Thank you so much for sharing this!
A few days in Bacalar could be enough to appreciate its beauty and feel the magic, but you might be tempted to stay longer and enjoy the positive vibes, relax at the soothing view of the 7 shades of blue of the water and try all the lovely places to hang out, and why not, have some adventurous activities.
Bacalar might seem too quiet for the party lovers, so you guys be aware of that; although there is a very young crowd of visitant who loves to just hang out in the few bars or cantine with live music, mingle, dance and chill.
During the day there are quite a few activities that you can do and enjoy. Or you can just relax on your charming eco lodge right on the lagoon. Depending on your travel style there is a little bit of everything for anyone. In this post I will try to share all the information I have collected with the hope to help you and build your own trip.
If there is something I had omitted, I kindly ask you to let me know and I’ll do my best to make up for it 🙂
The lovely resort town is popular for the huge lagoon of 7 shades of blue or maybe more. The name Bacalar comes from the mayan Syancaan Bacalal, (syan = birth) Bacalal = place of reeds. Despite of the indisputable beauty of the soothing huge mirror of cristalline water, this destination has been developing as a touristic place only in the past 3 years.
I remember when I went there 4 years ago there were 2 great resorts, which are now still the iconic hotels of the area, and a couple of restaurants where to eat. During my second visit 4 years later I was pleasantly surprise by how much it has developed and how huge and various is the offer in terms of accommodations and restaurants. Even more pleasantly surprising to see that the development has been in total respect for the environment and more hotels are trying hard to have eco friendly installation and promote a similar lifestyle. But let’s go by steps.
WHAT TO DO
BOAT TOUR: SAILING OR MOTOR BOAT
Sailing in the lagoon is without a doubt one of the most amazing and therefore popular experience you could do. It’s definitely the best way to appreciate the beauty of the 7 shades of blue of this huge mirror of water and you have thousands of way to do that. First and foremost, you can do it either by sailing boat/hobby cats or by motorboat. The second one is cheaper, around 250 pesos, while the sailing boat is from 500 to 600 according to the company.
Needless to say that if you sail, it will take around 4 hours and you will be able to appreciate more the tranquillity of the lagoon with more stops and a more relaxed cruise, without the noise of the motor. By motorboat you will still do almost the same itinerary but with only one or two stops for a swim.
So that is really up to you. To organise the tour it is more practical to organise it with your own hotel reception but if you are not satisfied with the options given you can always walk along the coast, especially close to town and you will find many vendors offering the tours. I have heard amazing things about the company Veleando ando , which I didn’t try myself, but I have heard quite a few great comments, to be reliable and have the best sailing boat tour of Bacalar. Many high end hotel have their own boats and others will use local companies. The company I went with was ok but not really special so I don’t really wish to recommend it.
It is really up to you but I would really do the sailing tour with any of the available companies.
ENJOYING THE LAGOON FROM THE SHORE
If for some reasons you are not a fan of boats or you just don’t want to take the tour there are a few other options to appreciate the amazing mirror of water. You can drive along the coast and enjoy the water from the different piers either from other hotels (some of them would let you in if you have lunch there) or from the so called “Balnearios” which is the equivalent of a beach club but on the lake and without beach 😉
BALNEARIO COCALITO – It is one of the most popular for different reasons, it is a sort of santuary for the famous Estromatolitos beautiful mineral formations mushroom shaped (that’s my view) formed in the water by the shore. The local are very strict and look after their preservations. In this particular point you can lay and sunbathe on the mown and get in the water by a man made entrance and walk through those formation into the natural swimming pool of amazing shades of blue. You can also have fun playing on the swings in the water and enjoy the amazing soothing view. The cost for the entrance is 25 mxn (1.25 usd approximately)
BALNEARIO MUNICIPAL – it’s very close to the town centre, on the water side, of course. It’s a huge green space with a patio and a long pier, where you can lay down by the water and swim from there. There is no entrance fee but if you park the car they charge you 15 pesos (about 0.75 usd)
BALNEARIO SAC-HA – this is a mistery, still. it’s located just after the hotel Akalki, right outside Bacalar going towards Chetumal. I went there on a random weekly day and it was totally deserted, I guess abandoned. The water was beautiful though and the mown where to lay down lovely, with an easy access to the water. I guess it’s a good option if you wish to stay isolated.
BALNEARIO MAGICO – It’s the first one that has been created in Bacalar, therefore the oldest and the most popular. There is where the big groups are taken. I would avoid it if you don’t like big crowds.
LOS RAPIDOS – This place definitely won the highest position on my favourite things to do in Bacalar. Located at 7 km from town, towards Chetumal, it’s a bit difficult to see as the writing on the road sign is very artistically designed, but if you see a colourful sign after the one of the Akalki hotel, that’s it. You can either play smart and cross the road going for a couple of mt in the opposite directions, or continue driving until the next U turn ( that ‘s how I found out about balneario Sac – ha – see above) .
When you get there you will find a restaurant where they will explain to you how it works. You pay 50mxn for the entrance and you need to have your meal there, which you would anyway, as you will want to stay all day. They have kayaks and life jackets for rent and beach chairs for your free use. Once you pass the restaurant, you will get to the garden and there you will be in front of the beautiful transparent water river where you will realize that the actual “rapidos” is nothing like the name suggests. It is real fun though. The water runs quite fast from south to north and all along the shore. They have fixed two cords where you can hang on and resist the water flow, or what we loved to do, like all the kids we met, go upstream and let the water take us down and then walk back up. It’s not deep and for most of the time you will be able to stand on your feet. The current is stronger in the middle of the river. If you go on the “palapa” on the right and climb down the stairs on the other site you will have an amazing view and you can start your descent even further, so your ride will be longer. We had so much fun, just like kids. A full day in nature. The restaurant is very simple but ok and the stuff very nice and friendly.
A short story for you. We were told also that we could have kept floating till the next restaurant at about 1.2 km distance and then come back by walking from the jungle side (another km). We have tried it but we were not sure to be on the right path since there was no more current and we decided to turn around and go back walking upstream. Only afterwards we realized that the current is only in the first 300 mt, then you will have to actually swim. If you like that you might want to try it. We didn’t get to the end, though, so I couldn’t tell you the whole experience. I suggest you to ask very well at the restaurants so you make sure not to get lost in the lagoon. 🙂
Another tip, if you don’t like big crowds, you should avoid going on a week end or a holiday as it gets quite busy.
CENOTE AZUL – Situated right at the end of the “avenida costera” the main road that runs along the coast of the lagoon, right before it merges with the “carretera federal”, you will get to the entrance of this huge open Cenote. It looks like a lake, surrounded by a thick vegetation. Differently from the other cenotes the water is very dark due to its dept. A cord stretches from one side to the other which allows you to have a safe swim to the other side of the “big pond”. The entrance is only 10 pesos (50 cents). There is also a restaurant and a snack bar if you wish, but it is not mandatory to purchase anything. Just enjoy your swim!
VISIT ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES IN THE SURROUNDINGS – The area is also surrounded by impressive archaeological sites, which I love dearly, even though I have never paid too much attention to the history – Something that I am about to fix soon – I still love to just go there and walk around the ancient mayan ruins and climb up the towering ancient building (when possible). It is always a joy for me and has something magic in it, all the time, especially if I find myself alone.
Chacchoben is located at only 30 minutes drive from Bacalar in the direction of Tulum it’s a great site although very little known. They are now working on another one close to it and hopefully will be open soon as well.
Oxtanka – it is closed to Chetumal but I missed it by distraction and I am not sure how worth it is the drive. I am just including it for the sake of information.
Dzibanche and Kinichna and Kohunlich are situate at around 80 km from Bacalar. You can definitely do it in one day. It’s a beautiful drive 30 minutes off the main road direction Campeche. The road is signed you cannot get lost and both sites are totally worth the trip, if you like this kind of stuff. Although you could do it in one day I always suggest to spend a couple of nights out and visit also the area of Calakmul, which counts of a tremendous number of natural and historical resources. I will write more soon about this.
If you want to do it on one day, though, you can either rent a car or ask your hotel if they can organise a tour for you. They might have some deals. I know that at the hostel Green monkey they have a full day trip to Calakmul. I wouldn’t do that but if you are tight with time you could check with them. (more info on this soon)
FORT (FUERTE) the construction situate in the middle of the town, by the plaza, represent a very important historical point since it’s the tower from where the old population used to catch sight of the Pirates coming through the canal connecting the lagoon with the open sea and that has now been named after them. The fort , beside offering a lovely view of the bay, it is now home of a small museum with interesting information on the history of Bacalar and in general of the Mayan history and an infographic of the ancient communication routes. I found it a very exhaustive and comprehensive summary of the mysterious ancient population.
A DAY IN MAHAHUAL AND XCALAK
Mahahual is an old fisherman town located on the sea right south of the biosphere of Sian Kaan and, on the map, at the same latitude of Bacalar. If you have a car, in 1h and 30′ you will get there, even less. It has now turned into a touristic place and a cruise destination. I personally don’t like it, I have to be honest, for the following reasons: it’s too windy, all the time all day and night, it’s shabby and not particularly nice. the beach is short and the beach chairs one close to the other like you are at 2 cm from your neighbour. The water is beautiful but considering the downside, you can find amazing water in better and nicer places.
Having said that, I would suggest to go if you are a passionate diver. In this case you will find paradise. I couldn’t dive there because during my stay the sea was rough and the boats were not allowed to go out, but I spoke with a dive center which really sounded reliable and I would have definitely gone diving with them. But, as I said,I didn’t, so please take it as a personal first impression only. They are called Mahahual dive center and located on the “malecon” the main road right on the beach. Otherwise the place is full of dive centres for your choice.
The town offers a good variety of places where to stay, from cheap hostels to lovely boutique hotel, such as Hotel Quinto Sole , 40 Cañones. Hotel Luna de Plata , Aqua Star Hotel and Apartments by Koox. I am listing the hotels that I have checked in Mahahual facing the beach and I would reccommend.
Xcalak is another piece of paradise for divers, but if you just want to enjoy the beach, just change destination. All the coast is full of smelly seagrass which is great to protect the coral, there is no doubt, but not pleasant for us who love to enjoy the beach. There are lovely hotels along the coast which provide boat excursions to snorkel. Also here we have visited a dive center that seemed very reliable and would take you for snorkelling and diving trips of all kinds. It’s called XTC dive center and they also have a couple of apartments to rent. That would be the only reason I would go there.
WHERE TO EAT
Having stayed in Bacalar for a few days I managed to try different restaurant which I am going to suggest here below.
BERTILLA – It’s an Italian restaurant and one of the first new kid on the bloc in Bacalar, before the whole development process. The pizza is ok but their best performance is in the many different kind of pasta which they make with their own hands. They chose the best ingredients and make their own sauces. Located just off the main plaza.
LA PLAYTA- I believe this is my favourite. loved the setting, right on the lagoon, the ambient and decoration, all in wooden with tables spread out in the beautiful garden and by the piers. The food is delicious and with a great choice and a great attention to the presentation. They have wifi and I guess you can spend some time on their pier and enjoy their hammocks and water after a great meal .
EL MANATI- I loved this place so much, most of all for the concept. Before reaching the restaurant area you will walk through a multifunctional shop, where they sell clothes, organic washing soaps cakes and all sorts of art, then you will have access to a beautiful garden surrounded by amazing graffitied walls. The food is delicious too and vegan friendly.
PATA DE PERRO – It is located on the main square, I love the upper level terrace, especially at sunset. The menu is very rich and also a little more expensive then the average but worth it. I had the vegetarian tacos, very tasty. The staff also very pleasant.
MANGO Y CHILE – Its a vegan restaurant, located right beside the Fort, open all day from Breakfast to dinner. It offers a choice of vegan dishes such us burgers, falafel, salads and different beverages. I found my favourite, which is the “leche dorada” it’s a hot drinks made of vegan milk and curcuma! A delish!
KAI PEZ – Located just below the fort, on the avenida costera. You will notice it because of the huge car park and long pier. Right by the water this laid back, nothing pretentious restaurant is located. I had a great ceviche for my dinner and I was really impressed by the presentation. It’s quite a popular restaurant.
LULU- This small restaurant is located inside the little posada LULU. It’s a vegan restaurant and offers a great choice of vegan dishes and fresh juices.
PORQUE NO – It’s an Italian restaurant but I didn’t really have a good experience. I did love the gelato though, which is totally recommended.
Other options that I didn’t try myself but I have heard good thinks are – Los Aluxes, located in the homonymous hotel and Palo de Tinte, just on the avenida costera (AV 1) close to the main plaza.
WHERE TO STAY
RESORTS OUTSIDE DOWN TOWN
Coming from Tulum before entering the town of Bacalar you will find these beautiful eco friendly properties in the very same order
Lovely and simple casitas in the middle of the jungle. It really feels to be in real contact with nature. The hotel rates include breakfast and they organize different activities. There is a restaurant on the lagoon at a walking distance if you don’t feel like driving to town.
The access to the beach is facilitated by a comfortable pier and relaxing is guaranteed in the huge garden by the water.
While I was driving there I wasn’t really happy about the road, neither my car was appreciating the rough long pathway, although I was very impressed by the cute casitas facing the water. They seemed spacious and comfortable with guaranteed privacy. Kayak was available for the guests use and a little restaurant close to the water for breakfast lunch and dinner. Really beautiful and romantic choice. Probably the non easy access is done on purpose to preserve the privacy. I’d like to think that way.
This hotel is one of the oldest and most popular, with luxury cabañas spread around a think forest, a restaurant by a long and comfortable pier from where you can safely jump in the fresh blue water. It is not a property I would chose, for some reason, but I understand its success.
Being a new hotel I don’t really want to expose myself with a review because I believe they are adding up their final touches. As far as I have seen, though, despite de luxury intentions, I didn’t really like the taste in the decorations and adorns, as I found it too bulky and cold, not very much in harmony with the naturalistic environment. But, as I said, just my personal opinion.
Such a cute lovely property in the middle of a lush vegetation and overlooking the blue lagoon but not right on the water. The managers are going out of their way to make their guests feel at home and make up the lack of direct access to the lagoon with their warm welcome and helpful suggestions. They have a deal with the guys at LOS RAPIDOS, which is actually one of my favourite place on the lagoon, so the guest can enjoy the fresh water without paying the access to their facilities. The rooms are really cozy and welcoming.
Eco – chic cabanas on the water just before arriving to Bacalar. I really loved the rustic concept of the wooden cabanas. It is very simple and inspires an authentic feeling. The hammok on the piers are so inviting! a real relaxing option.
This is one of the most popular hotel in Bacalar and one of the first to bring in the ecologic concept. A sort of icon in Bacalar to me. They have their own ecological sewage system so that the waste doesn’t end in the lagoon and leaves it clean. They produce their own organic vegetables and plants for the restaurant and try to use local organic products for cleaning and wherever is possible. They are very proud of their ecological awareness and practises. The hotel is stunning as well, in its simplicity and very much in harmony with the natural environment. They have overwater bungalows and waterfront cabañas with their own private balcony, a wooden yoga pavillon on the water as well and a spa with different kind of treatments. The garden is immaculate and the location on the lagoon is one of the best. I’ve stayed there a few years ago and I was happy to return for a visit and feel the magic of that place again. The hotel also offers tours in the lagoon with their own sailing boat and they have bicycle that you can use to ride around the property. The only problem you will have once you stay there is that you won’t be keen to leave the property and visit the surroundings as you just want to relax and enjoy the great vibes and the beauty around you. They also welcome yoga and healing retreats which sometimes are open to the public to participate. So you should check on their page for similar events and availability
THE YAK LAKE HOUSE , where I have stayed
– A Luxury hostel–
I was so impressed with this hostel that I even decided to postpone my departure. I felt so comfortable and at ease, and I was in the cheapest room category! The property looks brand new and very stylish, overlooking the lagoon which gifts you with amazing sunrises. The dormitories are clean and very practical, every bed with its own plug and a deem light. The bathroom spacious and fancy. The locker very big and comfortable. A plus was at the extremities of the bed there is a net where you can easily hang out your stuff if you need to do some little hand washing. Breakfast is included and it is very rich with fresh fruit, which they continue to refurnish before the recipients get empty, bread that you can toast and fresh marmelade. You can also use the kitchen which, by the way, it is always kept immaculately clean. The stuff is always very attentive and super nice and wi fi is great. The property is also at 2 minutes walk from the main plaza, the restaurants and the FORTE which you will want to visit. I couldn’t really find a fault. If you wish to have a private room you can always ask, if you are lucky to find one available.
They have a great access to the lagoon, with green mown and hammocks and it seems like a lovely place. I found the dormitories and bathrooms very basic though. They also have 3 private rooms as well.
THE BLUE MONKEY & THE GREEN MONKEY
Same owner different hostels. I didn’t like them. I found them very shabby and poorly maintained, although the access to the lake is nice, but I wouldn’t stay there, when you can find better options at the same price. The private rooms in the green monkey are kind of cute, though, like mountain cabins.
The green monkey also organizes trips to Calakmul, if you are interested (see above chapter on What to do in Bacalar)
It is what I would call shabby chic. The room walls are nicely decorated in gray and the beds made in wooden. They also have private cabañas in the garden and they have a lovely access to the water. What I love the most is their attention to the environment and ecological practices. They also have a great vegan restaurant.
HOTELS IN TOWN ALONG THE COAST ( Av. 1)
This is one of my favourite among the little boutique hotels. Situate in a peaceful area of the lagoon almost by the end of the coastal road, the rooms are spacious with minimal but fancy decorations, almost all in wooden. The ones on the first floor can have a peak to the lagoon. You have access to the water through a beautiful garden and you can lay down on fancy beach chairs on a patio right on the transparent blue water. I find it one of the best property in terms of quality/price.
This is one of the most known. I wasn’t particularly wowed by the rooms which I found just regularly nice and nothing fancy. Although they have a beautiful gardens and elegant water facilities like patios, piers and beach chairs. The restaurants is also known as one of the best in town.
If you see it from the water you cannot missed for the colourful facade. They have chairs on the mown for sunbathing and a little pier for access to the water. The rooms are ok, but with shared bathroom, just FYI. The also have a family room on the other side of the road with private bathroom as well.
The name of this property says it all, although it is not right on the beach, this hotel has a lot of luxury, in the design and decorations and the well kept garden. The only thing that not everybody might like is that the bathroom area is all open, and I mean ALL open. They have a deal with the Club Vela, which is right in front ( see above) so you can use the facilities with no charge, although I would explore other beach clubs (balnearios).
This is a cute little property of 8 rooms. All are facing the lagoon although not all of them have a view. The bedrooms are minimal but cute and the pier on the lake is long and spacious with lots of hammocks where you can hang out and relax at the soothing view of the water.
This is the oldest hotel in Bacalar and very popular for its stunning view from almost everywhere in the property, although I would chose room 6 from which you feel like you are suspended over the water. Even if from the outside it looks quite tired, and I was expecting the rooms to be the same, I was pleasantly surprised to find very spacious rooms and fancily decorated. What adds to the overall value are the huge window-walls that allow you a full view to the 7 shades of blue lagoon.
BOUTIQUE HOTELS IN TOWN
Simply beautiful and romantic. What gets my attention is the white and blue tiling on the floor, the elegant draping and decorations in the rooms. This beautiful hotel definitely makes up for the short distance from the water. A jewel. The rooftop is also a plus for your evening chill out and drinks.
The reception graffiti will certainly impress you with a homey feeling and the rooms will make you want to stay. Very simply decorated but with class and style. At a walking distance to the water and the plaza.
I couldn’t see the rooms because they were all occupied when I went there, but I received great feedbacks from a trusted friend who stayed there. The hostal has all private rooms some of them with shared other with en suite bathroom. It’s located behind a very popular restaurant on the main plaza, with the same name.
Such a cute lovely property that I have accidentally found walking around town. 7 lovely decorated rooms in a nice garden. The style is minimal and the dominant colour is blue so as to revoke the shades of the lagoon
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Getting to Bacalar is very easy whether you decide to rent a car or get on a Bus.
Renting a car, presuming you are coming from Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum, you cannot get lost. It’s all straight. All roads take you to Bacalar 😉
If you prefer to travel by bus, the ADO offers a great service from anywhere including Merida, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Chetumal, Palenque, Veracruz and other towns in between.
You can check this site for a time table. It is advisable to purchase the ticket with anticipation, if you cannot get it on line since sometimes the site is down you should get to the ticket office earlier the same day or the day before to assure your seats.
Please remember that travelling on the ADO can be a little freezing so remember to bring a jumper or a blanket to cover up.
To move around you can either get a taxi from the reception of your hotels or just grabbing one on the road. I have seen many of them. Or you can also rent a bike for a few dollars a day and be independent, unless you are in a resort far from town. I would not suggest to ride a bike on the main road ( carretera federal) Check with your front desk where is the closest place to rent it.
WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW THAT I HAVE OMITTED?
I would love to help, just write on in the comment section below…
Enjoy the magic Bacalar 😉
Thank you so much for sharing this!