Bacalar, Mexico is known for one thing- the famed Bacalar Lagoon, also known as the Lagoon of Seven Colors. Its water is a variety of stunning shades of turquoise, which led to Bacalar being referred to as “The Maldives of Mexico.” So if you want to take a dip in the electric blue water, grab your beach towel and sunglasses- here’s everything you need to know about the Bacalar Lagoon.
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What is the Bacalar Lagoon?
The Bacalar Lagoon is a 26-mile long lagoon and actually holds the title of the largest freshwater body of water in Mexico. But why is there a massive electric blue lagoon in the middle of the Yucatan Peninsula?
Well, if you’ve started to research anything about the Yucatan, you’ve probably heard of a cenote (pronounced suh-NO-tay). These are essentially sinkholes that form when the Yucatan’s porous limestone bedrock collapses, which then fill with the cool, clear groundwater.
Most cenotes, like Bacalar’s own Cenote Azul or Cenote Yokdzonot, near Chichen Itza, are singular sinkholes that are totally enclosed by land. The Bacalar Lagoon, on the other hand, is the product of when a bunch of cenotes formed and actually collapsed in on each other, creating a massive lagoon instead.
Hundreds of years ago, the Bacalar Lagoon helped make the Mayans that lived along its shores quite wealthy, as it enabled easy trade throughout the rest of Central America. Eventually, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the lagoon started working against Bacalar’s inhabitants, when pirates used the lagoon to sneak attack the town, raiding, pillaging, and doing all of the pirate-y things.
The pirates have long since left, but the lagoon is nonetheless incredibly important to the people of Bacalar, drawing over 100,000 visitors to this area every year.
Where is the Bacalar Lagoon located?
The Bacalar Lagoon is located here, in the Yucatan Peninsula in southern Mexico. It’s so far south, in fact, it’s just a half hour drive from the Belizean Border.
That being said, I’ve talked to some other travelers who wanted to visit Bacalar, but thought it was too out of the way to make the trek. Unless your trip to the Yucatan is incredibly short, I don’t necessarily agree with that opinion.
Bacalar is located reasonably close to some of the most popular destinations in the Riviera Maya and is quite easy to get to. For example:
- Cancun to Bacalar is a four hour and 20 minute drive.
- Playa del Carmen to Bacalar is a three and a half hour drive.
- Tulum to Bacalar is a two and a half hour drive.
- Chichen Itza to Bacalar is a three hour and 45 minute drive.
My husband, Justin, and I made the drive from Tulum to stay in Bacalar for a few days during our Yucatan road trip and 10 out of 10, would make that decision again in a heartbeat!
What gives the Bacalar Lagoon its Seven Colors?
The Bacalar Lagoon has its stunning colors, for a couple of different reasons.
As mentioned above, the lagoon is actually a bunch of different cenotes that all collapsed and formed one enormous body of water. These cenotes were all various depths, ranging from 2 meters down to more than 100 meters. The changing depths, in addition to the white sandy floor, creates the illusion of shades of electric blue, turquoise, and navy colors.
Additionally, the lagoon is lined by stromatolites, which, in part, helps filter and keep the water so clear.
If you’ve never heard of a stromatolite before, not to worry- neither did I before Justin and I visited. Essentially, they’re colonies of microorganisms, composed of cyanobacteria and sedimentary particles, that are kind of similar to coral reefs. They look like big ol’ rocky blobs, but in actuality, they’re incredibly rare and the oldest living organism on the planet. In fact, stromatolites actually made life on this planet, as we know it, possible billions of years ago, thanks to the copious amount of oxygen pumped into the atmosphere from their photosynthesis.
The Bacalar Lagoon’s crystal clear water is pretty cool and all, but enabling the creation of life itself? That’s next-level kind of amazing.
When to Visit the Bacalar Lagoon
It’s usually lovely to visit the Bacalar Lagoon year round, but of course, there’s better times than others.
November through April is usually lovely, due to the warm but moderate temperatures and mostly clear skies.
The summers can get pretty hot in Bacalar, with temperatures in the 90s (around 33° C) and rainy skies. Additionally, summer usually overlaps with hurricane season in the Caribbean, and wind and debris from stormy weather can actually cause the lagoon to turn funky, greenish colors. So, while you can certainly visit and have a spectacular time during the summer, it personally wouldn’t be my top choice.
Things to Do in the Bacalar Lagoon
Okay, now that we know about the pirates and stromatolites, let’s get to the good stuff- all of the awesome things to do in the Bacalar Lagoon!
1. Go on a boat tour.
One of the best ways to get acquainted with the area is to go on a boat tour, where you’ll be taken around, by knowledgeable guides, to some of the best spots in the lagoon..
There’s about a bajillion tours here (check out the Bacalar boat tours we recommend, but they all essentially stop at the same five sites:
- Cenote Negro earned its name from its dark waters, caused by the cenote’s depths of 90 meters. I prefer its informal nickname, Cenote de la Brujas (or the Witch’s Cenote), as local legend holds that a Mayan witch lived on its shores. Wicked cool (witch pun)!
- Cenote Cocalitos is one of the more shallow cenotes and thus, offers warm, turquoise waters. It’s also one of the best places to see stromatolites in Bacalar.
- Canal de los Pirates is a narrow channel, where those aforementioned pesky pirates used to secretly enter the lagoon to attack Bacalar. This is kind of the main event of most boat tours, thanks to its electric blue water, with sand bars and tiny islands strewn about.
- Cenote Esmerelda offers more incredibly dark blue waters, due to its staggering 70 meters depth. Beyond the cenote’s color, it also offers one of the most interesting views along the lagoon, with many resorts and unique buildings built up along its shores.
- Isla de Los Pájarosa (or “Bird Island”), true to its name, is a small island that serves as a sanctuary for migratory birds, like parrots, owls, and hawks. Most tours just do a “driveby” of the island, while others may dock here for a while for a swim.
Even if your tour happens to stop here, though, it’ll usually anchor pretty far away from the island itself, as it’s disruptive to the birds for humans to be walking on it. So you’ll just have to admire those parrots from afar!
While almost all of the tours in Bacalar stop at the same places, they do differ in some material respects, like whether you’ll have a bilingual guide, what kind of boat you’re on, and what perks you’ll get during the cruise.
If you’re a budget traveler or don’t care too much about what kind of tour you’ll get, you can totally book one while you’re in Bacalar and save a bit of money. On the other hand, if you want to ensure you have an English-speaking guide or that you’ll be on a more comfortable boat, I’d suggest booking ahead of time, like on this sailboat cruise or on this tour with an open bar.
2. Stand-up paddleboard around the lagoon.
If you’re looking for a bit of a more active way to get out on the water, stand-up paddleboarding (or “SUPing”) around the Bacalar Lagoon is a great option. Stand-up paddleboarding is actually a derivative of surfing and involves standing on a large floating board and propelling yourself forward with a paddle (get ready for those abs to be sore, friends!).
There’s a couple of ways for you to get out on a paddleboard here.
Your accommodations may offer rentals or alternatively, there’s plenty of places to rent boards around town, like this rental from Adventure Lab. Getting your own board allows you to choose-your-own-adventure as you explore the lagoon, whether you want to check out the popular spots or find some hidden gems.
Just be sure you have a plan of action in mind and understand the distances to wherever you’re headed before you start paddling. Unless you get an all-day rental like the one from Adventure Lab above, you’ll be charged by the hour- and will obviously have to paddle back from wherever you go to in the lagoon!
Alternatively, if you’re feeling nervous about exploring the lagoon on your own, there’s plenty of SUP tours to choose from, where you’ll be led by a knowledgeable guide to some of the same stunning sites that the boat tours hit, like Canal de los Pirates and Cenote Negro. If you can swing it, I’d highly suggest booking one for sunrise, like this Bacalar Lagoon SUP tour– we watched the sunrise over the Bacalar Lagoon, with the sun lighting up the turquoise water for the first time of the day and it was nothing short of incredible.
3. Kayaking the lagoon.
If you’d prefer to explore the lagoon whilst sitting, great news! Many accommodations or outfitters in downtown Bacalar offer kayaks to rent.
Much like the paddleboards, if you’d prefer to go with a guide who understands how far it is to the points of interest around the lagoon and exactly how to get there, you can alternatively book a tour, like this sunrise tour by Monkey Adventures.
4. Hang out at a beach club.
Most of the Bacalar Lagoon’s shores are located on private land, so it can actually be surprisingly difficult to access the lagoon. Luckily, there’s plenty of balnearios or beach clubs located on its shores, where you can pay a small fee to access the lagoon and some basic amenities, like a dock, onsite restaurants, and bathrooms.
There’s plenty of beach clubs to choose from in Bacalar.
- If you want to have a more local experience, Balneario Ejidal Mágico Bacalar is where local families go to enjoy the lagoon. I could be wrong, but the three-story water slide into the lagoon may be part of where it gets it’s mágico.
- Wanna treat yourself? Beach Club Blu is definitely one of the most bougie beach clubs in Bacalar, with comfy lounge chairs and a swimming pool overlooking the lagoon.
5. Watch the sunrise.
I alluded to it before, but if you head here and don’t watch the sunrise over the Bacalar Lagoon, you’re doing it wrong. The town is situated on the western side of the lagoon, giving you the perfect vantage point of the sun rising over the horizon, from one of the many docks jutting out into the water.
Accommodations on the lagoon usually have their own docks for guests to enjoy at their leisure (but more on that later!). If you’re not lucky enough to be staying on the lagoon, the town has a few free public docks, found at the end of Calle 14, 16, and 18. When Justin and I visited, the only public dock open at sunrise was the one at Calle 16, but, luckily, it was adorable, with a thatched roof palapa on the end and a ladder to enter the water. Perfect for catching sunrise!
6. Stay on the lagoon.
As mentioned above, almost the entire shoreline of the Bacalar Lagoon is owned by private resorts or residences, meaning you’ll need to go on a tour or to a beach club to access the lagoon. Or alternatively… what if your hotel just so happened to be on the lagoon and offer you direct access instead?
When Justin and I visited Bacalar, we opted to save a few dollars and stayed inland— and regretted it the entire time. We had flown to Mexico, rented a car, drove over three hours to see the Bacalar Lagoon… just to save, like, $20 a night to not stay at lodging on its incredible waters? It was just sort of a silly decision.
So make better life choices than us and book a hotel on the lagoon, where you won’t have to fart around with finding public docks to watch sunrise and can usually rent kayaks and SUPs for a nominal price. Check out:
- Yak Lake House, a hostel that would be awesome for solo travelers, those looking for a social atmosphere, or travelers that want to stay on the lagoon on a tighter budget. There’s always tons of activities going on here, including sunrise SUP tours!
- Mi Kasa Tu Kasa Bacalar is a bit on the more upscale end of the spectrum, with gorgeous grounds, a private pool, and tons of extra perks, like complimentary SUP and kayak rentals and continental breakfast.
- Puerta del Cielo is a fairly new property, with incredible amenities, like a terrace overlooking Bacalar Lagoon, a pool surrounded by lush greenery, and balconies in every room.
7. Float down Los Rapidos.
One of the most fun things to do in Bacalar, in my opinion, is to visit Los Rapidos. This is a narrow section of the Bacalar Lagoon, which has a gentle current, creating Mother Nature’s version of a lazy river.
A balneario was built along this part of the lagoon, which constructed a long wooden boardwalk along the shoreline. So you can walk upstream along this boardwalk, hop in the river, let it carry you downstream, and… basically do that over and over again, all day (with plenty of breaks for cervezas at the on-site restaurant in between)!
It may sound kind of goofy, but Los Rapidos is a ridiculous amount of fun. You can either just float with your body, bring along your own float, or rent a kayak onsite. Plus, the gorgeous scenery in this portion of the lagoon, which is lined with mangroves and enormous stromatolites, makes it that much more fun.
If you’re interested in learning more about this unique place, we wrote an entire post all about Los Rapidos.
Tips on Visiting the Bacalar Lagoon
The Bacalar Lagoon is an incredibly special place, so let’s keep it that way! Here’s how you can help:
- Don’t wear sunscreen (yes, even reef-safe or the biodegradable type) when you go in the water. The oils and chemicals in sunscreen will leech off your skin, which can lead to the lagoon losing its beautiful colors, by negatively impacting the pH of the water, and damaging the fragile stromatolites. Instead, make sure that your Mexico packing list has some kind of alternative sun protection that you can wear in the water, like this rashguard with SPF for men and this rashguard for women.
While we’re on the topic of protecting the lagoon, be sure not to put any kind of foreign matter in the lagoon, from cigarette butts to pee (sounds gross, but we all know it happens). Given the lagoon is enclosed, these kinds of pollutants don’t have anywhere to dissipate and, over time, will wreak havoc on the lagoon’s fragile ecosystem.
- Don’t walk on, kick, or touch the stromatolites. I know that I said that stromatolites look like blobs, but they’re decidedly not rocks. And in fact, they’re actually quite fragile (in addition to being incredibly rare and, might I remind you, the oldest living organism on the planet).
So don’t step on or kick the stromatolites, even if you see others doing it (which you will, especially at Los Rapidos). Let’s treat these creatures as the uniquely beautiful part of nature that they are!
Have the best time exploring the Bacalar Lagoon- it’s one of my favorite places on the planet. Do you have any questions about visiting the lagoon or Bacalar? Let me know in the comments below!