Bacalar. Wonderful, magical, beautiful, amazing! I should probably find some better adjectives but this place was seriously something else. It’s pretty hard to explain it. Mexico overall had its charm found in many ways from different regional landscape and local custom (or different best Mexican versions of the taco).
Bacalar as far as we knew sat on a lagoon?! Not known for beaches yet so close to the coast. Wouldn’t it had just been better to catch a bus a few hours north to Tulum as Quintana Roo really is known for Tulum and Cancun or the Touristic hotspots of Mexico. There was even a quick Airbnb check for prices in Chetumal before arriving.
Coming from Palenque and having caught a ride, we (including a friend from Ireland we’d traveled with on and off since Puerto Escondido) were dropped off in a the small town of Xpujil a few hours out from Bacalar. There was an Ado station in the center of the town with an early-morning 2am bus disembarking which we were able to nab tickets for.
Catching rides with people you meet along the way or hitchhiking are both means of getting around but definitely with caution. Also there are Ado busses that go direct from Palenque to Bacalar for around $35 and for a 6-8 hour journey isn’t terrible for the comfort and security.
We pulled into the Ado station around 5:30 in the morning. Big backpacks on, wandering past the the taxis awaiting passengers determined to find somewhere last-minute to stay. Still not quite daylight we marched beneath the buzzing streetlights. Street dogs were everywhere, one skinny yellow lab of sorts befriending as we made way to more residential blocks. The dusty roads led us past a handful of closed hostels but no luck with any doorbells.
The neighborhoods started waking up as every dog we passed seemed to go crazy, barking while there was a sense of comfort, our dog-friend loyal by our side. After tiredness really started kicking in, even more than when we had left Xpujil we called it retracing back to the Ado station to find a cab and info on where to stay.
(Note: there were a few major hotels in the area but charging an arm and a leg as well as some higher end hostels which we weren’t all for, being on a low budget travel)
We did meet a cab driver that brought us to a 24-hr, bare basic hotel. The air-conditioning was top-notch as well as finally getting some good rest. Besides that at $50 for the room and it being about 20 minutes walking from the lagoon we opted to move closer. I can’t remember the name of this place for the life of me nor can I find it online.
So there actually are a few streets lined with hostels close to the lagoon. Pricing ranging all over the place but we had been tipped off by friends to stay at Magic Bacalar. With no actual experience at any of these other places it’s difficult to make a judgement based solely on visible aesthetics but from a little research its overall value was outstanding. Will definitely stay here next visit.
First off you can’t get any closer to the lagoon as it has it’s own private dock. They also rent out tours or equipment (kite-boards, kayaks, sunfish and more) so no need to have to search around. The prices are reasonable too.
Second they have different tiered sleeping areas along with camping, tents set and ready to go. We carrying our own tent were able to find some open area and paid a little over $8 a person, including breakfast. They had a kitchen so if budgeting was on mind, another way of personalizing your meal while saving a few dollars/pesos.
Breakfast was basic yet filling and you get to eat with a few parrots that live around the reception. The whole feel of the hostel was relaxed and quiet for the most part being somewhat full when we stayed.
The dock itself had seating for lying out in a couple different areas which was a daily ritual during our visit.
Besides normal day to day movements and outdoor activities there are a few gyms around which I took advantage just to throw a short lived routine for the time being. Being on the road for extended periods really makes any sort of schedule hard to stick to besides the basics (eating, sleeping)
Power Gym sounds a little hardcore but it was about 10 minutes walking (or a few running) from Magic Bacalar and just a small one roomed gym with free-weights, a few benches and a squat cage. It was never packed and the staff was friendly. Bare-basics which was all I wanted and $5 for two weeks.
A friend we made at the hostel ended up joining as well which turned into a nice morning routine. We were also able to reconnect in Holbox about month later.
The Lagoon: They call it the seven colored lagoon as its tone changes from almost a yellow to dark-blue and you really do see so many colors. Absolutely stunning. The lagoons actually quite large and if walking (which we did as preferred) can lead you into hours wandering along it. The water’s warm, unsalted and the silt that covers all of the walkable bottom supposedly does wonders for your skin if you use it as a mask.
If you swim through all of the different shades into the darkest of the blue the lighting below the surface is so dense you can barely see your lower half. Besides that, much of the swimming areas are ankle-deep for a bit of a distance out.
Also as I said earlier there really aren’t many beach areas if any throughout the lagoon. It’s mainly docked areas accompanied by ladders.
Check out the swings and hammocks at Cocalitos
This isn’t only in Bacalar but definitely is one of the most beautiful setups we’ve seen. You’ve possibly seen social-media postings of someone sitting in a swing above a wildly colored open-water looking into the distance as the sun sets. This just could just possibly be the spot. As to why it’s becoming more and more popular. There is a small entrance fee of a couple dollars. There’s also restaurant/snack-shop adjacent in case you catch hunger in the area. Sitting about 10 meters out are a couple swings and a few hammocks to lounge back in.
Stop by a couple Cenotes
If visiting the swings you can also visit Cenote Cocolitas which I believe was the main attraction before the swings were put in. Cenote Esmerelda isn’t far from here either. Both have an entrance fee which wasn’t much. These are little different than some of Mexico’s other cenotes as they are totally open (without the cave and standing rock with a slit of light shining through) but still worth checking out.
And a stop through Los Rápidos
A lazy river with kayak rentals if you’d like, lounge areas and a diving board. Also besides the main attraction being the river the place has a restaurant, camping and more.
This is definitely a 10-15 minute cab-ride from the city center. Unless biking it’d be a bit of a hike along a highway without too much to see. Also while we were there at least, Uber wasn’t an option. None the less cabs are affordable.
We were lucky enough to meet an amazing group of people at our hostel who all came here together making it a fun experience. We did find out the price to return from the lodge was double to arrive as it was a little out of the way. We were able to find a cab along the main highway at the same price we’d originally paid.
Take a tour to a pirate canal and beyond
The name of the company we used slips my mind but we did find it center of the historic area just outside of Fort San Felipe. We each paid just over $10 for a three hour tour around the lagoon.
We began with a stop in a central yet shallow part of the lagoon to swim a bit. Following we cruised along the swings and towards the northern part of the lagoon before lastly stopping by an old pirate canal had that caused problems for the spanish years past. There’s a ledge of an old structure for jumping or diving and plenty of the best mud around for all of its health properties before returned back to the main land.
We ended meeting a friend on this tour who we ended up meeting up again down the road in Antigua, Guatemala.
For an entertaining night
Swing by Galeon Pirata, just blocks from Magic Bacalar. This place doesn’t open until the evening but does stay open late if I recall. Every night we visited it hosted live music with great unground acts. Drinks were of good value and the crowd was fun as well.
Also, if she’s still around, a girl who we’d find selling her fresh backed breads in the street also vended at the bar at night. Absolutely incredible!
Bacalar turned out be much more than we had expected. When we were there in March of 2019 it was for the most part still a small town. Developing little by little but quiet, calm and priced decent for being what it is and in Quintana Roo. While Google searching in english was quite limited on Bacalar, even digging deep, I see this place blowing up in the next few years so definitely stop in before then.
We had planned on staying just a few days and ended up almost two weeks. It could’ve been longer as well. Sitting on the dock, in the stillness of all watching the sun come up with a few early risers to floating lazily on our backs as the clouds drifted overhead were just a couple of the wonderful moments spent with the absolutely splendid group of travelers we were able to call friends by the end of our stay!