What to do and see in Bacalar?
In the south of the Yucatan Peninsula , a stone’s throw from the border with Belize, lies Bacalar.
It is a magnificent destination in Quintana Roo, still spared from mass tourism unlike many of its neighbors.
Visiting Bacalar means enjoying its large 7 Colors Lagoon, exploring its magnificent cenotes and its Pirates Channel, before witnessing a breathtaking sunset !
To help you plan your stay, here is my ultimate guide with the 18 best activities to do in Bacalar.
I have included all the must-see places of interest, how to get to Bacalar from Chetumal or the Riviera Maya, my hotel recommendations for all budgets, and of course all my good tips to make the most of your trip!
So what to do in Bacalar?
Visit Bacalar: the must-sees
1. 7 Colors Lagoon
The Bacalar Lagoon, also known as the Lagoon of Seven Colors, owes its nickname to its seven shades of blue due to different depths.
With its 45km length, it is the main lake of Bacalar which contains a few islands as well as 4 cenotes.
This is the main attraction of Bacalar because you can do a multitude of activities there: kayaking, sailing, catamaran, swimming, snorkeling and stand up paddle.
There is no beach in Bacalar, but the lagoon is bordered by beach clubs called ” balnearios ” as well as hotels and restaurants which provide easy access with docks and various facilities.
- To fully enjoy Bacalar, I recommend booking this boat trip to the Seven Colors Lagoon.
2. The Pirate Channel
During the colony, the Canal de los Piratas served as a connection between Europe and America and became the scene of numerous clashes with pirates and corsairs, from which it takes its name!
Among them are big names like Henry Morgan and Francis Drake.
Today it is a must-see in Bacalar and one of the favorite places for travelers because you can admire the many tones of blue and green, bathe and naturally exfoliate your skin in its sulphurous sand.
How to get to the Pirate Canal :
– by kayak or paddle board, rented from a hotel on the edge of the lagoon (no need to be a hotel guest)
-by swimming if you are in good physical shape
-with a boat, sailboat or catamaran tour (2h30 or 3h), this is the most common way to arrive!
Access to the canal is public and free.
3. Fort of San Felipe
Built to protect against numerous pirate attacks, Bacalar Fort today offers a beautiful panoramic view of the entire lagoon and its cenotes!
Its museum is worth seeing in Bacalar, since it presents the history of the city, with Mayan artifacts as well as pieces from the colonial era (munitions, weapons, maps, etc.)
- 3rd Avenue, between 20th and 24th Streets
- Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m
- Admission 120 pesos
4. The Cenotes of Bacalar
With such clear water, swimming in a cenote is definitely one of Bacalar’s must-do activities!
Cenotes are natural water wells (exterior, underground or even hidden in caves) which are found by the thousands throughout the Yucatan Peninsula.
Here are the cenotes of Bacalar:
-Cenote Azul : not to be confused with the cenote azul of Playa del Carmen, it is the darkest cenote in Bacalar . Surrounded by the forest, it is the only one not to have direct access to the lagoon. Admission 25 pesos, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Carr. Federal 307, Chetumal- Cancun Km 34, Bacalar (50 pesos for a taxi from Bacalar center).
-Cenote Cocalitos (temporarily closed) : Cocalitos, which contains the cenote of the same name, is also called the Sanctuary of Los Estromatolitos. These are living fossils 3500 million years old that should not be touched because they are fragile. On site: hammocks and swings in the water, kayaking, snorkeling. Admission 50 pesos, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., it is close to Cenote Azul so it is easy to visit both.
– Cenote Esmeralda : it differs from the others because it is located in the middle of the Bacalar lagoon. It is one of a kind and has a nice contrast of blues where the water flows into the lagoon.
– Cenote Negro or Cenote la Bruja : this is the cenote closest to the center of Bacalar and it is known for its 100m deep underwater chasm ! It is only accessible with a boat trip.
5. Enjoy the Balnearios
The “balnearios” are small seaside resorts located all along the lagoon.
Here are the best balnearios in Bacalar :
-Balneario Municipal : one of the closest balnearios to the center of Bacalar, accessible in just 10 minutes on foot and it is free! It is therefore quite popular with locals and families.
– Balneario Municipal El Aserradero : located right next door, it has a long wooden dock allowing you to easily swim in the lagoon. There is a picnic area with tables, very practical for bringing your food and drinks (non-alcoholic). Free entry, parking 10 pesos.
-Balneario de los Azucareros: a large balneario frequented mainly by workers of the union to which it belongs and locals, but very few tourists. This is the opportunity to see stromatolites like in Cocalitos! Entrance 15 pesos. It is located north of the Mirador, just after the police station is the path to the lagoon.
-Balneario de Lasarch (or Saarch) : right next to the balneario de los Azucareros is this well-maintained and very quiet balneario which belongs to a workers’ union. The space is ample, there are several shaded areas, as well as a long platform. It is also possible to bring your own hammock and hang it on the palm trees! Admission 20 pesos, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
-Balneario Ejidal Magico : it is the best known in Bacalar because it is ideal for families with a restaurant, a dock and pontoons, all under the supervision of a lifeguard. You can rent kayaks there and boat tours are also offered. Entrance 60 pesos
-Ecological balneario: surrounded by mangroves which give it a slightly wilder side, it is more intimate and smaller than most other public beaches. It is one of the most popular beaches in Bacalar among locals, but there is nothing on site. Entrance 3 pesos, parking 10 pesos.
-Balneario Sac Ha : A little less touristy than the other balnearios, it has fewer structures, but it is ideal if you want a little privacy.
6. Explore Lagone by kayak
This is one of the best ways to visit Bacalar!
We have a front row seat to admire the landscape, with more stability than a paddle board, which makes it easier to go further.
It is therefore possible to go to the cenotes, the Pirate Canal, Bird Island, etc. You can join a tour or rent a kayak without a guide (click here!)
Kayaking is the best way to explore Bacalar. Photo Luis Alveart
7. See the Sunset over the Lagoon
With its multitude of orange tones that stand out on the lagoon, watching the sunset is an activity to absolutely do in Bacalar!
Of course, you can do the activity alone without problem but there are also several outings offered (for stand up paddle beginners like me! ) which take you to the Pirates Canal: the best place to admire the sunset sunshine in Bacalar.
The guide I had, Miguel, was very friendly and told us lots of stories about the lagoon.
8. Bird Island
This is the best place to watch birds in Bacalar!
In fact, at least 15 species settle there during the nesting season or simply as a stopover on their migratory path.
As the island is protected, it is only possible to observe them from a boat (on a full-day or half-day tour of the lagoon).
9. Go Sailing
Taking a sailboat ride is one of the best activities to do in Bacalar.
It’s an eco-responsible way to discover the lagoon, its fauna and flora, while taking your time.
Plus, it allows you to jump into the turquoise water wherever you want! The weather and wind are very conducive to this type of outing all year round.
Chacchoben is the largest archaeological site in the so-called “Region de los Lagos”. It was an important community and religious center of its time, and today represents an interesting visit for lovers of history and architecture.
- Entrance 75 pesos.
- 40 minutes from Bacalar on route 307.
Tips for your Bacalar itinerary:
If you have time on your hands, have a car and like archaeological sites, you can also visit Kohunlich, Dzibanche and (soon!) Ichkabal.
11. Watch the Sunrise on a Cenote
For early risers like me, the sunrise is something to see in Bacalar.
It’s a magical moment because at this time there is almost no one there and we feel truly privileged!
The stand up paddle tour I chose took me to the Pirates Channel and then to Cenote Negro, before finishing with breakfast on the way back.
I loved my experience! You can book the excursion here.
12. Uchben Kah Ecotourism Park
This 290 hectare park is a delight for sports enthusiasts.
Between jungle and lagoon, you can go hiking, cycling, snorkeling, and of course swimming. The fauna and flora are very well preserved there, because no motorized vehicles are allowed there.
I recommend the guided kayak tour following a small river that takes you to the lagoon!
It is even possible to go kayaking at night with a headlamp and a headlamp to observe crocodiles, in complete safety of course.
- The price of a kayak or bicycle tour is 200 pesos
- To Pedro Antonio de los Santos (25min from the village of Bacalar) : Carr. Chetumal – Felipe Carrillo Puerto km 77
Of all the eco-friendly ways to explore Bacalar Lagoon, taking a catamaran tour is undoubtedly the most comfortable.
This small-group tour is perfect for those who want to visit three must-see attractions in Bacalar in complete peace and quiet : Cenote Negro, Bird Island and Pirates’ Channel.
The tour includes fruit on board as well as a snorkeling break. To book by clicking here.
Tips for your Bacalar itinerary:
There are two exits: at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. If you can, I really recommend choosing the 3 p.m. excursion!
Without thinking too much, I had reserved the one for 11 a.m. and I suffered because the sun is very high at that time (plus it reflects on the water) and there is no shadow on the catamaran.
Yes, beginner’s mistake.
14. Rent a Bike
Cycling is the ideal way to get around Bacalar and get to the different cenotes in Bacalar, the rapids or Fort San Felipe for example.
There is a small bike path between Highway 307 and the downtown streets. Avenida Costera which runs along the lagoon is also pleasant to cycle.
In general, the streets are in good condition and traffic is not heavy.
Remember to bring enough water as it can get very hot!
- Bike rental in Bacalar costs around 150 pesos per day
15. Go Down the Bacalar Rapids
Here is an activity to absolutely do in Bacalar!
It is a seaside resort with restaurant that lies on a narrow channel between Bacalar Lagoon and Xul-Ha.
These magnificent crystal clear waters bordered by vegetation and stromatolites are the ideal playground for letting yourself be carried away by the current, by swimming or by renting a kayak.
Visit the Bacalar Rapids
- Admission 150 pesos adult, 100 pesos child.
- Lockers 50 pesos.
- Kayak 1 person approximately 300 pesos per hour.
- Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- 13km south of Bacalar. 15-20 min by car via Carretera Chetumal-Cancún 307. It is also possible to take a colectivo towards Chetumal, but you have to be very careful when crossing the highway on foot, then you will have to walk about 2km.
16. Friend Xul-Ha
“Where the water ends”, Xul-Ha is a village located at the southern tip of the lagoon, 15 minutes from Bacalar.
Less crowded than Bacalar, it is the ideal place for those who want to relax away from tourists.
You can enjoy one of the 20 balnearios, rent a kayak, take a boat trip with the fishermen, swim, cycle, etc.
For a real moment of relaxation I suggest the Azul balneario which is one of the quietest and most remote, only to be done if you are by car.
To make the most of it, you can also sleep on site. For example, Pepos Xul-Ha offers pretty cabins facing Laguna Xul-Ha with the possibility of renting kayaks and paddle boards.
17. Kan K’in
This is the dream place for ziplining , just 15 minutes from the center of Bacalar.
It is a park which offers 5 zip lines over 1500m in the middle of nature, with other activities such as exploring the lagoon by kayak and a bike tour.
The best experience? Speed above the jungle with the lagoon in the background for 1450 m!
It is without hesitation an activity to do in Bacalar, especially for those who like adrenaline.
- Two circuits offered: 3h-4h (zipline, kayak), 950 pesos adult or 750 pesos children, 2h-3h (zipline only) 750 adults or 650 pesos children
- Tuesday-Sun 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Bacalar – Carrillo Puerto Federal Highway km 32.5
18. Walk around the Center of Bacalar
In addition to seeing the many tourist attractions of Bacalar, taking a short walk in the center of the city is also worth it with its central park, its many shops, and restaurants.
I was surprised to see some very beautiful murals!
PS: I invite you to take a trip to Mascota Caribeña. It is a store that supports the Huellitas en Casa association (sterilization campaigns, etc.) which Bacalar so badly needs. If you have a dog or cat at home, you can bring them a little souvenir, or simply make a donation on site.
Accommodation in Bacalar
Here are my best accommodation recommendations in Bacalar for all budget types, from backpacker to luxury hotel:
- The Yak Lake House – Adults Only : the best youth hostel in Bacalar located facing the lagoon. Festive atmosphere, very clean, several activities offered, bar with good cocktails. From just €12 in a dormitory!
- Agam Hotel : hotel well located near the lagoon and which offersvery good value for money. Large and well-equipped rooms, beautiful swimming pool with bar, garden with hammocks. From just €55 per night!
- Royal Palm Bacalar Cabañas & Lagoon Club : For added convenience, here’s a cute Bacalar hotel with a private dock that’s just a few minutes’ walk away. On site, self-service kayaks and stand-up paddleboards to explore the lagoon! Swimming pool, spacious rooms with air conditioning, balcony and hammocks. From 138€ per night!
- Villa Marilu B&B : if you have more budget, I recommend this ideal villa for a romantic stay, with the best value for money in Bacalar! It’s a very quiet hotel, with free kayaks and an on-site bar with excellent cocktails. Very good breakfast included, room with king size bed and lake view, from €160 per night!
- Casa Bakal : for a luxury stay in Bacalar, here is a small charming hotel with a large private area facing the lagoon, with swimming pool, a good restaurant, pontoon and deck chairs, free kayaking and paddle, morning yoga classes and massage service. Breakfast on the terrace facing the lake included, from € 190 per night!
Where to eat in Bacalar?
When you arrive in Bacalar, you quickly realize that the distances are a challenge without a car!
Before going there, I had kept a list of restaurants in Bacalar (like El Manati which was often recommended to me) and in the end I didn’t visit any of them because I had to walk at least 30 minutes to get there. go there.
I love walking, but with the Caribbean sun in the middle of the day, no thanks.
It allowed me to make some great discoveries:
- Parque nacional Maracuya : food trucks, a café, a bar and a vegan ice cream tuktuk, with free access to the lagoon. Not only can you enjoy the dock without compulsory consumption, but they offer 30 minutes of free kayaking!
This space – which is actually not a national park at all – is a very nice option whether with family or friends.
- Chacá : a new colorful terrace with a good brunch in Bacalar.
On all the classics: eggs rancheros (pesos), chilaquiles (80 pesos), pancakes, avocado toast (110 pesos), French toast (150 pesos), etc.
Ps: they also sell 100% natural Chicza Mexican chewing gum , I have stocked up!
- Nao Bacalar : in the evening, I tried this good Japanese restaurant in Bacalar. A pretty terrace with a few tables in an intimate atmosphere, very good tuna tataki and cocktails.
I was impressed by their selection of artisanal mezcals with a section of “ ancestral mezcals ” produced with traditional methods of agave grinding and distillation. It’s quite improbable to find this kind of product in Bacalar, congratulations to whoever had this initiative!
- Los Aluxes : my new favorite place in Bacalar!
It is a small hotel and restaurant with a beautiful garden facing the Bacalar lagoon.
They offer a “day pass” of 300 pesos (children 150 pesos), which gives access to their facilities and a credit of the same amount at the restaurant (drinks and food). Ideal to spend the day there!
“Day passes” are a very good option if you are not staying facing the lagoon. This is also a good way to save money since hotels with access to the lagoon are generally a little more expensive than others.
I compared other places that offered a day pass (between 200 and 800 pesos) and Los Aluxes is by far the best with really excellent service!
They also offer paddle board rental and private excursion on the lagoon (2200 pesos to the cenotes).
My Opinion on Bacalar
Bacalar is one of the most beautiful destinations in Quintana Roo, while being much less touristy than Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres and Tulum : a real luxury!
It is therefore the ideal place to spend 2 or 3 days enjoying the sun and transparent water in a certain tranquility.
Of course, being less touristy, the accommodation offer is also more limited.
But its only real disadvantage in my opinion is that it is relatively isolated compared to other major destinations and sites.
This means that it is difficult to travel back and forth to other destinations, especially without a car, unlike for example Playa del Carmen which is strategically located.
As part of your Mexico itinerary, the best is to do Bacalar after having traveled along the entire coast of Quintana Roo from Cancun.
How to get to Bacalar
Bacalar is located in the south of the Riviera Maya, close to the border with Belize : 345km from Cancun, 280km from Playa del Carmen and 215km from Tulum.
Here are in detail all the ways to go to Bacalar by car, bus and plane:
Getting to Bacalar by car
The ideal way to visit Bacalar is to rent a car because the distances are quite long.
- From Cancun (4 hours), Playa del Carmen (3 hours 20 minutes) or Tulum (2 hours 30 minutes) you have to take route 307 heading south. The signs are well indicated, the roads are in good condition, the route is simple.
- From Chetumal (40 min) take route 186 then route 307 heading north.
- From Mahahual (1h17) you have to take Carretera El Cafetal-Mahahual then take route 307
Many travelers decide to visit the Yucatan by rental car. And indeed the advantages are numerous! Freedom, speed, flexibility of routes and schedules…
Getting to Bacalar by bus
If you are traveling to Mexico by bus, I recommend the ADO company which is the most practical and reliable.
- From Cancun to Bacalar by bus, it’s a 5h15 journey from 512 pesos
- From Playa del Carmen to Bacalar by bus, it takes 4 hours to travel for approximately 396 pesos
- From Tulum to Bacalar by bus, 2h50 journey for 292 pesos
- From Chetumal bus station to Bacalar, the journey takes about 45 minutes, starting at 65 pesos. Or directly from Chetumal Airport to Bacalar 130 pesos.
- From Mahahual to Bacalar : 90 pesos, exits 6 a.m., 12 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. every day with Caribe or with ADO at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Getting to Bacalar by plane
Getting from Chetumal to Bacalar
- A taxi from Chetumal Airport goes to Bacalar in 30min.
- To pay less, it is also possible to take a local taxi outside the airport. Just a 7-minute walk away is a taxi stop, safe no matter the time!
- The cheapest option (130 pesos, 50 min journey) is to take an ADO bus from Chetumal airport to Bacalar. 1 departure at 12 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday
- There are cheaper bus tickets from the ADO bus station located on Insurgentes near Avenida 4 de marzo (from 45 pesos), but it is 3.5km from the airport.
For greater comfort, you can also book a van transfer from Chetumal airport to Bacalar (or vice versa):
Visiting Bacalar from Cancun: Day Trip
Another option if you have little time, or simply don’t want to worry about the organization is to take a Bacalar tour from Cancun.
This is a very complete tour with round-trip transport from Cancun in an air-conditioned van with snacks for the road.
Once in Bacalar you will have a guided boat tour on the lagoon, with a visit to the cenotes and free time to swim.
Then lunch will be served on the boat before exploring San Felipe Fort and returning to Cancun.
How long to visit Bacalar?
Allow 2 or 3 days to fully enjoy Bacalar.
The town is quite small and can be visited quickly. Its main interest is the lagoon and the many activities that surround it.
It all depends on which ones interest you and the length of your stay in Mexico.
Tips for your Bacalar itinerary:
Important: you must also take into account that activities on the lake (with or without a motor) are prohibited on Wednesdays!
In fact, since 2020, this new rule has appeared to make the lagoon “breathe”. In short, to give him a well-deserved break 😉
When is the best time to visit Bacalar?
Generally speaking, the temperature in Bacalar is very pleasant, warm all year round, between 28 ° C and 34 °C.
To avoid crowds, it is better to avoid the Christmas holiday period and Holy Week. The month of February is also part of the high season because it is carnival.
The hottest months are from June to August, the rainy season is from May to September.
The best time to visit Bacalar is from October to April as it is not excessively hot and it is not the rainy season yet!
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