Most travelers to Bacalar, Mexico are headed to this sleepy yet charming town to experience one thing—its stunning Lagoon of Seven Colors. And what could be a better way to get out and enjoy the electric blue water than cruising through the lagoon on your very own boat. Here’s everything you need to know about Bacalar boat tours (including the three best tours!) to make the most of your time out on the jaw-dropping water.
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Before we dive into the best boat tours in Bacalar, let’s back up for a second.
Frequently Asked Questions about Bacalar
What’s the Bacalar Lagoon?
Because of the eye-popping bright blue water, Bacalar is frequently called the Maldives of Mexico. But, like, why is there a random freshwater lagoon with seven vibrant shades of blue in the middle of the Yucatan peninsula?
Well, if you’re traveling in this part of Mexico, you’ve almost certainly heard of cenotes (pronounced suh-NO-tays). They’re essentially sinkholes that collapse in the Yucatan’s porous limestone bedrock and fill with cool underground freshwater.
While other cenotes that you might find around the Yucatan, like Gran Cenote in Tulum or Cenote Yokdzonot near Chichen Itza, are singular sinkholes, the Bacalar Lagoon is made of a TON of different cenotes that all collapsed together, forming an enormous 26-mile long lagoon. In fact, it’s Mexico’s largest body of freshwater!
The different shades of blue seen in the Bacalar Lagoon is, in part, due to an optical illusion, caused by the sandy white floor of the lagoon, as well as its varying depth, ranging from about one meter to over 90 meters deep.
What can I Expect on a Bacalar Boat Tour?
Going on a boat tour is one of the most popular things to do in Bacalar, so perhaps it’s unsurprising there’ about a bajillion tour companies here. While these boat tours largely follow the same tour route, one of the largest differences is based on what kind of boat you’ll be on.
If you’re going on a larger group tour, pontoon boats are the way to go, as you’ll likely have your own, reasonably comfy seat and room to move around and take in the views. On the other hand, if you’re a budget traveler, tours on a motorboat are usually cheaper, given you’ll mostly be confined to your seat during the tour. It’s also worth mentioning that cheaper tours typically only have guides that speak Spanish.
Smaller group tours can take sailboats, which, in my opinion, is the best option- it doesn’t pollute the lagoon, the size of your group is limited, and you’ll still be able to meander around the vessel as you please.
Beyond the kind of boat you’ll be on, each tour company provides its own flair, from eating snacks off a floating surfboard to teaching you how to sail (but more on that later!). Besides these kinds of perks, though, all of the Bacalar boat tours follow the same formula (unless you’re on a private tour), stopping at the following locations:
- Cenote Negro earned its alternative name of Cenote de la Brujas (“The Witch’s Cenote”), due to a local legend that a Mayan witch lived on its shores. The cenote’s official name, though, comes from the cenote’s dark blue color, caused by the significant drop in the floor of the Bacalar Lagoon, from two meters all the way down to 90 meters.
Although most cenotes are surrounded by land, Cenote Negro, as well as all of the other cenotes you’ll stop at on your Bacalar boat tour, are part of the lagoon itself.
- Cenote Esmerelda has navy blue waters, due to its 70 meters depth. It’s best known for having a distinct turquoise ring around it, or an “eye”, where the shallow water of the lagoon meets the deep waters of the cenote.
- Cenote Cocalitos is, for the most part, quite shallow and thus, offers warm, turquoise water. It’s also one of the best places in Bacalar to see stromatolites, a very rare type of living fossil found in the lagoon.
So, even if you stop here to enjoy the colorful water during your boat tour, I’d actually recommend coming back another day to visit the beach club!
- Canal de los Piratas (meaning “Pirates Channel”), a narrow channel of electric blue water, is the main event of any Bacalar boat tour. Hundreds of years ago, this body of water was used by the Mayans for trade. Eventually, pirates caught wind of how prosperous this region was and started to use the channel as a way to sneak attack Bacalar.
Nowadays, you arrrrrren’t likely to find any pirates (pirate pun!), but your tour will stop here and allow you to enjoy the shallow water and plentiful sand bars to relax on.
- Isla de Los Pájarosa (“Bird Island”) is a strip of land, surrounded by bright turquoise water, that serves as a sanctuary for migratory birds, like parrots, hawks, and owls.
Almost all Bacalar boat tours cruise past Bird Island, but it’s hit or miss whether they actually stop here. Even if your tour “stops” here, it usually anchors pretty far away from the actual island. Stepping foot on the island is discouraged, as it would be disruptive to the birds, so either way, you’ll almost certainly be admiring Bird Island from a distance!
Depending on which tour you go on, you’ll have the opportunity at a couple of the spots listed above to jump into the water, swim, snorkel, and take in the incredible beauty that is the Lagoon of Seven Colors!
Best Bacalar Boat Tours
Despite all of the Bacalar boat tours generally stopping at the same spots, the one you choose can kind of make or break your experience here. Check out reviews on TripAdvisor and it’s not hard to find folks complaining about tours where they were promised a bilingual guide, who turned out to only speak Spanish; boats that break down in the middle of tours; or uncomfortable boat rides where you’re squished into a bench with way too many other travelers.
So which Bacalar boat tours are worth your time and money? Here’s some recommendations, based on what kind of traveler you are.
Best Tour for Ecoconcious Travelers
Wild Wave is one of the only companies in Bacalar, who exclusively provide trips by sailboat.
As noted above, non-motorized boats are generally better for the environment- they’re quieter and calmer, which is less disruptive to the wildlife who call the lagoon home, and do not discharge gas and pollutants the same way that motorboats do. This is especially important in the Bacalar Lagoon, whose clarity and beautiful colors may change over time if pollutants wind up negatively impacting the water’s pH.
For full transparency, Wild Wave’s boats, like most sailboats, do have motors in the event there’s limited wind, but, so long as there’s enough of a breeze to get around, they prioritize using their sails instead.
On Wild Wave’s three and a half hour afternoon tour, you’ll learn all about the lagoon’s history and its ecosystem from your knowledgeable guides. In fact, if you’re looking for a family-friendly tour, this is a great option as well- the guides are bursting with fun facts about the region’s wildlife, especially the birds at Isla de Los Pájarosa.
Beyond learning all of the things about Bacalar, you’ll cruise around the stunning lagoon, stop twice for a dip in the water, and cap off your lovely day with some tropical fruit and cold beer.
Best tour for Solo Travelers
There’s lots of pros and cons to solo traveling, but one of my favorite aspects of it is that you’re way more prone to make new friends with other travelers and locals on the road, as opposed to if you were already traveling with people you know.
This four hour cruise, which includes a (very generous) open bar and heaping snack board, served on a floating surfboard in the water(!!!), of fresh tropical fruits, is the perfect opportunity to connect with other travelers who are looking to have fun.
The boat usually stops three times for swim breaks and the enthusiastic guides create a jovial atmosphere—the free flowing tequila shots (which may or may not be poured directly in your mouth) and cold beer certainly don’t hurt. But this isn’t just a party cruise- you’ll learn interesting history about Bacalar and its lagoon from your friendly guides. If you’re looking to have a good time with friends—or make some new ones, this tour is definitely your best bet.
Best Tour for Couples
If you’re headed to Bacalar for your honeymoon or another romantic getaway, consider booking a private tour instead. All things considered, private tours are usually not outrageously pricey (usually ranging from $180 to up to $250 for your entire private group for up to 6 guests, with your very own dedicated crew!).
Better yet, you have control of where you want to go during the tour- so if you’re feeling like escaping the crowds (like heading to the much calmer northern part of the lagoon) you can totally decide to ditch the same five spots where every other tour boat goes.
On this three-hour private tour, the crew will teach you how to sail and you can put your skills to the test in the lagoon (with the support of the staff, of course- liability and all that jazz). Alternatively, if you prefer to just lounge on the deck and soak up the sun, you can totally do that too- it’s your private tour!
As with the other options, you’ll get tropical fruit and beers, local guides that are full of fascinating facts about Bacalar, and opportunities to swim- but on this tour, you’ll get to dictate exactly when and where.
Other Frequently Asked Questions about Boat Tours in Bacalar
Do I need to book a tour ahead of time?
There’s about a zillion operators in Bacalar who may or may not aggressively ask if you want to get on their boat while you’re walking around the downtown area. So no, you definitely don’t need to book a tour ahead of time. In fact, you’ll probably be able to find much cheaper tours if you book in person (saving you about $10 or so a person).
That being said, the majority of those bazillion tour operators are on small, cramped motorboats, where the guides do not speak English. Remember, Bacalar is still predominantly visited by domestic tourists, meaning a lot of the infrastructure is decidedly not geared towards English-speaking visitors. And given the limited supply of tours provided in English or on more comfortable boats, it’s not uncommon to find tours that offer these aspects booked out several days in advance.
All that is to say, if you’d prefer to have a more comfortable tour and learn about Bacalar and its incredible lagoon with an English-speaking guide, it’s probably just worth it to book your tour online.
Is there anything I should bring on my Bacalar Boat Tour?
Yes, there’s a few things I’d suggest bringing along!
- Rashguard and other sun protection: To preserve the pH balance, and thereby the color, of the lagoon and to protect the stromatolites, you’ll be asked not to wear sunscreen of any kind until you’re done swimming in the water during your boat tour.
Since you’re gonna be soaking up LOTS of sun on the tour, make sure your Mexico packing list includes some kind of sun protection, like a rashguard (here’s an option for women and men) and a baseball hat, to avoid getting burnt like I did when I was in the Bacalar Lagoon!
- Drinks and snacks: If you’re not into the beer and tropical fruit combo that’s offered by the tour companies, you’re welcome to bring along whatever snacks and drinks you like. I’ve even heard of some guests literally bringing their own entire coolers on board!
- Cash: Listen, I’ve seen some Bacalar tour guides that quite literally sing and dance for their guests. Tip ‘em well, friends!
There you have it- everything you need to know about touring the lagoon, including the very best boat tours. Do you have any questions about visiting the lagoon or recommendations of tour companies? Let me hear ‘em in the comments below!