Bacalar is a not-to-be-missed gem in the Yucatan Peninsula, thanks to its Lagoon of Seven Colors and its stunning electric blue water. This sleepy town, located in the south of Quintana Roo, is home to one of the Yucatan’s most unique and fun activities- Los Rapidos, Bacalar’s very own natural lazy river.
So if spending the day being effortlessly carried down a river of warm, turquoise water while palm trees sway overhead sounds like a good time to you, you should definitely add Los Rapidos Bacalar to your bucketlist. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Los Rapidos Bacalar.
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In my opinion, Los Rapidos is one of the best things to do in Bacalar. But, given that this place (and even the town itself!), has mostly flown under the mass-tourism radar, let’s back up a bit.
Frequently Asked Questions about Los Rapidos Bacalar
What is the Lagoon of Seven Colors in Bacalar?
If you’re traveling around the Yucatan, you’ve almost undoubtedly heard about cenotes, sinkholes formed by the porous limestone bedrock that have filled with groundwater. It’s believed that the cenotes were possibly caused, in some way, by the asteroid that struck the Yucatan, leaving behind the Chicxulub crater and leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Cenotes have been important to the people inhabiting the Yucatan for thousands of years- they were a consistent source of freshwater for the Mayans and used in religious ceremonies, including those that involved human sacrifice. Nowadays, they’re used for less intense purposes, with tourists flocking to the cenotes near Tulum and across the Yucatan for scuba diving, cliff jumping, and just cooling off under the hot Mexican sun.
The Bacalar Lagoon is actually a series of cenotes, like Cenote Cocalitos and Cenote Negro, that collapsed in on each other, creating the largest freshwater body of water in the entire country, spanning 26 miles long. Its waters are clear and eye-popping shades of blue, thanks to the white sand lining its floor and the varying depths throughout the lagoon, ranging from a few feet to three hundred feet deep.
What is Los Rapidos Bacalar?
Los Rapidos is a narrow section of the lagoon, lined with stromatolites (which I’ll explain below) and mangroves. Because of the narrowing of this channel, there’s a bit of a current, which is gentle enough to slowly push you or your kayak down the beautiful turquoise water, but doesn’t feel out-of-control or like actual “rapids” when you’re floating along in the water.
Right next to this section of the lagoon, there’s a balneario (or “beach club”) of sorts, called Los Rapidos Bacalar, where you have to pay to access the water. The admission charge is 160 MXN (or $8 USD), which provides you access all day.
What are stromatolites?
You’ll see these cool amorphous rocky formations all along the perimeter of the Bacalar Lagoon, which somehow make the vibrant colors of the water look even more stunning. But these formations aren’t rocks at all- they’re actually the oldest living organism on the planet, called stromatolites.
So what the heck is a stromatolite (I’d frankly never heard of them before my husband, Justin, and I recently did a road trip around the Yucatan)?
They’re microbial reefs, formed by teeny photosynthesizing organisms called cyanobacteria. As sand and other sediment moves and settles in shallow water, cyanobacteria grows over it and binds the sedimentary particles together, until a blobby rock-looking formation is created.
Bacalar is one of the few places on Earth where you can see stromatolites, which not only hold the whole “oldest living organism on Earth” title, but also are incredibly important to our planet. They produce a ton of oxygen and have been named by scientists as equally as important to our environment as forests.
So, with that said, they deserve to be protected! Here’s some things you should know:
- Similar to many of the cenotes in the area, like Cenote Azul Bacalar, you’re not allowed to wear sunscreen in all of the Bacalar Lagoon, as the chemicals in the sunscreen can alter the pH of the water, which, in turn, may destroy the water’s beautiful color and damage the stromatolites’ environment.
- As mentioned above, stromatolites line the entire canal along Los Rapidos, which many people have taken to be an invitation to step on them to get in and out of the water. There are tons of signs all over Bacalar- and all over Los Rapidos Bacalar- to not do this as it can damage the stromatolites. So don’t be that guy!
There are plenty of places to safely get in and out of the water without stomping all over these unique beings. In fact, just don’t touch them at all!
- Don’t pee in the water! I know it sounds gross, but we all know it happens. Since Bacalar Lagoon is a standing body of water, there’s nothing to dissipate the urine, which, again, can negatively affect the pH balance of the lagoon and the stromatolites’ environment.
How to Get to Los Rapidos Bacalar
Los Rapidos Bacalar is located here, 13.6 km south of Bacalar’s downtown area. Most of the journey is along a well-maintained highway, but the last 2 km is a bumpy gravel road with some serious potholes (but nothing that a sedan with some slow driving and keen navigating can’t handle).
If you have a rental car (and I recommend that you do to explore the Yucatan!), it’s a short 20-minute drive to Los Rapidos Bacalar’s parking lot. You can also get a taxi, which should cost around 200 MXN ($10 USD) each way.
Tip: We arrived half an hour early to beat the crowds and found a line of taxis waiting outside of a locked gate, where the highway turns off on the gravel road. The staff unlocked the gate at exactly 10 AM, so, if the people in the taxis were paying by the meter, they’d have to waste a lot of money, just waiting around. If you arrive by taxi, don’t show up before they actually open!
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, you can take a collectivo from downtown Bacalar. However, it will drop you off along the highway area, so you’ll need to walk the length of the gravel road to reach Los Rapidos Bacalar.
Alternatively, some hotels in Bacalar, like the El Roble Hotel, have bikes for rent, which you could take for a 40 minute ride to Los Rapidos.
Things to do at Los Rapidos Bacalar
Once you pay your entrance fee to Los Rapidos Bacalar, you can enjoy the rest of your day in a variety of ways:
1. Floating down the river: The majority of people come here to just use Los Rapidos as a lazy river- including us!
Los Rapidos Bacalar has constructed a long, wooden boardwalk running parallel to the river so that you can walk upstream quite a bit, jump into the turquoise water, let the current carry you back to where you started, and do it all over again pretty much all day long! Did I mention how much fun this place is?!
The canal is shallow in most places and the current is pretty gentle, but I’d still recommend wearing a life jacket, which is included in your admission price- it allows you to truly just float on by!
2. Snorkeling. Grab your snorkel gear and swim through that crystal clear water.
To be honest, you’re probably only going to see a few fish and snails here and there, but seeing the mangroves and stromatolites underwater is pretty cool!
3. Kayaking or paddleboarding. You can rent kayaks here, either 200 MXN for a single or 400 MXN for a double, or paddleboards for approximately the same price. Paddle upstream quite a bit and then let the current carry you back to the beach club, floating along the crystal turquoise water past the incredible mangroves and stromatolites.
4. Soaking up the sun. The beach club has a variety of hammocks, lounges, and tables overlooking the canal to kick back and relax under the warm sun.
You have to pay for the nicer lounge chairs, daybeds, or hammocks if you want a consistent homebase for the day, but there’s plenty of other seating at the restaurant where you can relax, down a Corona, and take in the views around you.
A few things to note:
- Many reviewers have complained that there’s a 300 MXN minimum spend to sit at any of the chairs in the restaurant area. For what it’s worth, we left our towels on two chairs right along the lagoon all day and, while we purchased some food and beer, were never told to move our stuff or that there was any kind of minimum spend.
But, if you’re on a shoestring budget, definitely something to be aware of, especially if you’re visiting during a busier time of year (like December), when these requirements are more likely to be enforced!
- Many reviewers have also expressed discontent about the level of service they received at the restaurant. When we ate there, the service was a bit slow, but otherwise, perfectly pleasant. I would go in with the expectation that you’ll be on beach time and maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
In addition to the amenities listed above, there’s also changing rooms, bathrooms, and showers (which are free) and lockers (which is 50 MXN to rent plus a 50 MXN deposit). You’ll have to bring your own towel– they do not have any to rent here.
Tips for Visiting Los Rapidos Bacalar
- As mentioned above, you can’t wear sunscreen anywhere in the Bacalar Lagoon. So, in addition to including your swimsuit and a towel on your Mexico packing list, pack some additional sun protection, like a rashguard (here’s an option for women and men) and a baseball hat, to avoid getting burnt like I did!
- Between its incredible colors and its stromatolites, the Bacalar Lagoon is an incredibly special place. So treat it as such!
- Don’t touch, remove, or otherwise harass any wildlife along the way, including the chivita snail, which filters the lagoon’s waters and is critical to maintaining its environment.
- Don’t anchor yourself or navigate through the mangroves and reeds. They serve as a nesting ground for birds and snails, which, again, is an important part of the lagoon’s environment.
- Treat touching the stromatolites in any fashion akin to kicking a puppy- just don’t do it! There’s really no reason to.
While they have signs all over Los Rapidos Bacalar with these warnings, if I had one complaint about this place, it would be that I wish they were doing more to protect the environment- for example, making people take showers before they get in the water to ensure any lotions or oils have been removed (which is a common practice for other cenotes in the area) and having a staff member specifically assigned to yell at people to get off the stromatolites.
Los Rapidos Bacalar should absolutely do everything they can to protect the environment, but so should you and I. So, like any place else, leave it better than you found it!
Now go have a blast at Los Rapidos Bacalar. Let me know if you have any questions about visiting in the comments below- lazy river floating in the Yucatan is one of my favorite topics!