Bacalar, Mexico is a must-see destination known for its lagoon of seven colors, Bacalar Lagoon. It’s the perfect off path spot to escape the crowds of people visiting the Riviera Maya’s famous beaches in places like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum.
Bacalar Lagoon (also known as Lake Bacalar or Laguna Bacalar) is a freshwater lagoon located in the state of Quintana Roo on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It’s a short drive south of the more popular tourist destinations along Mexico’s Caribbean coast and only about an hour north of Belize.
With a charming town, a Spanish fort, a lagoon with colors reminiscent of the Maldives, plenty of hotels and restaurants right on the shore, and tons of fun things to do (including endless water activities), Bacalar Lagoon is poised to become the Yucatan Peninsula’s next tourist hotspot.
I first visited Laguna Bacalar back in 2010 when I was living in Playa del Carmen. I took a day trip with some local friends to visit the freshwater lagoon with seven colors that they claimed was even more beautiful than the any of the beaches.
I was instantly mind-blown by Bacalar Lagoon’s shimmering blue hues ranging from light turquoise to navy blue. I ran off of the pier and jumped into the cool, clean water. And just like that, I fell in love with Bacalar Lagoon and I’ve continued to visit throughout the years since.
In this travel guide to Bacalar Lagoon, we cover everything you need to know to visit the lagoon of the seven colors, including how to get there, where to stay, where to eat, and the best things to do in Bacalar, Mexico.
Looking for more things to do in Quintana Roo? Check out these articles:
- The Best Beaches in Cozumel
- Exploring the Coba Ruins
- Snorkeling in Cenote Dos Ojos
- 9 Amazing Things to Do in Cozumel
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Bacalar Lagoon of the Seven Colors
Bacalar, Mexico is a Pueblo Mágico (a designation awarded by the government to communities with great cultural, historical, architectural and gastronomic value) with just over 11,000 residents that sits on the western shore of the lagoon in southern Quintana Roo state on the Yucatan Peninsula.
But the real draw to the area is the incredible Bacalar Lagoon, known in Mexico as the laguna de los siete colores (lagoon of the seven colors).
Bacalar Lagoon is a freshwater lagoon with a limestone bottom fed by underground waterways. The result is crystal-clear fresh water with a perfect canvas of white underneath.
As the depth of the water changes, so does the color. You can see many shades of vibrant teal, turquoise, green, and blue – and this is how it received the title of: “the Maldives of Mexico.”
The water is beautiful all day, but when the midday sun shines down, the colors really ignite. The shallow areas toward the shoreline are a light shade of green and teal, then as the depth increases, the water shade turns to a dark blue.
And of course, sunrise and sunset are also truly amazing. The seven colors of the lake blend with an array of colors lighting up the sky, creating an intensely beautiful scene.
How to Get to Bacalar, Mexico
Find a cheap flight to the nearest international airport in Cancun (CUN), about a 3 hour and 40 minute drive north of Bacalar Lagoon. There is a closer domestic airport in Chetumal (CTM), about a 45 minute drive south of Bacalar, which you can fly into from places like Mexico City or Tijuana, Baja California.
To get to Bacalar from Cancun. Playa del Carmen, or Tulum, take an ADO bus or book a low-priced rental car and drive. It’s only about 2 hours driving time south of Tulum and renting a car is the best way to explore the Yucatan Peninsula.
Many travelers coming through Chetumal make a stop at Bacalar Lagoon after visiting Caye Caulker in Belize.
Get your bus tickets online here.
When leaving Bacalar by bus, it’s important to know which class of bus you want. The “first-class” (primera) buses have reserved seats and it’s basically a guaranteed spot. The “second-class” (segunda) buses do not respect seat assignments and are often oversold, so it’s a good idea to be ready to hop on board as quickly as you can or you might have to wait for the next one.
We recommend staying in Bacalar Lagoon at least two full days and preferably a week. But if you’re short on time, you can also take this day tour from Cancun to Bacalar or this day trip from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar.
Getting Around in Lake Bacalar
You don’t need car to get around in Bacalar, Mexico. Almost everything is walking distance from the center of town with the exception of some hotels located on the outskirts of town along the length of the lake’s shore.
Bicycles are a popular way to get around town and cruise up and down the shoreline. Most hotels provide bicycles for guests and there are bike rental shops in town. There are no Ubers in Bacalar Lagoon, but there are plenty of taxis available for exploring the area.
Things to Do in Bacalar Lagoon
From sunrise paddle boarding sessions to sunset sailboat tours, there are enough things to do in and around Bacalar Lagoon to keep you busy for days. Here is our list of the top things to do in Lake Bacalar, along with the best day trips from Bacalar.
Explore El Canal de los Piratas (Pirates Channel)
The history of the lake includes many pirate stories, some of which left an indelible mark on the area, literally. Next to the Lake Bacalar is a small lagoon (Laguna Mariscal) which was completely secluded until a group of pirates dug out a canal and connected the two!
Back in the day, the smaller lagoon served as a safe haven for the pirates in the area. Since then, it has now turned into a tourist attraction in Bacalar Lagoon and a main stop for the Bacalar boat tours.
A short trip across the water in a kayak, SUP, or boat (about 25 minutes rowing or less than 10 minutes via boat) gets you to the entrance of the pirates channel.
There’s an abandoned concrete building that’s semi submerged in the water and serves as a manmade island that is fun to venture around on and jump off of.
Visit the Best Bacalar Cenotes: Cenote Azul and More
There are four main cenotes in Laguna Bacalar: Cenote Negro, Cenote Esmeralda, Cenote Cocalitos, and Cenote Azul. The first three are connected and open to the lake, but the last one, Cenote Azul, is the farthest south and separated from the lagoon by a small strip of land.
Cenote Negro, or Black Cenote, is unlike other cenotes in the area (like the covered cenotes at Dos Ojos) and more of a small cove within the lagoon.
While most of the shoreline at Bacalar Lagoon is quite shallow, around 4 feet (1.2 m) deep for about 100 yards (90 m) off the shoreline, the sudden drop off all the way down to 400 ft (150 m) at this cenote makes the water appear nearly pitch black. The shoreline here is covered by vegetation where large trees grow into the blue to black water.
This cenote is also known as Cenote Bruja, Witch’s Cenote, due to an old legend of a witch who used to inhabit this cove. The legend says she could change form and was often seen as a large pig roaming the area. But the government evicted her from the land in order to build a school there, and the witch disappeared forever.
See the Stromatolites at Cenote Cocalitos
Cenote Cocalitos is best known for its unique stromatolite formations. Over time, sediment from Bacalar Lagoon has been trapped and bound together, forming these large mushroom-shaped structures. They are connected to the ground and bloom up toward the surface.
Cocalitos is a popular spot to spend the day swimming and relaxing in the lagoon. There is a small fee to access Cenote Cocalitos which includes a beach-like area with shade, bathrooms, swings and hammocks above the water, and a restaurant.
Take a Bacalar Boat Tour
The most popular thing to do is to take one of the many Bacalar boat tours offered in town.
This boat tour of Bacalar Lagoon includes an open tequila and beer bar (other tours include 2 beers), a snack platter of fresh fruits, and swimming and snorkeling at some of the following stops: Pirates Channel, Black Cenote, Cenote Esmeralda, Cenote Cocalitos, and Bird Island.
Go Sailing in Lake Bacalar
When compared to motor boats, sailing is a much more sustainable and eco-friendly way to enjoy Lake Bacalar. We recommend a sailing tours over the motorboat due to both environmental and noise pollution caused by the party/motorboats.
Book this private 17 foot catamaran tour to enjoy a romantic cruise with your partner or enjoy a day on the water with your friends. The guided tour includes stops at the Black Cenote, Bird Island, and Pirates Channel, a bottle of wine, and fresh fruit.
If you’re a solo-traveler, this small-group sailboat tour of Lake Bacalar includes a knowledgable guide, drinks and snacks, and stops at Black Cenote, Bird Island and the Pirates Channel.
Kayaking in Bacalar Lagoon
If you’re up for an adventure, rent a kayak for a self-guided kayaking tour of Bacalar Lagoon.
Get an early start to enjoy the lagoon before the tour boats launch and pack a lunch for a picnic on the uninhabited eastern shore of the Lake Bacalar. Make sure to bring along a waterproof dry bag to store your travel electronics, money, and travel towel.
Float Down Los Rapidos Bacalar
Los Rapidos Bacalar is south of Bacalar town and is known for the ability to float down the lazy river below the restaurant and bar area.
Take a Sunrise Standup Paddle Board Tour
For an unforgettable view and meditation-like morning vibes, wake up early, rent a stand up paddle board, and head for a serene paddleboarding session to see the lake’s colors emerge as the sun rises over the horizon.
This sunrise SUP tour of Bacalar Lagoon takes you on a paddle board group tour to enjoy the sunrise on the water at Cenote Negro (Black Cenote), also known as The Witch’s Cenote.
See the San Felipe Fort in Bacalar
The Fuerte de San Felipe de Bacalar, or San Felipe Fort in Bacalar, is an old Spanish fort that sits next to the town square a few blocks from the shore of Bacalar Lagoon. It has a square-like shape with four corners of lookout points and a moat surrounding it. There is a fee to enter the fort and museum.
Get Off the Beaten Path at Calakmul Ruins
The Calakmul archeological zone is one of Mexico’s top ruin sites but it’s surprisingly left off most visitors’ itineraries.
This tour from Bacalar to Calakmul includes transportation into the heart of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, a guided tour of the Calakmul ruins, and a boxed lunch.
Mahahual and Xcalak Beaches
Mahahual and Xcalak beaches are absolutely beautiful beach towns south of Bacalar.
Swimming in Bacalar Lagoon
To access the water, there are plenty of public access points. Balneario Municipal de Bacalar is one of the largest public piers in the area. It has a parking lot, a large pier with a nice swimming area, picnic areas with tables, grassy areas to layout in, and even a small restaurant. It is also, however, the most restricted area. You cannot bring any food or drinks onto the pier due to littering. They must be consumed on the grassy area onshore. However, reusable water bottles with water are permitted on the pier. Outside alcohol is prohibited in the entire area (we had some random person hanging out by the entrance ask us to pay a “corkage fee” for a six-pack of beer).
One block north of that Balneario Municipal are two other public piers that are much smaller and more relaxed. They are both located between the municipal pier and Fuerte de San Felipe.
Our favorite is right next to the Green Monkey Hostel. The sign says Andador Peatonal Calle 16 and on Google it shows up as Ecologico Park. Here, there is always one policeman by the entrance, but they look the other way to whatever drinks or food you bring (as long as you’re responsible about it and put your trash in the bins provided). There are some steps that drop down into the water and there is a wonderful swimming area here as well. A large palapa with six benches is out on the water. The other pier is essentially identical, one block north on Calle 18.
If you’re looking for a place with more amenities, including a restaurant, palapas, bathrooms, and a waterslide for children, head to Balneario Ejidal Magico Bacalar. You have to pay a small entrance fee ($35 pesos) and palapas are $50 pesos to rent. There is parking available here as well. We even saw some overnight campers in this parking lot.
More Bacalar Lagoon Tours and Activities
Where to Stay: Bacalar Hotels
Bacalar, Mexico is a small town with accommodations options ranging from waterfront hostels to gorgeous luxury rooms floating on Bacalar lagoon.
No matter your budget, it’s easy to find the perfect place to stay in Bacalar Lagoon.
La Albarina: Bacalar Lagoon’s closest thing to an all-inclusive resort is a perfect mid-way point between the town and the more secluded southern road. It’s close enough to walk, bike, or get a cheap taxi daily into town. But, most importantly, it has a waterfront location with its own stromatolites!
Habitas Bacalar: immerse yourself in nature with these rustic chic palapa rooms on the waterfront
Where to Eat: Restaurants in Bacalar
Quesadillas Estilo Orizaba Veracruz: traditional quesadillas, empanadas, and tostadas for dirt-cheap prices. Seriously the best deal in town! Located near the southwest corner of the main plaza (Zocalo).
Mr. Taco: specializes in seafood burritos and tacos, but they also have a full menu of other taco fillings for as little as $15 pesos per taco. If you’re looking for variety at a good price, here is where you should go.
For a bit nicer of a meal in well-designed places, look to Nixtamal (Cocina a Fuego y Ceniza) and La Piña. They are regularly touted as the best places in town. Nixtamal offers lots of grilled meat and fish. La Piña has really good food and lots of healthier options (including vegan and vegetarian). Pasión Turca is a Turkish restaurant with decent falafel at the intersection of Calle 7 and Calle 22 (don’t listen to Google; it is open, just not listed online). There are a handful of restaurants on this street, Calle 7.
If you want something nice on the water, check out La Playita. It is a large, beautiful restaurant with it’s own pier and tons of tables along the shoreline. There are usually tons of people hanging out here, casually sipping on drinks and enjoying the atmosphere. They also have several options for vegans.
What to Pack for Laguna Bacalar
If you’re wondering what to wear in Bacalar, you should pack as if you’re headed to the beach.
- Reef-safe sunscreen: It’s best not to wear any sunscreen when swimming in fragile ecosystems like cenotes, reefs, or lagoons. But if you must wear sunscreen, make sure it’s mineral-based and reef-safe to minimize the damage to the environment. Make sure to bring this with you because it can be hard to find in Mexico.
- Waterproof dry bag: Perfect for keeping electronics and other valuables dry on boats and kayaks.
- Wallet-sized dry bag: Great for going for a quick swim and keeping your cash and phone dry and with you.
- Travel sunglasses: These foldable Raybans are our personal favorites!
- Long-sleeved UPF shirts: Lightweight sun protection for long, hot days in the sun.
- Sandals: Rainbows are seriously comfortable and indestructible, especially the double-layer ones.
Final Thoughts on Bacalar Lagoon
This somewhat hidden oasis is incredible. For us, it has an ideal balance of beautiful scenery and activities. Unlike many areas north of it, the tourist population is not completely overwhelming and you can still find cheap and authentic food and affordable hotel prices.
Make sure you get out on the water by kayak, paddle-board, or boat to explore the pirate cove and some of the cenotes. Walk around town, explore the fort and grab some food. And don’t forget to leave ample time for relaxing on the many piers or swimming in the wonderful water.
Check out these other places to visit in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula:
- 9 Amazing Things to Do in Cozumel
- The Best Beaches in Cozumel
- Mahahaul and Xcalak: The Secret Beach Destinations South of Cancun
- Calakmul: Epic Off Path Ruins in Mexico
- 50+ Things To Do in Merida: Big City Life on the Yucatan Peninsula
Have you been to Bacalar? Let us know what you enjoyed the most in the comments below.