pink artificial pools and beige sand

The most complete guide to Las Coloradas, the pink salt ponds in Yucatan

In MEXICO, YUCATAN by Isabella Biava12 Comments

Located in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula, Las Coloradas is the name of the pink lakes in Mexico, on the Yucatan Peninsula coast, but also of the small town nearby.

Obviously nobody comes to visit for the small town, but for this unusual color of the water during sunny days (mind that).

Why it the water so pink? Because of particular critters living inside the water.

Along come to the Pink Flamingoes as well, whose feathers get the same shades of pink since they feed with the same bacteria.

In this post, I will tell you all about visiting Las Coloradas, how to get there, and other useful information.

THE STORY BEHIND THE PINK LAKES IN MEXICO 

You will be surprised to know that the pink lakes that became so famous with Instagram and videos for their unusual bright pink color have in fact created with a mere industrial purpose, which is to process and extract salt from the sea.

It’s a real industry, a business that a visionary Mexican family started in 1940 when they discovered that this area had great potential for the production of sea salt and the company is now still thriving while working with local communities to create awareness on environmental-friendly practices and the importance on the respect for the natural environment.

But they were not the first to create this kind of industry in the area.

In fact, in that very same saline estuary that is located in the reserve of Rio Lagartos,  the ancient Maya extracted the mineral for more than 2,000 years.

It was exactly in Las Coloradas, that was then called in  Mayan “Emal”, where large quantities of salt were harvested that gave life to the towns and businesses of Central America.

Chichén Itzá, Cobá, Uxmal, Edzná and Tikal, as well as more distant places like Copán, Izabal and the Caribbean islands, were the places where the Mayan culture dominated with their commerce.

pink lakes and board with warnings

Today, the population of Las Coloradas lives and works dedicated to the exploitation of the mineral maintaining the ancestral harmony with the environment that guarantees high quality of life and a source of well-being for their families and their community.

In the eighties, the production reached 500 thousand tons per year of bulk salt and a variety of finished and packaged products. All of them, with the highest quality of world standards.

Currently, in Mexico, the salt company, called ISYSA, occupies the second place in the companies producing sea salt by solar evaporation and is a national leader in the production of grain salts for the industry and commerce of Mexico, thus being a supplier of many of the main companies in the country.

ISYSA has reached incredible production results without compromising the natural environment.

The support and care of the environment have been in fact reflected in the establishment of one of the most important flamingo colonies in the Mexican Caribbean.

Approximately 25,000 birds built their nests within the salt production zone and las Coloradas operations staff monitors the communities.

A non-governmental organization governed by different institutions responsible for studying the behavior of flamingos and for the past 10 years, Industria Salinera de Yucatán S.A. from C.V. sponsors bird care programs.

This activity involves the communities of Ría Lagartos, as well as volunteer children and specialists in bird management.

The Biology and Aquaculture Laboratory in Las Coloradas carries out work related to the evaluation and management of the microbiological component of salt lagoons through the use of “artemia salina” culture and its live food which is the element that gives the bright pink color to the ponds.

WHERE DOES THE PINK COLOR OF THE SALT LAKES COME FROM?

The population of “artemia salina” a microorganism species that serve to improve the quality of the production ponds since they feed on particles suspended in the water, leaving the salt ponds “clean”.

Pin of las coloradas- picture with pink flamingoes and blue lakes

HOW TO VISIT LAS COLORADAS 

The closest town to Las Coloradas is Rio Lagartos.

The town in itself is nothing charming, but my suggestion is to get to Las Coloradas from Valladolid or Tizimin by noon when the shades of pink are the brightest (in a sunny day of course), and spend the afternoon in the surrounding.

The small town of Las Coloradas has nothing to offer, but it might be all that you need. If you keep driving through the village you will get to a spectacular beach where you can spend some time there and go back to Las Coloradas by sunset to get some other amazing shots.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to stay when I went because I was by bus and had to move on with my itinerary.

Please consider that if you go by bus the last one to return to Rio Lagartos is early in the afternoon, at 3 pm but please check at the bus station.

If you remain stranded in Las Coloradas there is no hotel.

I am sure some locals will be happy to offer hospitality or maybe other tourists will offer you a ride back.

But just for your info.

If you have your own car, I would definitely suggest you stay until sunset and then drive to Rio Lagarto where you will have booked your tour in the Rio Lagarto Reserve, where you will see many more flamingoes, alligators (Lagartos) and many bird species. I have taken the tour with a professional guide which is also a biologist and a photographer and born in Rio Lagarto so passionate about his home and sharing all his knowledge with you.

He will take you around on his boat on an amazing adventure. Check out my complete guide on Rio Lagartos to get all the information you need.

Now let’s go back to Las Coloradas.

Once you get to the entrance of the famous bright pink lake, you can either take a picture from the road, where it’s visible, or you can pay 50 pesos (worth it) to sustain the local guides who will take you inside for a 10 minutes walk and give you a short talk about the ponds, their history, and formation.

The view is mesmerizing indeed, especially during peak hours from 12 to 15 where the sun is high and the colors more intense.

If you go early morning or evening, the colors tend to be less intense.

If you have time you can head towards the beach and enjoy the white deserted sand and the turquoise blue water.

Very few people know that those beaches have been declared a protected area and Sanctuary of Sea Turtles, by the federal government,  since three species of turtles come every year on the beach to lay their eggs from May to November.

pink lakes

HOW TO GET TO LAS COLORADAS

You would go to Las Coloradas just to see the ponds and take your picture there is nothing else there besides the village where the workers stay and a couple of beaches.

To put it on the map ( which you can see here below) Las Coloradas is located at 280  km from Cancun, 130 from Valladolid, 240 from Merida, 200 km from Holbox, 80 km from Tizimin, 120 km from El Cuyo

BY BUS There is a bus that leaves either from Tizimin at 10.30 or 12.30 and the last to go back from Las Coloradas is at 3 pm. If you miss that. you will have either to call a taxi from Rio Lagartos, the closest village or get a ride or in the worst-case scenario, to find accommodation. I am not sure about that one as tourists never stop there.

BY TAXI from Rio Lagartos you can find a taxi that will take you there and wait for you for 500 MXN ( 25USD)

BY TOUR – My best recommendation is to take the full experience tour of Rio Lagartos by the most knowledgeable guide in the area William Canto. The full tour which lasts about 4 or 5 hours includes also the transportation to Las Coloradas.

BY CAR – If you rent a car, which you could do either from Cancun, or anywhere in the Riviera Maya or Merida, you can easily drive from Rio Lagarto to Las Coloradas and you can also keep driving to El Cuyo from the same road that connects the two villages.

Bear in mind though, that from Las Coloradas to El Cuyo is not a paved road, it’s dirt road and very narrow, sometimes sandy, so you really need to have a good 4 wheel drive. Forget it, if it has recently rained. The views are spectacular though.

a dirt road in the middle of the pink salt lakes ponds

Suggested itinerary

If you are driving around Yucatan, you might want to optimize your time and see as much as you can in the area. That’s why I put together this 2-days itinerary in Yucatan to see Las Coloradas starting from Valladolid

Day 1:

  • 8 am – leave from Valladolid to Ek Balam, a spectacular archeological site on the way to Rio Lagartos. It’s located at only 45 minutes from Valladolid. They also have a cenote that you can reach by bike (bike rental available too)  Valladolid – Ek Balam 45′ drive.
  • 12.00 pm – Ek Balam – Las Coloradas – aprox 2h drive
  • After sunset – Las Coloradas Rio Lagartos – 30 min drive
  • Spend the night in Rio Lagartos. Here some tips on where to stay in Rio Lagartos.

Day 2

  • 7 to 13 am – Boat tour in Rio Lagartos
  • Lunch
  • Departure for your next destination.

You might want to read  my two 14-day itineraries in Yucatan Peninsula

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Where else in Mexico can we see the pink flamingoes?

pink flamingos

The Yucatan peninsula is brimming with a spectacular natural oasis where you can admire this graceful bird.

  • Not far away from Las Coloradas is Rio Lagartos, of which I talked to you about already. That’s the main sanctuary for watching pink flamingoes.
  • At 2 hours drive from  Valladolid, El Cuyo, a place so dear to me, the Caribbean of the Yucatan peninsula, is also easy to spot flamingoes early morning or in the evening on the lagoon side of town.
  • On the north coast of Yucatan on the way from Progreso to Chicxulub, thousands of flamingoes are living in the nearby lagoon. No tours are available there as you can watch them from the road.
  • The spectacular IslaHolbox is also home to spectacular flamingoes. I have spotted some of them from Coco beach. You can see them at the horizon sometimes even arguing among each other apparently, but the water is so shallow that you can get very close. However please respect a good distance as they can get nervous and alter their natural behavior. They are very shy creatures. Let’s respect them. After all, we are in their environment.
  • The biosphere of Celestun at 1 drive east of Merida. Celestun is a very insignificant town on the north coast of Campeche, but they offer great tours to watch flamingo colonies living in the river, which is also populated by many other bird spices. If you are a bird lover, that’s where you want to go.

If you wish to read more I wrote a specific post about all the places where to see the pink flamingos in Latin America. Enjoy it!

LAS COLORADAS MAP

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Comments

  1. Hi there! Is the lake still pink and worth visiting next year you guess?

    1. Author

      Hello there! I really hope so! there are times of the year when the close for a month for maintenance. But it’s not possible to know with so much anticipation. 🙂 Let me know if you have any further questions! 🙂

  2. Wow, who wouldn’t want to visit somewhere this magical. It’s almost other worldly. Your pictures are great, and this guide is so helpful. I was planning a trip to Mexico for this year but will likely have to put that off for a whole, but this is going on my list fir when I do go

    1. Author

      Thanks, Emma, feel free to ask me any question you have when you manage to get there or anywhere else in Mexico. Will be happy to help. 🙂

  3. I have seen pink salt ponds before but I didn’t realize there was a bacteria producing the colour. This is the pinkest pond I have seen. It’s great that the local people have used the salt production for making their living.

    1. Author

      Hello Rhonda! Thanks a lot for your comment. Yes, indeed and I only enhanced the color just to make it exactly like the real pink. It’s amazing. 🙂

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