Bacalar, Quintana Roo is one of Mexico’s stunning ‘pueblo magicos‘- a program designed by Mexico’s tourism board to promote the country’s cultural heritage and history. Located about 4 hours south of Cancun, the small town is known for its peaceful vibe and breathtaking views.
It is a common vacation destination for the expats and travellers that call Playa del Carmen or Cancun home and a top weekend getaway for many visitors to the Yucatan Peninsula. Yet somehow it still took us nearly a year to finally make the trip down to see what all the fuss was about!
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The town of Bacalar is situated on the west side of Bacalar Lagoon, a 42km long fresh water lake in southern Quintana Roo, just 1 hour north of the Belize border. Known as the Lagoon of 7 Colours, or Laguna de los 7 Colores in Spanish, this small body of water is just 2 km across at it’s widest point. Its’ varying depths, limestone bottom and the crystal clear waters that come from the same underground spring system that feeds the Yucatan’s cenotes give it a colour scheme that is unlike anything else. On first look Laguna Bacalar looks like any old lake… But take a few minutes to just take it all in and you’ll see the colours pop out. Especially on a sunny day!
Taking a boat out on the water is the best way to experience the many colour changes that occur, but even standing on shore you’ll be able to marvel at the many shades of sea-green and Caribbean-blue that are probably unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
Since we don’t have a car in Mexico this is generally our preferred way to travel the country. It is also the easiest and cheapest way to get from Playa del Carmen or Cancun to Bacalar. This local bus system runs throughout Quintana Roo and offers a comfortable and air conditioned way to travel around the peninsula. Tickets for the 4 hour drive from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar run between $200-400mx ($10-20usd) each way.
BUDGET TIP: Book your ticket to leave from ADO Alterna station in Playa del Carmen (Calle 12 & Avenida 20) for more departure time options and cheaper rates! You can check the schedule online, but will have to visit the station to buy your ticket unless you have a Mexican credit card.
The ADO station in Bacalar is located on the highway, a 15 minute walk or 5 minute taxi ride from the town center. Our 40lb packs quickly had us regretting our budget conscious decision to walk, so we highly recommend the $5 taxi ride if you have any gear! Though it WAS a great way to catch a glimpse of local life- and see some chickens and goats.
Rent a Car (or use your own)
If you’re comfortable driving in Mexico, renting a car is another way to get to Laguna Bacalar. While a car isn’t needed to get around town, if you are staying at a hotel that is a bit further from town you may find it helpful to not have to find a taxi every day.
Take a Day Trip or Tour
If figuring out transportation and accommodation isn’t something you want to worry about, there are a few tours available that can get you from Cancun to Bacalar. Enjoy a day on the water, jump off the pirate ship and swim in cenotes with an organized day trip.
Spending some time in Quintana Roo? Read this guide to help you plan a trip to the pink lakes of Las Coloradas!
Airbnb is usually our first choice when it comes to booking accommodation. It’s often the easiest way to find something within our budget, and the town of Bacalar proved no different! Prices have gone up since we last visited but there are still many great options for any budget. Since the town is very small most rentals are an easy walk from the town square. Walking to and from our home each day was a great way to check out the town.
Hostels abound in Bacalar! Whether you’re looking to stay near the town square, on the lake, or find some peace and quiet along the shore, there’s a hostel for you! We don’t often do hostels because by the time I pay for 2 beds, we can pretty much get an Airbnb for the same price. But there are many that offer private rooms and those have worked out really well all around Mexico. I love getting the hostel vibe without having to sleep on a bunk bed in a room full of strangers!
Our budget pick: Yaxche Centro Hostal y CampingA block from centro, 2 blocks from the grocery store, and 4 blocks from the beach. And a range of prices and room styles… Can’t get better than that!
Sometimes you gotta splurge: Hostal & Suites Pata de PerroNo dorms, and literally minutes from everything you’ll need!
For a more luxury stay on Laguna Bacalar, consider staying in a local hotel. You’ll find some right on the water, though a car might be helpful for some of these locations! Alternatively, the city of Chetumal is less than an hour drive from Bacalar and might offer more options for you. Though, I’m betting you’ll regret not staying in town if you go this route. There’s something to be said for being walking distance from the lagoon!
Our budget pick: Hotel Amigos right on Laguna Bacalar and a short walk to centro
Sometimes you gotta splurge: Casa Bakal a bit out of town, but waking up to that view everyday is so worth it!
You don’t have to take my word for it, enter your dates to see what else is available:
Explore the Fortress
The town located on Laguna Bacalar is the site of an old fortress that was built in 1733 to protect the area from attacks by pirates and harassment from traders. There is a museum on site and for $60mx you can enter and wander around the grounds. The fort overlooks the lagoon so makes for an excellent place to take photos.
Find some Street Art
Much like the rest of the country, Bacalar, Quintana Roo is home to some excellent street art. Wander around town to see what you can find!
Take photos with the Bacalar sign
If you’ve travelled to any other towns or cities in Mexico you’ve likely seen these signs a few times before. This one can be found right by the town square, in front of the fortress. We’ve got quite the collection of sign photos going!
Find a dock and go for a swim
Because the shores of Laguna Bacalar arequite weedy you don’t really want to walk in and swim from shore. And there aren’t really any easy access points to do this, even if you wanted to. Instead, look for one of the many docks along the west shore that you can use to get into the water. Many are private and you can only access by entering a restaurant, hotel or hostel, but there are a few public access ones too. The water front public park a couple blocks south of the fortress is the easiest one to get to!
Cool down with something frosty from the coffee van
We stumbled upon this van one day when leaving Kai Pez, and saw him many times around town after that. He makes some delicious coffee drinks, both hot and cold. And the prices were great, too! An iced hot chocolate is a great way to end a hot day on the lake!
Have a drink and enjoy the view
Kai Pez was my favourite spot for this. Both food and drinks were well priced and despite being a fairly basic menu, we returned more than once. It’s hard to complain when you’ve got a view like this! The grounds of Kai Pez are peaceful and calm, so whether you choose a table in the shade, set up a towel on the lawn or lay out on the dock you’ll be in for a great day with an even better view.
Go cenote hopping and see the cocalitos
There are a few cenotes around Bacalar, though none are walkable from town. You can rent bikes from a few places in town or see if your guesthouse has any available, or hire a taxi to drop you off and come aback to pick you up.
Cenote Esmeralda and Cenote Azul are only a 20 min walk from each other and the Cocalitos, or living rocks (actually called stromatolites, these are known as earth’s earliest signs of life and can only be found in a handful of locations worldwide) are located right between them.
Plan to spend an afternoon out here and see them all! There is food and drink available to purchase at 2 of the 3 stops, so you won’t go hungry if you opt not to bring snacks. The cocalitos cove is also where you can find the Instagram famous water swings and hammocks!
Rent a kayak and explore Laguna Bacalar
This was easily our favourite thing to do in Bacalar, Quintana Roo. There are a few guided tours you can book (book early, they do sell out!), but we hadn’t been kayaking in years so it felt like a good idea to avoid signing up for a 7 hour excursion right off the bat… But if that’s your thing, I have no doubt you’d be in for an amazing day!
For us though, renting a couple kayaks by the hour from a couple of guys sitting on the side of the road seemed like a stellar choice. We spent about 3 hours on the water, and it was magical! Most guesthouses, hostels and waterfront businesses have kayaks available for rent, so just ask around when you get to town. The guys we rented from let us pay the first hour up front then the rest when we got back, so we didn’t have to decide on a time frame.
You can easily spend hour exploring the lake so bring some snacks, suncreen and your camera to make a day of it. The pirate ship on the far side of the lake makes for a fun perch for jumping, and it’s a nice spot to relax for a bit. The water is so clear, it’s a great spot to use your snorkel set to take a look underwater, too!
Make sure you include a visit to the Cenote Negro on your kayak adventure. I couldn’t find any information about it online, but when the guys that rented us our kayaks told us about it, we knew we had to go looking for it. Turns out, it’s not to far south of Bacalar, on the west side of the lake. And let’s just say…. You’ll know it when you see it ;).
After some searching online I’ve found that this cenote is actually called Cenote de la Bruja, or Witch’s Cenote. Legend has it that it was formed after the town leader decided to evict the woman that lived there in order to build a school. She allegedly put a spell on the area that would make anyone who stepped foot on the land with the intention of evicting her fall deathly ill. Years of visits by priests and healers finally lifted the curse. If you look at the shore line while you explore the cenote you can still see parts of the buildings that used to house the witch.
Head to where to see the covered tour boats going in and out of a cove, then watch the ground below you. You won’t even have to get out of your kayak to experience it! I’ve been in many cenotes during my time in Mexico, but this one freaked me out! Something about feeling like the ground has disappeared right out from underneath you… Definitely gave me pause! I couldn’t even bring myself to paddle past the edge of it, which is sort of a ridiculous thing looking back on it. If you go there and check it out, be sure to let me know if you agree, or if I’m just crazy!
Hire a boat for a tour
You’ll be offered this opportunity pretty much everywhere you turn as you explore the town. It seems as though most locals have tour companies or their own private boat that they are looking to rent out. If you’re not interested in paddling yourself around on a kayak, this is basically a must do. You can’t come to Bacalar and not spend time on the water! Crossing to the pirate ship is an activity you don’t want to miss. Pack a cooler with some beer and snacks and see if you can count all 7 colours present in the Laguna!
El Meson del Pirata, Calle 20 & Av 5
Otherwise known as the pirate hostel, this quickly became our favourite place to eat in Bacalar. It’s just off of the town square and super easy to find. It’s tiny, but we never had trouble finding a table. Between the half a dozen small tables inside and the large picnic tables out front, it seemed like there’s always somewhere to sit.
The pizza is huge and cooked in a stone oven which means it has a delicious thin & crispy crust- the best kind of pizza!
Being somewhat of a guacamole connoisseurI feel comfortable saying this one is pretty tasty. Though I did have to ask for more chips, since the few that came on the plate weren’t enough to finish the generous serving.
Drinks were well priced as well and you can get them in a to-go cup scoring them major bonus points on a hot day.
Kai Pez, Calle 20 & Av 1
Head here for a great meal with a fantastic view. The foodwas well-priced, especially considering the locale, so it’s easy to call this one of our favourite places to eat.
One significant perk to dining or drinking here is the free access to their dock. The shore of Laguna Bacalar is fairly weedy, so you won’t want to just walk in. Because of this you’ll find several docks along the shore. There are a few that are free access, but you’ll walk a few minutes to find them. Kai Pez is located right by the Fortress and town square, so on a hot day when you just don’t feel like doing much, you can beeline here for a cold drink and a refreshing dip in the Lagoon.
Tacos El Socio, Calle 7 & Ave 20
This small restaurant is located a block back from the main square and it probably isn’t one that most tourists would think to stop at. But if you don’t, you’re missing out!
Ever since finding our favourite empanada stand in Playa del Carmen we’ve been on the hunt for some that measure up. While these ones aren’t quite the same, they’re a pretty tasty alternative while we’re here! Just make sure you get here early because they do sell out often. Empanadas are more of a breakfast food in this part of Mexico, so aim to get here well before noon. If they ARE sold out of your favourite filling the sandwiches are delicious and huge! And the best part… the prices are amazing!!
- Bring cash – While many businesses accept cards and there is an ATM in the square, neither can be completely relied upon. The ATM is often out of cash, and the internet connection can get spotty, making debit machines unreliable.
- Pack snacks – Yes, there is a grocery store in town, but it’s pretty small and many items were more expensive than in Playa del Carmen or Cancun.
- Wear sunscreen – pretty standard advice for any time spent in Mexico, but it’s worth mentioning again because it can be hard to find once you get to town. Especially if you plan to spend time on the lake, you can expect to feel the effects of the sun!
- Book your bus tickets ASAP – this is the easiest way to ensure you get good prices and your pick of trip times. As I mentioned above, choose tickets that leave from the ADO Alterna station for the best itineraries and prices
- Bring a hat and a cooling towel – Quintana Roo is generally pretty warm, but once you leave the ocean breeze the temperature seems to jump 20°!
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