Bacalar is a mostly undiscovered gem two and a half hours south of Tulum, famous for its beautiful blue lagoon and small-town vibes. For being such a small town, there are a surprising amount of unique things to do in Bacalar.
Bacalar has recently been named “The next Tulum” by several publications online and luckily for now it still remains off-the-beaten-track and unknown to most travellers coming to Tulum or Cancun for a week, and let’s hope it stays that way.
Known as the first Mayan city in the region to be conquered by the Spanish in 1543, it remains a small town to this day with only 11,000 inhabitants. The name Bacalar derives from the Mayan language for ‘surrounded by reeds’ which makes sense – as it sort of is.
The large lagoon to the east of the town also shares the same name, and it’s also known as the Laguna de Siete Colores (Lagoon of 7 colors). Being the main attraction in the small town, it’s the main thing to do in Bacalar.
Besides the lagoon, there are actually other things to do in Bacalar, and without further ado let’s jump straight into it.
Best things to do in Bacalar
Bacalar Rapids (Los Rapidos)
The Bacalar Rapids are an interesting natural phenomenon thanks to the stromatolites that call the lagoon their home. The little bubbles or “rapids” are created by these microorganisms giving off oxygen which forms bubbles that rapidly make their way to the surface.
People come here to swim and float on the bubbles or to kayak and let the river take you away and explore the area. The water is incredibly blue, more so than the main lagoon. When you’re finished swimming and exploring there are little spots to lounge and enjoy the views with drinks and delicious food.
The entrance fee is 150 MXN pesos ($7.50 USD) and it’s open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm everyday.
Kayak in the Lagoon
A trip to Bacalar isn’t complete without a visit to the famous Laguna de Siete Colores. There are a variety of unique ways to explore this spectacular natural gem, including guided boat tours, sailing, snorkeling, and our favourite – kayaking.
The lagoon is fed by natural underground aquifers, with the white limestone base of the lake creating a striking contrast to the blue water above. Stretching about 42 km long (26 miles), there are reportedly 7 colors to see but we were only able to count around 5.
If you’re looking to kayak we recommend going early in the morning to catch the sunrise. You can find many local shops renting kayaks and there are also plenty of tours online to book that offers the same service.
Zipline at Tirolesas Bacalar
This unique zipline cuts through the jungle with epic views of the Bacalar Lagoon off to the side. 5 lines connect to a tower in the middle of the jungle, which used to be a ‘forest fire tower’. The cost is 750 MXN pesos ($37 USD) and you can find more info here.
Fort San Felipe Bacalar
Fuerte de San Felipe de Bacalar (Fort San Felipe) is an impressive stone fort built by the Spanish in 1733 to protect the state of Quintana Roo against the English colonizers and pirates.
Today it’s an interesting piracy museum and one of the coolest things to do in Bacalar if you’re a history buff. The fort is elevated and offers impressive sweeping views of the town and lagoon below.
You can also take a picture of the “Bacalar sign” out front of the fort. It’s open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm Tuesday – Sunday and costs 105 MXN pesos ($5 USD) for foreigners and 50 MXN pesos for locals.
Sailing the Bacalar Lagoon
After kayaking, this is one of the best ways to explore the lagoon and one of the funniest things to do in Bacalar. The best way to do this is simply to organize a tour from one of the agencies in town or book one online.
The tours typically include a captain and knowledgable guide, a visit and tour of all four cenotes, food and drinks and of course, snorkelling equipment. There are two times the tours leave, one at 11:00 am and one at 3:00 pm. We recommend taking the 3 o’clock tour as it’s less hot and you may get to the see the sunset.
Visit the Nearby Cenotes
Bacalar is full of many cenotes, however, they are all underwater (except cenote Azul) within the lagoon so unlike traditional cenotes, there’s not much to do or see unless you have a vantage point from above.
The four different cenotes are:
- Cenote Azul
- Cenote Cocalitos
- Cenote Esmeralda
- Cenote la Bruja
If you go on a boat tour the guide will take you past these and explain to you how they were formed and even allow you to swim in some of them.
Day Trip to Mahahual
While this isn’t in Bacalar itself, it’s very close (only 1 hour drive) from the town, so if you have time and are looking to chill on a beach definitely check out this cute little beach town.
It is a port town with a spectacular beach with clear water known as Costa Maya. Like Bacalar, it’s another undiscovered gem near Tulum that many tourists don’t get a chance to visit.
Day Trip to the Kohunlich Ruins
The Yucatan peninsula is full of so many impressive Mayan archeological sites, and the Kohunlich Ruins are no exception. Only about an hour’s drive south of Bacalar, it’s an impressive site with many ruins, all of which you’re allowed to climb.
With the howler monkeys screeching in the distance and the surrealness of the ruins in the thick jungle (only 10% of which has been excavated), you’ll feel transported back in time.
Give yourself about an hour to explore the whole area as it is a little large. The entrance fee is only 80 MXN pesos and is open every day from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm.
Make Friends at I Scream Bar
I Scream Bar is a very popular bar that used to be located in Tulum but since the pandemic has recently relocated south to Bacalar. Right in the center of town near the Zocalo, you can’t miss this place with its cool ambiance and crazy party vibe that happens later on.
If you’re looking for good cocktails, tasty nachos, and a cool party atmosphere then definitely head here after a long day of chilling in the lagoon to let loose. They open at 6:00 pm every day until around 2:00 am so you can stay late, making it one of the most fun things to do in Bacalar if you like to party.
Isla de Los Pájaros (Bird Island)
Near the southern stretch of the lagoon, you’ll find Isla de Los Pájaros, a little island that gets its name from the thousands of birds that migrate here during certain times of the year. Witnessing this event at sunset is a magical experience.
Bird-watchers from all over the world come here to see strange exotic birds that are typically harder to find in other parts of Mexico.
Bike Around Town
How to get to Bacalar
If you’re coming from Tulum, check out our extensive guide here for how to get from Tulum to Bacalar. The same route from Cancun or Playa Del Carmen can be taken, as the same road goes through Tulum.
How Long Should You Stay in Bacalar?
Personally, I wouldn’t stay in Bacalar for more than 2 days 1 night, but that’s just me. I prefer the beach of Tulum or the nightlife of Playa Del Carmen, and Bacalar can be quite boring in those respects.
If you prefer the eco-friendly tourism of the area and the peace and quiet, then Bacalar might be a place you’d want to stay for a week, as it does offer many day trips in the region.