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One of my most popular Instagram photos from our time in Mexico was of Laguna Bacalar. Anyone who sees a photo of Laguna Bacalar becomes taken with its gorgeous turquoise waters. I was too and that was why I made sure to include it on our 5 week Mexico trip in February.
Most people imagine it is a beautiful island with white sand beaches and that blue, blue water. But, what makes Laguna Bacalar so special is that it is in fact a fresh water lagoon in the south of Mexico, right near the Belize border. With its hammocks and swings hanging in the water, it makes the perfect spot to relax in its turquoise waters.
While it is the lagoon that draws people to Bacalar, we also fell for the authentic feel of the town, which was a welcome respite from the touristy Mayan Riviera. Bacalar, along with Isla Holbox, was one of the kids’ favourite places in Mexico and they spent hours playing in the water.
What to do in Bacalar
Usually this section is full of a wide range of things to do in a destination. In Bacalar, it is all about the lagoon and relaxing. There are numerous ways to enjoy the lagoon, but what we relished most was just hanging out, swimming and soaking up the sunshine. There are numerous accommodation options right on the lagoon or you can pay a fee/have a meal at the many hotels and restaurants along the water or use the municipal balnearios.
Chill at Cocolitos
This was the first place we went in Bacalar and the kids loved it so much that we returned again.
Cocolitos is most noted for its Stromatolites which are only found in a few locations around the world and are formed by bacteria that were the earth’s earliest signs of life. They really just look like funky rocks but it is incredible that they are so old. They are very sensitive to human contact and there are numerous posters throughout town reminding you to not touch them.
The kids spent hours in the water hanging from the hammock posts in the water and getting more and more daring with their acrobatic moves. There is a restaurant serving beers and mediocre food. Cocolitos makes a great location for a picnic and you can bring your own food in. Cocolitos is a great inexpensive way to enjoy Laguna Bacalar.
Cenote Azul is located close to Cocolitos, but we had been to so many cenotes throughout the Yucatan that we didn’t visit.
Cost: 35 pesos/adult, 25 pesos/child
Getting There: Located a few km outside of town, you can take a taxi there for 50 pesos or bike there.
Water Fun at the Balanerios
There are about four public balneario (piers and swimming areas) in Bacalar. We visited Balneario Municipal on a Sunday during Caranaval where the area was busy with local families. This is a great place to visit with kids as they have a small slide (the larger one wasn’t operational while we were there) and diving boards. You can also hire kayaks or boat tours from here. There is a restaurant here as well.
While the water wasn’t as clear or as beautiful as Cocolitos, it was really convenient from town and we loved the atmosphere of families enjoying the weekend together.
Cost: 20 pesos per person
Getting there: we walked from town
Hanging Out in the Zocalo
While our days in Bacalar were spent on the water, our evenings were spent at the zocalo, the main square or plaza. Bacalar is a pretty sleepy town, but being Carnaval while we were there, it came to life in the evening. The kids liked playing on the playground and there were always street vendors selling marquesitas, churros or other fried delights. There are a few good restaurants on the Plaza, which was great for the kids to play while we waited for our food.
This is also where you will find the colourful Bacalar sign and since Bacalar is so sleepy, you won’t even have to queue to take your photo.
Other Things to do in Bacalar
We spent most of our visit relaxing in the turquoise waters, but here are some other activities if you are feeling more active.
Right between the Laguna and the Plaza is Fortress of San Felipe, created to protect the town from pirates. Kids will love the pirate connection and the views from the Fortress are great.
There are numerous people selling boat tours across the Laguna in town. A more eco way to explore the Laguna is by sailboat with Veleando Ando. The hostels in town offer sun rise paddle boarding tours, which look amazing, but probably not the most kid friendly.
Most boat tours will visit Canal de los Piratas, the Pirate’s Channel. This waist deep river is great for kids and the mineral rich waters are great for mud masks and DIY spa fun.
I love being in a destination for a holiday or festival, especially when it is a surprise once we turn up. I couldn’t understand why I was having trouble booking a place to stay in Bacalar until we arrived and realized that we would be there for Carnaval. I didn’t even realize that they celebrated Carnaval in parts of Mexico.
Carnaval in Bacalar featured kids and adults dressed in elaborate costumes parading through the streets and on the main stage at the plaza. I love spending time in Mexican plazas, especially in the evenings and on the weekends, but during Carnaval there was an extra special buzz in the air. In addition to the regular vendors selling marquesitas (Mexican style crepes), fresh fruit, and greasy snacks, there was balloons, cotton candy, Maya handicrafts and more.
Carnaval went for 4 days and each evening there was a parade through the streets. We were thrilled to just watch the colourful costumes and floats, but were surprised and excited when we got pulled into the dancing.
How to Get to Bacalar
Driving – if you have a rental car, it is an easy drive from Tulum down to Bacalar.
Bus – we took the ADO bus from Tulum to Bacalar. The ADO buses in Mexico are very new and modern and easy to book. There were frequent departures to Bacalar, which takes 3 hours. The buses are more expensive than Central America, but kids under 12 are half price.
Where to Stay in Bacalar
The most important decision you have to make when visiting Bacalar is if you want to stay close to the centre of town, or further out on the water. One of the things we love the most about Mexico is hanging out in the plazas and we like to be able to eat our meals at local restaurants with local prices. Since we were visiting for Carnaval, we didn’t have much choice about where to stay. We ended up at Pueblo Viejo, near the town centre, and were really happy with it as a solid budget choice. We paid 850 pesos for a family room.
Click here to see some other good options in Bacalar.
Where to Eat in Bacalar
Pina – This place had delicious fresh fruit juices and smoothies, good Mexican food and even pizza that kept the kids happy. The backyard location is funky and prices are reasonable.
Pizzeria Di Que Si – This was the best pizza we had in Mexico; so good, you would think you are in Italy. With a location right on the plaza, the kids played on the playground while we waited for our food.
Mr. Taco on Square – This budget taqueria offered lots of great options, including veggie fillings and fish and shrimp tacos. We ate here a few times and it was always good.
Frozen Yogurt – our kids can spot ice cream a mile away and they spotted this place our first day. It was a throwback to my childhood where you pick the fruit and then they blend it with a bar of frozen yogurt. Delicious! 30 pesos for a large serving. It is on Calle 20, near Av 3.
Street Food – lots of great options on the street. Our favs are marquesitas (the kids like just Nutella, but I like the traditional Nutella y queso), fresh mango, and churros.
Bacalar’s beautiful, calm lagoon really is as pretty as the photos show and we enjoyed taking a break from sightseeing and relaxing in its blue waters. It is authentic small town Mexico and although at first I was disappointed that we couldn’t afford to stay at a waterfront hotel, I ended up loving the action in town. The calm, blue waters are perfect for kids and you will have no trouble letting a few days slide by in one of Mexico’s “pueblo magicos”.
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