Bacalar, Mexico: Visiting The Serene Pearl of Yucatan
Have you just crossed borders from Belize to Mexico, or are you looking for a beautiful day trip from Tulum? Bacalar, a small and relatively unknown destination in Quintana Roo state, Yucatan, with stunning blue lagoon, is the place to explore. Read our guide on the best things to do when visiting Bacalar.
Yucatan is Mexico's top destination, and it can be challenging to find your own piece of paradise.
Although Lagoon Bacalar is not completely unknown, it still has to compete with many ruins, cenotes, and resorts occupying the heavily-visited peninsula, therefore it is still relatively peaceful and not crowded at all. Mexico is a large country with many hidden gems, but Lagoon Bacalar stands out in particular because of its beauty, and we believe it won't take long until this place would make it to every travelers' itinerary.
The low key vibe and hard-to-count number of shades of blue are reasons why to travel to the south part of Quintana Roo. Bacalar town lies on the shore of mesmerizing crystal clear water, and most of the activities are closely connected with water. The town itself is pretty too, but the main star here is for sure the lake.
We've put together a list of best things to do in Bacalar, and no matter, if you are visiting Bacalar only for a day or plan on staying overnight, try to do as much as you can!
SWIM IN LAGUNA BACALAR ALIAS THE LAKE OF SEVEN COLORS
There is a reason why is Laguna Bacalar known as Lake of Seven Colors.
The blue color of the water is out of this world, and the lake changes its color depending on daytime and intensity of sunshine. If you want to know how many shades of blue a lake can have, head to Bacalar. Water in Bacalar lagoon is shallow, fresh, and the sandy bed of the lake contributes to the crystal clear color as well.
No wonder that the lake is the main reason why to visit Bacalar and no wonder that most of the activities take place on the water.
Lake Bacalar is one of the largest lakes in Mexico, and the uniqueness of the lake put Bacalar on the tourist map as the Mexican government proclaimed the lagoon on a list of Pueblos Magicos alias Enchanting Towns.
RENT A KAYAK OR PADDLE BOARD
One of the most favorite things to do in Bacalar is to rent a kayak or paddle board and set off exploring the lagoon on your own pace.
The strikingly blue lagoon looks again differently when you get further from the shore, so do not hesitate and rent a kayak in either one of the hostels (a popular backpacker spot is Green Monkey Hostel), or in one of the lake-front shops.
Regular price is Mx 300 for 3 hours of kayaking. Kayaking gives you more time to enjoy nature and watch birds flying close to the shore.
Paddleboarding is yet another way how to enjoy Lake Bacalar. You can do it independently, or you can join, for example, sunrise SUP tour.
TAKE A BOAT TOUR
We cannot even count how many touts on approximately two hundred meters between the principal plaza and the lagoon asked us if we were not interested in a boat tour.
You can choose from a wide range of trips such as sunset boat tour, tour on a yacht, or a regular sailing trip. No matter what is your preference, guides will show you the best spots on Laguna Bacalar in only a couple of hours, and you will have enough time to enjoy swimming and the beautiful surroundings.
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EXPLORE FORT SAN FELIPE
Right on the main square, just behind the touristy colorful photo sign Bacalar stands San Felipe Fort.
The fort is not large but is very photogenic because of the turquoise water is shimmering behind it. A small museum is within the fort where you can learn more about pirate's history of Bacalar. Entrance fee is pretty steep Mx 100 for foreigners, and the site is closed on Mondays.
The San Felipe Fort was built in the 17th century with a purpose to protect Bacalar from endless pirate raids at that time. The fort was completed in 1733, and since then Spaniards were able to defend the area more successfully.
RELAX ON THE PIER
Access to the Bacalar Lagoon is via several piers around the shore of the lake.
Some are private and belong to hotels, but some are free to enter. We arrived in Bacalar quite early and found a nice jetty only a short walk from San Felipe Fort. Only a couple of minutes after us came quite a lot of people looking for a nice spot to relax and read a book, so if you plan on spending some time to rejuvenate here, come in the morning to make sure there will be a spot available.
VISIT PIRATES CANAL
There are two ways how to get to Pirates Canal. You can either rent a kayak, get to the canal on own (it takes about 20 minutes when paddling non-stop) and stay as long as you wish, or you can join an organized boat tour - we don't know about any company in Bacalar who doesn't have the Pirates Canal on the itinerary.
The water in Pirates Canal is shallow, only waist-deep, so it is not much about swimming here, but more about enjoying the incredibly light blue water and sandy beach.
The canal got its name because of pirate raids in the 17th century who were using this passageway to enter the town.
There is a unique mud with high mineral content in the waters of Pirates Canal, so you can rub it all over your body, let the mud work for a couple of minutes, and enjoy free body mask.
CHURCH OF SAN JOAQUIN
Just a stone's throw from the main plaza is Church of San Joaquin, an elegant structure from the 18th century. Bacalar is a traditional Mexican town, so a street lined with colorful houses will lead you to the church. Do not hesitate to go inside as the main reason to admire the church is its vaulted ceiling.
ENJOY CENOTE AZUL
Visiting Cenote Azul, only four kilometers from Bacalar is another thing you can do in the area.
This cenote was a bit different than others we've seen on Yucatan as it is not inside the cave, it looks rather as an open lake.
The cenote is pretty deep, 90 meters, and you can swim, snorkel or dive here. Cenote Azul is near a small village Xul-Ha, 15 minutes drive from Bacalar, and you can get there by car, colectivo, taxi or more active travelers can rent a bike.
The entrance fee is Mx 25, the only disadvantage is, you need to walk through a restaurant which has a monopoly on services here.
PLAY IN KAN K'IN BACALAR
When you have enough of relaxing on the shore of the Bacalar lagoon, you can head only fifteen minutes inland by car where you will find an adventure park offering five zip-lines through the jungle.
The park also features great views of both impressive lagoon and green tree tops. This activity doesn't come cheap though expect to pay $55 per adult person.
We recommend visiting the park when you are staying in Bacalar for longer, and look for a new and exciting activity how to spice up your days.
Only an hour drive from Bacalar lies a large ruins complex, Kohunlich Ruins.
Despite its size and the fact that these ruins are one of the oldest on Yucatan (Kohunlich was inhabited from 200 BC to 600 AD), you won't meet here many people, especially when you are traveling on own. Tour usually leave around lunchtime, so arriving in the afternoon is the best to avoid crowds.
If you decide to visit this complex, you must either take a tour from Bacalar or drive your rental car here as public transport is non-existent. There is also an option to take a private taxi from Bacalar, but it is not cheap.
Entrance fee to the site covering 21 acres is Mx 75, and for this price you will get a lots of fun as there are many paths to walk and many structures to climb.
WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING BACALAR
A small city Bacalar is conveniently located between large border city Chetumal and touristy Tulum, but there are also plenty of options on where to stay even when you decide to spend a night in Bacalar.
We've handpicked a well-rated hotel in every destination for your comfortable stay.
Chetumal | Hotel Casa Blanca - Modern and clean hotel offers spacious rooms, air-conditioning, good wifi, and easy access to the city.
Tulum | Xcsape Tulum - This well-priced hotel is located in the quiet part of Tulum, yet is still close to the city center. The property offers an outdoor pool, well-kept garden and nicely-equipped rooms.
Bacalar | Kulu Tubohostel Bacalar - An unusual concept of this hostel is the main feature of why to stay here (you sleep in tubes), but great breakfast, a little bar, free bikes, and outdoor swimming pool make this place even more exceptional.
HOW TO GET TO BACALAR
We found out that the most popular way how to travel around Mexico is to rent a car - the main roads between tourist places are in good condition, and if you are coming to Mexico only for a holiday, this is the most comfortable how to explore the country.
When traveling to Bacalar from either Chetumal (less than an hour, road 186 and 307) or Tulum (less than two hours, road 307), only follow road signs.
When traveling in Mexico by bus, we found the most convenient and safe to use ADO buses. From Tulum ADO bus terminal, take an hourly second-class minivan to Bacalar. The price differs depending on what time you travel (we paid MX 45 on the way to Bacalar and Mx 76 from Bacalar to Chetumal).
A bus from Tulum to Bacalar also runs almost every hour and cost approximately Mx 200 when traveling on the first-class bus.
You can even take a tour to Lake Bacalar from Cancun, but prepare yourself to spend a lot of time on a bus.
WHAT TO PACK FOR BACALAR
You don't need to pack many things for visiting Bacalar on a one-day trip.
Here are three essential things to bring with you.
Dry Backpack | Anytime we know that we will be near water, we always carry a dry backpack to keep our valuables safe.
GoPro | Adventure camera is a good investment when you plan on active vacation and for all water activities.
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