Headed to Mexico and looking for the best things to do in Bacalar, Quintana Roo?! You’re in luck! I’m sharing all my favorite things to do in Bacalar, as well as how to get there, where to eat, and tons of other helpful tips!
Bacalar, Mexico — full of laid back vibes, a stunning freshwater lagoon with shockingly turquoise waters, a colorful downtown area, and all the delicious and healthy food you could want. It’s the best place to relax on any longer Yucatan/ Quintana Roo trip, and I cannot wait to go back (even though I just went)!
There’s a reason Bacalar is affectionately known as the “Maldives of Mexico”. Instead of going halfway around the world to find crystal clear turquoise waters, come to Bacalar instead! Known for its Lagoon of Seven Colors (La Laguna de Los Siete Colores), I could have spent my days just gazing out at all those beautiful blue and turquoise hues. Lemme just say – it was hard to leave!
The Mexican Government even designated Bacalar a Pueblo Magico (magic town!), and I can totally see why. This little known gem in the Yucatan Peninsula stole my heart the moment I arrived.
Haven’t heard much (if anything!) about Bacalar?! I admit I hadn’t either until visiting! We tend to love unpretentious little towns not many people have heard of. Kinda like when we visited Borrego Springs on our Southern California desert road trip, Todos Santos as a side trip to Los Cabos (although it’s recently gotten way more popular), Izamal as a day trip from Valladolid, and Menton and Villefranche Sur Mer near Nice!
So when I found myself with an extra week in Mexico (after the airline canceled my flight and gave me no options to return home… true story), I decided to make the 5 hour bus ride down to Bacalar. Why? To meet up with a girl I met a few days prior in Valladolid! What a great (super spontaneous) decision it was!
Bacalar was the best surprise on my much-longer Yucatan Peninsula itinerary. It’s a less-visited paradise – a relatively unknown slice of the Caribbean. And I was all for it.
Bacalar’s not as popular as other spots in Mexico (I’m looking at you Mexico City, Tulum, Cabo, etc) but still very, very worthy of a visit. I feel like it’s still under the radar to most tourists (how San Pancho and Izamal are), but I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna start getting popular, and FAST. So don’t wait much longer — go soon!
Before I get into all the fun things to do in Bacalar, he’s a bunch of info to help you plan your trip!
Bacalar Trip Planning Logistics
Where is Bacalar?
Bacalar is nestled in the southeast corner of Mexico in the state of Quintana Roo, about 215 miles southwest of Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula.
It’s not too far from the Belize border (only about 30 minutes or so), and plenty of travelers to Bacalar head to Belize afterwards. Including my friend I met while traveling solo in Mexico!
Bacalar is about 2 hours south of Tulum, which is the closest major (and popular) tourist destination. It’s not on the coast, so you won’t find any beaches, but Bacalar is perfectly situated right on the stunning Bacalar Lagoon. Meaning – tons of lake time!
Planning a trip to Mexico and thinking of adding on Bacalar? Remember — Mexico is a HUGE country! Bacalar is on the opposite coast of popular spots like Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita, and the up-and-coming tiny town of San Pancho, and nowhere near Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, or Oaxaca (although those are all worthy of their own Mexico trip).
You’ll wanna save spots like Los Cabos, La Paz, and Todos Santos for another Mexico trip as well, since they’re far away from Bacalar.
I recommend grouping Bacalar with a trip to Merida, Izamal, Valladolid, Chichen Itza, and Tulum!
How to Get to Bacalar
Even though Bacalar is pretty far removed from the other hotspots of the Yucatan Peninsula (it sits in the extreme south of Quintana Roo), it’s fairly easy to get to! There’s no airport in Bacalar, but there’s thankfully other ways of getting here.
Most people head to Bacalar from elsewhere in Quintana Roo (like Cancun or Tulum) or from nearby Belize City. Bacalar is pretty far south in the Yucatán Peninsula, so expect to be a few hours away from all the popular, well-known hot spots.
Option 1: Rent a Car From the Airport and Drive
Many visitors to Bacalar will be flying into Cancun International Airport (airport code CUN). From here you can easily rent a car and drive straight to Bacalar from the airport in about 4 hours. Unlike other parts of Mexico, the roads are in decent condition and mostly well-maintained.
If I was traveling with friends I think we would have rented a car as the drive seemed pretty straight forward (I took the bus). Plus, having a rental car will give you utmost flexibility, meaning you can make some stops along the way to Bacalar, like to Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Akumal (to swim with sea turtles).
You can also drive from the Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport (BZE) in Belize City. It takes about 3 hours or so.
Psst: If you’re heading from Belize into Mexico (and therefore crossing the border), you’ll need to go through two immigration checkpoints – one for each country. Be prepared to pay the fees.
Option 2: ADO bus from Cancun, Tulum, or Valladolid
Don’t feel comfortable renting a car? Take public transit instead! ADO is the largest bus company in Mexico, and services the entire Yucatan Peninsula. These are large coach tourist buses and exceptionally nicer than standard buses in the states. Since I was already in Cancun anticipating my flight home… which was then canceled the day of.. I took the bus from downtown Cancun to Bacalar.
It was a long and tiring day – about 5 hours on the bus. But thankfully, I had previously used the ADO buses all around Yucatan and Quintana Roo, and found them super comfortable, safe, and easy!
You can easily take an ADO bus from all around the Yucatan Peninsula to Bacalar. Here’s some popular nonstop routes and travel times:
- Chetumal: 45 minutes
- Mahahual: 1 ½ hours
- Tulum: 2 ½ hours
- Playa del Carmen: 4 hours
- Valladolid: 4 hours
- Cancun: 5 hours
- Merida: 5 hours
Buses run continuously throughout the day and late into the night. And aren’t expensive at all – expect buses from Cancun to Bacalar to be about 600 MXN pesos, or $30USD. Book your ADO bus ticket here (or you can simply show up at the bus station, but there’s no guarantee the exact bus time you want will still be available).
Psst – you’ll likely save some money booking in advance on the website. I had no problems using my Visa, but I’ve heard some people having difficulty using foreign credit cards.
Make sure to bring snacks, water (don’t worry, there’s a bathroom on the bus), and some entertainment. The ADO bus drops you off on the side of the main road about 15 minutes from town – you can either walk to your hotel (which I did) or take a quick taxi ride.
Option 3: Fly to Chetumal
Rather fly? While there’s no airport in Bacalar itself, there is one about 45 minutes away in Chetumal, Mexico. You can take a short commuter flight from Cancun (with AeroMexico or Volaris) or Belize City (with Tropic Air).
You can then take a shared shuttle transfer right from Chetumal Airport to Bacalar for less than $20 (or rent a car if you’d like instead).
Option 4: Day Trip from Mahahual
Mahahual (Costa Maya) is a cruise ship port, so if you’re headed to the area via cruise ship you can easily take a day trip to Bacalar and explore its lagoon if you prefer! Mahahual and Bacalar are about an hour away from each other, and there’s plenty of local tour companies offering day trips.
Option 5: Day Trip from Tulum, Playa del Carmen, or Cancun
While I honestly think Bacalar deserves way more than a few hours (all you’ll really get on a day trip), if that’s all you have time for, GO! Most organized tours will take you on a tour of the stunning turquoise lagoon, plus give you time for lunch and a walk around town to see the San Felipe Fort.
Book your tour from Cancun here and from Playa del Carmen here.
How to Get Around Bacalar
The downtown area of Bacalar is pretty compact, so you can easily walk from spot to spot. I think we walked almost 15k steps each and every day!
However, if you’re headed to a beach club a bit further afield (or Los Rapidos – highly recommend), you’ll need to take a taxi. There’s no Uber in Bacalar (yet!), so expect to take taxis and carry pesos on hand. As always in Mexico, negotiate on a price before getting into a cab, and feel free to negotiate a bit.
When to Visit Bacalar
Bacalar is gorgeous any time of year, but if you don’t wanna get stuck in a massive storm, keep on reading!
Unlike other coastal areas like Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Bacalar is typically a bit cooler. So expect a light breeze no matter the time of year and bring along a light sweater or jacket for night time.
High Season: December – April (Dry Season)
Winter (December to April) is the best time to visit Bacalar with pleasant temps and the least rainfall of the year. Expect hot temps during the day (mid to high 80s°F) and mild, warm temps at night once the sun goes down.
Just know it’ll be more expensive and crowded the week around Christmas (when I went!) and Easter (spring break). Bacalar isn’t overrun with tourists – yet – but what is typically a pretty sleepy town definitely wakes up around these holidays. If there’s any restaurants you really wanna dine at, come early.
For reference, I visited in late December, and unfortunately had mixed weather of rain, clouds, and sun. When we arrived it was pouring rain, and it hardly let up the rest of the day.
Thankfully it was dry the next few days, although I wish we had more sun! The colors of the lake really shine when it’s sunny. I heard that once it rains for a few days, that’s it for a while, so I must have just gotten unlucky. All the more reason to head back.
Low Season: May – November (Hot, Rainy Season)
Summer brings the heat and rain, and I don’t recommend visiting between June and October if you can’t stand the sweltering heat. It can be pretty steamy this time of year, (with temps reaching well into the 90℉), but that’s what the lagoon is for!
Your best bet during low season is to visit towards the beginning, between May and July, before Hurricane Season is in full swing. The most rain occurs in September and October, when most major hurricanes hit the area.
Prime Hurricane Season: August – October
Whatever you do, avoid visiting Bacalar from August through October. While Hurricane Season officially runs from June through November on all of Mexico’s Caribbean coast, the absolute worst of the hurricanes hit between August and October.
Meaning you don’t wanna visit now. Avoid visiting Bacalar during this time – the chance of heavy rain and wind may force you to ultimately leave and spoil your vacation anyways!
While the odds of a hurricane actually hitting Bacalar are fairly low, tropical storms do happen (resulting in major flooding and potentially muddy and dark lagoon waters). I’d hate to plan an entire trip to beautiful Bacalar only to have it spoiled by rain and a hurricane! No thanks!
Additional FAQs and Info About Bacalar
Is English spoken? A little bit! Since tourism is increasing fast in Bacalar, you’ll find many locals with some proficiency in English. But that doesn’t mean everyone is fluent nor should you expect everyone to speak in English. Locals will greatly appreciate it if you use a bit of Spanish (or at least try!). So download Duolingo and practice the basics before you go!
We managed just fine with our limited Spanish, although my 2 weeks in Mexico practicing beforehand definitely helped!
Local Currency: Like the rest of Mexico, the local currency in Bacalar is the Mexican Peso. I highly advise you take out some pesos at an ATM at the Cancun airport upon arrival (as you’ll get the best conversion rate using an ATM and never at a currency exchange kiosk).
Don’t expect all restaurants and shops in Bacalar to take credit cards, so always be prepared. In addition, you’ll want some cash for tips, at small handicraft shops, road-side taco and snack stands, as well as for any taxis you may be taking to/from the beach clubs.
Don’t rely on ATMS: Word to the wise – take out enough cash before heading to Bacalar.
I always assumed ATMs would be readily available with cash to dispose of everywhere around the world… until I got to Guatape in Colombia on a different trip and there was absolutely no money to be found.
Now I typically do some research in advance. But since I headed to Bacalar on a whim, I didn’t know what to expect until I got there! Unfortunately I learned firsthand that there’s not many ATMs in Bacalar, and the ones that I did find weren’t working properly or ran out of cash.
After asking around, I found what I think is the one main strip of ATMs in all of Bacalar – within the main building at the Plaza – with 3 or 4 ATMs next to each other. It’s kinda tricky to find, but go around the building and you’ll see it kinda hidden.
There’s also an ATM at the entrance to La Playita Restaurant, but its typically out of money (including when I was there).
With all that being said, bring enough cash with you just in case all the ATMs are out of money at the same time. You don’t wanna get stuck without any pesos – that means no boat rides, no local snacks, and minimal restaurants to choose from.
Hate paying those pesky ATM fees? I feel you – those are the worst and really add up over time. Look into a no-fee debit card before your trip. We’ve been using Charles Schwab for years and haven’t paid a fee in forever.
How Long to Stay in Bacalar: I spent three nights and two full days in Bacalar, and felt it was the perfect amount of time. If I had booked a hotel right on the water, I think I would have enjoyed another day or two hanging at the lake and relaxing. The town is teeny-tiny (we walked the whole thing a few times), and most of the activities focus around the water.
However, if you’re not too far away, (Tulum is about a 2 ½ hour drive), you can easily see its highlights in a very long day. But however long you stay (as a day trip from Tulum or a few days like me), definitely take a sailing trip on Lake Bacalar. The color of the water in the lagoon is unreal – I wish I could float in those waters all day, everyday.
Bacalar is a Pueblo Magico: There’s a reason Bacalar’s been designated as a Pueblo Mágico (Magic Town) by the Mexican government (just like Todos Santos, Teotihuacán, Izamal, Valladolid, Sayulita, Tulum, San Miguel de Allende, etc – wow, I’ve been to quite a few of them!).
Bacalar is known for its natural beauty (have you seen the photos?!), historical importance, and variety of activities. Hence the designation as a Magic Town!
Are there beaches in Bacalar? Nope! But the Bacalar Lagoon is just as good (if not better) than any beach, so don’t dismiss Bacalar on that fact alone! If you’re dying for a beach day, head on over to Mahahual, about an hour or so away by shuttle.
Can I wear sunscreen in Bacalar? You may have heard you cannot wear sunscreen in the Bacalar Lagoon – and that’s true! Of course, make sure to slather on that sunscreen when you’re out in the sun, but make sure to completely wash it off before entering the lagoon.
But why?! Sunscreens (even reef safe and biodegradable kinds) can negatively affect the pH balance of the lagoon water. This in turn can damage its fragile ecosystem, which the town has worked so hard to preserve. Just follow the rules people!
There’s other ways to protect your skin — come prepared with a sun hat and long-sleeve swimwear!
Is Bacalar the next Tulum? Ugh, I sure hope not! But honestly, (and unfortunately), it kinda seems like it! There’s a reason The New York Times called Bacalar the next Tulum in 2019.
As I was walking around town, I totally got some trendy Tulum vibes – not that I hated it, but it just makes me sad to think in the next 5 years or so this place will most likely be discovered by the masses and probably lose some of its authentic, laid back charm.
In 2019 alone, over 200k tourists visited the lagoon — much higher numbers than in the past. Tourism is becoming such a big part of the community that about half of the town’s residents work in the field!
Which is why I urge you to GET. THERE. NOW. Bacalar was even trending on Tik-Tok a few weeks ago, which makes sense as it’s a cheaper, less-crowded alternative to Tulum.
So… with all that being said, get there before it gets spoiled by the masses (and don’t post too much about it on social media).
Are there crocodiles in Bacalar Lagoon? Yup – although you probably won’t come across any. The Bacalar Lagoon is a fresh water area, and is a habitat for plenty of wildlife, yes, including crocodiles. Only swim in areas that are heavily patrolled, and never, ever by yourself. There have been a few crocodile attacks in the last year, although thankfully no casualties.
During our 3 days in Bacalar we (thankfully!) didn’t run into any crocodiles. I would have royally freaked out. While out on the lagoon, listen to your captain and boat staff – some spots of the lagoon are dangerous to swim in.
Is there sargassum (seaweed) in Bacalar? Nope! Unlike other parts of the Caribbean (I’m talking about you Tulum and Playa del Carmen), Bacalar is completely free from sargassum (seaweed). Sargassum is a type of brown algae that grows in masses in the ocean and piles up on the sand. Not exactly what you picture a beautiful beach day to look like.
Trust me, it’s way worse than it sounds – and thankfully Bacalar has none of that since it’s a lagoon and not the open ocean.
What’s a stromatolite? Yeah – I had no idea until I visited either, haha. Stromatolites (or estromatolitos in Spanish) are one-cell organisms, and they’re the OLDEST LIVING THINGS ON EARTH! As in dating back to more than three billion years ago – whoa (for reference, Earth is ~4.5 billion years old). They’re living fossils and are super important for the health of the lagoon.
Just like algae cleans the salty ocean, stromatolites clean the freshwater of the lagoon by increasing the amount of oxygen. Stromatolites are super rare, and Bacalar is one of the few places on Earth where they survive and thrive! Whatever you do, don’t touch or stand on them.
Health and Safety in Quintana Roo
Health: You’ll need to stick to bottled water as you cannot drink the water in Bacalar (you can brush your teeth with it, but that’s about it). But don’t worry, you’ll easily find bottles of purified water in all restaurants and markets.
And rest assured, all ice is made from purified water as well. Our hotel had bottles of water for us everyday, and we thankfully didn’t get sick from any fresh veggies or fruit we ate.
In terms of food, when ordering from street vendors, ensure it’s fully cooked and hasn’t been sitting out for too long (if foods not selling this is a good indication it’s been there a while). We had no problems with any drinks or food in Bacalar, and felt everything was of great quality.
Safety: I know, I know. Mexico gets a bad rep. But I can assure you we felt completely safe during our few days in Bacalar, even walking back to our hotel at night.
Use precautions like you would elsewhere in the world – like keeping expensive jewelry/watches at home, hiding electronics, being extra careful and observant at banks and ATMs, and knowing your alcohol limit.
Where to Stay in Bacalar
You’ve essentially got two options for staying in Bacalar – in the town itself, or directly on the lagoon. It kinda depends what kinda experience you want. I opted for a hotel in town to be closer to restaurants and nightlife, but I could totally see the appeal of being right on the water. No bad choice here!
Like Tulum and Sayulita, expect to find boutique hotels and guesthouses in town and lining Lake Bacalar. There’s no megaresorts or massive chains over here – mostly small, independent hotels. Don’t expect ultra-luxury and tons of entertainment; you go to Bacalar to get away from it all.
Here’s a breakdown of the two main areas to stay and recommended hotels in each.
If you wanna be closer to restaurants and the center of town, I’d choose a hotel in Downtown Bacalar. Hotels over here are typically more affordable.
Note you’ll need to either take a short taxi ride (100 pesos or so) to get to the more desirable parts of the Lagoon (where the beach clubs are), or walk about 45 minutes to them like we did.
- Agam Hotel: This is where I stayed, and would highly recommend it! It was located right on the outskirts of town, so nothing was far and felt pretty peaceful. Super chic and the included breakfast was great!
- Hotel Aires: A sustainably managed property with a swimming pool and thatched roof boho-style bar. Trendy rooms include balconies with beautiful lagoon views. I’d gladly stay here for that pool alone!
- Hotel Makaaba Eco Boutique: Right in town with free bikes, an outdoor swimming pool, a terrace and restaurant. Plus, those nets overlooking the pool look so fun! I especially love the banana trees, papaya trees, tomatoes, chili peppers, corn, and herbs growing right on property!
- The Yak Lake House Hostel: A very vibey hostel – we peeked in and it looked like such a good time. There’s shared dorms for about 20 bucks a night and private room options right on the lagoon, with a cool communal hangout and pool. I’d totally stay here next time.
Directly On the Lagoon
Wanna wake up right on the lagoon? There’s plenty of hotels lining the lagoon with water views – take your pick!
Most hotels over here have fun activities like kayaking and yoga. While you can watch sunrise from the private docks of your hotel (most have these), you may miss out on the more popular restaurants and bars in downtown Bacalar.
- Casa Bakal: Here you’ll find rooms immersed in nature, cozy hammocks facing the lagoon, and even free use of kayaks and paddle boards! The bungalows look so cute! Such a great location and only a 10 minute bike ride into town.
- Casa Arabe: Our lagoon tour left from Casa Arabe, and the entire property looks divine! I’d gladly spend all day on that lounge and terrace. With the most amazing views, too!
- Habitas Bacalar: This famous Tulum hotel now has a second location in Bacalar – it’s easily the best upscale hotel in all of Bacalar (with a price tag to match). The hotel is set between the tranquil Bacalar lagoon and the Mayan jungle, and I’m dying to stay in one of the individual bungalows. The restaurant looks delicious too!
- Mia Bacalar Luxury Resort and Spa: Green, ecological, private and luxurious. Located a bit north of town right on the lagoon, Mia Bacalar is what Mexican dreams are made of. I’d love to stay here with my husband next time – it looks oh so dreamy and romantic. Or at least I’d have dinner at Hunab Ku, their signature restaurant. They even have an authentic temazcal on property!
- Hotel Carolina Bacalar: This small boutique hotel has a trendy vibe with swings in the water, a private dock, and pool overlooking the lagoon. Plus a garden and a private lagoon area.
What to Pack for Bacalar
No one dresses up in Bacalar – I mean we practically lived in bathing suits our entire time there! Leave your fancy clothes at home – you don’t need them here. Besides your typical beachwear, here’s a few other things you’ll wanna pack for your trip:
- Polarized sunglasses (better for blocking out the harsh UV rays)
- Beach bag and/or backpack: make sure it’s large enough to fit a beach towel or two!
- Hat/s: The sun is strong here! I love taking a wide-brimmed sun hat for the beach and a fun trucker hat when hanging around town.
- A waterproof kindle or other e-reader for reading at the beach clubs on the lagoon and hotel pool (I’d be worried a physical book may accidentally get wet!)
- Your hotel may give you towels, but we love traveling with a sand-free beach mat
- Reusable water bottle: better for the environment and a must at the beach!
- Aloe Vera Gel: always have some handy in case you get a sunburn; aloe will give the burn some much-needed relief
- Dramamine: This will help with motion sickness on your boat tour (which is the #1 thing to do in Bacalar!)
- Bug spray will come in handy during Bacalar’s humid months (June to October), and calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream is good to have on hand for when you undoubtedly get bitten
- Portable battery charger: Charge your phone on the go and never run out of battery! I always need to borrow my friends so I’ve finally made it a habit to start bringing my own.
- Noise-canceling headphones: Great for both the plane and the beach! I’m obsessed with my AirPods and Noah loves his Bose Quiet Comforts.
- Foldable tote bag: If you’re planning on doing some shopping in Bacalar (you must!), bring your own fold-up tote bag as not all street vendors give out bags. I love this collapsible reusable tote bag (hardly takes up any room in your suitcase and it’s so lightweight)
- Some meds for an upset stomach/antidiarrheal medicine (just in case you accidentally drink the water or something doesn’t agree with you – bound to happen, just be prepared)
- Sunscreen: The sun is strong here (this is Mexico afterall!), just know you can’t wear any sunscreen in the lagoon (not even the reef-safe/mineral kind).
- Water shoes are great for getting in and out of the water at Los Rapidos
- Dry bag for storing all your stuff on your lagoon tour!
- Underwater camera: All my underwater photography tips and gear here. I’d pack an underwater phone case too, which is perfect for protecting your phone on the boat and floating down Los Rapidos.
Best Things To Do In Bacalar
Finally – what you’re probably here for! All my favorite things to do in Bacalar, plus a few I wish I had time for!
One of the beauties of Bacalar is that there isn’t a crazy ton to do here. Yes, there’s enough to keep you busy for a few days, but most of the activities revolve around the lagoon and are just plain relaxing! Fine by me! If you’re a sucker for hanging by the water, I guarantee you’ll love this place.
Have two full days in Bacalar? Plan for a lagoon tour one day, and spend some time at Los Rapidos on the other. Hey, I just planned your whole trip for you, haha.
Boat Tour of Bacalar Lagoon
Out of all the things to do in Bacalar, taking a boat tour of the lagoon is easily #1. You can’t visit Bacalar and NOT spend a day out on the water. It’s the main reason people come to Bacalar afterall! Have you seen the photos?!
Bacalar is famous for its lagoon of 7 colors – known as Lago de Siete Colores in Spanish. Why the 7 colors? Because as the water depth changes in the lagoon, so does the color of the water! Imagine a dark navy and deep turquoise and pale translucent blue. Basically all the shades of blue you can think of!
And yes, it’s just as remarkable as it sounds. The lake is crystal clear and it’s all freshwater! Conservation efforts have been put into place ensuring pollution is kept to a bare minimum.
When you arrive into town, you’ll quickly see all the guides trying to sell you tours. I think we got approached by 5 different people on our first afternoon stroll! These tours aren’t horrible (we listened to plenty of spiels), but I was worried the communication barrier would be problematic and had a feeling they’d feel exceptionally touristy.
Not all tours are offered in English, so if your Spanish isn’t up to par, I recommend booking a guided tour of the lagoon in advance. All lagoon tours typically visit the same spots – including Pirate Canal, Bird Island, and a few crystal-clear cenotes.
Regardless of when you book, there’s two different types of boats you can choose from:
While both are great options, I highly encourage you to spend a little extra money and take a sailboat out on the lagoon. For starters, sailboats don’t pollute the gorgeous turquoise waters like pontoon boats do, and groups are usually a bit smaller. Plus, there won’t be any annoying engine noise – the last thing you want on your relaxing day out on the water!
Sailboat tours will always be a bit more expensive since they’re typically a bit longer (3-4 hours instead of 2) and on nicer, more comfortable boats. Some even offer snacks and lunch! Book your sailboat tour here!
We paid about $50 each for a half day tour of the lagoon, which visited all the popular spots you’ll wanna see! Out of all the things to do in Bacalar, we LOVED our tour out on the water – I could have stayed in that turquoise water all day.
If you’re traveling with a few friends and/or family members, why not book your own private boat for the afternoon?! If you have 4 or 5 people it’s not really all that much more expensive, and then you have complete control of how long you spend at each stop!
Float down Los Rápidos
Los Rápidos was a pleasant surprise in Bacalar, and one of my favorite things we did our entire trip.
What is it exactly? Basically Mother Nature’s version of a lazy river! I wasn’t expecting to have so much fun at Los Rapidos – but I did, and I would have gladly stayed all day.
Los Rapidos is actually part of the Bacalar Lagoon (yes, it’s all the same body of water) – but the current is a bit stronger and it’s lined with stromatolites and mangroves. It’s absolutely beautiful, even on a cloudy day like we had – just look at those drone photos (sent to us by two friendly gals we met that day)! What a unique, spectacular landscape.
After you pay the small entrance fee (150 pesos or so, ~$7.50USD), you can either chill out in the water, grab some food and drinks overlooking the lagoon, and/or float down the river!
We headed straight for the water! Simply walk on the wooden platform to the end of the canal and float back with the current. Doesn’t sound too exciting, but I swear it’s such a good time.
Life jackets are not mandatory, but in order to achieve max-chill and least effort, we wore them in the water. Beware – most of the lifejackets are a size large so you may need to browse through quite a few until you find your size. You can also rent a kayak or paddleboard (for an additional fee), but we simply floated down the river in our life jackets.
Whatever you do, don’t step on a stromatolite – they’re the oldest living organisms on Earth and are extremely, extremely fragile and delicate.
Los Rapidos is one of the most unique things to do in Bacalar, and one I wouldn’t miss even with only 2 days in the area.
How to get to Los Rapidos: You’ll need to take a quick taxi ride as Los Rapidos is located a few km away from downtown Bacalar, on the way to Xul-Ha. Well worth it, I promise! Shouldn’t cost you more than 200-250 pesos one way ($10-12USD).
Sunrise Stand Up Paddle
Up early?! Sign up for a sunrise stand up paddle board session! What’s better than enjoying a spectacular sunrise at the Lagoon of Seven Colors, listening to the songs of local birds, and relaxing on the lake sitting on your paddle board?! Hint: not much.
Don’t know how to paddle board? No worries – the instructors will teach you how and guide you the whole way. And luckily the calm waters of the lagoon make it super easy to enjoy (meaning you’re way less likely to end up in the water)!
Definitely one of the best things to do in Bacalar, especially since you have the lake almost to yourself that early in the morning! It sounds oh so peaceful. I missed out on this but totally wish I had the motivation to wake up before the sun — I like my sleep, what can I say?!
This sunrise paddleboard tour even includes photos, so you can leave your phone back on dry land and fully take in the experience.
Explore the Town of Bacalar
Downtown Bacalar is way less touristy than other nearby spots in Quintana Roo (helloooo trendy and overcrowded Tulum). Sure, you’ll still find stalls selling street food and some souvenir shops, but the town is way more laid back and chill.
The downtown is honestly only a few blocks, making it super easy to explore in only a few hours. There’s still lots to see though! In the middle of town you’ll find the zocalo (town square plaza) with the iconic Bacalar letters (Letras Bacalar) and marquesita stands.
Despite its small size and considering it’s still pretty much off the main tourist path, there’s a good amount of scrumptious restaurants, cute cafes, and shops to explore. I was surprised just how much good food was here in the tiny town! Even though we stayed for 3 nights, I still missed so many places on my restaurant wish-list.
I loved wandering around and finding the colorful murals around town – that was totally unexpected! I swear, it’s gonna be the next Tulum – get here NOW before everyone finds out about this hidden paradise.
Relax at a Beach Club
Since Bacalar is situated on a lagoon, there’s no real beaches here (understandably). Unlike nearby spots like Tulum and Playa del Carmen, there’s no long stretches of white sand. Instead, there’s plenty of beach clubs (known around here as balnearios) to hang out at, complete with hammocks and swings in the water. Way more fun than any beach I know!
At most balnearios you’ll pay a small fee (around 50 pesos or so) in order to use the facilities, like docks, hammocks over the water, onsite restaurants, and more. Did you read that right? HAMMOCKS OVER THE WATER! Life made!
A few of the most popular beach clubs in Bacalar to check out:
El Buho Hotel & Lagoon Club: We spent a few heavenly hours here after our lagoon tour, and never wanted to leave! There were hammocks in the water, sun beds on the deck, and beach chairs by the water. The ultimate laid back paradise.
One note – getting into the swings in the water is way harder than it looks unless you’ve got tons of upper body strength. 😉 I didn’t even attempt it even though I wanted that photo so badly! My friend struggled pretty badly, but eventually made it up into the swing!
We had a yummy lunch at the Italian restaurant on the property – whatever you do, try the Neapolitan bruschetta (so simple and light but we devoured it within a few minutes and I wanted even more).
Beach Club Blu: Located right near Cenote Azul, this balneario is more upscale and pristine than the others, with soothing music, sun beds, towels, and service. It’s far from being overcrowded, although it makes sense since the entrance fee is pricier than the others at 150 pesos per person for a day pass.
Unfortunately when we went it was super windy so we decided to take a quick peek then headed back to town. The staff was super friendly and helpful though!
Balneario Ejidal Mágico Bacalar: This is the closest beach club to town – perfect if your hotel doesn’t have access to the lagoon. There’s changing rooms, a restaurant and bar, souvenir shop, hammocks and swings in the water, platforms to jump off, and even pontoon tours and kayaks to rent as well.
Well worth the small entrance fee of ~50 pesos per person (although if you want a palapa it’s an extra 70 pesos).
It’s not as fancy and chic as the new tourist places on the lagoon, but the prices are much better. Loud and fun, don’t expect much peace and quiet here. All in all, a great spot to hang out with the locals while sipping a margarita with freshly squeezed lime juice.
Admire the View from the Pirate Tower at Casa Árabe
If it hadn’t been for our lagoon tour departing from the docks at Casa Arabe, I don’t think we would have ever known about this place! Casa Arabe is actually a hotel right on the lakefront, and we loved having a quick look around.
Of course I wandered up the (many claustrophobic) steps to the viewpoint – it’s actually the highest spot in Bacalar, so of course there’s a great view from up there. Seeing all 7 colors of the lagoon at once was mind blowing! Just look at those shades of turquoise!
Isla de Los Pájaro (Bird Island)
All lagoon tours make a stop near Isla de Los Pájaro (or Bird Island in English). You won’t be able to actually reach the island or step foot on it (the entire island is protected), but boats can get pretty close to it! And you probably won’t even see any birds here because they typically migrate back to the island as the sun sets.
Because our boat tour was during the day, we unfortunately didn’t see any birds, but honestly I was too mesmerized by the crystal clear water to even realize we were docked outside the island anyways, haha.
The water is super clear and ridiculously clean, with the lightest blue waters I’ve ever seen – a beautiful spot along the Bacalar Lagoon. Our sailboat stopped here and we swam around for a half hour or so, taking in the gorgeous landscapes and cool, refreshing waters. One of my favorite stops on our sailboat tour!
Canal de Los Piratas (the Pirates’ Channel)
The Pirate’s Channel connects the Hondo River with the Bacalar Lagoon, and it’s absolutely mesmerizing. You can see all seven colors of the lagoon over here – great for photos, swimming, and hanging out in the water.
It’s most impressive from above – the Canal de Los Piratas is a super photogenic, narrow strip of vibrant turquoise water, complete with sand bars on both sands! If you have a drone, this is the spot to whip it out.
And guess what?! Real pirates used this channel way back when to secretly enter the lagoon in the 1700s! Crazy! Talk about a wild history lesson.
Nowadays, The Pirate’s Channel is a great spot to relax and hang out. It’s only accessible by boat or kayak, and you can actually walk around and explore the piece of an abandoned ship’s bow. The water is so shallow you can walk for a while and the water will hardly even cover your ankles.
We zipped by the Pirate’s Channel on our lagoon tour, but I didn’t even realize it because I was having too much fun sailing with the wind in my hair.
Explore a Cenote
If you’ve spent any time in the Yucatan Peninsula, you’ve surely heard of cenotes! If not, I’ll explain!
Cenotes (pronounced suh-NO-tayz) are natural freshwater swimming holes; essentially, sinkholes filled with groundwater (connected to much larger bodies of water deep under the surface). Some are even part of massive cave systems, full of stalagmites and stalactites, like the crazy popular Cenote Suytun outside of Valladolid. Pretty fascinating, right?
The cenotes in Bacalar are a bit different – they’re not underground or even partially cave-like like many you’ll find in Tulum and Merida. Instead, these are sinkholes that are like giant open lakes of varying depths – causing the color of the water to vary drastically from cenote to cenote.
Good to know: Before swimming in any cenote in Bacalar, you’ll need to take a quick shower to rinse off your sunscreen and bug spray – these chemicals harm the nutrients in the cenote.
Here’s the most popular ones in Bacalar, and where many lagoon tours go. I visited all 3 on my sailboat lagoon tour and found them each fascinating!
Cenote Azul (Blue Cenote): This cenote is HUGE, and is actually one of the largest sinkholes in all of Mexico! It’s filled with intense blue water (hence the name, haha), and it’s a great place to cool off on a hot day. Cenote Azul is perfect for snorkeling and diving – it’s 90 meters deep (that’s almost 300 feet!) and there’s tons of caverns to explore.
At Cenote Azul you’ll find a restaurant with beers, swings to take pictures on, and shaded patios for when you’ve had too much sun. It’s honestly kinda like a beach club! But unlike some of the more posh beach clubs nearby, Cenote Azul has a more local vibe to it. And it’s only 50 pesos to enter (~$2.50USD)!
Cenote Negro (Black Cenote): This is Bacalar’s largest and deepest cenote at 100 meters deep (~330 feet)! The color is a deep, dark navy (almost black!) that stands out in contrast with the turquoise waters surrounding it. If you have a drone you can easily capture the clear distinction between the turquoise water of the lagoon and the area where the cenote begins.
In order to see the different colors and how they change, you’ll need to view the cenote on the lake itself – so best to see it on a lagoon tour or kayak! You’re not allowed to swim in Cenote Negro due to the depth of the water… there’s also been a few crocodiles swimming there recently. No thanks!
Psst – Cenote Negro is also known as The Witch’s Cenote (or Cenote de la Bruja). There’s a local legend that states a Mayan witch lived on its shores! Whether or not that’s true… we’ll never know!
Cenote Esmeraldas: We visited Cenote Esmeraldas on our lagoon tour, and while it’s worthy of a quick stop, it’s not the actual cenote that is the most impressive. It’s the area around the cenote that is – the clearest, most bluest turquoise water you’ll ever see!
Boats stop here for a while, and it’s a great place to chill out and swim around. The captain had a hard time getting us all back on the boat, haha.
Visit San Felipe Fort (Fuerte de San Felipe)
San Felipe Fort is right in the middle of Downtown Bacalar, so you can’t miss it as you’re wandering around town! Easily one of the most historic things to do in Bacalar! I admit we almost missed the fort, but quickly checked it out on our way to dinner one night.
This Spanish fortress was built in 1729, completed in 1733, in order to defend the town from pirate attacks roaming the Caribbean coastline of Mexico. Yes, there were real life pirates over here, just like in Kleftiko, Greece (another gorgeous spot I highly recommend visiting)!
While most visitors head up here around sunset for great views of the lake, you can also go inside the little museum if you wish. For 110 pesos for foreigners, you get to see some artifacts and murals depicting the area’s history, as well as learn about the history of this magical town. All the way from pre-Hispanic times to the recent formation of Quintana Roo, the state where you’ll find Bacalar.
Try a Marquesita
What’s a marquesita you ask? A speciality of the Yucatan Peninsula, and quite possibly my favorite thing I ate during my entire two weeks in the Yucatan, that’s all!
They’re essentially a thin-wafer crepe rolled like a taco, stuffed with filings of your choice! Think condensed milk, jam, chocolate, custard, caramel, fruit, etc. I especially loved nutella with edam cheese and strawberries (sounds weird but I swear it’s so unexpectedly good).
I devoured a whole bunch during my 2 weeks in the Yucatan Peninsula, and loved every bite. Whoops!
You’ll find street stalls selling these delicious local specialities in the downtown Zocalo, on the side streets near the fort, and towards Balneario Ejidal Mágico Bacalar at sunset.
Kayaking out on the lagoon is easily one of the best things to do in Bacalar! You get to explore at your own pace and admire the colors of the lagoon for as long as you’d like. Great for outdoor adventure lovers!
Plus, you can access places the sailboats and pontoons can’t reach! Secure your full-day kayak rental here! I’m pretty clumsy and would have definitely fallen into the water, so I skipped this activity, although I want to start learning how to kayak soon.
Day Trip to Mahahual
Have an extra day to spare? Already sailed the lagoon and floated down Los Rapidos? Head over to Mahahual, a small beach town about an hour away in the Caribbean on the coast of Mexico. And yes, there’s actual beaches here! And they’re gorgeous!
Spend the day at a beach club, enjoy the beautiful sandy coastline, get a beach-side massage, and even go snorkeling. My kinda day!
This full-day guided tour to Mahahual includes roundtrip transportation from either Bacalar or nearby Chetumal, access to a beach club and all its facilities, plus a trip to a Mayan village to meet its beekeepers.
Local Tip: Mahahual is home to a cruise port, known as Costa Maya, so avoid cruise ship days if possible!
I’m so bummed I didn’t make it to Mahahual – next time for me. Those sandy white beaches look gorgeous.
Suggested Bacalar Itinerary
We had no set plan when we arrived in Bacalar, and wouldn’t have had it any other way. Kinda felt like laid-back island life! Here’s a rough example of how we spent our 3 days in Bacalar:
- Day 1: Check into hotel, explore downtown Bacalar, tacos at Mr. Taco
- Day 2: Lagoon tour sailboat trip, Bacalar viewpoint, hang at beach clubs, dinner at Finisterre Bacalar
- Day 3: Morning/afternoon at Los Rapidos, marquesita snack, sunset drinks and dinner at La Playita
Where to Eat and Drink in Bacalar
I was pleasantly surprised by the plethora of foodie options in Bacalar. Despite its small size, we had no trouble finding delicious, freshly-made meals.
I will say the vibe is definitely on the pricier side, and you’ll see this in the menu and boho aesthetics. Nothing was crazy expensive and food was way less expensive than at home in San Francisco, but not as cheap as in other spots I visited in the Yucatan.
- La Playita: One of the most popular spots for sunset drinks and dinner in Bacalar! We came one night and I couldn’t stop raving about my coconut shrimp (the best I’ve ever had). Truly a Bacalar institution and not to be missed! Feels just like paradise with a perfect view of the lagoon!
- Yerbabuena Smoothie Bar: One of the best brunch spots in Bacalar, with fresh (and delicious) smoothie bowls, colorful toasts, smoothies, and more on the menu.
- La Pina: A super chill place with authentic Mexican food, plus fresh smoothies with a beautiful sandy tropical leafy garden in the back. Don’t miss the molletes, chilaquiles, and empanadas!
- Mr. Taco: By far the best tacos in Bacalar. Super, super casual, and such a fun, colorful spot for a quick lunch. It’s usually pretty busy, but we managed to find a table pretty fast!
- Finisterre Bacalar: Such a chic, fresh Italian dinner spot right in town. We loved this spot so much, we ate here twice! A beautiful romantic place to spend a nice evening with a glass of wine or two. Plus, the service was next level – all staff was so, so attentive and helpful.
- Ixchel Bacalar: Great spot for a relaxed affordable Mexican brunch. Think chilaquiles, pancakes, toasts, and fruit bowls.
- Mango y Chile: I had this spot saved on my list, but I didn’t manage to make it here! Mango y Chile is known for their plant-based burgers (crispy tofu burger anyone?), vegan hot dogs, and veggie tacos. My friend loved the falafel burger and said the lake views were phenomenal!
- El Taco Loco Bacalar: Located a bit north of town, but worth the short trek. Unfortunately we didn’t make it here but I heard great things about the camarones (shrimps) tacos al pil pil and empanadas.
- Enamore Bacalar: A cute cafe with trendy boho vibes with the best cinnamon rolls in all of Bacalar and tons of fresh juices/smoothies.
- Mi Burrito Bacalar: A food truck known for their banana leaf wrapped burritos – everything looked so good! Kinda reminded me of the burrito spot I loved in Tulum. I’m so mad I wasn’t hungry enough for another meal! They’re known to run out of ingredients, so go on the earlier side.
Hope this helps you plan the best trip ever to Bacalar! Which of these things to do in Bacalar will you be adding to your itinerary? Any questions? Ask below in the comments!
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