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If you’re looking to experience the brightest, clearest, most shimmering body of water of your life, I have some advice: travel to Bacalar, Mexico.
I spent two months living in the city of Mérida, Mexico. Mérida is a great place to live for so many reasons, but perhaps the #1 reason is because there are so many cool places within a few hours’ drive. And so a big group of friends and I decided to plan a weekend trip to Bacalar.
I knew we’d have a great time. But I had no idea just how spectacularly beautiful Bacalar would be.
A shimmering, beautiful lake exploding in seven shade of blue. The soft aquamarine of a misty morning sky. The bright cerulean that Miranda Priestly expounded upon in The Devil Wears Prada. The inky navy reserved for exclusive high-end fountain pens.
Some people even call Bacalar “The Maldives of Mexico.” And honestly…I think that’s a ridiculous title. Laguna Bacalar is gorgeous, and the water is incredible shades of blue, but there are exactly ZERO white sand beaches here. It’s nothing like the Maldives. Let Bacalar’s beauty stand on its own without comparing it to somewhere else!
I had one of the best weekends ever in Bacalar. Screaming with joy as a river whisked me down the rapids. Standing on the edge of a lake-enclosed cenote, as the water changed from light to dark. Sipping a chelada as pink and purple clouds danced above the water’s edge.
Bacalar is now one of my favorite places in Mexico — and this is a country that I love fiercely. It’s also the grand finale of my two-week Mexico road trip itinerary on the Yucatán peninsula.
Let me show you what makes Bacalar magical!
This post was most recently updated in January 2023.
In March 2021, I reported that Lake Bacalar had turned green due to a combination of sewage issues and a hurricane, and that it was no longer possible to visit certain parts. This has ended and was back to normal in 2022. My friends recently visited in January 2023 and the colors are as gorgeous as the photos in this post!
Bacalar Mexico Travel Guide
As soon as I visited Bacalar, I knew I was determined to write a Bacalar travel guide — one that would help all of you have as good a time here as I did, my dear readers.
At the same time, however, you need to be careful about writing guides about places like Bacalar. Right now Bacalar is a small, lesser-known place in Mexico on the verge of exploding in popularity — and while that can be positive for the economy, it can be very threatening to the environment.
It’s one thing to write about cocktail bars in New York or museums in Paris. Those establishments are equipped for increased crowds. But increasing tourism in somewhere as beautiful and fragile as Bacalar I’m wary of the effects of increased tourism and development in this beautiful, fragile part of the world.
So why write a Bacalar travel guide at all? Because tourism will be increasing here no matter what, and as long as that’s happening, I want the right kind of people to visit Bacalar. People who fall in love with the lake, but who understand the importance of protecting it, too. Hopefully this guide will do that.
READ MORE: What NOT to Do in Mexico
Why Travel to Bacalar, Mexico?
People travel to Bacalar to experience the beauty of its famous lagoon — the Lake of Seven Colors. Bacalar is the name of the town — and also the lake (Laguna de Bacalar en español). Mexico’s Caribbean coast may be known for its clear blue water, but trust me, Bacalar lagoon turns the volume up even higher.
There are so many ways to experience the beauty of the lagoon. But the best way to see it is to spend the day on a boat trip on the lagoon, strolling in knee-deep aqua water at El Canal de los Piratas, gazing over the chasm where neon turquoise meets indigo in the Cenote Negro, swimming in reflective Tiffany-blue waters rich in limestone.
You want even crazier water? Head to Los Rapidos, where you can tear down clear teal river rapids, giggling the whole time.
And that’s just during the day. Wait until you see sunset!
The two best things to do in Bacalar Mexico are to take a boat tour around the lagoon and spend a day at Los Rapidos.
Bacalar is a five-hour bus ride from Cancún International Airport, and it’s close to Tulum, Mahahual, and the Belize border if you’re driving.
Bacalar is at its best weather-wise from December through March, though know it’s extremely busy and expensive over Christmas week and Holy Week.
Depends on your budget, but I like Casa Chukum for a mid-range hotel and Yak Lake House for a budget-friendly spot.
People travel to Bacalar to get away from the package tourist crowds. Bacalar is a world away from more popular destinations in Quintana Roo like Cancún, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. While those cities host a lot of package tourists, Bacalar is built for independent travelers.
I found Bacalar to be very similar to another cool Mexican destination, Isla Holbox, in terms of the atmosphere. No brand name businesses, no resorts, not even Starbucks or McDonald’s. Lots of casual ramshackle businesses with a few snazzier spots thrown in.
As for the crowd, in addition to Mexicans, there are lots of North Americans, seemingly experienced travelers in the know (my first thought was “erstwhile backpackers grown up”), primarily young adults with few seniors and very few children (I saw zero foreign kids in Bacalar).
The travelers who come to Bacalar are looking for something better — somewhere away from the popular places with all-inclusive resorts, away from the xenophobes complaining that it’s dangerous outside their resort and Mexican food is just too spicy for them, away from the drug dealers asking people if they want coke.
People travel to Bacalar to enjoy a low-key, quirky town. Bacalar gives you very good value for money — a lot more than the aforementioned Mexican hotspots. You can get a nice mid-range hotel for around $60 a night, or a quality private room for under $40 a night.
Go out to eat in Bacalar and you won’t be in a stuffy restaurant — instead, you’re likely to be mostly outdoors, in a courtyard of some kind, potentially surrounded by greenery and music.
Bacalar is basic in a lot of ways. Most notably, when all the ATMs in town are out of money at the same time. That nearly derailed our trip. (Bring enough pesos with you to sustain your stay; some but not all places in Bacalar take cards.)
What else? The toilets take awhile to refill between flushes. Hot water isn’t always a given. Service is slow. You might have to go to several shops to find what you need.
Bacalar may not be an island, but everyone here is on “island time.” Know that going in and your trip will be better for it.
People travel to Bacalar to immerse in nature and get away from it all. This is a very easy place to stay off your phone for a few days. Wifi in Bacalar is generally very slow; if you’ve got a Mexican phone plan, though, you’ll be connected. In other words, Bacalar doesn’t force you to be offline, but if you’re willing to do so, this would be a great place.
And being in nature is the perfect place to take time away from the Internet. Bacalar is utterly peaceful, especially once you get away from the town. You don’t have to do play-by-play Instagram Stories of the sunsets. Instead, maybe you’d like to sit on a dock with a beer in hand, watching the sky turn pink.
Where is Bacalar, Mexico?
Bacalar is located in the far south of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, in Quintana Roo state, close to the Belize border. The closest city is Chetumal, a 45-minute drive away, and the closest major international airports are in Cancún (five hours away) and Belize City (two and a half hours away).
See below for more details on how to get to Bacalar by plane, bus, and car.
Best Things to Do in Bacalar Mexico
I’m going to make things easy for you: you should spend at least two full days in Bacalar. One should be spent on a boat trip on the lake and one should be spent at Los Rapidos. Done and done.
If you have any extra days, feel free to fill them with whatever you want — but please prioritize a boat trip and Los Rapidos. Those are the two best things to do in Bacalar.
If you can’t do two full days in Bacalar, use your one full day for the boat tour and try to get to Bacalar as early as possible so you can spend the afternoon at Los Rapidos.
Boat Tour of Bacalar Lagoon
The single best way to see Bacalar is to take a boat tour of the lagoon. This should be your #1 priority while traveling to Bacalar. Most of the photos in this post are from the boat tour.
There are tour companies all over Bacalar, and you will constantly be offered rides from people on the street.
Since my friends and I were traveling in a large group, we booked a private Bacalar boat tour.
But if you’re not a big group, you can join a boat tour here (with open bar!).
Most boat tours last about three to four hours and take you to some of the spots I detail below, like Pirates’ Canal, the Cenote Negro, Cenote Esmeralda, and Bird Island.
Many boat trips include “unlimited” alcohol, poured by the staff, or at least “unlimited-until-we-run-out” alcohol, but there is a BIG rule — only drink on the boat and not in the water. This is to protect the lake. You don’t want drunk people spilling their tequila sunrises into that gorgeous blue water!
Be sure to tip your guides — they work hard.
I LOVE LOS RAPIDOS! Los Rapidos is one of the most fun places I’ve been in Mexico. This riverside club is perched on part of the river that feeds into Bacalar lagoon.
There are shaded seating areas with tables for eating, or you can sit back in lounge chairs. There are hammocks in the clear waters, just waiting to be posed in for Instagram (that’s where the cover photo in this post came from).
The main activity in the water is getting into the river and letting it carry you away downstream. The river looks slow-moving but it’s a lot stronger than you’d think. There are a few ropes up to catch you, and you can rent a lifejacket if you’d like. Kayaks are also available for rent.
Between the river swimming and lounging in the hammocks, Los Rapidos makes for ONE FUN DAY OUT.
I am at a loss for words describing how fun this place is!!
There is a restaurant on the premises and we enjoyed fresh ceviche and some drinks. I was surprised at how good (and LARGE!) their mezcal margaritas were!
Los Rápidos has exactly one problem: the grounds are covered with gravel that is VERY painful to walk on barefoot. Normally, you’d leave your sandals on shore. But since you’re being pushed downstream, from one end of the river to the other, you can’t get out at the same spot.
I ended up going down the rapids with my flip-flops on my wrists rather than suffer that painful gravel. Wearing water shoes or sports sandals would have been better. They do sell water shoes at Los Rapidos.
The cost to enter Los Rapidos is 100 pesos ($5) for adults and 50 pesos ($2.50) for children (2023 note: they’ve unpublished their prices so it might be more expensive now). It’s located about a 20-minute drive outside Bacalar, past the Cenote Azul.
You can take a cab there from Bacalar. If you’re driving, know that there isn’t an exit from the highway when you’re driving away from Bacalar — you’ll have to do a U-turn after you pass it, then take the exit. Los Rapidos is at the end of a long dirt road.
Visiting cenotes is one of the best part of traveling in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Here the land is like limestone Swiss cheese, with thousands of cave-like openings filled with fresh water where you can go swimming.
The Cenote Azul, on the way out of Bacalar town, is a large open cenote. I’m not the biggest fan of open cenotes — they look more like lakes and are far less spectacular than cave-like semi-open cenotes — but this was a pleasant place to stop for a swim. There is a restaurant on-site and my friends had some not-so-good cocktails.
The staff ask you not to wear any sunscreen while swimming in the cenote, not even biodegradable sunscreen. For this reason, I think it’s best to visit the Cenote Azul after breakfast, have a nice swim, then put on your sunscreen and head to Los Rapidos, which is further down the road.
The cost to enter the Cenote Azul and restaurant is 25 pesos ($1). It’s located on the edge of Bacalar town. If you don’t have a car, you can take a cab here.
Read More: 50+ Best Cenotes in Mexico
On your boat trip in Bacalar, you’ll drop by a stunning area — El Canal de Los Piratas, or Pirates’ Channel. This narrow channel leads to the Caribbean Sea; historically, it was used by pirates. ARRR!
Your boat trip will give you a good amount of time to explore Pirates’ Channel — ours gave us about an hour! The cool thing about this area is that the depth of the water changes continuously. You can be swimming without touching the ground and ten feet away people will be standing in knee-deep water.
Pirates’ Channel is also home to a little island where an ill-fated restaurant was once built. It never got finished — but today plenty of people love climbing on it!
If you have a drone, Pirates’ Channel is the place to use it — it looks SO much better from the air than it does on the ground. But be careful — it’s very tough to land a drone on a boat.
We got hit by a gust of wind and the mast knocked the drone into the water, which usually destroys drones, but our captain Felipe jumped in and grabbed it quickly. It survived. It probably wouldn’t have survived had we been in salt water.
If you’re traveling in Mexico, foreigners can only use a small drone like the DJI Mavic Mini — it’s under 250 grams so it doesn’t need to be registered. Always check the laws online before you fly.
Not all cenotes are surrounded by land — this cenote is located inside the lake. People aren’t allowed to swim here, but boats can take you over it, and your boat trip will likely take you here. It’s crazy — the lagoon is bright blue, then it suddenly drops off and turns the color of brand new dark-washed jeans.
In terms of photography, the Cenote Negro is a great vantage point for capturing all shades of the Lake of Seven Colors. Some of my favorite photos of Bacalar were shot from the Cenote Negro, aimed outward toward the lake.
Like the Cenote Negro, Cenote Esmeralda is located within the lake and you can’t swim here. Like the Cenote Negro, it suddenly goes from pale turquoise to navy blue as soon as you hit the drop-off.
But Cenote Esmeralda itself isn’t the attraction — the area around Cenote Esmeralda is. This part of the lake is a lot of fun — a lot of boats dock here at the same time and there are lots of people having fun in the water. There are lots of cool buildings on shore, something that I’m sure will increase as Bacalar continues to develop.
Please take the guides seriously when they tell you not to swim here — I saw some boats roaring through the cenote terrifyingly close to swimmers who defied orders.
This small island in the middle of the lake is home to migratory birds. Some of them come from Miami, where months of feasting on krill have left them with a beautiful pink color to their feathers.
Your boat will likely dock a good distance from Bird Island. Know that it’s a lot further away than it looks. Some of my friends decided to swim to the island and I knew they’d turn back exhausted long before they got there!
Of all the seven shades of blue, the bright turquoise surrounding Bird Island is probably my favorite shade.
Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is a popular activity in Bacalar. I love paddle boarding — it’s a great core workout that doesn’t feel like a workout, and it’s a great way to zone out and take in the beauty of what’s in front of you.
Sunrise paddleboarding tours are especially popular in Bacalar. You can book a sunrise paddleboarding tour here.
Kayaking is another fun way to explore Bacalar lagoon. Kayaks are available for rent throughout the town — if you see a place on the lake, chances are they have kayaks to rent. You can rent a kayak for the day here.
Fort San Felipe
This fort is located in the center of town, across from Bacalar’s main square. Fort San Felipe is a remnant from the days when Bacalar was being attacked by pirates — but today it’s a fun place to explore and enjoy views over the lake. There is a small museum on site telling the history of Bacalar.
Admission is 100 pesos ($5) and the fort is open every day but Monday.
Kohunlich Mayan Ruins
The Yucatán Peninsula is full of Mayan ruins, and the area around Bacalar is no exception. While there are several ruins within a few hours’ drive — Dzinbanche, Kinichná, Chacchoben — Kohunlich is just one hour’s drive and is one of the most visited sites from Bacalar.
The coolest site at Kohunlich is the Temple of the Masks, a pyramid flanked by human-like masks.
If you’ve seen a lot of Mayan ruins in the Yucatán, don’t feel super-obliged to visit — Uxmal, Mayapan, Chichén Itza, and Tulum bring a lot more drama — but if you enjoy ruins and you have several days in Bacalar, they’re worth the excursion.
The cost to visit the Kohunlich ruins is 150 pesos ($8) for adults. Children get in for free.
Hang out on the docks
Bacalar is the place to practice the fine art of chilling. While many of these docks are owned by hotels or restaurants, some are free for anyone to go and enjoy. Some of the docks are outfitted with hammocks, swings, and more.
Is Bacalar the Next Tulum?
Oh god, I certainly hope not. That would be terrible.
For roughly 15 years or so, Tulum has been showcased as the artsy, creative alternative to Cancún and Playa del Carmen. Cancún is for spring breakers, partiers, and people afraid to leave their resorts; Playa del Carmen is for people who want to visit Mexico, but surrounded by the comforts of home.
Tulum is for the cool people. The hipsters. The bohemians. The gourmands. And the Instagrammers.
This has been the narrative for quite some time. Then I went to Tulum in 2015 — and I was disappointed. I had a great time with my friend, and enjoyed visiting a cenote for the first time, but the town of Tulum left me lukewarm. The water was brown; the beaches were littered with seaweed; the ruins were overcrowded; everything was grotesquely overpriced.
I didn’t end up writing about that trip at all.
In late 2019 the New York Times published a feature on Bacalar titled Is this the next Tulum? YIKES. I think we all cringed when we saw that. When an outlet that big writes about a small place, it almost guarantees an influx of visitors.
Is there any chance of Bacalar remaining just as it is now? No. Progress is happening whether we want it to or not, and it’s selfish to insist a place remain pleasing to your travel memories when locals could use the economic opportunity that comes with development.
So why write a Bacalar travel guide at all? Why not remain silent? Because when we remain silent, the big outlets are the ones that drive the narrative. I personally don’t think the New York Times piece goes far enough.
It is both urgent and necessary to protect Bacalar’s delicate environment, and I thus hope it brings the right kinds of travelers to Bacalar: people who come here to enjoy the lake’s beauty and the small town vibe and who are determined to leave it as they found it.
Is Bacalar Safe?
Bacalar is a very safe place to visit in Mexico. First off, Mexico is much safer than the media would have you believe. I’m convinced no other country gets a more inaccurate representation in the American media — this is not a lawless land of cartels, beheadings, and gun violence.
Bacalar is a very small town where international tourism is still at a fairly early stage. Tourists are not targets for pickpocketing, theft, or violent crimes, though you always should keep an eye on your belongings (in Bacalar and everywhere).
But more than that — Bacalar is significantly safer than Quintana Roo hotspots like Cancún, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. In these cities, thieves and scammers target tourists and drug dealers solicit tourists.
Meanwhile, your likeliest danger in Bacalar is ending up with a painful sunburn from not reapplying your biodegradable sunscreen throughout the day.
In fact, the most important ways to stay safe in Bacalar are common sense. Don’t leave your belongings lying around. Lock up your valuables in a portable safe. Don’t take drinks from strangers. Get travel insurance. Limit your drinking.
READ MORE: Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women
Bacalar Travel Tips
BRING ENOUGH PESOS TO LAST YOUR WHOLE TRIP. This is the single most important advice I can give you. There are several ATMs on the main square in town, but none of them were working when we were there. The eleven of us pooled our cash, used cards, and got by, but we would have had to take a side trip to Chetumal if we didn’t have enough cash.
Use biodegradable sunscreen exclusively. This is the only kind of sunscreen you should use in the lake. Note: reef-safe sunscreen is the same as biodegradable sunscreen. You can’t always find this in Bacalar shops so be sure to buy some before you arrive.
Don’t step on the stromatolites. Stromatolites look like flat rocks sitting in the water, but they’re actually alive — some of the world’s oldest living beings, and key in providing oxygen. Avoid them when you see them.
(I’ve also seen stromatolites at Hamelin Pool in Western Australia, and they didn’t allow people to go anywhere near them in the water. This was a huge contrast to Bacalar and especially Los Rapidos, where they just asked you not to stand on the stromatolites.)
Understand that there are no beaches in Bacalar, Mexico. The edges of the lake tend to hit the land directly, with no sand buffer. That may seem like basic information, but some people come to Bacalar expecting to see beaches and are disappointed.
Protect the lagoon and its people. There are lots of actions that you can take to preserve this environment. Only use biodegradable sunscreen. Avoid single-use plastics whenever possible. Don’t touch the stromatolites. Be gentle with the plumbing. Eat locally and spend money in lots of different places.
The water is not safe to drink in Bacalar. I recommend you bring a LifeStraw Water Bottle, a bottle that purifies water as you drink it through its straw. Alternatively, you can bring a reusable bottle and invest in a SteriPen water purifier (much better and faster than tablets).
Don’t flush toilet paper. Ideally, you shouldn’t flush toilet paper anywhere in Mexico, but the plumbing system is especially delicate in Bacalar. Don’t even THINK of flushing menstrual products here or anywhere (ps — use a DivaCup, it’s better for the environment, your suitcase, and your wallet).
If you don’t have hot water, shower in the late afternoon. The water will be a bit warmer and so will you. Showering in cold water first thing in the morning is a wild way to wake up.
Small drones are permitted at Bacalar — for now. We are a bit in the Wild West in terms of drone laws, so keep in mind that this could change anytime. If you’re traveling in Mexico, foreigners can only use a small drone like the DJI Mavic Mini — it’s under 250 grams so it doesn’t need to be registered.
Several of the tourism professionals we met gave us permission to drone in Bacalar Lagoon and at Los Rapidos. Always double-check online.
Bring a towel — ideally, a quick-dry travel towel. You’ll need it for the boat trip, Los Rapidos and the Cenote Azul. If you’re traveling throughout Mexico, know that cenotes don’t provide towels — you always need to bring your own.
Consider bringing water shoes or sports sandals. The one flaw of Los Rapidos is that it is very painful to walk on the gravel. I ended up floating down the river with my flip-flops on my wrists.
Even if you don’t go to Los Rapidos (WHY WOULD YOU NOT GO TO LOS RAPIDOS?!), the texture of the bottom of the lake can be…less than pleasant. Sometimes it’s normal sand, but sometimes it can be hard and sometimes it’s squishy mud.
Bring mosquito repellant. Mosquitos love lakes. Carry your repellant around with you — in Bacalar they can bite you at any time of day, but they’re especially active at dusk.
Bring earplugs. You’ll need these. If you’re new to Mexico, I’ve got news for you — this is a noisy country. Get used to late night music, firecrackers, celebrations, and two people next to each other trying to drown out the other’s music. Even though Bacalar is a low-key place, it can be noisy in town at night.
Bring a GoPro or waterproof camera. You’ll have lots of in-the-water photo opportunities at Bacalar!
If you forget something, there are shops and sellers in town. Almost all of my friends and I bought baseball caps for 100 pesos each ($5).
Get travel insurance. I know it’s not sexy, but travel insurance can save your life or finances if you have an emergency on the road. It’s the kind of thing you don’t think you need UNTIL YOU NEED IT. I use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Mexico.
Where to Stay in Bacalar Mexico
Bacalar has accommodation available at a variety of price tiers, but know that much of it can be more basic than you expect. Hot water, for instance, is not a given here, even in luxury rentals.
What’s the best area to stay in Bacalar? I recommend staying within a 10-minute walk of the zócalo, which is the main square in the center of town. Most of the restaurants, bars, and activities are located within a few blocks of this square.
If you want to have easy access to the town, you want to be central. Then again, some people prefer the isolation and quiet of being further out on the lagoon, eating most of their meals at their accommodation. The choice is up to you.
Best Luxury Accommodation in Bacalar Mexico: Mia Bacalar Luxury Resort & Spa
If you want to be surrounded by beauty and don’t mind being away from the town, Mia Bacalar Luxury Resort & Spa is the single most splurge-worthy place in Bacalar. It’s on an isolated spot on the lake, but you have large suites (some with a tub in the middle of the room!), a full spa, and it’s like your own private corner of paradise.
If you would rather be in a really nice place right in Bacalar town, where you can walk to all the restaurants, I recommend Hotel Carolina. It’s right in the middle of everything, the rooms are super nice, and it has its own private lakefront area with swings right in the water.
Best Mid-Range Accommodation in Bacalar Mexico: Casa Chukum
If you want to stay somewhere that feels high-end but doesn’t break the bank, Casa Chukum is a great option. Located a short walk from the main square, the rooms are quirky and colorful, the bathrooms are modern, and there’s a cute backyard area.
You also have a sun terrace with an environmentally friendly, chlorine-free pool; an indoor lounge with lots of seating, and a complimentary breakfast that includes eggs the way you’d like them.
(2023 Update: an earlier version of this post mentioned Hotel Kairos, where I personally stayed, but it’s now closed.)
Best Budget Accommodation in Bacalar Mexico: The Yak Lake House
One of the most iconic places for accommodation in Bacalar, The Yak Lake House is a hostel that has both dorms and private rooms. Located right on the lake and a short stroll from Bacalar, the rooms are simple and the emphasis is on social living.
There are lots of tours and activities from sunset kayak tours to day trips around the lake. If you’re traveling solo in Bacalar and looking to meet friends, The Yak is a great spot for that reason.
Here are four nice rentals that cost about $40 per night in low season and are located close to the center of town:
Find deals on Bacalar hotels and rentals here.
Best Bacalar Restaurants
Bacalar has so many wonderful restaurants — and one incredibly overrated restaurant that of COURSE I will name. Here are some of the top spots to eat in Bacalar that I recommend:
Enamora — This restaurant is such a delight — the food is inventive and delicious. Mango cardamom smoothies! “Kimchi” chicken sandwiches! Surprisingly fantastic pastries — the best I’ve had in Mexico! And best of all are the musicians, two men who played ukuleles and sang SO beautifully and really added to the atmosphere. My favorite restaurant in Bacalar overall.
La Piña — This outdoor restaurant, hidden a bit from the street, has wonderful, healthy dishes and a friendly staff. I loved the huevos bacalareños, scrambled eggs with chaya, red salsa, and a bit of cheese. Another great spot, one that I really loved.
Barbanegra — One of the higher-end Mexican spots in town with outstandingly good food and drinks. I loved that you could get any taco as a montadito — in this case, wrapped in lettuce instead of tortillas. While tacos ranged from 85 pesos ($4.50) for cauliflower to 170 pesos ($9) for octopus, all montaditos were 90 pesos ($4.72). I got octopus montaditos, they were incredibly delicious, and I felt like I saved a ton.
Taco Regio — I’m a bit conflicted on this one — the tacos were really good (and they served flavorful sirloin tacos, a big upgrade from the usual arrachera tacos served in the Yucatán), but the restaurant took so long to serve them, it was ridiculous. This happened twice so it wasn’t an isolated event.
Kai Pez — This restaurant is right on the waterfront and a great place to watch the sunset. They make delicious cocktails and ceviche.
Cerveceria Bacalar — This brewery is a 25-minute walk from town, but if you’re taking a boat tour with Amir Adventours, this is where their tours start and finish. We grabbed some food here after our boat tour. Great beers; skip the hummus; the true highlight was the scallop aguachile (like ceviche but much spicier) — quite possibly the best dish I ate in all of Bacalar.
Mango y Chile — A very popular vegan restaurant right off the town square. I didn’t go, but as soon as I came back, all my blogger friends admonished me for not eating here! I hear the veggie burgers are great.
Finisterre — If you’re missing Italian food and don’t mind spending a bit more, my friends recommend this restaurant serving Italian cuisine, including pizza from a wood-burning oven. This is located in front of Hotel Kairós.
Nixtamal — One of the best restaurants in Bacalar, Nixtamal has a cave-like atmosphere with a fire going. This spot specializes in steaks (though they also serve seafood) and the plating is beautiful. My friends loved the cocktails, too.
And the most overrated restaurant in Bacalar is El Manatí. This is an incredibly popular breakfast spot, made for Instagram with its plant-filled courtyard and free trade market inside. I was looking forward to it.
Instead, I was served an avocado toast that looked like it needed life support — a barely-there spread of avocado and an egg poached so hard it had a powdery yellow center. I ordered some banana bread and while it wasn’t terrible, it was two teeny pieces about one inch by three inches long.
The free trade market was filled with clothing and art — flowy dresses that were not remotely Yucatecan but made for Instagram, and crockery that my friend Nathan said he had seen sold for a fraction of the price elsewhere.
This felt very much like a place capitulating to the Tulum aesthetic — all style, no substance, and very overpriced. I sincerely hope this is not a sign of things to come in Bacalar.
Best Time to Visit Bacalar Mexico
The best time to visit Bacalar in terms of weather is from December through March. During these months you have the least rainfall of the year and more pleasant temperatures. It’s hot during the day and warm at night, but you might want to bring a cardigan in case you get a cooler night.
Consequently, this is also when Bacalar (and the rest of Quintana Roo) gets the most of its tourists. Bacalar doesn’t get insanely crowded — at least not yet — but you might struggle to get a table at one of the top restaurants.
Rainy season runs roughly from June through November, with the rainiest months in September and October. You can absolutely travel during this time and have a great time, but I recommend coming for longer, just in case one of your activities gets rained out.
Hurricane season officially runs from June through November on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, but the biggest hurricanes tend to hit from August to October. I would advise not visiting during this time if possible, but if you do, be prepared to leave if a major storm hits.
How to Get to Bacalar, Mexico
Bacalar feels like a secret treasure located in the middle of nowhere — but don’t worry, it’s very easy to get here, even if you’re relying on public transportation. Here are the different ways to get to Bacalar.
How to Get to Bacalar by Plane
Most travelers to the Yucatán fly to Cancún, as it has the biggest airport and the most international flights. From Cancún you can hop on a five-hour bus to Bacalar. Alternatively, book a private transfer from the airport to Bacalar.
The closest airport to Bacalar is Chetumal, a 40-minute drive away — but there aren’t a ton of flights to Chetumal. There are a few flights per week from Cancún to Chetumal on MAYAir, and a few flights per day from Mexico City on Volaris.
If you have the option of flying direct to Mexico City from your departure airport, it may be worth it to fly to Chetumal via Mexico City. Cancún’s flights to Chetumal tend to be at awkward times for transfers.
You also have the option of flying into Belize City, which is closer to Bacalar than Cancún, but I don’t recommend doing this unless you’re spending time in Belize as well. It’s not worth flying into another country to head straight for the border and going through immigration a second time.
(For what it’s worth, I LOVE Belize and I think Belize and Bacalar paired together could make a great trip. If you’re interested in doing this, go for it!)
How to Get to Bacalar by Bus
ADO buses run to Bacalar from destinations throughout the Yucatán. Here are some destinations from which you can reach Bacalar on a nonstop bus ride:
- Chetumal: 45 minutes
- Mahahual: 1 hour, 20 minutes
- Tulum: 2 hours
- Playa del Carmen: 3.5-4 hours
- Cancún: 5 hours
- Mérida: 5 hours
You can book tickets on the ADO site or you can buy them at bus stations. Warning: the ADO site doesn’t always take foreign cards, but they take Paypal. Booking early can sometimes get you a lower rate.
Renting a Car to Drive to Bacalar
I recommend renting a car if you’re planning on exploring the Yucatán region in depth. It gives you so much flexibility, especially for visiting cenotes and off the beaten path spots, and your trip will be all the better for it.
If you’re looking for an affordable car rental in Mexico, I recommend using RentalCars.com.
If You’re Driving From Mérida to Bacalar…
If you’re driving from Mérida to Bacalar, as I did with my friends, I have a GREAT lunch spot to recommend. The town of José María Morelos is a good stopping point halfway between Mérida and Bacalar, and it’s home to a place called Samy’s (Google Maps calls it Carnes Asadas “Mr. Samy”).
Samy’s is a barbecue stand specializing in pork. They cook the most succulent pork over an open flame, barbecuing it to perfection, and serve it with grilled onions, flour tortillas, and a variety of salsas.
WE DEVOURED IT ALL. The meat was sensational and the whole family was so warm and welcoming. And they have PUPPIES THAT YOU CAN PLAY WITH!!! (The puppies might be grown up by the time you read this.)
On the first visit, when the nine of us got 2.5 kilos of meat, we paid 100 pesos ($5) each. On the second visit, we got 3.5 kilos and paid 150 pesos ($8) each. (2023 note: these were the prices in early 2020. Prices may have changed since.)
I want to send Samy’s as much business as possible. If you eat pork, this place is WELL worth the stop.
How to Get Around Bacalar
Much of Bacalar is walkable, but if you’re going further afield, call a taxi. Warning: some of these taxis take a long time to show up, and some of them required multiple phone calls before anyone showed up.
Plan ahead, especially if you have a dining reservation.
Where to Go After Bacalar
Resist the urge to go to Tulum, Playa del Carmen, or Cancún. I’m serious. You are going to be disappointed by comparison. You’ve already been to a much better place.
Be sure to take a look at my two-week Yucatan peninsula road trip itinerary, which can be adapted to shorter trips. Bacalar is already part of the itinerary so you can easily add in more.
As much as I love Isla Holbox, and I think it’s very similar to Bacalar in terms of how it feels, it’s not the most logical destination — it’s a 5.5-hour drive, or you can take the ADO bus to Playa del Carmen, then switch to a bus to the town of Chiquilá, from where you can hop on the 30-minute ferry to Holbox.
If you’re in the mood for sandy beaches and crashing waves, I recommend heading to nearby Mahahual. This beach town on Mexico’s Costa Maya is starting to get some similar “Is this the next Tulum?” buzz. I haven’t been yet, but it’s a priority on my list.
You can get an ADO bus from Bacalar to Mahahual; it takes one hour and 20 minutes.
Another great option is heading to Belize next. I absolutely love Belize and think it makes an great place to visit after you spend time in Bacalar.
Get a 45-minute bus ride from Bacalar to Chetumal, which sits right on the Belize border. From there you can cross into Belize and take a 2.5-hour bus to Belize City, from where you can take ferries or buses to further Belize destinations, like my favorite, Caye Caulker.
Or even better — from Chetumal you can take a 90-minute ferry to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye! That would be my top recommendation.
READ MORE: Solo Female Travel Guide to Belize
Is Bacalar Worth It?
Bacalar is SO worth it! It’s a special place, and so different from the rest of Mexico. I’m convinced that it’s the most beautiful place in the country, and it’s proof that lakes can be much prettier than the ocean.
I’m so glad I decided to travel here. It’s absolutely on my list of top three places in Mexico — at the very least!
I hope you enjoy Bacalar as much as I did.
Planning a Trip to Mexico:
- What NOT to Do in Mexico
- Solo Female Travel in Mexico: Is it Safe?
- Ultimate Guide to 50+ Best Cenotes in Mexico
Best of the Yucatán and the Caribbean Coast:
- Two Weeks in Mexico: The Ultimate Yucatán Road Trip Itinerary
- Isla Holbox, Mexico: An Idyllic Caribbean Getaway
- Campeche, Mexico: Things To Do and More
More from Mexico’s Pacific Coast:
Best of Inland Mexico:
- 35 Fun Things To Do in Guanajuato, Mexico
- 13 Best Mexico City Neighborhoods to Stay In (All Safe!)
- The ABSOLUTE Best Things To Do in Oaxaca, Mexico
- How to Visit Sumidero Canyon from San Cristóbal de las Casas
Have you traveled to Bacalar? Share your tips!
11 thoughts on “Bacalar Mexico: Travel Guide to The Yucatan’s Most Epic Lake”
Great Piece! I just relived it all over again. Really stunning.
Omg Bacalar looks so beautiful. The Maldives of Mexico? Yes, please! I haven’t spent nearly enough time but this (and Merida!) are totally on my list. Los Rapidos looks like such a blast and I can’t believe the colour of that water. Thanks for this super comprehensive guide!
I wouldn’t call it that 😉 but it is exceptionally beautiful!
Great piece! I’ll be visiting Bacalar next month! This sounds like the perfect spot for me!
I’m sorry you didn’t have a great experience in Tulum, maybe it’s because there were less tourists due to the pandemic but when I visited Tulum 2 weeks ago, but the water was very clear, no seaweed and while the fancy, insta-famous spots by the beach were very expensive, staying in town was very affordable. If you’re looking for a more authentic feel I would recommend staying in town. The neighborhood I stayed in felt more like Isla Holbox’s vibes.
Hi Kate! This is by far the best, and most comprehensive, blog post I’ve found on the region. You’ve inspired me do this same itinerary next month! I always come back to your site for recommendations- you are one of the few that has plenty of substance behind the photos. I appreciate your work in guiding others off the beaten path. Thank you!
Your article was very well-said and matter of fact! I just got back from Bacalar last week. It reminds me of Tulum 20 years ago, but not 30 years ago, as I recall my early days of travels. I am going to miss the Yucatán as it was in the 90s. Even your mentioning of Isla Holbox has become a little saturated with the atmosphere it once had.
I need to give a shout out to Guarumbo Hostel…look no further if you don’t want a party hostel and chill to meet other like-minded travelers.
I enjoyed this article nonetheless.
I have heard from multiple people that kayaking in Los Rapidos destroy the fragile stromatolites and the restaurant owners disregard the environmental impact and many of the stromatolites have died. In fact the hostel we frequent at Bacalar does not recommend people to go there at all.
I hope this can be taken into consideration as you make recommendation and showing pictures of people kayaking.
Reading your blog makes me feel that I already have visited Bacalar, but we should experience it as well. Appreciate every tiny details you have written, a very interesting place indeed! Hope we can preserve this place and let’s just enjoy Bacalar without ruining it. I never thought a lagoon can be beautiful, especially those different shades of blue!
Thank you for this great post!
We just visited Bacalar and it was amazing 🤩
We are a young family with a small baby (7 months), so now there are foreign babies at Bacalar 😀
Glad you all had a wonderful time!
I totally agree that we need to be careful when promoting places like Bacalar and it creats internal conflict among cautious travellers and writers. But like you said, those places will gain on traffic anyway so while spreading the word we have a responsibility to also educate and make travellers aware of how our presence can influence the area. It’s enough that we look at what happened to a place like Las Coloradas. Nevertheless, Bacalar is stunning and let’s hope it stays like this forever. Thank you for this guide. I always enjoy your heartfelt posts and honest guides.