Bacalar Lagoon, or Laguna Bacalar as it’s called in Spanish, is a beautiful part of Mexico. It is still a sleepy little town without anywhere near as many tourists as neighboring Tulum and Playa del Carmen.
Many call Bacalar the Maldives of Mexico. I mean, I’ve never been to the Maldives, but I’m not sure I can agree. It’s not the ocean. The lagoon is freshwater, so when you accidentally swallow it or get it in your eyes, it’s not horrific. There are no hotels out over the water like there are in the Maldives (I thought there would be!).
It may not be the Maldives, but it IS Bacalar. I think it’s beautiful in its own right, not compared to some other place that people deem to be luxurious. Bacalar isn’t full of luxury hotels or world-class restaurants. It’s a sleepy little town that doesn’t even have a grocery store.
It’s a place where you can relax. A place where you can see all of the stars in the galaxy because there’s no light pollution. A place with water in colors that I’ve never ever seen before. It’s a place with cheap fish tacos and even cheaper ice cold beers.
Bacalar lagoon doesn’t have beaches, but there are docks that you can walk out onto and then jump in the water. Along the shoreline, the water is insanely shallow so you can just stand up. However, if you want to cross the lagoon, you’ll need to rent kayaks or hop in a boat. I’ll talk more about that below.
Where is Bacalar Lagoon?
Bacalar Lagoon is located in the southern area of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. It’s about 30 minutes away from Chetumal, Mexico’s border town near Belize. It’s about two hours south of Tulum and about four and a half hours south of Cancun.
While the lagoon itself is actually 42 kilometers long (26 miles), the town is actually closer to the southern end of the lagoon. The best things to see and do along the lagoon are actually in the town and south from there all the way to Xul-Ha. I’ll talk more about all of the fun things to do in Bacalar below, but I wanted to help people see how easy it could be to get to Bacalar and where you’ll need to fly into in order to get here.
How to Get to Bacalar
Getting to Bacalar is pretty simple.
If you are flying into Cancun, you can take an ADO bus from the bus terminal in the downtown area of Cancun. To get to the downtown terminal, you can either take a taxi from the airport or you can take the ADO bus from the airport to the Cancun station. The bus from Cancun to Bacalar costs 467 Pesos and takes just over 5 hours.
If you fly into Chetumal, you can take a shared taxi from the Chetumal to Bacalar taxi terminal located here. It costs 45 Pesos per person and leaves as soon as there are four people who want to go. Alternatively, there are ADO buses from Chetumal to Bacalar, but they are slightly less often and cost slightly more. The taxi will drop you off in the exact place where you can go to take them back to Chetumal when you are finished with your time in Bacalar.
You can check all ADO bus time either on their website, or on their app. I highly recommend downloading the app if you plan to take a few different ADO buses during your trip. The app allows you to pre-book your tickets and if you book more than a few days in advance, you save quite a lot of money.
Renting a Car in Bacalar
There is basically one car rental company in Bacalar, Explora Car Rental. I rented a car with them for three days and they were absolutely fantastic. It’s a family-run business and they have five different cars available to choose from of varying sizes and prices. The smallest car is 900 Pesos per day (roughly $45 USD). This comfortably fits four adults or two adults and suitcases.
If you arrive to Bacalar by bus or taxi, but you are staying in a hotel outside of town, you may want to consider renting a car for a few days so you can explore different ruins, visit the different cenotes, or simply to avoid paying taxis to take you in and out of town.
The alternative is to rent a car wherever you fly into. Whether you land in Chetumal or Cancun, there are plenty of car rental options in each city. This would allow you to avoid dealing with buses or taxis. Check out my Complete Guide to Tenting a Car in Mexico here. In it, I talk about what you’ll need to rent a car from major companies like National, Hertz, and Enterprise.
Rules of the Water in Bacalar
There are a few things you may want to know before you hop in the Bacalar Lagoon. The first is that there are seven different colors because of the sediment in different parts of the lake bottom and of course, the differing depths. In order to preserve the colors, the local government ask that you don’t wear any sunscreen in the water, this includes natural sunscreens. Even things like zinc or other biodegradable sunscreens can affect the pH balance of the water and over time will negatively affect its color.
This goes also for having a quick pee. Might sound gross, but it’s really important not to use the lagoon in any way like a toilet. It’s not the ocean. It won’t wash away.
These rules also help protect the stromatolites. These ancient organisms thrive in this environment and it’s best to make sure we humans don’t mess up that environment. Some of them are over 10,000 years old! Definitely do not attempt to touch the stromatolites. So whenever you see part of the lake roped off, respect the barriers. They’re either there because of the growing stromatolites or because the depth and pull of the water is dangerous.
It’s also worth noting that any time you are away from the shore using a paddleboard, kayak, or riding on a boat, you must be wearing a lifejacket. We were told it’s the law and due to the different depths of the water and the pull of the cenotes, wearing one is simply the smart thing to do.
What Bacalar Looks Like (Video Recap)
Bacalar Hotels: Where to Stay in Lake Bacalar
There are few things you may want to know about Bacalar before you book your hotel. Most of the waterfront hotels are outside of the town. They’re quite and usually offer easy access to the lagoon with free kayaks. They can also organize for you to take a boat trip, too. However, it means that you are not close to any of the town’s restaurants.
If you want to stay in one of these hotels, you will either need to take a taxi every time you want to explore the town, or you should consider renting a car for the duration of your trip to
Hotels & Airbnbs Along Bacalar Lagoon
- Hotel Laguna Bacalar – Starting at $75 USD per night, Hotel Laguna Bacalar has a beautiful view, nice rooms, albeit a bit outdated. They have a pool that looks out over the lagoon and then you can head straight out onto the water from the hotel’s private deck. They’ve set up a really nice swimming area along the waterfront with ladders for getting in and out. There are lounge chairs and even kayaks to use. There’s also ample space for parking. Book a stay at Hotel Laguna Bacalar Here.
- Luxury Cabañas – Starting at $115 USD per night, Luxury Cabañas is definitely one of my top picks on the higher end of hotels in Bacalar. It has stunning, newly updated cabanas with a shared pool. The newer cabanas are private and romantic and even have little motes around them so you can sit in your room and dip your toes in the water. There is waterfront access with a dock and kayaks to rent. Book a stay at Luxury Cabañas here.
- Casa Sol y Luna – Starting at $125 USD per night, Casa Sol y Luna was my top pick for hotels in Bacalar. I wanted to stay here so badly but it wasn’t available for any of the nights we were going to be in Bacalar. It’s secluded enough that you get perfect silence at night, but it’s also surrounded by a few other hotels and their restaurants, so you don’t always have to go into town to find dinner option. The rooms are modest, but clean and bright. It’s the views, though that had me hooked. Like many of the hotels in this area of Laguna Bacalar, it has a private dock and a few different boating options to choose from. Book a stay at Casa Sol y Luna here.
- Waterfront Airbnb – $129 per night, this Airbnb is where I stayed for my last two nights in Bacalar. It is a completely private little villa with a huge bedroom (oh how I miss that king-sized bed!), air conditioning, several extra beds so that it can sleep up to 6 people, and best of all, it has a private dock. For the price of a hotel room, you can live like a king and queen in this place. I’m already planning my return trip next year to this little slice of paradise. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, you can save up to $35 on your first booking by signing up here.
Hotels & Airbnbs in Bacalar Town
If you’d rather be closer to the action in the town, there are still plenty of great hotels and Airbnbs worth checking into. These are my top picks for hotels in Bacalar.
- Toto Blue Boutique Hotel – Starting at $150 USD per night, this hotel is located pretty much right in the center of town. It’s so gorgeously done and I’m pretty sure it’s also quite a new hotel. I love the dining area and particularly would love lounging in the mornings on the rooftop. They’ve created a beautiful hotel with nice touches of turquoise and teal everywhere to mimic the colors of the nearby lagoon. Book a stay at Toto Blue Hotel here.
- Boutique Hotel Villa Balu – Starting at $75 USD a night, this is seriously great value for what you get. The rooms are spacious and full of natural light. They are simply designed, but clean and comfortable. It’s a short walk to the public docks so that you can head straight to the water and the staff at the front desk can organize boat trips for you if you want help. Book a stay at Villa Balu here.
- Great Value Airbnb – $50 USD per night, I spent about five nights in this Airbnb. It was about 10 minutes from the main square and 15 minutes walk to the waterfront, but that meant it was close to the market and in a very quiet residential area. It was also surrounded by trees and incredibly spacious. The WiFi was incredibly fast and the people who run the Airbnb couldn’t have been nicer. There is ample parking available. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, you can save up to $35 on your first booking by signing up here.
Hostels in Lake Bacalar
Bacalar is a hugely popular destination for backpackers in Mexico, so if you are traveling through the area on a budget, you’ve got plenty of options.
- Green Monkey Hostel – Beds from $20 USD. While this isn’t perhaps the cheapest option, it is one of the nicest. Not only is it located 2 minutes from the main square of the town, but it also has direct waterfront access. You can rent kayaks here, head out on boat trips, or just jump off the dock into the water. If you are really on a budget, they also offer tent space for you to camp here.
- Blue Monkey Hostel – Beds from $20 USD. I’m not sure why there are so many monkey hostels in Bacalar, but this is a good option if you want to enjoy life by the lake without booking an expensive hotel room. I like this place because they’ve set it up to be a place you can lounge around an relax. There are nice chairs outside, hammocks to lay in, and everything centers around being near the water. There are free kayaks and breakfast is available as well so you don’t necessarily have to self cater or spent money going to restaurants in town.
What to Do in Bacalar Lagoon Mexico
There are so many fun things to do in Bacalar and pretty much every single one of them revolves around the lagoon.
Rent a Kayak
This was my absolute favorite thing to do in Bacalar. We rented a Kayak twice – once from this public Balinareo and once from a place called El Eden. We took the kayak around to all of the different cenotes, we learned about and saw some stromatolites, which are some of the oldest organisms in the world and many call Bacalar Lagoon home.
You can also kayak across the lagoon to the Pirates Canal, which is a very shallow area of the lagoon popular for swimming and simply relaxing. You’ll know where it is by how many boats are sitting at the mouth of the canal. We rode our kayaks through the canal to the other side where you can see the lake that feeds into the lagoon. You can’t kayak over it (there are signs warning you to stay back), but you can see just how dark and deep it is.
When we rented kayaks, we paid 150 Pesos per hour for a double kayak. People always start at a higher price, but we found that everyone eventually ended up at 150 Pesos per hour. Expect to pay less for single kayaks.
It’s worth noting that you don’t really want to kayak on a particularly windy day. The wind usually comes from the east or southeast, so if you cross the lake to the canal, you’ll have a very easy trip back across.
Take a Boat Tour
If you want to explore the lagoon, but don’t want to kayak, this is your other option. People will be trying to sell you boat trips all along Avenida 1. You can book them from literally anywhere and most are private little boats that will take you to the different cenotes and finish off with a stop at Pirate Canal.
Boat trips are about 300 Pesos per person and everyone was willing to negotiate. In the afternoons when we would walk down Avenida 1, sometimes they would even offer it for as little as 180 Pesos per person.
Swim off the Public Docks
There are several different public docks in the town. The largest is Balinario Ejidal Magico. This has water slides, restaurants, bars, umbrellas to rent, and you can also rent kayaks or take a boat trip from here. There is a ton of parking available here for a small fee.
There is a smaller one on the edge of town called Balinario Ecologico. There is some parking around here and it’s mostly just a dock where you can sit and relax or head off of and swim. There are a few places where you can eat. There is a large parking area nearby here.
The third is also sort of the municipal swimming area. This is completely free and only has one restaurant on site. However, you can bring your own food and drinks and enjoy them on the picnic tables. There is a lifeguard here and plenty of parking nearby. This is where we rented our kayaks once and we came here to swim a lot.
These three all have opening hours and before sunset, you have to get out of the water and leave the public docks. However, there are two smaller docks where you can bring a few beers and sit to watch the sunset.
A few places in the center of town have bikes to rent, which I think is a great option if you want to explore some of the cenotes, like Cenote Azul. It’s easy to get to by taxi, but would be more fun and slightly cheaper if you rented bikes for the roundtrip journey. You can also use bikes to get to the rapids (more on that below) or just to get from your hotel to the town if your hotel is further away.
Check out the Different Cenotes
There are several different cenotes. Most are actually best seen from the water so you should check them out either on a boat tour or by kayak. There’s Cenote La Bruja, Cenote Esmeralda, and Cenote Cocalitos. All three are absolutely stunning and worth checking out via water.
If you want to go swimming in a cenote, then you can either rent bikes or take a taxi to Cenote Azul. This is what I have traditionally known a cenote to look like. It’s blocked off by a bit of land from the lagoon and is very, very deep. I always recommend going into a cenote wearing a life jacket, even if you are a confident swimmer.
There is a restaurant and ample parking at Cenote Azul. You have to pay a small entrance fee to get into the cenote of 25 Pesos. It’s best to have smaller notes as they didn’t seem have much change for people who only had 500 Peso notes.
Glide Down the Rapids
Go on a Sunrise Paddle Board Trip
Most mornings, you can go on a sunrise paddleboard ride across the water. A lot of people say it’s the best way to see all 7 colors of the lagoon at one time because the light reflects so beautifully as it rises over Bacalar lagoon. Because the lagoon is on the east coast of Mexico, the sunsets aren’t always visible, the sunrise is the best time to see the changing colors of both the sky and the lagoon.
Here are a few tour options to give you an idea of what the tour entails.
Ride the Rapids
The Bacalar Rapids is not just a place where you can ride along the water, but it’s also the best place in the area to see the stromatolites. Here they are absolutely enormous and if you check out that article that I just linked to, you’ll be able to read about how there aren’t any like these elsewhere in the world. Maybe I’m a geek, but that was the main draw to the rapids for me and Luke.
However, it’s also just a fun day out. You can take a taxi here or ride a bike. We got the phone number of our taxi driver and called the same guy to come and pick us back up from there later in the day. You can also hire a taxi for the day and they’ll just wait in the parking lot for you to finish.
Be sure to bring cash. It costs 50 Pesos per person to get in and then once inside you can also buy some snacks or drinks. The word rapids is a little bit of a lie, to be totally honest. There are definitely no rapids in site. You simply hop in the water, swim out to the middle, and let the slow current carry you down a bit. Then you get out on the side and walk back. It’s a nice way to cool off.
The Best Restaurants in Bacalar Lagoon Mexico
- Mr. Taco: This has to be number one on the list because it’s the restaurant we went to most during our trip to Bacalar. It may even be one of the best restaurants in Bacalar. They make absolutely delicious ceviche tostadas, shrimp burritos, and guisados (different types of meat stews). It’s located right in the center of town and the prices are unbeatable. Be sure to try their agua frescas, too!
- Navieros Bacalar: This is one of the best options for big plates of seafood. I absolutely loved their seafood rice dish, it was packed with flavor and tons of different seafood including clams, crabs, shrimp, fish, octopus, and squid. Their beer is ice cold.
- Los Bacaleros: This is another waterfront seafood restaurant where you can have nice plates of cooked seafood. It’s very reasonably priced and the service is good.
- Mango y Chile: This is the most popular option for vegetarians and vegans. It’s a popular place to come if you need really good WiFi to get some work done. I saw a few people working in there and it also has a nice view of the lake.
- El Manatí: If you want a seriously good breakfast, head to El Manatí. Their plates of chilaquiles are big and flavorful. Inside it’s also a shop with locally made crafts and snacks that you can purchase to enjoy back at your hotel.
- Sisimite: This was one of my favorite bars, but they also serve really delicious food. The prices are a little high compared to other places, but I the food is better than most places in town as well. The staff are super friendly and the interior has a sort of stylish indoor patio that I really enjoyed.
- La piña: It’s all about pizza here and although there are a few places in town to have pizza, this is definitely the best one.
- Rapsodians: This is another vegan and vegetarian option with a lot of smoothie and breakfast options, but they are also open for lunch. I believe it’s also a yoga studio.
- Taco Regio: This was where we had the best grilled meat tacos in town. They are a bit expensive, but it’s well worth it. The alambre platters are plenty of food for one person and the staff are incredibly friendly.
- Jumba Maya: This little food truck made the most delicious tuna tostada that I’ve ever had. The tuna was buttery and delicious and the sauces that they made to go with it were flavorful and just the right amount of spice.
- I Scream Bar: This isn’t really a restaurant, but it is a fantastic bar that I highly recommend visiting. The beers are ice cold, the margaritas are delicious, and the music is awesome. They do have a few tacos and snack options if you want to eat something while you drink.
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