bacalar lagoon are the cheapest and you can expect to spend between $40-35 USD per person, while private tours often include food and additional stops at your request, and tend to be the most expensive.

Best tours of Bacalar lagoon

Bacalar is a perfect budget destination within a driving distance from some of the best ruins in Costa Maya

How much does a private Bacalar boat tour cost?

A private tour of the Bacalar Lagoon is 2,000 Pesos (100 USD) and up. The price of the tour will also depend on how many people you have on a tour and if the food is included. If you are visiting Bacalar with friends, you can split the cost of a private boat, which will make it less expensive.

If you speak Spanish, you could try to negotiate the price to bring it down. 

➡️ Read my complete guide to the best boat tours in Bacalar

Best private boat tours of Bacalar lagoon

What stops are included in the Bacalar boat tour?

A guided tour of the Bacalar Lagoon in a sailboat is a perfect option if you want to swim in the lagoon and visit cenotes, Canal de Los Piratas (pirate’s channel), and Isla Pájaros (bird’s island). Bacalar cenotes require a separate entry fee, and visiting them with a boat will save you some money. 

Why is Bacalar nicknamed the Maldives of Mexico?

Bacalar got its nickname “the Maldives of Mexico” because of the stunning lagoon which boasts shallow crystalline waters that resemble the Maldives. Similar to the famous islands, Bacalar is a great place for snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, and paddle boarding.

Best group tours of the Bacalar lagoon

Group tours of the Bacalar lagoon, are plentiful, and you can take them at any time of the day, but I recommend sunrise and sunset for your tour of the Bacalar lagoon. Mid-day is the hottest time of the day, but it can be great if you want to enjoy the sun and the crystalline waters of the lagoon, just remember to leave your sunscreen at home, as it can damage the fragile ecosystem of the Bacalar lagoon.

Bacalar Lagoon, the most complete travel guide

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 are in many parts of the lagoon.

Why are estromatolitos important?

Estromatollitos are believed to be the oldest organisms on the planet and have an important role in 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 will see many signs around Bacalar warning you about getting close to estramatollitos.

Bacalar cenotes

Some of the best Bacalar boat tours include stops along the Bacalar Lagoon and many Bacalar cenotes

Cenote La Bruja (also called Cenote Negro) and Cenote Esmeralda, are located within the lagoon, and can only be accessed by boat or kayak.

Two others, Cenote Cocalitos, and Cenote Azul can be accessed by land, and require a small fee. The entrance fee to Cenote Cocalitos costs 50 pesos and cenote Azul costs 30 Pesos and is a bit further away, so you might want to take a quick taxi unless you want to walk for about 40 minutes.

Mayan ruins near Bacalar

Other popular tours in Bacalar include Mayan ruins in the area. If you can afford to spend more money, you have a choice of either renting a car or taking a guided tour to see some of the best Mayan ruins in Costa Maya, the southern part of Yucatan near the border with Belize.

Kohunlich and Dzibanche 

If you want to take a fun day trip from Bacalar, visit Kohunlich and Dzibanche, some of the most impressive Mayan ruins in the Costa Maya region. The best way to visit these spots is by renting a car in Chetumal, the closest major town to Bacalar and home to the Chetumal International Airport. 

You can also take a guided tour of Kohunlich and Dzibanche which will eliminate a lot of work. A guided tour includes round-trip transportation and a knowledgeable guide who can tell you about the history of these Mayan ruins.

How to get around Bacalar

You can get around Bacalar by walking, riding a bicycle, or catching a taxi.

Do you need a car in Bacalar?

Bacalar is a small town, and you can explore most of it on foot or by taking a taxi, so you don’t really need a car in Bacalar. However, if you want to visit Mayan ruins in the area, or take a day trip to Mahahual, renting a car is a great idea, as it will give you more freedom and flexibility for your adventures.

Where to rent a car in Bacalar?

Bacalar doesn’t have car rentals, so you will need to rent a car in Tulum, Playa Del Carmen, or Cancun. Another option is to rent a car in Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo, and the closest city to Bacalar.

You can rent a car in Chetumal Airport if you take a flight to Bacalar from Mexico City, Guadalajara or any other destination.


Tips for renting a car in Mexico

  • Watch out for super low rates that advertise cars as low as $10-15 USD per day – often it’s just a shield for an exorbitant price that hides travel insurance and various fees.
  • Book your car in advance – when you book your car rental in Mexico ahead of time, you have the best chance to score the best deal
  • Learn to drive a stick shift – Some rental cars in Mexico have a manual transmission, and since not many people know how to drive them, they are often cheaper than cars with an automatic transmission.
  • Check your car for any existing damage – Before you leave your car rental office, carefully check your car for any scratches, dings, or bumps. There have been cases with Mexico car rental companies trying to charge customers for the damages that were already there. Take photos of everything that you find and let your rental car agent know about it.
  • Return your car with the full tank – Car rental companies in Mexico will charge you 2-3 times the regular price if you don’t return a car with the required amount of gas.

Check my complete guide to renting a car in Mexico

Where to rent a car for your trip to Bacalar

My favorite car rental platform is Discover Cars. It has dozens upon dozens of available vehicles and is perfect if you want to have options. They have budget-friendly rates and are super transparent about what’s included and not included in your price.

They also offer Mexican car insurance which is required for driving a car in the country.

All you need to do is select your travel dates, choose the vehicle you like, and arrive at the car rental office to pick it up.


Do I need additional insurance when driving to Bacalar?

Consider buying additional insurance for your trip that will protect you in case you need medical attention while on the road. I recommend Safety Wing, one of the leading insurances that offer a variety of plans.

Taking Bacalar boat tours is perfect way to avoid seaweed in Tulum

Driving to Bacalar: everything you need to know about

Whether you are driving to Bacalar from Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, or Tulum, you will need to take Highway 307 toward Chetumal and continue all the way south until you arrive in Bacalar. 

Is it safe to drive to Bacalar?

Yes, the drive to Bacalar goes along the main highway in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and is perfectly safe for driving at any time of the day.

➡️ Read: How to get from Playa Del Carmen to Bacalar

Taking a private shuttle from Cancun to Bacalar

If you want a more comfortable ride, take a private shuttle from Cancun to Bacalar. 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 in Bacalar. 

Flying to Chetumal International Airport

Although Cancun is the largest airport in the Yucatan Peninsula, Chetumal International Airport (CTM) is the closest airport to Bacalar about 40 km away. It has flights from Mexico City and Guadalajara and also flights from Miami.


How to get to Bacalar by bus

If you want to visit Bacalar on a budget, your best option is to take the ADO bus to Bacalar. ADO is the largest bus company in the Yucatan Peninsula that serves major destinations in the region including Bacalar.

How much is a bus ticket to Bacalar?

You can take the ADO bus to Bacalar from Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Tulum. Expect to spend between 300-500 Pesos per person on a one-way bus ticket to Bacalar.

So, how much money do I need in Bacalar?

The amount of money that you need for your Bacalar vacation depends on your travel style. Plan to spend at least $50 per person a day on the lower end. If you plan to spend about 3-5 days in Bacalar, you can manage with a budget of about $300-400, or less, if you don’t take any expensive tours.

Tips for visiting Bacalar on a budget

  • Walk as much as you can – Bacalar is a small, walkable town, and unless you are going to cenotes or Mayan ruins, you don’t need a car in Bacalar
  • Go to a public pier – Bacalar has several public piers (balnearios in Spanish) from where you can jump in the water. These piers are free and are perfect for enjoying the clear waters of the lagoon
  • Grab some street food – Bacalar has wonderful street food from yummy tacos to crispy marquesitas, and it’s amazingly inexpensive.
  • Take group tours – Group tours of Bacalar lagoon are great because you all get to split the price of the boat.
  • Learn some Spanish – Spanish is your best friend when you travel to Mexico, and Bacalar is no exception. Speaking Spanish will help you to communicate with locals and haggle when you want to buy something.

Is Bacalar expensive: FAQ

Is Bacalar expensive? Bacalar is one of the most popular budget destinations in Mexico popular with backpackers and budget travelers.

Can I pay with U.S. dollars in Bacalar?

Unlike the popular destinations in the Mexican Rivera Maya where U.S. dollars are a common form of payment, Bacalar still prefers its local currency – Mexican Pesos.

I spent a while in this town and I have never been to a hotel or restaurant in Bacalar that accepted U.S. dollars. That being said, local tour guides happily take U.S. dollars, if you decide to leave a tip.

Is Bacalar expensive?

Bacalar is not an expensive destination. You can easily visit it on a budget if you stay in one of the local hostels, cook your meals and walk around or take taxis to get to cenotes and other landmarks in the area.

Is Bacalar Mexico cheap?

Bacalar is an inexpensive destination popular with backpackers and budget travelers. It has affordable hotels, phenomenal street food, and fun activities on Lake Bacalar that don’t require spending a ton of money.

Is Bacalar worth the trip?

Also known as the Maldives of Mexico, Bacalar is definitely worth a visit. Known for its spectacular lagoon, this town is an adventurer’s paradise where you can enjoy sailing, swimming in cenotes, tasting food in local restaurants, and visiting Mayan ruins in the area.

How long should you spend in Bacalar?

I recommend no less than 3 days in Bacalar. This is a minimum amount of time that will allow you to enjoy the Bacalar lagoon, dive into the history of the area and visit some of the popular landmarks in the area including Mayan cenotes.

Is Bacalar expensive: the final word

Despite being nicknamed “the Maldives of Mexico,” Bacalar is one of the best budget-friendly destinations in the region where you can enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery in Mexico and have a fun vacation for a relatively low price. I hope this guide was helpful in planning your trip to Bacalar and helped to come up with a budget for your vacation.