We spent a fabulous weekend at Bacalar Lagoon in Quintana Roo, Mexico. We rented a car in Playa del Carmen (see also: Renting a car in Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen) to make the 3 hour drive down to Bacalar, which is about 15 miles from the state capital of Chetumal and the border with Belize. The lagoon is fed by freshwater underground rivers and well known in Mexico for its beautiful clear water.
The Maya called Bacalar Lagoon The Lake of Seven Colors, and it is still called that by the locals. The town of Bacalar is quiet and less touristy than its counterparts on the Yucatán Peninsula.
We stayed at a lovely secluded resort called Bacalar Lagoon Resort (see: Bacalar Lagoon Resort Review). It was an incredible family hotel that had rooms that sleep a family of 5. The lagoon is beautiful and the water is clear and warm. We kayaked, swam and played on the hotel’s swimming platform. We also spent a lot of time swinging in hammocks and enjoying the peaceful setting.
Our recommendation for a day trip is to start in the morning at the dock in Bacalar, where you can hire a boat to take you on a tour of the lagoon. Very little English is spoken in Bacalar so we had a chance to practice our Spanish. But everyone is warm and patient, so don’t worry.
In the main building, a person with a binder will show you the different tours you can take and show you the prices. You tell them how many people you have, decide how long you want to spend and where you want to go. Then they will find you a captain. You may have to wait 15 or 30 minutes, but there is food, drink and sundries to buy there, so you can grab some sunscreen or a few cold drinks while you wait.
Our captain took us to several spots to swim and snorkel. The colors of the lagoon are unbelievable and swimming was so much fun. At one spot, we swam over the top of a cenote, which is where an underground river joins the lagoon. It was over 100 meters deep and the bottom is lost in inky blackness, even with the clear fresh water.
At another stop, we swam in El Canal de los Piratas Bacalar (The Canal of the Bacalar Pirates), where pirates used to sneak through to hide out in a small lake called Laguna Mariscal. It is a shallow and warm canal, and at the mouth there sits an abandoned and ruined old restaurant in the shape of a ship, with painted beer ads still visible on the side.
After your boat trip, you’ll probably be ready for some food and drink, and we recommend La Playita, a lakeside restaurant only a few blocks south of the docks. This is one of the better restaurants we’ve eaten at on the whole east coast of Mexico. Squirreled away behind some trees off the main road, La Playita is a beautiful oasis on the lagoon.
Choose an outside table, because the view is beautiful. You can lie in a hammock while you wait and have a drink. The food was delicious, especially the empanadas and the fish. Our kids loved the pizza, and the service was great. Can’t wait to go back!
After lunch, it’s only a few short blocks south to El Fuerte de San Felipe de Bacalar . This is a Spanish fort right next to the main plaza in Bacalar with great views of the lagoon. The entrance fee is only MXN70 per person. Spain built the fort in 1733 to protect villagers against pirate raids from the lake. They have information in Spanish and English, so you can learn about the fort’s history, and also the history of the Mayans in the area.
Bacalar is a unique and relaxing area of the Yucatán, and after experiencing its many charms, we know you’ll want to go back as much as we do!