On my most recent trip to Mexico I got to experience some of the best things to do in Bacalar, and absolutely fell in love with this little town. Bacalar is known for bright blue (and green waters), chill beach clubs and also boasts some local pirate history!
In short, this is a great place to visit, and one I highly recommend you add to your Mexico bucket list.
Bacalar is still considered a little off the beaten path when it comes to destinations in Mexico, but I have a feeling this will change in the years to come.
The vibes reminded me of the likes of Tulum and Canggu, Bali – lots of beach clubs, organic cafes and people just enjoying life in the sun. Some even say it’s the “new Tulum”, and that says a lot!
Before visiting myself, I had only done some loose research on what activities were available, but soon found that there are lots of great things to do in Bacalar – even though it comes across as a rather quiet town.
Quick Bacalar Travel Guide
Where to stay: Bacalari is a 5-star, adults-only luxury resort with all the amenities you need. If you want a to splurge on a bit of luxury with the whole family, the Royal Palm Bacalar is a 5-star resort with family rooms. Lagoon House is a decent mid-range hotel with high ratings from former guests, and Hotel Hacienda is the most budget-friendly option.
Where to eat: Mr. Tacos right on the main square has the best tacos in town, and Playita is a great restaurant for a chill-beach vibe. Don’t miss the ice cream shop right by the main square, and drop by the Panaderia la Tartaleta for breakfast (the bolitas philly were my favourites!).
Top activities and tours in Bacalar:
- Seeing the Bacalar lagoon on a boat tour
- The San Felipe Fortress
- Sunrise paddle board tour & breakfast
- Renting a kayak on the lake
- Seeing the street art in Bacalar
Packing for Bacalar: Bacalar is a warm destination, so pack light, comfortable clothes and shoes that are easy to slip on and off. Toms and flip-flops are ideal. Don’t forget a swimsuit, and of course reef-safe sunscreen (very important).
Things You Need to Know About Bacalar Before you go
As mentioned, Bacalar is a chill, and rather quiet town.
That’s not to say there aren’t bars or places to grab a drink in the evening – just that it felt more quiet than some other destinations in Mexico.
And considering I had just arrived from Cancun, perhaps that’s why.
Bacalar is located all the way south along the east coast of Mexico (the coastline known as the Riviera Maya). In fact, the town is just an hour or so north of the border to Belize, so it is more than possible to visit Bacalar on a day trip from Belize (or vice versa).
It is one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns), and lies along the beautiful Bacalar Lagoon. The lagoon is actually where you will find the brightly coloured water (many people think it’s the ocean, but alas!).
Bacalar is about a 5-6-hour drive (or bus ride) from Cancun, and the bus passes by Playa del Carmen, Akumal and Tulum on the way.
On the other side, Chetumal is just an hour away, and there is an international airport there if you wish to fly in a little closer to Bacalar. You can book a transfer directly from Chetumal International Airport to Bacalar here.
We took the ADO bus from Cancun to Bacalar, and it was a pretty smooth ride. Tickets can be booked in advance on their website. The ADO drops you off right in the town center in Bacalar, just a few blocks from the waterfront (here, to be exact).
17 Great Things to do in Bacalar, Mexico
Moving on to what to do when you get there!
Of course, the main attraction in Bacalar is the lagoon, known as the Lagoon of the 7 Colours – due to the many stunning colours you’ll be able to see in the water.
As a result, this is the perfect destination for those looking to do water activities during their visit, such as SUP and kayaking (you can even rent see-through kayaks there!).
#1 The Bacalar Lagoon
As mentioned, the lagoon (in fact, it’s a lake) is what Bacalar is most known for. This beautiful lake absolutely blew me away with its colours, and I quickly understood that there is a good reason for its nickname.
The clear, blue waters of the lagoon changes from a bright, crystal-clear blue in some of the more shallow places, all the way to a deep, dark blue over the deepest cenotes (Cenote Negro is actually 120 meters deep!).
Lake Bacalar stretches 42 kilometers (26 mi) from the north end to the south (towards Belize), and is the largest lake in the Yucatan peninsula.
There are lots of ways to explore the lagoon (covered next), both by getting out on the water and lounging along its shoreline.
The lagoon is connected to the Mariscal Lagoon via a narrow channel called the El Canal De Los Piratas, translating to the pirate’s channel! As mentioned, Bacalar has some fascinating pirate history, and this is how they would access the area.
#2 Go on a lagoon boat trip
As mentioned, there are many ways to explore the beautiful lake, and going on a boat trip is one of the most popular ways of doing so!
You can book online in advance, or rock up to one of the many companies along the shore offering boat rides in either open or covered pontoon boats.
The tours are 300-400 MXN ($16-22) per person, and last around 2,5 hours. They all take you around the same places, including the Pirate Channel, some of the cenotes, and to see some of the stromatolites along the shore (I’ll tell you more about what they are below!).
Tip: it costs a little extra to go in a covered boat/pontoon (400 MXN, as opposed to 300 MXN for the open boat), which I highly recommend, since the sun can be very strong.
Recommended lake tours (that can be booked in advance):
- Open bar boat tour on the lagoon ($48)
- A catamaran cruise on the lagoon ($67)
- Private tour of the lagoon ($114)
- Standard pontoon boat trip ($22)
- Sunset trip with drinks ($37)
#3 Explore the lagoon on a sail boat
Another way to explore the lagoon is to go sailing!
Whilst most of the boat tours on the lake are in the above-mentioned small boats and pontoons, there are companies offering the chance to glide across the lake on a sailboat.
This is a little pricier than the smaller boats, but offer a much more wholesome (and relaxing experience).
There are private sailing tours available for those interested, but if you are happy to join a group, prices start at $42. So, for an extra $20, you can explore the lagoon on a quiet sailboat instead of a motorized boat.
The sailing tour lasts 3 hours, and stops by most of the same sights as the other boat trips.
Book the $42-tour in advance here.
#4 Kayak or paddleboard (SUP) on the lagoon
There are of course ways to get out on the lagoon that gets you even closer to the water, the mangroves and whatever you wish to explore.
I am, of course, talking about going kayaking or paddleboarding on the lake!
By renting a kayak or stand up paddleboard, you have the lake at your disposal and can go pretty much wherever you please. This is a great way to stay active, whilst still exploring the main attraction in Bacalar.
From sunset or sunrise tours in a see-through kayak and private SUP tours, to full day kayak rentals, you’ll find some of the best offers in Bacalar below.
#5 The Pirate Channel & “Shipwreck”
There is one stop that’s included on practically every tour of the lake, and that’s the infamous Pirate Channel. The Canal de Los Piratas is a very narrow channel that connects the Bacalar Lagoon with the Mariscal Lagoon.
The former name of this channel was the Canal de Salamanca, but due to famous pirates taking advantage of it (such as Francis Drake and Henry Morgan), it has been renamed in later years.
There is a “shipwreck” here, that I have chosen to put in quotation marks because it is not a shipwreck at all. It is actually a cement foundation of what was supposed to be a restaurant shaped like a ship – accessible by boat only.
Whilst this was a great idea, and would have made its owners very wealthy had it been finished, the heavy building started sinking into the sand before the funding to complete it was achieved.
Thus, it is now a ruin of a building, with shrubs and greenerie ass growing around it, used for jumping off and swimming. If you intend to jump off, though, be careful – as it is not as deep as you’d think surrounding it.
#6 Relax at a beach club
One of the most popular (and important, in my opinion) things to do in Bacalar is to hang out at one of the many beach clubs along the lagoon.
In fact, when I asked my friends (who had both been to Bacalar before) what we should do there, they said we had to chill at a beach club for at least one day.
Don’t threaten me with a good time.
Bacalar is known for its chill vibe all around town, and the beach clubs are no exception. So grab a chair on the lawn, order a Corona (or pina colada, like me), and relax.
Some of the most popular beach clubs in Bacalar are:
- Beach Club Blù (where the photo below is from)
- Bertilla Lagoon & Beach Club
- La Playita
#7 See the stromatolites
Have you heard of stromatolites before?
Neither had I before visiting Bacalar, but I quickly learned that these are the oldest living lifeform on the planet! How insane!
They are basically living organisms in the water, that look a little like rocks at first. As you get closer, you’ll notice that they seem more organic than so. I personally felt like I could feel them being alive, but that may have been the 3 pina coladas talking.
The stromatolites can be seen in several places along the lagoon, such as at Beach Club Blú. Additionally, most boat tours will stop where the lagoon is shallow enough for you to get off the boat and walk over to an area of stromatolites!
The most important thing to keep in mind when seeing the stromatolites in Bacalar is to not touch them, step on them or do anything else that may damage them. As mentioned, these are ancient living organisms that should be respected as such.
To learn more about the stromatolites, head this way!
#8 The Bacalar Sign
Bacalar is one of Mexico’s 132 Pueblo Magicos (Magic Towns), and thus, like the rest of them, has a large, colourful sign right by the main square of town.
Taking a photo with the sign is a must when visiting Bacalar, but it is also helpful to know where it is in case you are gathering with friends and need a specific meeting point.
The Bacalar sign is located right by the San Felipe Fort, at the edge of the main square.
#9 Fort San Felipe
This was probably my favourite thing I did whilst in Bacalar, mainly because I am so obsessed with pirates.
The Fuerte San Felipe (fort of San Felipe) is a stronghold located right by the main square, on a hill overlooking the lagoon. It was built in the 1700s (1733 to be exact), in order to help protect the town from incoming pirates.
At one point the fort had 24 cannons, some of which can still be seen when visiting.
The Fort itself offers lovely views of the lagoon, and is worth it just for that. But inside the main structure there is also a small exhibit dedicated to the Fort’s history, as well as Bacalar’s significance for the Spanish and the pirates in the Caribbean.
#10 Cenote Azul
Just a 8-10 minute taxi ride from the town center you will find the beautiful Cenote Azul, cut off from the lagoon by a strip of land. The entry is 25 pesos (aprox $1,35), and the taxi to get there was 60 pesos (around $3).
There is a small restaurant and gift shop set up at the cenote, and you can (of course) swim in it as well. The cenote is separated from the Bacalar lagoon by a small strip of land where you will conveniently find Beach Club Blú.
We went to the cenote in the morning for a swim, before heading to the beach club to relax for the day (they opened at 11am when we visited).
#11 Cenote Esmeralda and Cenote Negro
These are the two cenotes that are “in” Bacalar lake. Cenote Esmeralda is the biggest, whilst Cenote Negro is the deepest. Both are usually visited as a stop on the lagoon boat tour.
The cenotes contribute to the changing colours of the lagoon (and its nickname). The Cenote Negro, for example, goes from a depth of just 1,5 meters all the way down to 120 meters at its deepest! Thus giving it the name “the black cenote”.
#12 Los Rapidos
Los Rapidos is a channel at the end of the Bacalar lagoon, and a very popular place to visit. Similar to the likes of Xel-ha and Xcaret near Cancun, this can be described as an all-natural waterpark.
At Los Rapidos, you’ll find a narrow canal lined with mangroves and a large display of stromatolites. The main activity here is to walk to the end of the “dock”, get in a tube, and float all the way back down along the canal – thanks to the weak currents in motion here.
Of course, there is an entrance fee, payable to the Los Rapidos beach club (where there is also a restaurant and toilet facilities). At the time of writing the entrance fee to Los Rapidos is 150 pesos (around $8).
#13 Visit the Dzibanche and Kohunlich ruins (DAY TRIP)
The archeological sites of Dzibanche and Kohunlich can be reached from Bacalar on a day trip, and are amongst the most important Mayan cities in the southern part of Quintana Roo state (where Bacalar is located).
In addition to seeing the temples at these sites (such as the Temple of the Owl in Dzibanche and the Temple of the Masks in Kohunlich), there is a possibility of seeing some fascinating wildlife on this tour as well. More specifically, exotic birds and the howler monkey, known as the loudest land animal in the world.
Book this private day trip to get the most of your day, including a 3-course meal before returning to Bacalar.
#14 Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka’an is a natural reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, just 2,5-hours north of Bacalar. If you are driving to Bacalar from Cancun, Tulum or Akumal to the north, I recommend stopping here on the way.
The area has been a designated Biosphere Reserve since 1986, and on the world heritage list since 1987, due to the diverse ecosystem and wildlife found in the reserve.
It covers both a large forested area, marshes, and a marine area with mangroves and a barrier reef. As a result, you’ll find over 300 species of birds here!
There are plenty of ways to explore Sian Ka’an, from half-day tours to full-day tours, snorkeling tours and nature walks. Whether you want to go kayaking or bird watching, you’ll find the perfect activity, all within the same reserve.
#15 Go on a walking tour
There is no better way to explore a new town than by feet, and going on a walking tour will give you an overview of all the major sights in Bacalar. Therefore, this is something I recommend you do at the beginning of your visit.
Taking a tour like this one includes a visit to the Fort of San Felipe, so you can truly learn the interesting history of Bacalar, before walking through town visiting sights such as the main square park, city hall and a lagoon viewpoint.
As always, make sure to book in advance to be certain of availability.
#16 Eat the best tacos of your life
My friend Teresa told me that she’d had the best tacos in her life in Bacalar. SInce she’s travelled Mexico more extensively than I have, I took her word for it and we headed to Mr. Taco, right on the main square.
And she was right. This little hole-in-the-wall restaurant has no more than 9-10 tables, and there was a small queue outside when we arrived. It seems we weren’t the only ones wanting Mr. Taco’s tacos.
When we got our table, we mixed and matched the tacos we most wanted, and everyone left full and happy. So make sure to have at least one meal here when in Bacalar, I promise you won’t regret it.
#17 Bacalar’s Street Art
Bacalar is home to a pretty thriving street art scene, with lots of colourful murals wherever you go. So if you have a little time to spare, make sure to spend it strolling around the streets to find some of the beautiful street art there.
Each artist has signed their murals, usually with their Instagram handle, so once you find one you love, make sure to check them out. That way, you can see if they’ve created more art nearby for your to check out.
Bacalar FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Yes! There are so many great things to do in Bacalar, and it is a great destination to visit.
Yes, Bacalar is a safe destination for tourists. Of course, always be aware of your surroundings, as petty theft and crime can happen anywhere.
I recommend at least two full days, ideally 3-4. More if you want to do any day trips and explore the surrounding area.
Yes, you can!
As of 2023, Bacalar is cheaper than Tulum. However, this may change as the town gains popularity.
The lake (lagoon) is unique due to its stunning variation of the colour blue.
Yes, there are crocodiles in the Bacalar lagoon. Whilst they usually keep to themselves and do not bother swimmers, it is good to be aware in certain areas.