At 35 miles long, Bacalar is Mexico’s second largest freshwater lake. Along its shores, you’ll find the same soft white earth you’d expect on the beaches of the Caribbean, except without the salty water or crashing waves. You’ll also see long stretches of mangroves and cenotes (limestone sinkholes), with the iconic dense jungles of the Yucatán Peninsula in the background.
All of these things make Bacalar one of the most beloved treasures of Mexico. Need I say more? Here are all the reasons why you should make Bacalar your next travel destination:
12. It’s less touristy than its neighbors.
I know you’ve heard about the magic of Tulum and the other beautiful beaches of the Yucatán Peninsula. Those fill up during high season and the entire area gets crowded, which can make it tough to truly enjoy if you seek a more low-key experience. When I lived near Tulum, I preferred Bacalar as a weekend getaway because it felt more down to earth.
Sure, tourism is booming in Bacalar, but it’s still much more quiet and laid back than other nearby hotspots in the region. Accommodation, food, and activities are much more budget friendly there, too.
11. The colors make the perfect Instagram backdrop.
Bacalar is called “the Lagoon of Seven Colors” for a reason. As the depth changes at points throughout the lake, the blues get lighter or darker. You can see these changes in color from the docks, but even more so if you take a boat out to the center, where the water is the deepest blue.
The docks are perfect for a photo-op, though, because you can usually snap a picture without anyone else in the background. The stunning colors of the lagoon are a nice change from the typical white-sand beaches of the Caribbean, so you’re sure to stand out!
10. You can explore via paddleboard and kayak.
Bacalar is full of fun water activities. Exploring the lagoon via paddleboard or kayak is my favorite way to see all the shades of blue. (Just make sure you’re prepared with reef-safe sun protection before you head out!)
You can rent a paddleboard by the hour or for the day; a full-day rental will cost you around $30 USD. You can reserve your board here. Want to try a paddleboard tour? Check out this one, which takes off at sunrise!
9. The conservation efforts are supreme.
Speaking of reef-safe sun protection, you might notice the signs around Bacalar warning visitors to be mindful of the environment. There are several ordinances in Bacalar that are intended to protect the lagoon’s ecosystem, because the local government is committed to protecting the mangroves, wildlife, and native plant species. In fact, in order to build anything within the municipality, land owners cannot destroy certain types of trees. That feels like a win for Mother Nature to me.
Despite these efforts to preserve the beauty of Bacalar, the recent uptick in tourism has had a negative impact on the lagoon. Much of the damage is attributed to careless pollution and the introduction of human waste into the lake.
There is hope, however, as more and more eco-friendly lodging options emerge. Consider staying at Cayuco Maya. This project is dedicated to eco-friendly tourism, and they are working hard to find the balance between allowing guests to experience the beauty of Bacalar and protecting the ecosystem.
8. The street art game is on point.
In downtown Bacalar, you’ll find street art on almost every block. You could spend hours walking around town and admiring the vibrant murals. Much of the art echoes the bright turquoise of the lagoon.
Try a guided tour to see the murals and learn about the artists. This one has options that include a walking tour, a bike tour, and even a full-day tour that will take you to some cenotes!
7. There is magic around every corner.
Bacalar is still very much a small town, even though it has gained a lot of popularity in the last few years. Due to its size, it has preserved its charm, as well as local traditions and customs. The Mayan culture is still very much alive in Bacalar, which is what makes it so magical.
The Mayan people have been living in and visiting Bacalar for centuries to pay homage to the power of the lagoon. In fact, there is a cenote that was named after a Mayan witch who was rumored to live there. It’s called Cenote de la Bruja, and it plunges to a depth of 90 meters. I recommend paying this cenote a visit to feel its powerful energy.
6. Lagoon access is plentiful.
Unlike many beach destinations, where actually getting to the water can be a hassle (and even expensive!), landing a prime spot on the lagoon in Bacalar is a breeze.
If you decide to stay somewhere right on the lake, you’ll have awesome access built in to your stay.
If you don’t stay on the lake, no worries! Finding a spot to relax is simple. Many hostels are hospitable to day visitors who want to use the dock, as long as you purchase something from the bar or restaurant. I recommend Casa Tortuga, which is a laid-back hostel with plenty of shade and hammocks. Its dock is great for taking a dip in the water, too.
Another great option for getting in the water is Cenote Cocalitos. There’s an entrance fee of 50 pesos (about $2.50 USD) for the day. They have hammocks suspended over the water that are fun to relax in.
5. Pirates used to sail there!
Yep, you read that right. Bacalar has a long history of invaders, including frequent attacks from English pirates who wanted to steal the valuable palo de tinte trees to make luxurious clothing dyes. After the Spanish conquest, Bacalar became a stronghold for Mayan rebels during the 54-year-long Caste War.
To learn more about the fascinating history of Bacalar, check out the Fuerte de San Felipe fortress next to the main square in town. There you’ll find the Museum of Bacalar, which tells the story of the town.
After a quick history lesson, head out for a tour of the lagoon. This one is a sailboat tour that makes a stop at Pirate’s Channel, which pirates passed through to get to the lagoon.
4. It’s the perfect place to disconnect.
The tranquility of the lagoon is reflected in the chill vibe of Bacalar as a whole. Being a yogi myself, I have found Bacalar to be a great place to disconnect, ground oneself, and breathe. There are a couple options for yoga studios if you want to take a class. My favorite is Ashtangamor, which has Ashtanga classes.
If you’re looking for a holistic and simultaneously eco-friendly experience, check out Holistic Center Akalki. It’s located about 10 miles from the town of Bacalar, right on the lake. It offers cupping therapy, sound therapy, temazcal (low-heat sweat lodge) experiences, and meditations.
3. Cenotes. Need I say more?
In case you need another excuse to spend the rest of your days floating around in a cenote, Bacalar has some of the best in the area.
Cenote Azul is the closest and easiest to get to. From above, it looks like a giant blue sphere and is one of the deepest on the Riviera Maya. Unlike the cave-like closed cenotes, this one is open and resembles a large pond, which is fun to swim or snorkel in.
Another must-see cenote is Cenote Esmeralda. This one appears to be part of the lagoon at first, but a closer look reveals a great contrast in color; the deep navy is attributed to its 70-meter depth. There is a narrow gap called the “eye,” where the cenote meets the lagoon, which looks neat!
2. You can hang out next to stromatolites, the oldest living organism on the planet.
So…what’s a stromatolite again? I must have missed that biology lesson, oops!
Stromatolites are rock-like formations that emerge from the waters of the lagoon and are made from the unique bacteria that live there. If you look closely, they appear to be fuzzy!
The best place to admire these ancient formations is at Cenote Cocalitos. There you’ll see them jutting up really close to the shore. These are similar to coral in that they are incredibly fragile. There are signs all around Cocalitos warning visitors not to get too close or touch them. Please be very careful!
1. The locals are kind and hospitable.
Mexico as a whole is known for its warm and inviting hospitality. Bacalar is no exception. It’s quite common to be greeted on the street by strangers with a quiet buenos días. Shop owners and clerks are typically eager to help and are patient with those who don’t speak Spanish fluently.
I have found that people on the Riviera Maya are exceptionally friendly. Don’t forget to pay that kindness forward by tipping fairly (in Mexico that means 10%), learning about the local culture, being environmentally conscious, and offering kindness in return.
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You are sure to fall in love with Bacalar’s monochromatic blue waters, calm atmosphere, and rich history. Bacalar can be added on to your Tulum or Cancún vacation, or it can be a destination all on its own. Traveling alone? Check out our Mexico solo travel guide for tips!
About the author: Emily is a Mexico travel enthusiast based in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. She is a part-time freelance writer for BMTM and part-time doula.