What if we told you that there is a jewel-colored lake on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, and few people actually know about it? Bacalar, Mexico is an untapped destination that is right under most travelers’ noses. And we’re ready to let you in on the secret.
For most travelers to Mexico’s state of Quintana Roo, the vacation begins and ends with Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum. And while all three of those destinations are gorgeous and fun in their own ways, if you keep going south just a little bit more you’ll be opening yourself up to a world of discovery.
Bacalar is one of Mexico’s “Magic Towns,” — a designation given to certain small towns in Mexico because of their historic charm or natural beauty. Bacalar sits on a sprawling lake, one of Mexico’s largest, at 34 miles in length and 1.2 miles at its widest. Its nickname is the “Lake of Seven Colors,” and it’s easy to see why. The shades of an electric blue shift in gradients across the lake’s surface as the sun moves across the sky, turning its glassy surface into living art. But the magic of Bacalar, Mexico has to be seen to be believed.
The Best Things To Do In Bacalar, Mexico
Play on the Lake Itself
When it comes to things to do in Bacalar, Mexico, the many shades of blue make the perfect playground for all kinds of water activities. The glassy surface means it’s perfect for kayaking or paddleboarding. Get out into open water or weave in and out of the mangrove jungles that crop up around the edges of the lake. Bacalar also has sediment at the bottom which acts as a natural skin exfoliant. Scoop a handful of the mud-like substance (try to get past the stinky sulfur smell), and smear the masque all over your face, arms, and back. After it hardens, give yourself a dunk and be amazed at how naturally soft and refreshed your skin will feel.
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See the Fort
Perched on the banks of Bacalar on the outskirts of the town itself is a historic Spanish fort that gazes down onto the shimmering, blue waters. The Fort of San Felipe is nearly 300 years old and gives a glimpse into the past of this section of Mexico. The fort is surrounded by a moat and inside visitors will find a small museum with cannons, artifacts, murals of Bacalar’s history, and more. Bacalar also has a rich pirate history, thanks to “Pirate’s channel,” a passageway that allowed boats to enter the lake from the Caribbean Sea and the Bay of Chetumal.
Visitors can learn all about the pirate past at the fort museum, as well. It’s a small area and visitors only need about an hour or less to see it, but it is a great way to give context and perspective on Bacalar’s position in Mexican history.
Stay at an Eco Resort
One of the best parts about Bacalar, Mexico is its off-the-grid feeling. There are no mega-resorts here. Bacalar is all about small-scale, boutique resorts and many have been built with the environment’s preservation in mind.
Insider Tip: We absolutely love Rancho Encantado, built right on the shores of the lagoon.
A private, palapa-covered pier is the perfect launch point for kayaking or a trip on the resort’s private speed boat. Hammocks make for lazy days gazing into the turquoise waters. An onsite restaurant cooks up fantastic Mexican food, to be enjoyed with the view. The best part? Prices start around $147 per room.
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Day Trip to Mahahual
If you’re still feeling like you need a bit of beach living along with your Mexico vacation, Bacalar is close to some of the most beautiful and best-preserved beaches in the state. You won’t be seeing any Cancun-sized crowds along these shores. Instead, you’ll find laid-back living, local hangouts, affordable prices, and plenty of space to go around. Try visiting the beach town of Mahahual, which is an hour’s drive east from Bacalar. Mahahual is a short distance from the border with Belize, so you’re in for a truly Caribbean treat when you stumble upon this stretch of sugary sand. Be prepared for mesmerizing colors, from the electric greens of the mangroves to the pastel blues of the Caribbean Sea.
Dip Into the Mayan Underworld
The Yucatan Peninsula, of which Quintana Roo is a part, is veined with an underground network of rivers. These subterranean aquatic paradises were the main sources of freshwater for the ancient Maya who have lived here for thousands of years. Mayans believe that the rivers, and the openings to them, known as cenotes, are spiritual places that lead to the underworld. Travelers to Bacalar can get up close and personal with one of the region’s most famous, Cenote Azul. At 290 feet deep, this is one of the largest in the area. It’s become a bit touristy at this point (okay, a lot touristy), but it is still a refreshing place to take a dip on a sticky day. There is also an on-site bar and restaurant.
Step Into the Mayan Overworld
Speaking of Mayans, the Yucatan peninsula has one of the highest concentrations of Mayan archaeological sites in all of Central America. You may have even heard of a few of them, like Chichen Itza and Tulum. Believe it or not, those are just the beginning. There are dozens upon dozens of Mayan cities in this part of Mexico, and many more waiting to be discovered. Near to Bacalar is the ancient city of Kohunlich. These ruins date from about the year 100 and are one of the larger Mayan settlements to be seen in this part of Mexico. Visitors can wander around the great Templo de los Mascarones (a pyramid structure that visitors can still climb for epic views over the jungle). Kohunlich was also known for its hydraulic engineering – almost half of the entire square footage of the site was used to channel rainwater into the reservoir for the city.
The best part about Mexico is that no matter how many times you visit, you are certain to discover something new each and every time. Bacalar is one of the best discoveries a traveler can make, especially in a part of Mexico where it feels like everything has already been discovered by everyone else. Skip the crowds and make a beeline south to open up a whole new side of Mexico.
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