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The Allure of Bacalar - A complete guide.

You may not have heard of Bacalar, Mexico but don't miss out because of that! Bacalar is a haven of tranquility, with one of the most stunning natural wonders - a lagoon with seven distinct shades of blue. It's unequivocally one of the most breathtaking places in Mexico, offering a perfect retreat for those seeking a pause from the bustling pace found in other Mexican regions. While it has captured the hearts of many globally, Bacalar remains somewhat of a hidden gem to many in the United States. In contrast to popular destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum, frequented often by Americans, Bacalar tends to fly under the radar, possibly due to its more remote location from the nearest airport.

My introduction to Bacalar was serendipitous. Two years ago, during a trip to Mexico I took a day trip to Cozumel, where I encountered a fellow solo traveler who raved about Bacalar's splendor. She urged me to make a detour. At that moment, my itinerary was set in stone, and the thought of venturing further seemed daunting. However, the enthusiasm with which this traveler spoke of the town planted a seed of curiosity in me. Through this blog, my aim is to unveil the allure of Bacalar to Americans and others who have yet to discover or even realize the existence of this gem. 

Getting to Bacalar: 

Bacalar is a quaint small town located two hours south of Tulum, accessible either by the ADO bus service or by driving. In my opinion, the bus is the safest mode of transportation. For those flying into Mexico, Chetumal International Airport is the nearest to Bacalar. Alternatively, you could land at Tulum Airport (TQO)-Felipe Carrillo Puerto Airport, or Cancun International Airport and journey to Bacalar from there. My personal choice was to fly into Cancun, because it typically offers a broader selection of flights.

Upon retrieving your luggage at the designated carousel and just before leaving the airport, you'll find an ADO ticket office. Here, you should purchase a ticket for a bus heading to downtown Cancun, followed by a subsequent ticket to Bacalar. The fare from Cancun International Airport to Downtown Cancun is approximately 130 Mexican pesos (about 8 USD), with the onward journey to Bacalar costing 692 Mexican pesos (around 40 USD). Payments can be made using either cash or card. As for the total travel time it is roughly 5-6 hours by bus.

Helpful Tip: After reaching the Cancun station, consider grabbing some snacks, water or sandwiches to enjoy before catching your next bus to Bacalar. The waiting period typically ranges from 30 minutes to an hour.

Be on the lookout for a bus labeled "Chetumal" or simply check your bus ticket for the four digit number that matches the number on the front of the bus - as this will be your ride to Bacalar, which is the stop right before Chetumal, the Mexico-Belize border. Your your drop-off point will be alongside the highway. For those arriving late, the area may seem daunting at first glance, yet rest assured, several small businesses and food outlets remain open into the night. Awaiting a taxi to your accommodation shouldn't take long, given the frequent traffic of travelers in this area. For instance, I managed to flag down a taxi within 5 minutes despite it being 11:30 pm, costing no more than 50 Mexican pesos (~3 USD).

Additional Advice: For solo travelers uncomfortable with late-night journeys, perhaps spend the night in Cancun and catch an early bus to Bacalar the following day, to err on the side of caution. 

How Long to Stay in Bacalar? Given Bacalar's compact size, I would recommend a stay of 3-4 days, making it a perfect destination for a weekend escape. For the most convenient and prime lodging options, book your stay in the area bounded by Calle 20 and Calle 30.

Accommodation Spotlight: 

Che Hostel: Upon my arrival, I checked into Che Hostel, a place celebrated not just for its vibrant nightlife but also for its appealing aesthetics and ample space for relaxation and solitude, catering even to those who prefer a quieter experience. My booking was made through Hostelworld, starting with a stay in the superior capsule room within a 6-bed mixed dorm, offering privacy for around $70. Be sure to book your room early as I noticed prices tend to vary. On a subsequent visit, I chose a standard 8-bed mixed dorm suite, costing about $20 per night. I found both options to be spacious and well-maintained, with daily housekeeping services around noon.

A useful tip for future guests: Bring your own towel, as the hostel does not provide them free of charge. A fee of 50 Mexican pesos (about 3 USD) is required to obtain one from the hostel.

The hostel has an on-site restaurant that serves breakfast options along with dinner. They also host “Meet and Eat” events, fostering an environment for travelers to get together and socialize. Highlights of my stay included themed nights like all-you-can-eat pizza, BBQ, and sunset parties, alongside a variety of engaging activities scheduled throughout the week.

Despite these positives, there are areas for improvement. The hostel could better integrate solo travelers into its community, as the emphasis on partying sometimes impedes the opportunity to connect with other guests/travelers. Additionally, the service speed at breakfast was notably slow, with a 30-minute wait for a simple meal on two occasions, and the dinner options, aside from the pizza, were generally lackluster in flavor and preparation. So I would consider getting food elsewhere as there are a few great places located close by. Moreover, while the hostel offers taxi services, the reliability of these arrangements was inconsistent. Once I had to walk to the main road to hail a taxi around 6:30 am - this is something to keep in mind when planning trips to the bus terminal or scheduled tours. Despite these minor drawbacks, my experience at Che Hostel was overall delightful, thanks to the hospitable team on site.

Isel Magico Hotel: Looking for a respite from the hostel scene I opted for a stay at an economical yet cozy hotel located at the heart of the city. The hotel, while modest, offered a spacious room featuring a king size bed, alongside a reasonably sized bathroom. A significant plus is the hotel’s location - Conveniently located near a local supermarket and a market stall offering fresh fruits directly from local vendors. The total cost for a four-night stay came to 236 USD.

Alternative options: 

Bacalari Boutique Hotel: For those with a love for boutique hotels, the Bacalari Hotel is an irresistible option. This exclusive adults-only retreat is nestled just moments from the center, near the entrance to the lagoon. The property grants guests the most breathtaking view of the lagoon of seven colors, along with the luxury of suites featuring their own private pools. Furthermore, you can expect unparalleled service, complemented by the hotel’s onsite restaurant Riad that serves a wide selection of dishes and cocktails.  

The Yak Lake House: A fantastic hostel with a vibrant atmosphere, located right by the lagoon.  While I did not have the pleasure of staying overnight, I did however make several visits in the evenings with my acquaintance Misty to soak in the breathtaking sunsets, lively music and revel in the ambiance. I also took advantage of the onsite bar to enjoy some delicious bites and cocktails.  

Things to do: 

Bird Watching: During an unexpected encounter at the grocery store, I crossed paths with a charming mid-age black woman name "Misty" from Virginia, USA, who was participating in a Workaway program in Bacalar. She shared stories about her stay at a lodge on the outskirts of town, describing it as both stunning and serene —a stark contrast to the bustling hostel environment I was growing weary of. Intrigued by her descriptions of the "jungle" retreat, I felt a compelling urge to experience this tranquility myself. After conversing for the better part of the day, she revealed her passion for bird watching and suggested that I could join a tour at the lodge she was staying in if I was interested. Although bird watching had never piqued my interest before, my curiosity got the best of me. I took down the lodge owner's details from her and scheduled a bird watching tour. The tour was set to begin at 7 am, but they graciously allowed me a 7:15 am arrival to give me a bit of extra time to prepare for the early start. Once the tour begins, around the property you will witness some of the most most beautiful species of birds - as shown in the images below.

For those interested in learning more about the lodge, its owners Jacqueline and Gunnar, and the array of tours they offer, including kayaking, lagoon expeditions, bird watching, and jungle treks, I recommend checking out Active Nature Bacalar. It's an opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural beauty and tranquility of Bacalar, a chance I was fortunate enough to experience thanks to a chance encounter in a grocery store.

Sailing Tour: A tour of Bacalar’s mesmerizing seven-color lagoon is an absolute must. The options for exploration include leisure pontoon rides, serene sailboat trips, paddle boarding, or kayak adventures. I went with the Bacalar Group Sailing experience, which included swimming and refreshments and a stop at Cenote Negro, fulfilling a long-held dream to sail —seizing the opportunity to tick two items off my bucket list simultaneously. 

My booking was arranged through GetYourGuide, and I chose the 3pm slot so I could bask in the sunset, but you have the option to do it in the daytime as well. The excursion cost approximately 51 USD. This experience stood out as the highlight of my trip, an unforgettable adventure I'd urge every Bacalar visitor to embrace.

Pickup Location: Casa China Bacalar 

Ecoparque Bacalar: Spend the day here soaking up the sun, swimming and witnessing the seven distinct colors of the lagoon. And for people who must get that photo for Instagram - I believe this spot stands out as one of the best places for photo opts. Entrance fee for adults is approximately 20 Mexican pesos. 

Fuerte de San Felipe de Bacalar: Visit this monumental fortress to learn about the history of the region. This historic landmark not only offers a glimpse into the past but also serves as an educational hub into the cultural and historical tapestry of Bacalar. As you walk through the corridors of the Fuerte de San Felipe, you are transported back in time, where tales of piracy, colonial battles, and the enduring spirit of the local people come alive. The fort itself, with its walls and strategic location overlooking the stunning Bacalar Lagoon, tells a story of defense and survival in the face of threats.  It’s an experience that not only enlightens but also connects visitors to the legacy of this area, making it a must visit for all travelers, especially history buffs. 

Bacalar Eats: 

Ixchel Bacalar - This was by far one of the best dining experiences I had in Bacalar, without a doubt. Take my word for it, and go here! 

Sazon a la Mexicana Restaurante - The quintessential spot for local Mexican cuisine, conveniently situated near the lagoon’s entrance and not far from Bacalari Hotel. 

Madre Masa - A great place with affordable food, smoothies and baked goods, alongside excellent service and a welcoming atmosphere.

Riad Restaurant - An elevated dining scene with great food, cocktails and upscale ambiance.

Picaflor Bacalar - Serves seafood, cocktails, vegan dishes and has outdoor seating. The breakfast selections, in particular, stood out as my personal favorite.

El Manati Bacalar - For a brunch experience that's sure to delight, El Manati Bacalar is the place to be. Try their Chilaquiles with mole.

Restaurant Y cocteleria “Navieros Bacalar”- Offers a laid-back vibe where you can enjoy generously portioned meals for either lunch or dinner. The Ceviche comes highly recommended.

Hotel Diosa Del Agua Bacalar Restaurant - If you're a fan of Korean cuisine, you're likely familiar with Jinny’s Kitchen from its feature on the Amazon original series, Jinny’s Kitchen Korean Street Food. Although this particular pop-up restaurant has since closed its doors in Bacalar, the location has been transformed into a Korean-Mexican fusion restaurant, providing a unique culinary experience for your tastebuds.


A word of advice: I'd suggest steering clear of the restaurant Mr Taco if you are actually looking for amazing tacos!

How to get your bus ticket back to Tulum or Cancun: 

Securing a seat on the ADO bus in Bacalar can present some challenges. To avoid disappointments, purchase your ticket online, as they tend to sell out quickly. Additionally, there may be occasions when electricity outages at the bus station prevent the staff from issuing physical tickets. Learn from my experience and avoid the inconvenience of spending a significant portion of your day waiting for a bus - take heed and plan ahead!

Bacalar to Belize

Finally, given Bacalar's proximity to the Mexico-Belize border, I would recommend seizing the chance to explore two countries in a single trip. Here's the process for traveling from Mexico to Belize via the Chetumal border: Board a shuttle bus heading to Chetumal. Travelers I encountered on my journey had secured their tickets through The Yak Lake House, paying 717 Mexican Pesos, or 40 USD. Alternatively, tickets can be booked with Costera Bacalar, which operates services throughout the week. Since prices may fluctuate, it's best to visit their website through the provided link for the most current rates. For direct inquiries, they're available on WhatsApp at +52 983 177 9754.

If you enjoyed this piece, leave a like and or comment and share this blog with someone who would love to experience the wonders of Bacalar. 

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