Bacalar is a pueblo magico (or magical town) in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, just 215 miles southwest of Cancun. It’s known for its Lagoon of 7 Colors, a stunning freshwater lagoon with shockingly turquoise waters and endless opportunities to cool off under the hot Mexican sun.
Because of its location near the Belize border, Bacalar is still a bit of a hidden gem for most foreign tourists, but this little town is definitely not to be missed- it’s my favorite in all of Mexico!
Here’s 10 incredible things to do in Bacalar, Mexico to add to your bucket list.
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Before we dive in, let’s chat about some commonly asked questions about Bacalar.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bacalar
How do I get to Bacalar?
Bacalar is pretty far south in the Yucatán, less than half an hour from the Belize border. The closest international airport is the Cancun International Airport, about four hours away by car- assuming you’re coming from around the Cancun area, you can get to Bacalar a couple of different ways.
The most affordable option is to catch an ADO bus to Bacalar. ADO is the largest private bus company in Mexico, with affordable yet comfy buses (most even have bathrooms) and routes all over the place. So whether you’re leaving from a location around the Yucatán, like the popular resort towns of Playa del Carmen or Tulum, or from farther away, like Mexico City, there’s almost certainly an ADO bus route that will get you to Bacalar.
Alternatively, you can rent a car to get to Bacalar, which is how my husband, Justin, and I got here. Unlike most parts of Mexico, the roads around the Yucatán are fairly well-maintained and once you get the hang of driving here, it’s definitely manageable for most drivers. We loved the flexibility that having a rental car afforded us!
Why does its lagoon have so many colors?
If you’ve been researching the Yucatán at all, you’ve almost certainly heard of cenotes, which are essentially sinkholes, formed by the region’s porous limestone bedrock, filled with fresh groundwater. Cenotes have held significant importance here for several millennia- they provided the Mayans with a stable source of drinking water and were used in religious ceremonies, including those involving human sacrifices.
Human sacrifices aside, the Bacalar Lagoon is actually a combination of a bunch of cenotes that have collapsed together and formed a 26-mile long lagoon (the largest freshwater body in Mexico!). It gets its seven vibrant colors, thanks to the white sandy bottom and its crystal clear waters of varying depths.
To protect the lagoon and its vibrant colors during your visit, you’ve gotta follow some rules while you’re in the water, including, most importantly, not wearing sunscreen (even the reef safe or biodegradable kind!), given that it can negatively affect the pH balance of the water and damage its fragile ecosystem.
So, if you want to enjoy the lagoon under the hot Mexican sun, I’d recommend including a rashguard (like this one for men and this one for women) on your Mexico packing list to protect that precious skin of yours.
For similar reasons, you can’t pee in the lagoon (I know it sounds gross, but let’s be real- we all know it happens!) or bring pets in it. Let’s keep those colors in the lagoon nice, vibrant, and pee-free!
What’s the best time to visit Bacalar?
This stunning town is warm and lovely to visit year round, but if you’re looking for consistently dry weather with pleasant temperatures, I’d recommend December (it’s a lovely place to enjoy the beach on Christmas!), January, February, or March.
How Many Days Should I Stay in Bacalar?
Bacalar is a pretty teeny town, with most activities here revolving around enjoying the lagoon. To make the most of this pueblo magico, I’d recommend spending 2-3 days here to relax and the chilled out vibes and incredible lagoon views that Bacalar has to offer.
Things to do in Bacalar
Let’s get to the good stuff- exactly how you should spend your days exploring Bacalar!
1. Cenote Azul
While the entire lagoon is comprised of a bunch of different cenotes, there’s still a few somewhat discrete cenotes bordering the lagoon’s edge, including Cenote Azul Bacalar.
Cenote Azul is huge- one of the largest cenotes in the entire country- and, true to its name, is filled with dark blue water. You can simply swim to cool off on a hot day here or, with plenty of fish swimming around, you could alternatively snorkel or even scuba dive (the cenote is a whopping 90 meters deep, with plenty of caverns to be explored!).
The cenote definitely has a local vibe to it and has the prices to prove it, costing just 25 pesos (or a bit over a dollar!) to get in. There’s a small restaurant, where you can grab a cerveza and some reasonably-priced guacamole if you get hungry mid-swim.
Cenote Azul is located less than 10 minutes drive or a 15 minute bike ride from the downtown area.
2. Paddleboarding on Bacalar Lagoon
One of the most popular things to do in Bacalar is stand-up paddleboarding around the lagoon. Even if you’re a beginner, not to worry- the water is super calm, making it a perfect place to learn.
You can either rent a board from one of several vendors in downtown Bacalar to go explore the lake on your own or go on a guided tour, like this sunrise SUP tour, if you’d rather make sure you’re hitting all its highlights.
If you do decide to rent a paddleboard on your own, the main points of interest that you’re going to want to hit on the lake are:
- Canal de los Pirates: The Pirates Channel is where pirates used to secretly enter the lagoon in the 1700s as they planned their attack on the town.
If the pirate lore isn’t enough to entice you to visit (arrrrgh you crazy?!), the channel is also very photogenic, a narrow strip of vibrant turquoise water with soft white sand bars on each side.
- Cenote Negro: This cenote is also known as Cenote de la Brujas or the Witch’s Cenote, due to a local legend that a Mayan witch lived on its shores. With respect to its less spooky name, the waters of the cenote, which rims the lagoon, is starkly darker than the lake’s bright turquoise water, thanks to the significant drop in the bottom, from 2 meters all the way down to 90 meters.
Both of these sites are a bit far from most of the rental facilities in town, so I’d recommend doing a 24 hour paddelboard rental. This way, you can just relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery and not worry about returning the board in an hour or two.
3. Visit San Felipe Fort
Short history lesson- Bacalar was once an important Mayan trading center before the town was conquered by the Spanish in 1543. But the Spanish weren’t the only ones that had their eyes on Bacalar and its unique landscape- pirates LOVED to ransack this place and used the lagoon as a hiding spot for their ships.
After getting fed up with those damn pirates, the Spanish finally commissioned a fort, surrounded by a deep moat, to protect Bacalar from Blackbeard and all of his scallywag friends. The San Felipe Fort was completed in 1733.
Nowadays, the fort is conveniently located in downtown Bacalar, so it’s an easy stop to tack on after you grab lunch or dinner. It houses a museum (40 pesos for entry), which chronicles local pirate history and, once inside, you can climb on top of it for one of the best views over the lagoon and of course, of Canal de los Pirates. Alternatively, you can simply mosey around the outside of the fort and enjoy its impressive architecture and cannons for free!
4. Explore the downtown area
While Bacalar has generally remained off the main tourist path, it certainly still gets plenty of domestic visitors and the downtown has a plethora of cute bars, restaurants, and shops to prove it!
Its “downtown” is really only a couple of blocks, so you can easily explore it in an afternoon, but be sure to hit:
- La Catrina Bacalar: Super fun bar with live music and salsa dancing
- Mango y Chile: Vegan Mexican fusion comfort food with a fabulous view of the lagoon. The ice cream cookie sandwich is to die for!
- Corazón De Piña: A perfectly curated shop of women’s beachy boho clothing, run by a very friendly and sweet woman
While you’re out exploring, make sure to also keep an eye out for the colorful murals around seemingly every corner in downtown Bacalar!
5. Float down Los Rapidos
Okay, okay- if I could only recommend doing one thing in Bacalar, it would be going to Los Rapidos Bacalar. It’s SO much fun.
Essentially, it’s a narrow section of the lagoon, lined by mangroves and stromatolites. If you’ve never heard of stromatolites before, you’re not alone- they’re actually living fossils, only found in a few places on the planet, and literally the oldest living organisms on the planet. Pretty wild, huh?
The lagoon has a gentle current that acts as a natural lazy river, which you can simply just float down, either with just your body or an actual float, or rent a kayak (200 pesos for a single or 400 for a double, per hour). It sounds kinda goofy, but it’s seriously a blast.
There’s a restaurant onsite that serves up not crazily priced beer and snacks, overlooking the lazy river, and a few hammocks hanging over the water if you need a break from the tough work of floating down the lazy river. It’s the perfect place just to relax and have a fun day.
NOTE: Did you catch above where I said that stromatolites are the oldest living creatures on the planet? These old souls look exactly like rocks, lining the perimeter of the Bacalar Lagoon, but they are very much not rocks- they’re, in fact, similar to coral reefs and are created when cyanobacteria and other photosynthetic microorganisms cement sand and other sediment together. Let’s protect our elders and, much like coral, don’t stand or sit on, kick, or even touch the stromatolites, which can cause them years and years worth of damage. They’ve been rated by scientists as equally as important to Earth’s environment as forests, so let’s show them the utmost care and respect they deserve. Honestly, if I had one complaint about Los Rapidos, I wish they took more affirmative action, other than a handful of signs, to protect the stromatolites from so many people clomping around on these organisms that are largely attributed to breathing life into this planet. end rant Los Rapidos is a bit further from downtown Bacalar about a 20 minute drive southwest of the downtown area or a 40 minute bike ride. It’s worth it thought!
6. Go on a boat tour
One of the most popular things to do in Bacalar is to go on a boat tour- you can cover a lot more ground (or rather, water!) and see a lot more of the lagoon’s seven shades of blue, as compared to a vessel powered just by your arms.
Most of the Bacalar boat tours stop at a similar roster of sites, including the aforementioned Canal de los Pirates, Cenote Negro, and:
- Cenote Esmerelda, which has navy blue waters, thanks to its 70 meter deep water
- Isla de Los Pájarosa or Bird Island, which is known for its population of beautiful tropical birds, like parrots or even owls
- Cenote Cocalitas, which is mostly shallow and thus, has beautiful turquoise water and one of the largest collection of stromatolites in Bacalar
In addition to stopping at some or all of these sites, you’ll usually have time to swim in the water a couple of times on most boat tours.
I’d recommend going on a sailboat tour, like this group one or this private one, given there’s no annoying engine noise and the groups are usually a bit smaller. If you’re on a tighter budget, though, you can still book a nice tour on a pontoon boat for just about $20 USD per person, like this one.
7. Hit up a beach club
Because Bacalar is a lagoon, it doesn’t have the mile long stretches of white sandy beaches, like its neighbors, Tulum and Playa del Carmen, but it certainly has some small stretches of sandy shore.
Almost all of the beaches are owned by private residences or hotels. Of the ones that are “open to the public”, they’re mostly owned by private balnearios or beach clubs, where you pay a nominal fee (usually around 50 pesos or less), to enjoy basic facilities, like a dock, hammocks over the water, and an onsite restaurant.
For more family-friendly beach clubs with a local vibe, I’d recommend checking out Balneario Ejidal Mágico Bacalar, which has an awesome-looking water slide right into the lagoon. For a more bougie experience, check out Beach Club Blu, which offers lounge chairs and a beautiful pool to swim in if, for whatever reason, you don’t want to enjoy the lagoon itself.
8. Watch sunrise over the lagoon
Given Bacalar’s position on the western edge of the lagoon, the sunrises here are nothing short of spectacular and DEFINITELY worth the early morning wake up call. So brew yourself up some coffee and head on out to the docks.
It’s certainly worth booking a hotel directly on the water (I didn’t and seriously regretted it), given that almost all of the docks here are privately owned. In terms of waterfront hotels, check out the Yak Lake House, Hotel Sun Ha Bacalar, and Mi Kasa Tu Casa Bacalar, which offer stellar views right over the lake.
Alternatively, if you make poor life choices, like me, and booked a non-lakeside hotel, you can check out one of the free public docks, found at the end of Calle 14, 16, and 18. When we visited, the only public dock open at 6 AM was the one at Calle 16, but it’s quite cute, with a thatched roof cabana on one end and a ladder to climb in and out of the water. Definitely recommend!
9. Go kayaking
If you’d like a bit more stability than a paddleboard, kayaking around the Bacalar Lagoon is a great option, especially if you’d rather be in the boat with an adventure buddy.
Much like a paddleboard, you can opt to rent a kayak from town or, alternatively, go on a tour with a local guide, like this highly rated sunrise tour. The tours tend to hit a mixture of the sites that boat tours stop at, highlighted above, so if you really want to hit a specific stop, I’d recommend shopping around for a tour with an itinerary that matches your Bacalar bucket list (or, just rent a kayak for the entire day and hit them up on your own!).
10. Visit Mayan ruins
The Yucatán Peninsula was one of the core areas of the ancient Mayan empire and now is the site of hundreds of Mayan temples and other ruins, which tell us all kinds of fascinating things about this incredible civilization.
Although Bacalar was an important commercial center for the Mayans, there are no ruins in the city itself, but if you’re willing to take a daytrip, you have tons of options to explore.
For example, there’s Oxtankah, outside the city of Chetumal (about 50 minutes southeast of Bacalar), which offers a variety of temples, pyramids, and palaces, dating back to as old as 300 BC! Alternatively, Kohunlich (a little over an hour west of Bacalar), tucked away in the middle of a jungle, has five temples dating all the way back to 200 BC. While they’re not as tall as the temples you’ll find at the famed Chichen Itza, you can do your best Indiana Jones impression and climb to the top of them!
While Oxtankah and Kohunlich are the most impressive sites around Bacalar, there’s a handful of other ruins less than two hours away by car, including Becan, Chicanna, Dzibanche and Chacchoben. Or, if you wanna bust out the big guns, consider visiting Chichen Itza– it’s just four hours away!
Where to stay in Bacalar
While you’re in Bacalar, you can either stay in the downtown area or on the lagoon itself. The downtown area is cute and more affordable than staying on the lagoon, but let’s be real- the whole reason everyone comes to Bacalar is to enjoy that incredible water.
So I’d highly recommend trying to find accommodations within your budget on the water- you’ll have direct access to the lagoon and not have to worry about finding a beach club to hang out at- plus you’ll get those spectacular views!
- Yak Lake House: If you’re looking for affordable accommodations, this is the best hostel in Bacalar, with over-the-water hammocks, private rooms (or dorms, if that’s more your speed), and a happening social scene.
- MBH Maya Bacalar Boutique Hotel: This boutique hotel offers a resort-like experience at affordable prices. Each luxurious suite comes with its own steam bath, jacuzzi, and a rooftop garden overlooking the lagoon.
- Mia Bacalar Luxury Resort and Spa: For something a bit more bougie, check out Mia Bacalar Luxury Resort, with its own private pier, an onsite spa, and a gorgeous pool.
Enjoy Bacalar, my new favorite hidden gem in Mexico! Do you have any questions about this pueblo magico? Sound off in the comments below!