12 reasons to visit Bacalar

At 35 miles long, Bacalar is Mexico’s second largest freshwater lake. Along its shores, you’ll find the same soft white land you’d expect on Caribbean beaches, except without the salt water and crashing waves. You’ll also see long stretches of mangroves and cenotes, with the emblematic dense jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula in the background.

All of which makes Bacalar one of Mexico’s most beloved treasures. Need we say more? Here are all the reasons why you should make Bacalar your next travel destination:

12. It’s less touristy than its neighbors.

I know you’ve heard about the magic of Tulum and the other beautiful beaches on the Yucatan peninsula. They get crowded during high season and the whole area gets crowded, which can make it difficult to really enjoy if you’re looking for a more low-key experience. When I lived near Tulum, I preferred Bacalar as a weekend getaway because it seemed simpler.

Sure, tourism is booming in Bacalar, but it’s still much quieter and more relaxed than other nearby places in the region. Also, lodging, food and activities are much more affordable.

11. The colors are the perfect backdrop for Instagram.

Bacalar is called “the lagoon of seven colors” for a reason. As the depth changes at points in the lagoon, the blues get lighter or darker. You can see these color changes from the docks, but even more so if you take a boat to the center, where the water is the deepest blue.

However, the docks are perfect for taking pictures, as you can usually take a picture without anyone else in the background. The stunning colors of the lagoon are a nice change from the typical white sandy beaches of the Caribbean, so you’re sure to stand out.

10. You can explore it with a paddle board and kayak.

Bacalar is full of fun water activities. Exploring the lagoon via paddle board or kayak is my favorite way to see all the shades of blue. (Just make sure you’re prepared with reef-safe sunscreen before heading out)!

You can rent a paddleboard by the hour or by the day; a full day rental will run you about $30. You can reserve your board here. Want to try a paddleboard tour? Check out this one, which leaves at sunrise.

Kayaks are also available. Here you can rent a kayak for two people for four hours for about $30. If you want to try a kayak tour, this sunset tour looks lovely.

9. The conservation efforts are supreme.

Speaking of sun protection on the reefs, you may notice the signs around Bacalar that warn visitors to be environmentally conscious. There are several ordinances in Bacalar that aim to protect the lagoon ecosystem, as the local government is committed to protecting the mangroves, wildlife and native plant species. In fact, in order to build anything within the municipality, landowners cannot destroy certain types of trees. That seems to me to be a victory for Mother Nature.

Despite these efforts to preserve the beauty of Bacalar, the recent increase in tourism has had a negative impact on the lagoon. Much of the damage is attributed to careless pollution and the introduction of human waste into the lagoon.

There is hope, however, as more and more eco-friendly lodging options are emerging. Consider staying at Cayuco Maya. This project is dedicated to eco-tourism, and they are working hard to find the balance between allowing guests to experience the beauty of Bacalar and protecting the ecosystem.

8. The street art game is on point.

In downtown Bacalar, you’ll find street art on almost every block. You could spend hours walking around town and admiring the vibrant murals. Much of the art echoes the bright turquoise color of the lagoon.

Try a guided tour to see the murals and meet the artists. This one has options that include a walking tour, a bike tour and even a full day tour that will take you to some cenotes.

7. There’s magic around every corner.

Bacalar is still a very small town, although it has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. Because of its size, it has retained its charm, as well as local traditions and customs. The Mayan culture is still very much alive in Bacalar, which is what makes it so magical.

The Mayans have been living in and visiting Bacalar for centuries to pay homage to the power of the lagoon. In fact, there is a cenote named after a Mayan witch rumored to live there. It’s called Cenote de la Bruja, and it dives to a depth of 90 feet. I recommend visiting this cenote to feel its powerful energy.

6. Access to the lagoon is abundant.

Unlike many beach destinations, where getting to the water can be a hassle (and even expensive!), getting a prime spot on Bacalar’s lagoon is a breeze.

If you decide to stay somewhere right on the lagoon, you’ll have awesome access built into your stay.

If you’re not staying right on the lake, don’t worry! Finding a place to relax is easy. Many lodges are hospitable to day visitors who want to use the dock, as long as you buy something at the bar or restaurant. I recommend Casa Tortuga, which is a relaxed hostel with plenty of shade and hammocks. Its pier is also ideal for a dip.

Another good option for getting in the water is Cenote Cocalitos. The entrance fee is 50 pesos (about $2.50) for the day. They have hammocks suspended over the water that are fun to relax in.

5. Pirates used to sail there.

Yes, you read that right. Bacalar has a long history of raiders, including frequent attacks by English pirates who wanted to steal the valuable dye stick trees to make luxurious clothing dyes. After the Spanish conquest, Bacalar became a stronghold for Mayan rebels during the 50-year Caste War.

To learn more about Bacalar’s fascinating history, visit the fortress of Fuerte de San Felipe, next to the town’s main square. There you’ll find the Bacalar Museum, which tells the story of the town.

After a quick history lesson, head out for a tour of the lagoon. This is a sailboat tour that stops at the Pirates’ Channel, where pirates used to pass through to get to the lagoon.

4. It’s the perfect place to unwind.

The tranquility of the lagoon is reflected in the chill vibe of Bacalar as a whole. Being a yogi myself, I have found Bacalar to be a great place to unplug, ground and breathe. There are a couple of yoga studio options if you want to take a class. My favorite is Ashtangamor, which has Ashtanga classes.

If you’re looking for a holistic yet eco-friendly experience, check out the Alkalki Holistic Center. It’s located about 10 miles from the town of Bacalar, right on the lake. It offers cupping therapy, sound therapy, temazcal experiences and meditations.

3. Cenotes, need I say more?

In case you need another excuse to spend the rest of your days floating in a cenote, Bacalar has some of the best in the area.

Cenote Azul is the closest and easiest to access. From above, it looks like a giant blue sphere and is one of the deepest in the Riviera Maya. Unlike the closed cave-like cenotes, this one is open and resembles a large pond, which is fun to swim or dive in.

Another must-see cenote is Cenote Esmeralda. This appears to be part of the lagoon at first, but a closer look reveals a great contrast in color; the deep navy blue is attributed to its 70-foot depth. There is a narrow gap called an “eye” where the cenote meets the lagoon, which looks great!

2. You can hang out next to stromatolites, the oldest living organism on the planet.

So… what’s a stromatolite? I must have missed that biology lesson, oops!

Stromatolites are rock formations that emerge from the lagoon waters and are made of the unique bacteria that live there. If you look closely, they appear to be fuzzy!

The best place to admire these ancient formations is Cenote Cocalitos. There you will see them jutting out very close to the shore. They are similar to corals, as they are incredibly fragile. Around Cocalitos there are signs warning visitors not to get too close or touch them. Please be very careful!

1. The locals are friendly and hospitable.

All of Mexico is known for its warm and welcoming hospitality. Bacalar is no exception. It is quite common for strangers to greet you on the street with a quiet “buenos días” (good morning). Shop owners and shop assistants are often helpful and patient with those who are not fluent in Spanish.

I have found the people of the Riviera Maya to be exceptionally friendly. Don’t forget to repay that kindness by tipping fairly (in Mexico that means 10%), learning about the local culture, being environmentally conscious and offering kindness in return.

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