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

Located in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula, Las Coloradas is the name of the so-called pink lakes in Mexico, which actually belongs to a salt industry company on the Yucatan coast.

The nearby town, of the same name, was basically established to offer lodging and services for the workers of the Salt Company.

\In this post, I will tell you all about Las Coloradas and how to visit it, besides the history behind it.

Obviously, nobody comes to visit the small town of Las Coloradas but to take pictures of the bright pink color of the salt lakes’ water during sunny days (mind that).

I will tell you further below in this post. I suggest you continue reading it, cause it gets interesting.

And the Pink Flamingoes that you will find in the nearby Rio Lagartos as well, whose feathers get the same shades of pink since they feed with the same bacteria contained in the water. Here you go I revealed the secret.

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 been created with a mere industrial purpose, which is to process and extract salt from the sea.

pink lakes las coloradas Mexico

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, as well as more distant places like Tikal, Copán, Izabal in Guatemala and the Caribbean islands, were the places where the Mayan culture dominated with their commerce.

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 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 of Las Coloradas come from?

Those lakes host 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”.

Those little creatures are the cause of the pink color of Las Coloradas but also the flamingos, that feed with them.

Las Coloradas overview
Las Coloradas on a cloudy day

How to visit Las Coloradas

There are different ways to visit Las Coloradas either on your own renting a car or with an organized tour. Either wais you have different packages that you must purchase in order to enter, or you can just stay at the entrance without paying and you can still see it.

It depends on the type of experience you would like to have.

I have been back to las Coloradas only recently and they have created a lot of touristy stuff around it, with safari, bike rentals, and even a lookout place to see the entire fields, which you can only use if you purchase specific packages tours.

It felt a little too much for a pink lake that you can easily see from the road. However, to be honest I am surprised that they have waited so long to create such a thing after Las Colorados became so famous on Instagram.

ALERT DRONE LOVERS – to fly your drone above las Coloradas, you need to ask for a special permit which costs some outrageous absurd amount of money which I cannot even remember.

Or you make sure you go far away and send the drone over there, but I wouldn’t personally risk it as they seem to be quite strict about it.

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 (on 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.

Las Coloradas beach

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.

And the second time right before I am updating this post, it was very cloudy and even cold so I wasn’t really tempted to stay at the beach but I stopped by to get some shots and imagined it on a sunny day with no wind. It must be fabulous.

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 because schedules may change with time.

Las coloradas truck for the tour

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 Lagartos Reserve, where you will see many more flamingoes, alligators (Lagartos), and many bird species.

I have taken the tour with William, a professional guide who is also a biologist and a photographer and was 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 the entrance fees according to the type of tour you want to have.

In the pictures below you can see the different options from the cheapest to the most expensive ones.

Las Coloradas Prices

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.

The second time I visited Las Coloradas the sky was very cloudy as you can see but the pink color was still there, although less bright.

If you have a car you can head south on a dirt road that is easy to drive on and 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.

Las Coloradas Clouds

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 280  km from Cancun, 130 from Valladolid, 240 from Merida, 200 km from Holbox, 80 km from Tizimin, 120 km from El Cuyo

How to get to Las Coloradas 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. There are a couple of hotels in Las Coloradas (see below)

Las Coloradas bikes by the pink lakes
Bikes for rent for the tour

How to get to Las Coloradas by Taxi

If you don’t want to spend a fortune, you can get to the closest town, Rio Lagartos by bus and get a taxi from there. You could find a taxi that will take you there and wait for you for 600 MXN ( 30 USD)

How to get to Las Coloradas by tour from Rio Lagartos

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 transportation to Las Coloradas (not the entrance).

Rio Lagartos Flamingoes

How to get 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 if you have spare time you can stop by San Felipe and then visit El Cuyo. Las Coloradas to San Felipe it’s 20 minutes drive. But if you have to go to

If you think about getting from Las Coloradas to El Cuyo by the coastal road, bear in mind though, that it is not a paved road, it’s a dirt road and very narrow with random banks of sand, which means that you really need to have a good 4 wheel drive. Forget it, if it has recently rained. The views are spectacular though.

If you are concerned about driving in Mexico I have got you covered. I have been driving around the Yucatan Peninsula for so long now both by my own car, and rented (many rented) so I wrote a guide about driving in Mexico and another one on how to rent a car without getting scammed ( because it’s a real issue)

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Where to stay in Las Coloradas

If a few years ago you couldn’t even think about sleeping at las Coloradas, with the growth of tourism also more infrastructures have been added.

There are in fact two hotels in the village and although I haven’t checked them out I thought I would share them with you for the sake of information.

Casa Jade Eco Bungalows Las Coloradas – Check information and availability on Booking.com

Piña Coloradas Eco Lodge – although this name came out in google I couldn’t find information about it. so if Casa Jade turns out to be too expensive you can just go to las Coloradas and see what else is available. Sometimes local simple B&B is not online.


Suggested Itinerary to Las Coloradas

If you are driving around the Yucatan peninsula, 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

Where else in Mexico we can see the 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 and all the way to Dzibichaltun, thousands of flamingoes are living in the nearby lagoons. There are now a few tours available which I talk about on my post on Merida beaches.
  • 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 species. 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

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO OPEN THE MAP

Amber

Friday 24th of April 2020

Super detailed. Your pictures are beautiful!

Isabella Biava

Friday 24th of April 2020

Thanks a lot Amber :)

Belinda

Thursday 23rd of April 2020

Very Interesting insight into a less commercial side of Mexico!

Isabella Biava

Friday 24th of April 2020

Thanks, Belinda, it's becoming commercial too, I am afraid but still beautiful and luckily unspoiled.

Rhonda Albom

Thursday 23rd of April 2020

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.

Isabella Biava

Thursday 23rd of April 2020

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. :)

Lauren

Thursday 23rd of April 2020

Omg I’ve wanted to go here SO badly! Thanks for all this!!! Definitely saving for someday soon :)

Isabella Biava

Thursday 23rd of April 2020

Thanks Lauren. It's totally worth the trip :)

Emma

Thursday 23rd of April 2020

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

Isabella Biava

Thursday 23rd of April 2020

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. :)

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