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I really, really enjoyed my time in Bacalar. It was a true vacation for me, as opposed to traveling and working.
I picked Bacalar as a vacation destination because it’s not known for very good WiFi, which turned out to be true. But it does have a beautiful blue freshwater lagoon where most of the activities are sort of centered around.
Keep reading for more details about Bacalar in Mexico or watch my video compilation of my week there.
Getting to Bacalar
Bacalar is located in the southern part of the state of Quintana Roo, near the Mexico and Belize border. There are a few ways to get to there depending where you are coming from.
From Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum you can drive down to Bacalar. We rented a car for the week and the drive was very easy, with highway 307 taking you all the way. It’s takes about:
- 4.5 hours from Cancun
- 3.5 hours from Playa del Carmen
- 2.5 hours from Tulum
We stopped in the small town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto for lunch and bathroom break. It’s also one of the few stops with a gas station, so be sure to fill up if you’re running low.
If you don’t want to drive you can also take the ADO bus from any of the major cities. The buses are comfortable, reliable and the most budget friendly option.
The closest city is Chetumal, which has an airport and ferry port. So you can fly into the town and take a bus to Bacalar or come by ferry from Belize and then take a bus into town. The bus takes about 45 minutes.
Where to Stay in Bacalar
We booked this AirBnB because all of the reviews said it had good wifi 😆 Overall, it was pretty good. It struggled with Zoom calls and upload speeds were non-existent. But it was good enough for regular internet usage and streaming.
The area was nice and quiet and only a short walk to Avenue 1, where there are a lot of restaurants. The other main area with food and services is the town square in the Centro area. Which was also easy to walk to from our place.
But there are hotels, AirBnBs and hostels all over the town. If you can get a spot right on the lagoon, that would be a nice choice. As the lagoon is mainly only accessible via a long deck which are mostly attached to restaurants, hotels or private houses. So having direct access would be a plus!
The Yak Lake House Hostel has direct access so if you’re looking for a budget friendly place to stay on the water – this is it! They also host local events and a few tours leave from their dock so chances are you’ll visit there at some point.
Getting Around Bacalar
I recommend staying close to the Centro area if you don’t have a car or a reliable way to get around. It’s not a big town, but some of the activities like Los Rapidos and even the dock where our boat tour left from was a bit of a drive. (more on those in a bit)
If you don’t have a car, there are still options for getting around.
There are plenty of bike shops around to rent bikes for a few hours / the day / or time you’re there.
There are also yellow taxis around, seemingly everywhere, so if you need a ride somewhere you can easily hail one of these down.
Things to Do in Bacalar
Lagoon Boat Tour
The boat tour is the #1 thing to do in Bacalar. If you only have a couple of days, this should be your main activity to plan. Most of the photos in this post are from the boat tour.
There are many companies offering very similar tours at similar prices. If your host or hostel has a recommendation, I would go with their recommendation.
We went through Amir AdvenTours and had a great day! They seemed to offer the longest boat tour at four hours for about $750 pesos (about $37). Their starting point is a little ways outside of centro town, but in a very nice area. There was a bar and cafe for pre/post food and drinks. Although the tour did come with alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, fruit, and other snacks.
The tour itself will take you to Pirates Canal, where you’ll stop and swim in crystal clear waters. You’ll go by “Cenote Negro” which is an open-air cenote and also the deepest point of the lagoon.
Next, you’ll visit the “Cenote Esmeralda”, before heading to “Cenote Cocalitos”, home to stromatolites, which are known as living stones and are considered the oldest form of life on the planet. You’ll be able to see the different shades of blue and understand why the Bacalar lagoon is known as the Lagoon of the 7 colors.
There is plenty of time to relax and swim.
I had so much fun at Los Rapidos! Los Rapidos is a riverside club set along the river that feeds into Bacalar lagoon. “Rapidos” may be a little strong of a statement, but it is a fun lazy river to hang out at for the day.
The main activity is getting in the water upstream and letting it carry you away. I also people in floats and there are hammocks in the water you can hang out in.
There were also plenty of tables and chairs in the shade along the water where you can rest, drink, eat lunch or hang out. We went in the afternoon in the middle of the week and it was pretty busy! We only had a few hours there and I do wish we would’ve had more time, so plan to spend at minimum 2-3 hours there.
Los Rapidos is open from 10am – 6pm (be sure to check ahead of time) and cost $100-150 MXN ($5-7 USD) for entry. They do have lockers for rent if you want to put your things away while you float the river. The cafe and bar are open during normal business hours if you get hungry from the water.
Outside of the boat tour, Los Rapidos is the other main activity I would recommend.
Sunrise or Sunset Kayak (or SUP) Tour
Another common activity is seeing the sunrise or sunset from the water. Outside of speed and sail boats, you can also experience the water in a Kayak or SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard).
We decided to do a sunset kayak tour through AdventureLab. We had a great tour guide, who actually did SUP while we kayaked. Unfortunately, for us it was the one sunset that week that didn’t happen due to a storm moving in. But we still had fun.
Most tours will take you across to Pirates Canal from the main docks. And even from a 2 person Kayak it was a lot of work. It may have been more windy than normal that evening, but just be aware that it requires some level of fitness before you book.
Adventure Lab tours leave from the dock at the Yak Hostel, right in the center of town. You can also rent a kayak or SUP board if you want to go out on your own without a guide.
Cenote Azul – This is a nearby cenote that you can visit and swim in. We skipped this activity as we had visited a lot of cenotes in Playa del Carmen, but I heard it’s a nice one. It’s near Los Rapidos, so you could maybe visit it in the morning, spend an hour or so, and then head to your next activity.
Fort San Felipe – Fort San Felipe is a remnant from the days when Bacalar was being attacked by pirates. Today you can explore it during the day or in the evening. There is a small museum on site telling the history of Bacalar. It’s right near the town square.
Bike Around Town – We rented from Italia Pro Bike for a few hours. They also have options for the full day as well as delivery/pick up options from your accommodation. The owner was very nice and very passionate about bikes. It was pretty hot when we went out so it wasn’t my favorite activity, but it was a nice way to see more of the town than I could walking.
Yak Hostel Events – On top of being a hostel, they are a popular place to hang out. They host weekly events such as morning Yoga, salsa lessons, and live music on the weekends. Their deck was really nice and right on the water so worth visiting, even if you just head to the bar for a drink or two.
Restaurants / Coffee Shops
Some of my favorite places for food and drinks were:
- Picaflor Bacalar – great atmosphere, breakfast and smoothies with a small view of the Lagoon
- Bote de Leche– one of the best meals we had in all of Mexico! Drinks were also really good as was the service.
- La Catrina Bacalar– we went for the live music. The food was typical bar food, but good after a busy day. Good drink prices.
- Mango y Chile– good burgers and great view of the Lagoon.
- Pizzeria Bertilla– very good Italian near the town square
- Nao Bacalar– really good Japanese, nice outdoor area with a nice view
Other Tips for Bacalar
- Come with plenty of pesos! I read in many places while researching that it’s common for all of the ATMs in town to be out. While many of the restaurants and tours do take card, it’s better to play it safe and have enough pesos for your entire trip as well.
- Be sure to only use biodegradable or reef safe sunblock. It’s the best option to keep the lagoon & cenotes protected.
- Bacalar is very safe. You should always watch your belongings anywhere you go, but you won’t find pickpocketing or theft to be very common in this small town.
- Don’t step on the stromatolites. Stromatolites look like rocks, but they’re actually alive. We learned more about them on our boat tour, but you want to avoid stepping on them so as not to destroy their ecosystem.
- Bacalar is located on the edge of a freshwater lagoon, there are no sandy beaches. The only way to enjoy the water is to have dock access or participate in a water activity.
- In Mexico, the tap water is not safe to drink so you’ll need to purchase or bring bottles of water. It is fine however, to use for brushing your teeth. Additionally, you should not flush toilet paper down the toilet.
- Bring your waterproof camera case! I have a small plastic bag (that I bought in Mexico) for my phone and a case for my GoPro. Both were essential.
Overall, Bacalar was the perfect vacation in Mexico!
I know over the next 5-10 years it won’t look the way it does now. If you’re searching for a less well-known location in Mexico, this is the place…… for now.