Visiting Laguna Bacalar in Mexico
Bacalar is an amazing lake in the southern tip of Quintana Roo State. It is called the lake of seven colors because of the white sandy bottom that gives the effect of having so many shades of blue, as you can see in the above photo. This is a fresh water lake feed by underground cenotes, but it does look like the ocean. The lake is about 55km or 34 miles from tip to tip and 2km or 1.2 miles at its widest point. This size makes it a huge place to visit and explore.
The town of Bacalar was declared a Pueblo Magico since it is such a unique place. It should be on your list of places to visit in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Interesting fact: Bacalar Lagoon is the second largest natural body of fresh water in Mexico.
Our video introduction to Bacalar
Since this area is so beautiful and we are limited as to how many photos we can include here, we made this video of Bacalar Lagoon for you. We think after you watch this, you will want to go to Bacalar!
History of Bacalar
The history of Bacalar is interesting to say the least. It was inhabited by Mayans for centuries. The name Bacalar means “surrounded by reeds” from the Mayan language. Trails around the lagoon were lined with white seashells because the inhabitants would walk at night when it was cooler and the shells would mark the trails.
In the more modern times a colonial settlement was built in 1545 by Spaniard Gaspar Pacheco and was called San Felipe de Bacalar (still the official name but reduced to Bacalar for practical reasons). The city was invaded and destroyed by pirates in 1642 and rebuilt in 1726. After the pirate attack the Fortress de San Felipe Bacalar was built and was completed in 1733.
Bacalar was reestablished in recent 1902. The town today is a stopover for tourist going to and from Belize and the Yucatan Peninsula. Bacalar is also a home to a small expat community of Americans, Canadians and some Europeans.
Planning a trip to Bacalar Lagoon
Bacalar is a little more then a day trip from Playa Del Carmen since it is about 3 hours and 15 minute south towards Chetumal or 274 km. So planning an over night or a couple of days is good.
How to get to Bacalar
We recommend driving because the town of Bacalar is spread out and to take advantage of being in the area a car is good to have. Just note, that if you are going to continue into Belize with a rental car from Mexico, not all car rental agencies will allow boarder crossings. Check with your car rental company first.
The 307 Highway is very easy to drive going down and passes through some small towns but most of it is rural land. Every once in a while you will pass a Mayan Ruin that reminds you that you are in a special place and makes you feel like an explorer.
Just make sure you have enough fuel on this trip. There are NO gas stations between Tulum and Felipe Carrillo and between Bacalar and Felipe Carrillo.
By ADO Bus
Ado is the main bus company that people us to either arrive from Chetumal or Tulum or Playa Del Carmen in the north.
From Playa Del Carmen there are about 12 busses a day that pass through Bacalar in either direction. The price for the bus is about 290 pesos each way depending on what bus you take. The bus takes 3:40-4:30 to get from Bacalar to Playa Del Carmen.
Hotels in Bacalar
When you arrive to Bacalar pueblo you will notice it is not a big town at all. The good news is there are a lot of new hotels in Bacalar. You basically have four category of options. Staying at a lakefront hotel, boutique hotel out of the center, trendy hotel back from the lakefront in town, or eco friendly hotel just out of the center.
For a review of hotels in Bacalar and recommended hotels, see our guide here.
We like the search engine below for looking because it searches all the hotel sites and give you the best deals.
Shopping and Restaurants in Bacalar
Shopping in Bacalar
When you arrive in the town of Bacalar shopping might not be on your mind. This town is very small and does not offer a lot for shops. The one really great store we do recommend you visit it El Manati. This is actually a restaurant/gallery/shop.
In the shop you can find things made in Bacalar and from around Mexico. There is locally make furniture pieces made from tropical hardwoods. Also you can find art pieces in sculpture or paintings.
Restaurants in Bacalar
There are not a lot of options for eating in town but more restaurants are opening up (see our restaurant guide for Bacalar here). If you stay at a larger boutique hotel along the lakefront you might have a restaurant in your hotel and that makes it easy to eat there and relax.
In the town of Bacalar most of the restaurants are around the Zocalo. Here you can find some Italian and Mexican style restaurants.
If you drive along the lakefront road going south you will find a few restaurants. The last being at the Cenote Azul. Here there is a large restaurant overlooking the deep cenote.
In town we recommend El Manati. Mentioned above for the shop, the restaurant in the back is just as good. Here you can have fresh food and local specialties at reasonable prices. See photo below.
La Playita Restaurant. This trendy and beautiful restaurant is along the waterfront in Bacalar. This restaurant is just two blocks north of the fort near Calle 26. Here there is indoor and outdoor seating under a large tree. There is a lake view from the deck. The food is good and well priced.
What to see and do in Bacalar
A must is seeing the lake.
This is best done by taking kayaks out on the lake or a boat tour. Kayaks can be rented from many of the lake front establishments. Some of the large hotels have them for their guest. This is an advantage to staying at a larger hotel in Bacalar.
Pontoon boats take groups around to several spots on Laguna Bacalar.
These tours are usually 2 hours long and cost less than $15 USD per person. You will see may tour people along the road with signs selling these tours. In the middle of the town of Bacalar you can find a public beach area and this is one of the best area to take a boat from. Also some of the larger hotels will have a dock with boats that go out for tours of Lake Bacalar.
One boat tour we recommend is with Kristal.
She does a three hour tour of the lake. There is a minimum of 4 people and maximum of 9 people. She is very knowledgeable about the lake and its features. She really believes in conservation of this beautiful location and the preservation of it. You can see a video of this tour with here below:
Go for a swim!
It should be noted that the bottom can be soft and can feel a little mushy in places. Other places are more sandy and of course the water is beautiful!
Fort San Felipe is interesting to walk through and has great views of the lake.
There is a small museum with artifacts in it as well. The Fort is open six days a week from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, closed Mondays. Admission $60 pesos.
Cenote Azul is one of the deepest cenotes in the Yucatan at 90 meters or 295 ft.
That is like a 24 story building down in the water!!! Cenote Azul is 4km south of the center of town at the southern tip of Bacalar. It is open from 7am-6pm daily. A restaurant overlooks the cenote and is a nice place to take in a meal. If you are lucky there will be Mennonite children that come and play music for the enjoyment of all and then sell cd’s.
Outside of Bacalar are some Mayan ruin sites that are worth exploring.
You can explore Kohunlich, Dzibanche, Becan , Chacchoben and Chicanna.
Take the time to get to Lake Bacalar and explore this unique place. You will not regret taking time to relax here and take in the seven colors of blue.
Have you been to Laguna Bacalar? What did you think? We would love to hear from you in the comment box below.
OMG! you make Bacalar look so amazing in this article and video! I want to go the next time I am in Mexico. I had no idea that so much was there and it had so much to offer. One more place to check out in Mexico.
Wow Bacalar seems like a magical place. Thanks for writing about it and showing how to get around. This is better then most book guides because they only give you basic stuff and most of the time it is out of date by the time it is written. I hope to make it to Bacalar the next time down and I want to take Krystal’s tour, looks amazing!
Great article. Ha is for highlighting this beautiful place! If you would like to take a premium paddleboard tour contact us at Paddle Bacalar and come and see the laguna in the most eco sensitive way!
We would like that! Thank you. We are planning on coming to Bacalar again and will be taking more tours and adding to our article. We love Bacalar and want to support great businesses there. We will contact you when we are coming down. Thanks.
This is a great place to rest a few days if you are traveling from Mexico to Belize or vice versa. It is on the highway and beautiful lake.
I love Bacalar! Went for two days and wish I had goin for a week! Beautiful place.
We loved Bacalar. It has grown some in the past few years but hopefully it grows in a sustainable way.
Thanks for keeping me up to date on what is going on in Bacalar. It sounds like some nice new restaurants are opening.
I found the restaurant and shop Manatee in Bacalar. Really nice place and good for breakfast. Great recommendation.
One of my favorite places in Mexico! Love Bacalar!
We have been visiting Bacalar for several years now and have thought it to be our secret spot. Of course not just for us, but you know. The peacefulness of the place is outstanding. We are glad it is getting some new restaurants and hotels, but hope that is all and no more. It is a precious location and natural wonder.
Bacalar is becoming our favorite go to place. We just might have to think about buying some land there. It is so peaceful and beautiful. We hope the community keeps protecting what they have.
Will definitely have to check this place out next time we are in Mexico!
We have added Bacalar to our trip plans! Super excited to see this beautiful corner of the world.
Bacalar is our happy place. We have so many good memories here we hope it stays preserved and clean.
So we don’t plan on renting a car but do you think it is possible to get around Bacalar easy?
Bacalar town is spread out. As long as you stay within about 5 blocks from the center square you will be able to walk to the lakefront and restaurants. You can take a taxi to the cenote on the south end and maybe from the bus station. A tour on the lake is a must and the best thing to do there. We hope you get to go and you have a great time.
I am loving your photos of Bacalar on Instagram. That place looks incredible and I never knew it was there. It is going on the trip plans for next year!
If we must choose between bacalar or siaan ka’an what is then the best choose. We are staying in playacar. Thanks
Well Sian Kaan is harder to stay in because there are not as many places. Bacalar is easier to stay at and you have many good restaurant options. We have just posted a guide to restaurants there. Let us know how it goes and where you go.
We just were in Bacalar and loved all your restaurant recommendations. The El Manati was our favorite!!! We even went there twice. Love the space and creativity shown.
We have not been to Bacalar in years so it is good to see your restaurant reviews and updates. It looks like we have a lot of places to check out!
Bacalar was one of our favorite places on our trip to Mexico. the calm mornings, the kayaking on the lake and just the peaceful atmosphere, we love it. It is a must see stop in the part of Mexico.
Is there internet service in Bacalar? Do you think it would be an ok low-key expat environment for 6-12 months? We are family with 2 kids. Is there a local church to get plugged in to?
There is internet service there. It will be best in town. Outside of town the coverage can get spotty. It is very laid back and some people do live there as expats. There are local churches there including the main catholic church in the center of town which is an older building. You will not find that many expats there but a steady flow of tourist pass through. There is a sizable Amish community there as well that lives outside of town.
We have been living in back for the winters for a long time . The people of Bacalar will do anything for you. They’re really amazing. The big tourism attitude has not arrived here yet. Bacalar is truly a magical place . One of the places you might like to try is the Rapids. It’s a short distance out of town on the highway towards Chetumal. It’s a narrow section of the lake about two or 3 km long. You can jump into the water and drift down at a decent speed. It is a good idea to wear goggles and flippers . There is a nice restaurant nearby and you can say hello to the spider monkey .
We are glad you are enjoying the life in Bacalar. We have been to the rapids and wanted to write about them but it was cloudy the day we went. We will surely be back though! We love Bacalar!
April 2013, some friends, my husband and I, all went to Bacalar, for the day. We had the time of our lives! If theres any one place i would love to live, that would be Bacalar! Its small, beautiful, quiet, friendly! Not enough words…. we drove to Bacalar, from Belize, where we all were living, at the time. What a treat! I recommend this trip, to all our friends, that visit Mexico! Not to be missed!
Bacalar is a magical place. I hope the people there keep it pristine and work to develop a sustainable way of development. It is a special place.
Do you know if the ADO still runs from Tulum to Bacalar? It looks like that route isn’t available & I’m not sure what other options are available.
Yes, there are 15 buses a day that make that trip to Bacalar. You can check out the schedules on ADO.com.mx Make sure you look at Tulum not Tulum ruins stop to Bacalar.