As Mexico's Yucatan booms with tourism, the humble lagoon-side town of Bacalar remains a relatively quiet hidden gem.
Bacalar is only a small town, but it boasts one of the most beautiful natural attractions in Mexico - Lake Bacalar (or Laguna Bacalar).
Most things to do in Bacalar involve the lake, as the lagoon is responsible for almost all the tourism in the area. Lake Bacalar is often called The Lake of Seven Colors due to, well, its seven different shades of color that can be seen most days.
After months in Mexico, we were itching to dip our toes in Lake Bacalar to see what it was all about. We discovered the best things to do in and outside of Bacalar's incredible seven-color lake.
Where is Bacalar, Mexico?
Bacalar is located at the southern tip of Mexico's Yucatan Penisula near the Belize border.
The closest city to Bacalar is Chetumal about 30 minutes away. While Chetumal has an international airport, most flights arrive in Cancun approximately 4 hours away.
Is Bacalar Safe?
Bacalar is relatively safe compared to nearby Tulum and Playa del Carmen. Usual cautions should be taken, but overall Bacalar is a safe destination to visit, especially in the center of town, close to the lake.
The locals here are very used to tourism and rely on it for their businesses to run. In Bacalar's town center, businesses are open late, the streets lit, and there is a nice calming vibe about the place.
Bacalar During COVID
Bacalar is open for businesses despite the COVID outbreak.
We visited Bacalar in May 2021 and most, if not all, businesses seemed to be open and operating as usual.
As with a lot of touristic destinations in the Yucatan Penisula, it's business as usual for tourism operators.
Face masks are general protection measures are required for entering restaurants and buildings.
How to get to Bacalar?
Bacalar is located at the southern edge of Mexico's border with Belize. As we were based in Playa del Carmen we caught an Ado Bus down to Bacalar. Ado Bus is the best way to get to Bacalar on a budget. Tickets cost $412 pesos per person for a 4-hour one-way trip. You can add an hour onto that for Cancun, and lose one if leaving from Tulum.
Getting around Bacalar
Bacalar is a small, walkable town so you won't need to worry too much about transportation.
We didn't catch one taxi, nor did we rent a scooter or car - and we didn't need to.
The longest we walked was to and from the Ado Bus station, which is located about 15 minutes from Bacalar's center square.
As most of the activities are based on and around the lagoon, the only transport you'll really need to worry about is which kayak, SUP or boat you're getting on.
Where to stay in Bacalar?
Bacalar has lots of accommodation options, but prices can get expensive.
We stayed at the La Kinta Hotel which we found really convenient as it was centrally located, decent wifi, and pretty comfortable. Also, as we were arriving late, it was nice to know the front desk was staffed 24 hours, so we wouldn't be locked out.
How long to stay in Bacalar
Bacalar tends to attract short-stay tourism. Most tourists stay 2-3 days in the town before moving on.
We stayed 2 nights in Bacalar and crammed as much as we could into those days. It was enough time to experience the lagoon and what the town has to offer. Personally, I think 3 nights in Bacalar would be ideal.
The best things to do in Bacalar, Mexico
1. Get on the water
If there's one thing you must do in Bacalar, it's spending as much time on - and in - the lagoon as possible. Hopping on a boat, kayaking or SUPing are the best ways to experience this incredible attraction.
While we priced up renting a kayak, we opted for an organized boat tour due to the price and ability to see more of the lagoon. Kayaks were priced around 150 pesos per hour, while a 2-3 hour boat tour was 250 pesos.
With the breeze against our faces, we passed through some of the bluest waters and frequently stopped to jump off and swim in the blue paradise.
Tip: The tour boats carry a cooler so you can BYO beer onboard.
We also organized a sunrise SUP on the lagoon, but were pretty disappointed when the guide did not show up at 5.30am. Instead, we headed to the closest pier and enjoyed the sunrise regardless. It's pretty hard to not be stunned by a Bacalar sunrise over the lagoon.
Which leads me to the next best thing to do in Bacalar...
2. Catch a Bacalar sunrise
In Bacalar, the sun rises over the lagoon.
The magic of watching the sunrise and slow reveal of the lagoon's incredible colors while the birds flock around nearby Bird Island cannot be missed.
Bacalar sunrises are popular with many people setting out on kayaks or SUPs to enjoy the sunrise on the lagoon. But for the completely free and just as beautiful option, head to your closest pier and take it all in.
3. Enjoy Bacalar's best vegan food
As traveling vegans, food is a big part of the places we visit. Sometimes we're left wanting and other times fat and happy. Bacalar provided the latter for us.
Bacalar has a good vegan scene with a few tasty plant-based eats.
The best vegan food in Bacalar can be found in:
Mango Y Chile is a 100% vegan restaurant with the best burgers in town - we're not exaggerating. It is great to see a progressive plant-based restaurant dominate the food scene in the small town.
We had a Crispy Tofu and Mayan burger. They were both out of this world good. Mango Y Chile is a must-visit for anyone, not just vegans, in Bacalar.
The aesthetic El Manatí is a little bit of everything. Walk through the aesthetic art space to find its tucked-away cafe at the back. The vegetarian/vegan restaurant is a great brunch spot.
We had the vegan hotcakes for breakfast and they were delicious.
Restaurants with vegan options in Bacalar
Other restaurants where you can find vegan food in Bacalar are La Playita, which is a lagoon-side restaurant that has a number of vegan options on its menu. Their breaded avocado tacos were a highlight. For a more affordable option, Mr. Taco is a small local Mexican restaurant in the center of Bacalar. While a lot of meat and cheese is served here, the owner is very accommodating to vegans including chickpea and cactus tacos and burritos. You can even get vegan ice cream at I Scream bar.
4. Explore Bacalar Fort
Bacalar is small so it's hard to miss the huge fort right by the water. The historic fort named Fuerte de San Felipe de Bacalar was built in 1729 to protect against pirates. Now, its ancient walls are welcoming tourists to walk through and enjoy its history.
We didn't explore the fort due to our time crunch, but if you're a geek for history or want to see a different side to Bacalar, the fort is a great alternative thing to do. We heard, however, the fort can be properly explored in about 1-hour.
Even if you don't pay entry, you can still appreciate the architecture and cannons from the outside.
5. Check out Bacalar's street art
We were surprised by the amount of incredible street art we found in Bacalar. It seems like every street holds its own gallery. If you've visited Tulum, you know what we mean. In fact, Bacalar has a similar street art feel to Tulum, and we recognized artists who had painted in both towns.
While there is no official street art tour, you can simply choose a direction and walk back on a different street to spot lots of hidden street art gems. It's also a great thing to do in Bacalar on a budget as its free.
Is Bacalar worth visiting?
Bacalar is a great place to visit if you love being out on the water.
Bacalar is a much quieter relaxed alternative to Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. There is a slower pace in the town, which makes it a great getaway from the bustle of other Yucatan hotspots.
We loved Bacalar for its change of pace and natural beauty. We can't wait to go back.
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