Bacalar, Mexico, is the ultimate destination to unplug and unwind. This laidback village in Quintana Roo screams out for a slower pace of life, and well, who are we not to get on board with the Bacalar way of doing things? On the east side of town is the most breathtaking lagoon of every colour of blue you can imagine. Indeed, Laguna Bacalar is often referred to as the ‘Lagoon of 7 Colours‘ (Laguna de Siete Colores) because of the many shades of turquoise, cobalt and navy blue found in the lake. There are plenty of things to do in Bacalar to soak up this easygoing lakeside hub, and we’re going to show you 10 excellent options for a day trip.
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About Bacalar, Mexico
Bacalar is a small lakeside town in the southeast of Mexico. It’s easily one of the most popular towns to visit in Mexico, that isn’t strictly on the coast. Instead, this laidback town sits on the banks of Laguna Bacalar (AKA Bacalar Lagoon), a strikingly vibrant lake of turquoise waters. In fact, Laguna Bacalar is also referred to as the Lagoon of Seven Colours, due to the many different blue hues found in the lake. It’s completely magical.
The town centres around the Zócalo (a public square typical in most Mexican towns), surrounded by artisan shops, hipster cafes and accommodation options.
Although Bacalar is famous for its lagoon of seven colours, actually accessing the lake is not so straightforward. That’s because much of the land surrounding Laguna Bacalar is private. But, there are a number of public piers you can access to reach the lake, most notably at the end of Calle 14, 16 and 18. Otherwise, one of the most popular things to do in Bacalar is to pay to enter one of the many Balnearios, or private beach clubs. But don’t worry, they’re not as pricey as you might think.
Bacalar has been granted Pueblo Magico (Magical Town) status by the Mexican Government. It’s an award or title given to small towns in the country that they deem ‘magical’. Bacalar, Mexico, is one of only three in all of Quintana Roo, with the other two being Tulum and Isla Mujeres.
The town of Bacalar was founded in 435AD and depending on what sources you read, the name either comes from the Mayan – b’ak halal, meaning ‘surrounded by reeds’, or from the Maya town name of Sian Ka’an Bakhalal, which means ‘where the sky is born’. Either seems quite fitting.
Where Is Bacalar, Mexico?
Bacalar sits at the southern end of the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico. The town is actually not far from Belize and makes the perfect place to stop before continuing on to Chetumal to cross the border. Feel free to click on the interactive map below to see exactly where Bacalar in Mexico is located.
How to Get to Bacalar, Mexico
Laguna Bacalar is easy to reach from most major tourist destinations in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the most common routes from Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen and Chetumal.
Cancun to Bacalar
From Cancun Airport and central Cancun, it’s easy to take the ADO bus directly to Bacalar. ADO operate from each terminal at Cancun Airport, so it doesn’t matter which one you fly into. You can book tickets on arrival. Or, to secure a seat, you book online via the ADO website or by using Busbud, which we’ve used a lot throughout Central and South America. The ADO bus from Cancun usually stops at Playa del Carmen and Tulum on the way to Bacalar, Quintana Roo, so it’s a long 5.5 hour journey.
If hiring a car and driving, the drive will take you around four hours covering 330km. It’s quite a distance for a day trip, whether driving or catching the bus. So, if you want to visit Bacalar, Mexico, directly from Cancun, you’re probably best to stay for a night or two. We’ve covered accommodation options below. Alternatively, visiting as a day trip from Tulum is much closer.
Additionally, you can book organised tours from Cancun to Bacalar.
Tulum to Bacalar
Tulum lies 200km north of Bacalar along the Quintana Roo coastline. Being less than three hours away by car, it’s not a bad option to day trip from Tulum, if you’re up for an early start. Again, you can use the ADO bus to travel between Tulum and Bacalar, Mexico. The bus departs from the bus stop here in central Tulum and takes around 2.5–3 hours. You can book directly at the ADO bus terminal in central Tulum. Or, use the ADO website or Busbud to book tickets online.
Playa del Carmen to Bacalar
The ADO bus from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar takes around four hours, stopping at Tulum along the way. You can book directly at the ADO bus terminal in central Playa del Carmen. Or, use the ADO website or Busbud to book tickets online.
To drive from Playa del Carmen along the Quintana Roo coastline to Bacalar takes around 3.5 hours covering 370km.
Chetumal to Bacalar
By far, the easiest place to day trip to Bacalar, Mexico is from Chetumal. Dan and I visited Laguna Bacalar as a day trip from Chetumal, as we had a short stay there before crossing over into Belize. Visiting Bacalar for the day was the perfect way to finish our trip in Mexico.
Taking the bus from Chetumal to Bacalar is very quick and easy. The journey takes around 40 minutes and the buses run frequently all day. You can travel with an ADO bus, which is always reliable, or travel with the Mayab bus company. We chose Mayab as they were slightly cheaper than ADO, but they are a second-class service, so facilities and comfort are not as great as ADO. Still, it’s only a 40 minute journey so it really doesn’t matter. We booked tickets directly from the Chetumal Bus Terminal.
Driving is just as quick as taking the bus. So, if you’ve been road-tripping throughout Quintana Roo and feel like a rest from driving, taking the bus to Bacalar is a great option.
You can also book organised tours from Chetumal to Bacalar, Quintana Roo.
Renting a Car in Mexico
One of the easiest ways to get around Mexico and visit Bacalar, which is a little more off the beaten track compared to other popular destinations in Quintana Roo, is to hire a car.
If you want to hire something, we recommend hiring a car using Rentalcars.com. You’ll find a variety of cars on Rental Cars, which are very easy to book online. Personally, Dan and I have used RentalCars plenty of times and never had any problems.
How to Fly to Bacalar Mexico
Bacalar does not have its own airport. The nearest airport to Bacalar, Mexico is in the city of Chetumal, just 38km south of the lake-side town. You can fly internationally from outside of Mexico into Chetumal. Alternatively, you can easily take a local domestic flight from other parts of Mexico such as Mexico City. From Chetumal, you can then take the bus to Bacalar, Quintana Roo.
10 Things to Do in Bacalar, Mexico
So, now you know how to get to Bacalar in Quintana Roo, Mexico, let’s take a look at 10 of the best things to do in this sweet Pueblo Magico.
1. Grab Breakfast at El Manatí Bacalar
Once you arrive in Bacalar, Mexico we recommend heading to El Manatí for a lovely breakfast, or brunch. The coffee is delicious and the Mexican cuisine very decent.
The relaxed outdoor courtyard has pockets of seating nestled within a pretty garden setting. But, to reach this hidden oasis, you’ll pass through the shop and gallery. Supporting local artists and artisans, El Manatí Bacalar is a great space to enjoy some Mexican culture, whilst sitting back and soaking in the laidback vibes Laguna Bacalar is so well loved for.
2. Chill Out at Cocalitos Beach Club
Bacalar has plenty of Balnearios (beach clubs) to choose from. It doesn’t really matter which beach club you head to in Bacalar to enjoy the laguna. What’s important is that you at least head to one. Dan and I enjoyed a few hours relaxing at Cocalitoes Beach Club.
Dan and I walked from Bacalar town centre to Cocalitos, but, we probably wouldn’t recommend it. It was a much longer distance than we (well, me) had imagined, and the one hour of road walking in flip-flops was a bit tedious. Instead, take a taxi or hire a bike.
The entry fee for Cocalitos is $50MXN ($3USD) and it’s probably one of the more reasonably priced of the Bacalar beach clubs. The entry fee is just that, entry, with any extras like chairs, sunloungers, etc., more money. Most people just lie their towels on the grass, which we did too and is really all you need. To ensure your things aren’t left unattended whilst you spend most of your time in Bacalar Lagoon, there are lockers you can make use of.
In the dreamy turquoise waters of Cenote Cocalitos, you’ll find hammocks and swings. If you walk further out you’ll find a shallow sand bar with shrubs growing and just the most incredible views of Bacalar Lagoon.
There’s a restaurant, camping space, snorkel gear, kayaks and tours of the Bacalar Lagoon available.
But, it isn’t just the Cocalitos Cenote and the crystal clear waters that you’ll head to Cocalitos Beach Club for.
Cocalitos is more than just a beach club. Indeed, Cenote Cocalito houses one of the most impressive and worthwhile attractions of any visit to Mexico, let alone Bacalar in Quintana Roo. Floating just under the surface, like irregular-shaped stepping stones, are the Bacalar stromatolites. But, these are no rocks.
Stromatolites are living things. They are pillow-like in appearance and grow upwards from the limestone-rich base of the Bacalar Lagoon floor. Bacalar’s stromatolites are hugely important. They capture CO2 and are great at cleaning up the atmosphere, much like mangroves and trees. Incredibly, they are approximately 3.5 billion years old.
What’s most mind-blowing, is just how close you can get to such an ancient, living and hugely important organism in Laguna Bacalar. At Cocalitoes Cenote, despite the roped barrier around the stromatolites, incredibly close proximity to the stromatolites seems to be permitted. Perhaps a little too close. With the growth in tourism, understandably the Bacalar stromatolites are under threat.
The best practice when you visit is to not wear shoes in the water. Nor should you wear makeup or sunscreen, as both can bleach the stromatolite structures, much like corals. Basically, don’t get too close and take all litter away with you. Please be responsible. But of course, enjoy viewing these absolutely astonishing ancient organisms, the oldest of their type on the planet, just at a respectful distance away.
There are plenty of other great Balneario/beach club options in Bacalar, Mexico including Balneario Ejidal Mágico, Balneario Municipal El Aserradero and El Encanto.
Balneario Ejidal Mágico
Balneario Ejidal Mágico is located a short 10 minute walk north from Bacalar centre. It’s one of the first beach clubs to be built on Laguna Bacalar and is very popular with families due to the water slides and entertainment. Entry is around $20MXN ($1USD) and there are changing rooms, kayaks for hire and even a car park if you’ve driven.
Balneario Municipal El Aserradero
A 5 minute walk south of the centre of Bacalar, Mexico brings you to Balneario Municipal El Aserradero. This is one of the most accessible of Bacalar’s balnearios and is free to enter on foot ($10MXN [$0,50USD] if you bring your car). As it’s free, there’s also no onsite restaurant or bar, so bring all supplies with you to Balneario Municipal El Aserradero. There’s a lovely pier stretching out into Laguna Bacalar, which is perfect for exploring the turquoise waters.
At the southern tip of Bacalar Lagoon is El Encanto. This quiet corner of Bacalar, Quintana Roo occupies an almost private area of the lake and can be enjoyed for around $40MXN ($2.50USD) for the day. As it’s a little more out of town, El Encanto benefits from fewer visitors which might sound appealing to many of you. The water is much deeper here compared to further north along the laguna, but the snorkelling is fantastic. You can happily set up for a few hours (or more) as the onsite restaurant is said to be very good.
3. Explore Cenotes in Bacalar, Mexico
Quintana Roo, or even Mexico as a whole, isn’t short of stunning cenotes to visit. Indeed, Bacalar has four of its very own to check out.
As mentioned above, at Cenote Cocalitos you can enjoy the lagoon swings, hammocks and the incredible Bacalar stromatolites.
A stone’s throw from Cocalitos Beach Club is Cenote Azul. Dan and I walked there from Cocalitos and it took about 15 minutes. We didn’t want to walk too far or pay to enter another beach club and so headed down a short trail here to view Cenote Azul.
Nestled within the dense trees that completely surround the cenote are secret views of the vivid blue water. The colour was intense and totally blew us away. We saw locals swimming from this area too and clambering around the twisting tree branches. To officially swim in Cenote Azul, you’ll need to enter through the proper entrance and pay the fee.
For divers, Cenote Azul is particularly exciting due to the abundance of caves deep in the depths of the cenote.
Cenote Esmeralda is most often visited as part of a boat tour around Laguna Bacalar. The cenote is an intense dark blue colour and measures 70 metres deep in parts. If you want to visit Cenote Esmeralda from land, your best bet is to hire a kayak and paddle around. It should be possible from Cocalitos. Most popular is to check out the narrow gap formed where the cenote meets Bacalar Lagoon.
Cenote Negro is closest to Bacalar town and is of the deepest blue colour, almost black, hence the name. The cenote is also known as Cenote de La Bruja, meaning ‘the Witch’s Cenote’, named after a Mayan witch living on the shores of the laguna. Or, so legend has it anyway. The waters reach a depth of 90 metres, making it the deepest cenote in Bacalar. The contrast of colour between Cenote Negro and the sparkling turquoise of Laguna Bacalar is quite remarkable.
Again, the easiest way to visit is via a boat tour, as access to the waterfront is not straightforward.
4. Enjoy a Boat Trip on Bacalar Lagoon
So, what does a boat tour entail anyway? Well, a typical half-day boat tour is actually a really great way to see as much of Laguna Bacalar as possible, especially if you’re short on time. As mentioned, a boat tour of Laguna Bacalar will visit both Cenote Negro and Cenote Esmeralda, as well as sail through the Pirate’s Channel and stop at Bird Island. Snacks, snorkelling equipment and drinks are usually provided.
In particular, Get Your Guide’s Bacalar 3 Hour Boat Trip is one of the best tours on offer. It’s no coincidence that this tour rates so highly.
5. Wander Around Bacalar Town
It makes sense to take a bit of time to wander the quaint streets of this Pueblo Magico. Around the Zócalo, you’ll find plenty of artisanal shops, souvenirs and food and drink.
Visit Fort San Felipe
Fort San Felipe, or San Felipe Castle, is a magnificent stone keep overlooking the sublime waters of Bacalar Lagoon and the Pirate’s Channel. The fort was built in 1725 to protect the area from invasion. It’s now a museum, housing a wealth of treasure troves relating to the Mayans, the Spanish and of course, the pirates.
Bacalar Town Sign
If you’ve travelled a fair bit of Mexico by now, or certainly within Yucatan and Quintana Roo, you’ll be quite used to seeing the colourful letters spelling out the name of the town you’re in. They’re a nice touch and of course, it becomes a sort of rite of passage to have your photograph taken at them. And Bacalar, Mexico is no different. When in Rome, and all that.
6. Have Lunch at Mi Burrito Bacalar
You’ve likely have worked up an appetite by now, so it’s time to head to Mi Burrito Bacalar. This busy little ‘burrito van’ is a must for a good feed in Bacalar, Mexico. Indeed, it’s the perfect place to refuel after a busy morning exploring Bacalar Lagoon.
The menu is simple yet the food is delicious and the owner and staff are super helpful and friendly. They’ll even assist with recommendations. The food is quick and perfect as a quick pit spot whilst enjoying the delights of the town. In fact, the atmosphere as a whole is exactly the vibe you want on a day trip to Bacalar, Mexico – chilled and friendly.
More of the Best Restaurants in Bacalar, Mexico
Mango y Chile
If we hadn’t eaten at Mi Burrito (zero regrets), we likely would have headed to Mango y Chile. The views from the restaurant terrace extend over the beautiful Laguna Bacalar, making this one of the most relaxing eateries in town. Mango y Chile serves excellent vegan food and comes very highly rated.
Nixtamal (Cocina a Fuego y Ceniza)
For something a little more upmarket, try Nixtamal (Cocina a Fuego y Ceniza). This is easily one of the best restaurants in Bacalar, Mexico, serving delicious steak and seafood. The atmosphere, decor and incredible service also help to make this restaurant a big hit with guests.
Akira Ice Rolls
To satisfy that sweet craving, head to Akira Ice Rolls, for….ice rolls. There’s a great range of refreshing flavours and if you haven’t tried ice rolls yet, then here’s your chance.
7. Go Kayaking/SUP on Laguna Bacalar, Mexico
One of the best things to do on a day trip to Bacalar, Mexico is to hire a kayak or SUP and set about exploring the laguna. As Bacalar Lagoon is around 42km long and 2km at its widest part, there’s plenty to see. Kayaks and SUPs can commonly be hired from many of the balnearios or beach clubs. But, Veleando Ando, located here on the north side of town, is known for offering reliable rentals. They also provide group or private guided tours.
One of the most popular Laguna Bacalar tours is the Sunrise Paddleboard Tour.
8. Sail the Pirate’s Channel and Shipwreck (Canal de Los Piratas)
Whether you visit the Pirate’s Channel via boat tour or on an adventurous independent trek in a kayak, you must head to this thin sliver of turquoise water which cuts through the mangroves. On the other side of the Pirate’s Channel to Bacalar Lagoon is a smaller lake called Laguna Mariscal. There’s also an impressive shipwreck to explore, as well as just to simply marvel at the bright turquoise hues of the water. Indeed, the colours of Laguna Bacalar from the Pirate’s Channel are some of the most vibrant in the whole area.
9. Los Rapidos, Bacalar Mexico
One of the places Dan and I looked forward to visiting, but simply ran out of time, was Los Rapidos de Bacalar (the Rapids of Bacalar). Towards the southern point of Laguna Bacalar, the channel narrows significantly and swimming between these slender passages, or simply floating lazily as the gentle current takes you, is what makes Los Rapidos so fun. Life jackets can be hired. As too can kayaks. This place is quite popular and so can become rather crowded.
10. Tirolesas Kan Kin Zip Line Bacalar, Mexico
For something a little more high octane, for Bacalar standards anyway, then head to the zip line at Tirolesas Kan Kin Bacalar. Here, you can enjoy five zip lines with truly splendid views across Laguna Bacalar and beyond. If you’re lucky, you might spot a monkey or two as you fly through the trees. Tirolesas Kan Kin Bacalar is usually open 9am–5pm, with a siesta between 12pm–2pm.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Bacalar, Mexico?
The best time to visit Bacalar, Mexico is November to May. June is typically the hottest but also the wettest month. Dan and I visited Bacalar on our tour of Quintana Roo in January and found the weather to be warm and sunny. The weather was quite perfect for a day of outdoor activities.
Below, we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions regarding visiting Laguna Bacalar in Quintana Roo, Mexico.
Is it Worth Going to Bacalar, Mexico?
Yes. There’s plenty to see and do in this laidback town, especially if you just have a day to visit.
Is Bacalar, Mexico Expensive?
In short, yes. But, Bacalar is nothing out of the ordinary for Quintana Roo and when compared to other resort towns like Cancun and Tulum. The most expensive part of a visit to Bacalar, Mexico will undoubtedly be accommodation, should you decide to stay for a night or two.
Can You Swim in Laguna Bacalar?
Absolutely. The shallow parts of Laguna Bacalar are perfect for a dip and as the lagoon experiences very little in the way of a current – it’s super relaxing. But, when swimming in the deeper cenotes, life jackets can be worn for extra safety.
What Airport Do You Fly into For Bacalar, Mexico?
Chetumal International is the closest airport to Bacalar, Mexico. Although, it’s straightforward to reach Bacalar Lagoon from Cancun International Airport also.
Is Bacalar, Mexico Safe?
As towns and tourist spots in Mexico go, yes, Bacalar is safe. Dan and I didn’t encounter anything amiss. But, as always when travelling, don’t be flashy with any valuables and stick to the main streets.
Is Bacalar, Mexico on the Ocean?
No. Bacalar is inland from the coast of Mexico, on the edges of a lagoon. The nearest town on the ocean to Bacalar is Mahahual, which you can reach from Bacalar via a 1.5 hour bus journey.
Where to Stay in Bacalar, Mexico
If you’re tempted to stay longer than a day in Bacalar, then who can blame you? Certainly, there’s plenty to do and the slow pace of life means it’s almost sacrilege to rush. Below, are our top accommodation options should you decide to stay a little longer on this patch of paradise on the Riviera Maya.
- Budget – The Yak Lake House: The Yak Lake House is about as budget as they come in Bacalar, Mexico. But, this is also one of the most popular places to stay. This adult-only hostel features shared dorms, a communal kitchen and amazing lakeside views.
- Mid-range – Hotel Diosa del Agua Bacalar: for a centrally located hotel option in Bacalar, Hotel Diosa del Agua Bacalar ticks a lot of boxes. Rooms come with a private bathroom, use of the hotel garden and even a pool.
- Luxury – Our Habitas Bacalar: along the southern edge of Laguna Bacalar is the splendid Our Habitas Bacalar. This five-star accommodation sure knows how to do luxury. Guests can enjoy a delicious breakfast on the lakefront, enjoy private outdoor showers and enjoy morning yoga sessions at this Bacalar hotel.
Other Things to Do Nearby
- Beach trip to Mahahual: as mentioned, the nearest Quintana Roo coastal town to Bacalar, Mexico is Mahahual. Mahahual can be reached easily by taking an ADO bus from the bus terminal in Bacalar, with the journey taking around 1.5 hours.
- Visit the Mayan Ruins: Quintana Roo is home to some of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico, with Coba, Dzibanche, Kohunlich and Chacchoben Ruins all relatively close to Bacalar.
- Head to Belize: Bacalar and Chetumal are so close to the Mexico/Belize border, so it’s definitely worth considering shooting across into this beautiful neighbouring country. You can get there by land or by boat. Dan and I started the day in Chetumal and finished by sipping beers on Caye Caulker, Belize, after making the border crossing.
Travel Essentials For Bacalar, Mexico
These are our travel essentials for a day trip to Bacalar, Mexico.
- Swimming gear: there’s no way you can visit Bacalar, Mexico and not get in the laguna.
- Quick-dry towel: we travel lightly, so a small, quick-dry towel is much more convenient for a day trip than sneaking the hostel/hotel’s bath sheet out.
- Biodegradable sunscreen: although it’s recommended not to wear sunscreen at all when entering Laguna Bacalar, a biodegradable option is still a great shout for once you’re out of the water.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for day tripping, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- Columbia Convertible Trousers: a great value for money pair of convertible trousers.
You should also pack snacks and water. Also, remember to take pesos as not everywhere will accept card payments. For a longer gear list, read our 66 Travel Items You Must Travel With. And, for a list of everything else you’d need for travelling, read our Packing Checklist.
Travel insurance is a real necessity, especially when travelling through Central America and getting a little off the beaten track.
SafetyWing is an excellent budget-friendly travel insurance provider. Personally, Dan and I have used SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance many times to insure our trips. The Nomad Insurance is fantastic value for money with a smaller additional cost to add a partner. Unlike most other insurance companies, there’s an option to pay on a monthly basis, similar to having a prepaid phone plan. Better yet, there’s no lock-in contract. In addition, you can cancel at any time, which will take effect the month after.
For shorter trips, it’s also possible to use Nomad Insurance for trips lasting just days or just 2–3 weeks. Indeed, SafetyWing is cheaper than almost all other travel insurance policies and covers just as much and sometimes more.
SafetyWing is a modern travel insurance company that is certainly leading the way in terms of how travel insurance should work in the future.
Bonus Tips for Visiting Bacalar, Mexico
- Accessing Laguna Bacalar: on first appearance, it can seem difficult to access the waters of Bacalar Lagoon. But, you’ll find plenty of both private and public piers, with the latter being free to visit. Indeed, there are some free docks at the end of Calle 14, 16 and 18.
- Getting around Bacalar, Mexico: you can get around Bacalar by taxi, bike rental or simply on foot.
- Organised tours in Bacalar: Bacalar was one of our favourite places to take a day trip in Mexico, with plenty to see and do. But, for some hassle-free tours, GetYourGuide offers some pretty great options.
What’s your favourite thing to do in Bacalar, Quintana Roo, Mexico? Let us know in the comments below.