This is a guide on how to visit Rio Lagartos Yucatan (more accurately called Ria Lagartos), one of the most spectacular places in the Yucatan peninsula, a paradise for birdwatchers especially, but for all nature lovers in general.
Home of more than 400 bird species, Rio Lagartos is a protected area on the Yucatan coast, mainly famous for the Pink flamingo, also called American Flamingo. Many tourists flock here all year round to admire this spectacular natural ecosystem, including the most Instagrammed pink salt flat lakes, Las Coloradas.
But Rio Lagartos is more than that. Few people know that this huge territory of 60.348 acres was decreed “reserve” in 1999, although since 1976, it was considered a wildlife refuge. It includes 8 ecosystems from coastal dune to deciduous lowland jungle. The first Ramsar site decreed in Mexico due to the great importance of its wetlands. The estuary formed by brackish water channels (fresh and salty) surrounded by mangroves is home to a great diversity of flora and fauna. Besides the 400 birds, they have also registered 100 species of fish, about 105 species of reptiles, and 57 mammals.
Within the reserve, there are 4 communities, San Felipe, Rio Lagartos, Las Coloradas, and El Cuyo, small villages mostly engaged in commercial fishing.
The original name of the community is Hol Koben. The Spaniards coined the name of Rio Lagartos during the conquest due to the channels’ similarity to a freshwater river and the confusion between crocodiles and alligators (lagartos).
Info source: Guia Naturalista William Ramon Canto
HOW TO VISIT RIO LAGARTOS YUCATAN
I am a little embarrassed to say that in my 7 years spent in Cancun, I have never made time to go and visit Rio Lagartos. I took a tour the first time I was there about 16 years ago. I never returned until a month ago when I decided to be a tourist in my own country ( so to speak) for 2 weeks, and I set off on a brief journey in Yucatan, from El Cuyo to Valladolid, Rio Lagartos, and Holbox.
I explored some of the cenotes in the area that I was so longing to see, and finally, I went back to Rio Lagartos. For the very first time, I would have seen Las Coloradas, all of it by bus, something that is new to me because I used to have a car and enjoy the comfort of driving around and stop when and where I wanted.
I have to say that I had a blast despite my prejudice, but I will share my entire itinerary in another post for your convenience. While on the bus to Rio Lagartos, I was beyond excited because I have contacted a super professional guide, who is also a photographer, which was suggested by a trustworthy friend. I was sure I would have had the best experience ever. And so it was.
I arrived in the town of Rio Lagartos the day before my tour. It was raining so I didn’t want to bother walking around in search of the best hotel. I just stopped at the first decent property I have found. Later I realized I could have done better research, but I was ok. It would have been for one night only. As soon as it stopped raining, I went out for a walk with my camera, as it was just about sunset time, but I was more concerned with visiting different hotel options so that I could have offered you some good advice and so I did. Check below about where to stay in Rio Lagartos. I grabbed something to eat and went back for an early sleep.
I had an appointment with my guide William for the following morning at 7 am. So I wanted to be fresh and rested for my adventure in the natural reserve. At 6 am I was ready for a few sunrise shots before heading to my date with mother nature!
We went first to chase some spectacular flamingoes. Then we continued south to check out other parts of the reserve, spot other birds, the salt flats, other flamingoes, the beach up to the clay bath, a place where you cover yourself in mud, or better said clay, which contains minerals with healing and soothing properties for your skin. I didn’t stop there because I focused more on photography, giving more space to bird watching, and spending more time around those beautiful birds.
Being a private tour, you can basically decide what to prioritize within the set time frame.
William surpassed my expectations. He is the only guide in Rio Lagarto with a biology degree, besides such a passion for nature and his job. You just want to spend all day with him and ask him questions. He’s also a great self-thought photographer, so he knows where to take you and when if photography is your priority as well.
Keep in mind that his tours a private, which means that his prices are for a boat up to 6 people. He loves small groups to provide a better service, and I totally agree with him. This is why I am so happy to talk about his tours. I am not making a dime out of that. I just loved the experience, and I am happy to share it with you to have the same spectacular tour as I had.
He also speaks English.
What else do you want?
Ok if this is not enough he can also provide special tours in protected areas during the hutching season where you can see the baby flamingos.
Mind though that these tours need special permission and they have a limited number of admissions per season.
So if you are interested in that you will need to book very much ahead of time.
Other than that, consider that although you will see flamingoes all year round, the best time to see them is from March to June during their migration.
William, who founded his company Guia Naturalista William Canto, offers different kinds of tours.
STANDARD TOUR – 2 hrs duration
It is a boat tour designed to mainly enjoy the observation of the emblematic bird of the Ría Lagartos, the Pink Flamenco, in the biosphere reserve. It’s made through 20 km of canals surrounded by mangroves, where you can also observe other species of birds such as Herons, Eagles, Seagulls, and Cormorants. Hopefully, there can spot Crocodiles as well. After the tour through the canals, we reach the salt industry called Las Coloradas, there you can see the saltwater lagoons with their characteristic pink color.
From there you will go to the white clay bath, which thanks to its high levels of phosphorus, sulfur and other minerals, moisturizes the skin. Then you would return to RíoLagartos but not before stopping at a beautiful small white sand beach, to bathe and remove the clay.
- Availability: all year round, you can leave from 7 in the morning until 4 p.m.
- Languages: the tour is available in Spanish, English
- Nr. of participants: minimum 1 maximum of 6 people per boat, children over 3 years count as an adult
- PRICE: The price of the tour is $ 1500 Mexican pesos, for the entire boat, no matter how many people
Other tours available are:
- Rio Lagartos full experience – a longer tour of the Reserve which includes Las Coloradas pink lakes.
- Fishing tour
- Photography tour
Contact Guia Naturalista William Canto for more details.
WHERE TO STAY IN RIO LAGARTOS YUCATAN
There are always more and more hotel options in Rio Lagartos and these below are my picks!
One of the newest addition, the hotel Yuum Ha is located right on the water in the heart of Rio Lagartos, this cute boutique hotel is the most upscale that you can find in town. The rooms are small but nicely decorated and furnished with fine linen and amenities. One awkward detail I have noticed, the windows have permanent black strips, which on one side protect your privacy while on the other hand, they block the spectacular view you would have.
POSADA PERICO MARINERO
This cute property was one of my favorites when I visited. The rooms are spacious, brand new, and nicely decorated. You can choose between sea view (recommended) and pool view. Yes, they also have a nice pool and a garden to enjoy and relax, a great perk if you consider that it’s not possible to swim right in town, you will need to get a car or a taxi to reach a swimmable beach area.
Located on the seafront promenade right beside the Posada Perico Marinero, Punta Ponto is an old boutique hotel that needs a little facelift. If you need a seafront cheap option this is your place, though. And the owner is super nice and friendly. Although the rooms are modest and not very appealing, they are spacious and super clean.
HOW TO GET TO RIO LAGARTOS YUCATAN
GETTING TO RIO LAGARTOS BY BUS
In order to get to Rio Lagarto by bus, you would have to go via Tizimin for sure. Whether you are coming from Cancun, Merida, Valladolid, Tulum or Playa del Carmen, you will need to look for a bus to Valladolid, and then from Valladolid to Tizimin.
There are direct busses to Tizimin but they are less frequent.
From there you have a few ADO buses and many from NORESTE (+52 986 863 2034)
Please bear in mind that the ADO line handle another company that is called MAYAB for lower-class BUSES but they are not listed on their website. You can contact them on ADO website through the Chat system. They reply immediately and very professionally. They can help you with your itinerary.
HOW TO GET TO RIO LAGARTOS BY CAR
Either from Tulum, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Merida, you will need to consider a good 3 hours drive, via Valladolid.
HOW TO GET TO RIO LAGARTOS YUCATAN WITH AN ORGANIZED TOUR
Although I can’t recommend enough William’s tour, I understand that you might have limited time and prefer to join an organized tour from your hotel so that you can do everything in just one day.
In fact, there are plenty of organized tours from the hotels of the Riviera Maya, Cancun or Merida.
Most of them include a stop at the spectacular archeological site of Ek Balam.
WHAT TO WEAR AND TO BRING ON THE TOUR IN RIO LAGARTOS YUCATAN
You will want to be comfortable, hydrated and protected from the sun, so hear me out:
- comfortable and light outfit
- water (normally provided on this tour)
- sunscreen (better if eco-friendly)
MAP OF RIO LAGARTOS AND LAS COLORADAS
FOR FURTHER READING
- The 11 Best Restaurants in Valladolid Mexico
- Where to stay in Valladolid Mexico
- 21 amazing things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula
- The top 8+ Yucatan Haciendas for the ultimate luxury experience
- Yucatan cenotes: Cuzama – Is it ethical to visit?