Last Updated on May 17, 2023 by Nellie Huang
Heading to Bacalar, Mexico soon? Here’s my super detailed Bacalar Lagoon travel guide that includes the best places to stay and best spots to swim and more!
Crystal clear, spearmint blue water, and swinging hammocks hanging from overwater palapa — Bacalar Lagoon is a sort of modern-day paradise that every traveler dreams of.
Bacalar Lagoon (or Laguna Bacalar) is just a 2-hour drive from touristy Tulum, but it cannot be more different. Oozing laidback, mellow vibes, the sleepy town tends to draw curious travelers seeking less conventional places. Officially named a Pueblo Mágico (Magic Town) in 2006, Bacalar is definitely one of the most beautiful spots in the Yucatan Peninsula.
If you’re looking to go off the beaten path in Mexico, Bacalar is perfect for you! I’ve put together a super detailed Laguna Bacalar travel guide with the best things to do in Bacalar, how to get there, and the best hotels to stay.
Table of Contents
- Balacar Mexico Travel Guide
- where is Bacalar Mexico?
- Bacalar Lagoon: Why It’s So Special
- Mexico Travel Requirements
- How to Get to Bacalar Mexico
- How to Get around Bacalar Mexico
- Best Time to Visit Bacalar
- How Much Time to Visit Bacalar?
- How to Stay Connected in Bacalar
- Where to Stay in Bacalar Mexico
- Things to Do in Bacalar
- 1. Take a Boat Trip around the Lagoon
- 2. Rent a Kayak or SUP
- 3. Float in Canal de las Piratas
- 4. Drift down Los Rapidos
- 5. Swim in Cenote Cocalitos
- What are Stromatolites?
- 6. See Cenote Negro
- 7. Chill at Isla de los Pájaros
- 8. Swim at th e Docks
- 9. Wander around Bacalar Town
- 10. See the San Joaquín Parish Church
- 11. Visit Fort San Felipe
- 12. Visit El Manati to Learn about Stromalites
- 12. Visit the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins
- 13. Explore the Kohunlich Mayan Ruins
- 14. Go Ziplining at Kan Kin Bacalar
- Where to Eat in Bacalar
- Where to Go Beyond Bacalar
- BRING CASH TO BACALAR!
- Cost of Travel in Bacalar
- Is it Safe to Visit Bacalar?
- What to Pack for Bacalar
- Packing List for Bacalar
- More Tips for Visiting Bacalar
- Further Reading on Mexico
Balacar Mexico Travel Guide
where is Bacalar Mexico?
Bacalar is located on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, right near the Belize border. It’s actually just a 3-hour drive to Belize City from here and you’re just a hop away from the paradisical Caye Caulker and Caye Ambergris.
On the Mexico side, the nearest big town to Bacalar is Chetumal and the closest beach is Mahahual on Costa Maya. Tulum is a 2-hour drive away, and Cancun 4 hours away. Bacalar town itself is small and is concentrated around 15km of the coastline of Bacalar Lagoon (which measures over 42km in length).
Bacalar Lagoon: Why It’s So Special
Once here, it’s easy to see how Laguna Bacalar earned the nickname, “Laguna de Siete Colores” (lagoon of seven colors). You’ll see all kinds of blue in the water: from light turquoise to sky blue and dark indigo.
So why does it have so many shades of blue? The reason is because of the varying depths of water in the lagoon, ranging from 10 to 300 feet deep. The shallow parts have clear, spearmint water; while the deepest points have dark blue water.
Laguna Bacalar is a lagoon, i.e. a saltwater lake formed by the waves of the ocean. That means lagoons are always found near the sea. There are close to 2 million lakes around the world, but there are far less lagoons, making them pretty unique!
Mexico Travel Requirements
- Mexico has no travel restrictions, and there’s no need for proof of vaccine or PCR tests on the plane. Anyone is welcomed to travel to Mexico.
- However, I always recommend travelers to buy travel insurance, whether you’re traveling for a year or a week. These days, it is particularly important to have travel insurance that covers COVID-19. Read my travel insurance guide.
- Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date.
How to Get to Bacalar Mexico
The closest airport to Bacalar is Chetumal International Airport (CTM), which is 45 minutes away by car. It’s a small airport, and you will need to transit in Mexico City to get here from abroad.
Bacalar is just 45 minutes from the Belize border so you can also fly to Belize City and visit this as an extension of a Belize trip. Bacalar is around a 4-hour bus journey from Belize City.
From Cancun or Tulum, you can easily rent a car and drive to Bacalar. Driving in the Yucatan Peninsula is really easy, with clear signposts and decent roads. I drive in Playa del Carmen everyday and find it quite easy: just watch out for portholes and crazy drivers!
An economy rental car in Mexico averages just $200 for a whole week, which is less than $25 a day. The current price for gas is 16.50 pesos per liter (about $2.50 per gallon). We always use DiscoverCars.com as they’ve consistently given us the best prices and customer service.
Check out my guide to renting a car in Mexico.
- Tulum to Bacalar — 2.5 hours or 133 miles (215km)
- Playa del Carmen to Bacalar — 3 hours or 173 miles (279km)
- Cancun to Bacalar — 4 hours 15 minutes or 215 miles (345km)
- Merida to Bacalar — 4 hours 15 minutes or 215 miles (345km)
If you don’t drive, the easiest and most convenient way to get to Bacalar is by private shuttle. Book a private transfer here and you’ll get picked up from the airport or hotel (in Cancun or Tulum) and dropped off in Bacalar.
We book this private transfer service every time we need to get to Cancun airport from home. They are reliable and punctual.
There are great bus networks throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. ADO buses are air-conditioned and punctual, with comfortable seating. They are organized and bus terminals are easy to get to. Pre-book your bus tickets here to ensure availability.
How to Get around Bacalar Mexico
The town of Bacalar is small and easy to navigate on foot. But the lagoon itself is massive and you’ll need to take a boat or kayak to explore different parts of it. Almost every guesthouse/hotel offers rental or free usage of kayaks. (Scroll for more details)
We drove our car from Playa del Carmen — it was easy to drive around Bacalar and parking was never an issue. Some attractions like los Rapidos can only be accessed by car or bike
Most hostels and hotels offer bike rentals. Alternatively, you can rent bikes from Magic Bacalar for 35 MXN (US$1.75) per hour or 250 MXN ($12.50) per day.
Best Time to Visit Bacalar
While Bacalar Lagoon is a year-round destination, the best time to visit is between January and March, when temperatures are slightly more pleasant and there are less crowds. Avoid the hurricane season (August to October) and the peak season (December) when prices are higher.
Rainy season runs from June through November, with the rainiest months in September and October. We visited Bacalar in November, and had glorious weather the whole time!
How Much Time to Visit Bacalar?
There’s not a long list of things to do in Bacalar — it’s the kind of place you go to swim, chill out and swing on hammocks. I would recommend spending 3 days in Bacalar, with a minimum of 2 nights. You’ll need a day for the boat trip around Bacalar, another to go to los Rapidos, and the last day to just swing on your hammock.
Regardless, I would not recommend coming to Bacalar on a daytrip. The lagoon is just so stunning and the town so mellow and laidback, that you would want to spend at least a night here. Plus, it’s too far from other spots in the Yucatan Peninsula, you would be spending half a day getting here and back.
How to Stay Connected in Bacalar
Most hotels in Bacalar offer WiFi, but in general WiFi connections here can be slow.
I recommend getting a SIM card with internet data to make sure you stay cnnected while on the island. Either buy an eSIM before traveling or a SIM card at the airport upon arrival. You can also get it at any OXXO shop in Mexico.
Read my guide on how to get a SIM card in Mexico.
Where to Stay in Bacalar Mexico
Bacalar has plenty of accommodation, but it is still rather rural and the infrastructure is pretty basic. Even luxury hotels might not have good WiFi, and most guesthouses don’t serve breakfast.
I recommend staying at a hotel on the lake — most lakeside hotels have their own docks and water views from rooms. Obviously hotels in the town center are cheaper, as most restaurants and activities are located here. For the best of both worlds, stay at a lakeside hotel that’s in town!
Here are the best places to stay in Bacalar:
Budget: Yak Lake House
Located in town and on the lake, this is the best budget option based on reviews. The hostel is stylish and well designed, and offers dorm beds as well as private rooms. Wish it wasn’t adults-only so we could stay here! Check rates here.
Mid Range: Casita Maya Bacalar
We stayed at this lakeside house (pictured above) on the northern coast of the lagoon. It’s a 10-minute drive to the town center and rooms are basic, but the lake views from our private dock are unbeatable. Check rates here.
Luxury: Mia Bacalar Luxury Resort & Spa
You won’t find any high rise or 4-star chains in Bacalar. This is Bacalar’s only high end resort, and it comes at a price. It’s located on the best part of the lagoon (with the clearest waters)! Check rates here.
Things to Do in Bacalar
Laguna Bacalar is of course the star of the show, and most activities are centered around the water. There are actually quite a few cenotes (underwater sinkhole) in the lagoon itself, as well as balnearios (swimming areas) and Mayan ruins nearby.
1. Take a Boat Trip around the Lagoon
The number one thing to do in Bacalar is undoubtedly taking a boat trip. It’s the best way to visit the most beautiful parts of the lagoon in just 3 hours. The laguna looks its best at midday, so aim for the 11am boat.
Speedboat tours leave every hour, and you can easily book them with locals on the streets — their prices are fixed (printed on your admission wristbands), so don’t worry about having to bargain.
But if you prefer something more private, sail boat trips are more luxurious. During the high season, the pontoon tours and sailing trips are often sold out. Book them online here.
Cost for various boat trips (per person):
- 250 Pesos (US$12.50) on a speedboat
- 350 Pesos (US$17.50) on a pontoon with luxurious seats
- 600 Pesos ($30) on a sail boat with open bar and free snacks
These are the spots that almost every Bacalar boat tour visit (which I’ll share in details next):
- Canal de los Piratas
- Cenote Negro
- Cenote Esmeralda
- Cenote Cocalitos
- Isla de los Pájaros
2. Rent a Kayak or SUP
If a boat tour isn’t your thing, another popular thing to do in Bacalar is renting a kayak or SUP. If you’re staying in town, the famous spots on the lagoon are all within a 15 to 30-minute paddle. Pack a cooler with drinks and snacks, and you can you can easily spend all day kayaking as there’s so much to explore.
Most hotels offer rentals or free use of kayaks and SUP. Our hotel charged 150 MXN (US$7.50)/hour for a kayak rental. Alternatively, Magic Bacalar rents out kayaks for 95 MXN ($4.75)/hour. You can also book a private SUP tour if you prefer to have an instructor.
3. Float in Canal de las Piratas
This is perhaps the most famous spot on Bacalar Lagoon. If you go on a boat trip, you’ll definitely make a stop here. It’s also conveniently located on the side of the lagoon across from town, which is just a 15-minute paddle on the kayak.
This canal was once frequented by pirates in the 18th century. Today, it’s simply a scenic spot with very shallow waters to wade in. In the middle of the canal, you’ll find an abandoned construction shaped like a ship. Apparently, it was supposed to be a restaurant, but was abandoned before it was opened.
4. Drift down Los Rapidos
Located on the southern tip of Bacalar Lagoon, Los Rapidos is a natural ‘lazy river’ in which you can drift down through. It’s absolutely magical floating down the rapids here — we lost count of the number of times we drifted down the rapids. It was my daughter’s favorite thing to do in Bacalar!
Los Rapidos is a 20-minute drive outside Bacalar — and it’s only accessible by car or bike — but it’s well worth making the trip. It has a restaurant onsite, with slightly pricey food. Entry costs 100 pesos ($5) for adults and 50 pesos ($2.50) for children.
5. Swim in Cenote Cocalitos
Another popular spot in Laguna Bacalar, Cenote Cocalitos is a balneario (swimming spot) popular with young Instagrammers due to the over-water swings and colorful hammocks.
But don’t let that turn you off — the shallow waters here are crystal clear and great for swimming (especially for kids). There’s also a restaurant onsite, with delicious caldo de camaron (shrimp soup). This is also the best place to see stromatolites*.
What are Stromatolites?
By the shore of Bacalar Lagoon, you’ll see many rocks that look like pancakes. They’re called Stromatolites — a type of rock formation formed by ancient bacteria. Turns out, they’re the oldest ecosystem in the world! Who knew?
Stromatolites have been around for up to three billion years, and these fossils are still alive today! Living stromatolites are found in only a few salty places on Earth, and Laguna Bacalar is one of the rare spots where you can find them.
Some of the best spots to see Stromatolites in Bacalar are at Cenote Cocalitos and los Rapidos. As they are living fossils, please be careful and avoid stepping on them!
6. See Cenote Negro
Located inside the lagoon, Cenote Negro is a large open cenote with a depth of 250 feet. Most boat tours also stop here. Also known as Cenote de las Brujas (Witch’s Cenote), this one isn’t quite like the usual cenotes that most of us are familiar with.
As it’s so deep, the water here is dark blue and you can’t really see much beneath you. Swimming is prohibited now, since a tourist drowned here recently.
7. Chill at Isla de los Pájaros
Within the lagoon, you’ll find several islands — the most popular of which is the Isla de los Pájaros (Bird Island). As you can probably tell from its name, the island is an excellent birdwatching spot (at certain times of the year).
It’s home to various endemic birds such as the snail hawk and parrots. The best time to visit Bird Island is in the early morning and late afternoon. Don’t forget to pack your binoculars!
8. Swim at th e Docks
For those who are not staying on the water, there are actually many balnearios (swimming spots) where you can go to swim off. The best dock is actually at the public pier, Balneario Municipal El Aserradero. It’s free and located in the town center.
The dock is made of wooden beams and a straw palapa, surrounded by turquoise blue water. Here, you can clearly see how Laguna Bacalar got the nickname, “the Maldives of Mexico”.
9. Wander around Bacalar Town
Named one of Mexico’s pueblo magicos (magical towns), Bacalar town is a small and tranquil place that you can see in a day. Like most Spanish colonial towns, Bacalar is centered on a main square/park, with streets running parallel and perpendicular to it. The town’s main square is where you’ll find the colorful Bacalar sign (pictured).
Seeing how small it is now, it’s hard to imagine that Bacalar was once a city during the Maya civilization in Pre-Columbian times. It was the first city in the region which the Spanish colonizers succeeded in taking in 1543. Today, Bacalar is a sleepy town that still gives a charming glimpse at old Mexican life.
10. See the San Joaquín Parish Church
Just one block away from the main square, the Parroquia de San Joaquin is one of landmarks of Bacalar. The 18th-century church has a vaulted ceiling that’s worth checking out. It’s free to enter.
11. Visit Fort San Felipe
Right in the center of town (by the main square) stands the imposing Fort San Felipe. The fort was built during the 18th century when Bacalar was often attacked by pirates.
Today it houses a piracy museum displaying colonial-era weapons and artifacts. There are muskets, navigational instruments, sabers, and models of the boats that sailed these waters during the 17th Century. There’s also an awesome pirate skeleton on display.
Admission is 100 pesos ($5) and the fort is open every day but Monday.
12. Visit El Manati to Learn about Stromalites
One of my favorite spots in Bacalar is El Manati Bacalar — a concept store that doubles as a museum, restaurant and shop. Its museum has interesting exhibitions and photography on Stromatolites and it’s a great spot to learn about the living fossils that are found in the lagoon.
Sundays are the best time to visit El Manati. There’s live music in their lush, jungly patio and their breakfast dishes are amazing! If you’re lucky, you might even get seated inside the palapa tipi tent, like we did!
12. Visit the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins
The nearest archaeological site is just a 30-minute drive away. The Chachhoben Mayan ruins date back to around 1000BC. By 360AD Chacchoben had become the largest community in the region of the lakes and consolidated as the most prestigious ceremonial center.
Today, only a portion of the site is open to the public. Many temples of Chacchoben are still very much covered by foliage, awaiting for to be restored. Admission is just 60 MXN ($3) per person.
13. Explore the Kohunlich Mayan Ruins
About an hour’s drive from Bacalar, Kohunlich is a massive archaeological site spread across 20 acres of terrain. There are over 200 mounds located throughout the archaeological zone.
While the main attractions are the large Sun God masks, the site has numerous other structural groups to explore. A number of beautiful, intricately modeled censers have been recovered from the site, and are now housed in various museums.
Kohunlich actually got its name from the English “Cohoon Ridge”, which refers to a type of Corozo palm tree found in the area. Its original name has yet to be determined. Entry is 80 MXN ($4) per person.
14. Go Ziplining at Kan Kin Bacalar
What better way to see the Bacalar Lagoon than from the air? Hop onto the ziplines at Tirolesas Kan Kin Bacalar and soar through the skies, over the lush jungles and the gorgeous lagoon. Tirolesas Kan Kin has a 1500-meter circuit of five zip lines, perfect for the adventure seekers. A zipline experience costs 750 MXN ($37.50) per person and kids above 5 are welcomed.
Where to Eat in Bacalar
For a small town of this size, Bacalar sure has plenty of dining options, ranging from breakfast cafes to food trucks and gourmet restaurants. I’ve provided a range of recommendations below, and we’ve eaten at all of them and can attest to the quality of food!
- El Manati — Gorgeous restaurant/museum/shop with a lush jungly patio and unique cabana where musicians play. Prices are affordable and their breakfasts are top notch. My favorite place to eat in Bacalar!
- Jaguara Cocina Mexicana — A high-end restaurant serving up contemporary Mexican dishes against a beautiful setting. Perfect for a romantic dinner. Pricey though!
- Kai Pez — An institution in Bacalar, known as the best place in town for seafood. We went in the evening and got ravaged by mosquitoes. But the food was indeed amazing! Try the tempura mixto and caldo de marisco (Seafood soup).
- La Playita — A stunning lakeside restaurant right in town, with Tulum vibes, bamboo decor, hammocks and excellent shrimp ceviche.
- Food trucks — Budget travelers will love the food trucks parked along Avenue 1, the main street that runs parallel to the water. Lanai, parked right outside Kai Pez, has awesome fish tacos. Mi Burrito Bacalar, further down the road, has affordable and hearty burritos.
Where to Go Beyond Bacalar
Most people combine a trip to Bacalar with Mahahual (pictured), a beach town along Costa Maya. Mahahual is said to be an up-and-coming Tulum beach town, but it’s relatively quiet for now and receives more Mexican than foreign visitors.
Bacalar is also very near the border with Belize. We actually crossed the border there 10 years ago on our first trip here, and it was an easy and uneventful crossing. If you’re planning to visit Belize, check out our list of things to do in Caye Caulker. Here’s an informative post on how to get from Bacalar to Caye Caulker.
BRING CASH TO BACALAR!
There are only two ATMs in the small town of Bacalar and they’re always out of cash. You do need some cash to pay for boat trips and street food so make sure you bring cash with you.
Contrary to what I read in other travel blogs, we’ve found that most restaurants in Bacalar now accept credit cards. Both of our Mexican and European credit cards work.
Cost of Travel in Bacalar
In comparison to beach towns like Cancun and Tulum, Bacalar is definitely cheaper and accommodation and food are more affordable.
In general, if you stay in town (not on the water), expect to spend around US$30-50/night on a hotel room and $5-10 for a meal. Boat tours start from $15 per person and bike rentals are only $12.50 per day.
Is it Safe to Visit Bacalar?
Bacalar is one of the safest places in Mexico for travelers. It’s a small town and most people here work in tourism. The Yucatan Peninsula in general has one of the lowest rates of homicide in Mexico (10 times lower than the rest of the country).
Many travelers report that taking public transport around the peninsula is safe during the day. However, like the rest of Mexico, it’s advised not to travel around at night. Carjackings have been reported, most occurring at night or on desolate roads.
What to Pack for Bacalar
You’ll be spending most of your time in the water, so definitely get lots of sun-proof gear before you go as you won’t be able to find it in Bacalar.
I recommend bringing sun-proof rashguards that can protect your skin while snorkeling. KEEN footwear or normal sandals are really useful for water activities. Snorkel mask and fins can be great for observing marine life and stromatolites in the lagoon.
Packing List for Bacalar
- Biodegradable Sunscreen
- Mosquito repellent with DEET
- Snorkel mask and fins
- UPF50+ rash guard swim shirt
- Dry bag for snorkeling/kayaking
- Quick-dry towels
- Sun hat that covers the neck
- KEEN covered sandals
- Dramamine for motion sickness
- GoPro Hero 7 for waterproof photos/videos!
- Quick-dry t-shirts for the hot weather
More Tips for Visiting Bacalar
- Use only biodegradable sunscreen (or reef-friendly sunscreen) in Bacalar Lagoon. Any other sunscreen would do damage to the lagoon! Sadly you can’t find this in Bacalar, so make sure you bring it with you.
- Bring insect repellent with DEET as mosquitoes will swarm you after sunset.
- The Bacalar Lagoon is a very fragile ecosystem, and can suffer tremendously from irresponsible tourism. Make sure you don’t litter, bring any trash you may have with you home, and avoid single use plastic.
- Remember not to touch or walk on the stromatolites. They are living fossils that have been around for 3 billion years!
- Only small drones are allowed at Bacalar. Please respect others and avoid flying too close to people. We flew our DJI Mavic Mini from the boat after asking our captain for permission, and he was absolutely fine with it.
Further Reading on Mexico
Have I answered all the questions you had on Bacalar Mexico? I hope you’ve found this Bacalar Lagoon travel guide useful.
Bacalar Lagoon really is my favorite spot in the Yucatan Peninsula and I cannot wait to come visit again on another road trip in Yucatan! Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any other questions!
For those who are planning to travel more of Mexico, check out other articles I’ve written on Mexico:
- Mexico Fun Facts
- 35 Fun Things to Do in the Yucatan Peninsula
- Yucatan Road Trip: A 10-Day Yucatan Itinerary
- 15 Things to Do in Cozumel, Mexico
- 20 Cool Things to Do in Valladolid, Mexico
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links i.e. if you book a stay through one of my links, I get a small commission at NO EXTRA COST to you. Thank you for your support!
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“If you’re looking to go off the beaten path in Mexico, Bacalar is perfect for you!” – really?!? maybe 10 years ago 😀
I’d say even now, over 60% of visitors to the Yucatan Peninsula just stay in a resort in Cancun and maybe venture to Chichen Itza or Tulum ruins at most. I know so many people who have been to this area and never heard of Bacalar. Only backpackers and travelers who actually explore beyond the beach will head as south as Bacalar. I live in Playa del Carmen, and I have been to Bacalar a few times now and the amount of visitors there is nothing compared to what we get here on the coast.