My guide to the very best things to do in Bacalar, Mexico – home of the most beautiful blue lagoon you’ve ever seen!
It’s a rare and beautiful thing, when you return to somewhere you travelled to years ago and find it every bit as magical as you remember. In my memory, Bacalar was so dreamy, the lagoon so impossibly cyan, that I was worried I must have exaggerated it into something way beyond reality.
Then I headed back for a second visit and found it, if anything, even more special than I remembered.
Bacalar Lagoon is a huge freshwater lake, about 42km long and only 2km across at its widest point. It’s fed by underwater cenotes, and the water – usually a vivid, Caribean-sea-blue – is much darker over these deep crevices, leading to the nickname “lake of seven colours”.
Bacalar town, on the southwestern shore of the lake, is a small, sleepy little place. The town centre is filled with colourful murals, some great restaurants, and a few lively bars. When I first visited, Bacalar was still quite “off the beaten path”. These days, it’s definitely seeing a boost in popularity – with a fair few trendy new bars and eateries popping up – but it’s still as tranquil and chilled out as ever.
Alongside relaxing next to Bacalar lake, there are plenty more great things to do while you’re in town. Keep reading for the full list…
Shortlist: If you Only have one Day in Bacalar
If you’re short on time, or passing through Bacalar on your way to/from Belize, one day is probably just enough time to see the main sights. I strongly recommend you spend longer here if possible, though. It’s such a lovely town and there’s so much to see and do nearby.
For those that only have a day, though, here’s a quick list of the can’t-miss stops. More info on each one in the next section.
Things to do in Bacalar: Map
READ MORE: How to Get to Bacalar
15 Things to do in Bacalar
1. Take a boat cruise on Bacalar Lagoon
One of the most popular things to do in Bacalar is to take a boat tour of the lagoon. I enjoyed it so much that I did the same tour on both my visits to Bacalar.
The classic is a 2-hour tour by lancha (small boat) or ponton (pontoon). You’ll head to all the major sights on Bacalar Lagoon, including the “Pirates Channel”, a stromatolite reserve, and the underwater cenotes which feed the lake. It’s a great way to see the striking difference in the colour of the water at different parts of the lake.
You’ll find loads of different tour companies in Bacalar, and all offer a very similar boat tour. The prices are set, so every company offers the same price. Ponton tours are 400 MXN pp and lancha tours are 300 MXN.
You can also book private tours, sailing tours, and catamaran cruises. Check out these recommended tours:
2. Go for a Swim in Cenote Azul
Cenotes are natural, water-filled sinkholes where the ceiling of a limestone cave has collapsed. There are a few actually underneath Bacalar Lagoon, while Cenote Azul is right next to the lake, separated from the turquoise water by a thin strip of land.
Cenote Azul is almost 300ft deep, giving it a profoundly dark blue colour in stark contrast to the neighbouring lake. Swimming in this deep, blue pool is a fantastic experience and one that you shouldn’t miss when you visit Bacalar.
It’s about a ten minute drive from Bacalar town (or a 50 minute walk). Getting there by taxi should cost you no more than 60 MXN. You have to pay an entrance fee of 25 MXN to visit Cenote Azul. Inside, there’s a restaurant, toilets, and a couple of Instagram-tastic swings (both over the water and in front of it.
You can also go scuba diving in Cenote Azul if you want to explore its depths! Dive centres in nearby Mahahaul can organise this.
3. Discover the stromatolites
Bacalar is home to a pretty unique natural phenomenon: stromatolites. These are actually living fossils: at around 3.5 billion years old they’re the oldest living lifeforms on our planet. And they’re only found in a handful of places around the world!
So what are stromatolites? Essentially, they are stony structures built from sediment by microscopic organisms called cyanobacteria. Stromatolites recycle elements like CO2, actively improving the environment, and it’s thought that these rocky beings are one of the reasons the lake’s water is so exceptionally clear.
You can see these living fossils all around the lake. There’s a stromatolite sanctuary in front of the Cocolitos baleario, and a handful of them in front of Beach Club Blu – as well as the famous channel of them at Los Rapidos.
When you witness these living fossils in Bacalar, PLEASE help protect them! Don’t touch or stand on them at all, as this can do irreversible damage. You also shouldn’t wear suncream in the lake (even the reef-safe kind): I advise wearing a rash vest instead.
4. Soak up Local History at San Felipe Fort
San Felipe Fort dominates downtown Bacalar. It was built in 1733 to protect the town from repeated pirate attacks, and has a very interesting history.
Pirates would sail up the Hondo River and through the swamps that surround Bacalar to raid the town. These aren’t the loveable rogues of Holywood movies, but vicious criminals whose attacks on the town were devastating – hence the need for a full military fort. Its hilltop position overlooking the lake also means the views from San Felipe Fort are spectacular!
Inside the fort is a small museum which outlines the history of Bacalar and sheds a little more light on the story of the pirates. Entrance is 110 MXN for foreign visitors (55 for locals) – though if you visit later in the day the ticket officer may only charge you half price.
5. Explore Downtown Bacalar
Bacalar’s downtown area is small, and there’s not a whole heap of sights or attractions here. But that’s part of the charm, really. It’s a really colourful area, full of street art murals, cute shops, and great eateries. And, of course, the iconic “Bacalar” sign, because it’s a Pueblo Magico (towns noted for their natural beauty, culture, history, etc).
Just go for a wander and see what you find – making sure to swing by these main sights…
- Bacalar Sign – colourful sign in front of the Zocalo, right next to San Felipe Fort.
- The Zocalo – central square with a lovely park surrounded by some great cafes, restaurants and bars. Visit around sunset, when hundreds of noisy birds descend on the trees in the park.
- Parroquia de San Joaquin – a small, pretty 19th-century church dedicated to the town’s patron saint.
- San Felipe Fort – see above.
6. Soak up all the street art murals
One of the things I love most about Bacalar is the abundance of street art. In the blocks surrounding the Zocola (the central square), you’re hard pressed to find a street that doesn’t have at least one stunning mural on it.
Again, just go for a wander and see what you find! Avenida 5 is one of the best streets for murals: start at the Zocalo and head north.
7. Float on a Natural Lazy River at Los Rapidos
Despite having been to Bacalar multiple times, I’ve still never been to Los Rapidos. That’s just YET another reason to head back to the stunning lagoon, because this is one of the top things to do in Bacalar.
Los Rapidos is a narrow, mangrove-lined section of Bacalar Lake which forms a sort of canal with a natural “lazy river”. You can walk to the far end and then float back along the channel on these currents!
The channel is lined with stromatolites, so it’s a great place to see these “living fossils” up close with a snorkel. Just PLEASE don’t touch or walk on them!
There’s a beach club and restaurant at Los Rapidos, and you have to pay to enter. But, you can easily make a full day out of your visit: rent a snorkel and spend some time floating along the channel. They also rent kayaks and paddleboards to enjoy the lake.
8. Relax at a Bacalar beach club
One of my favourite things to do in Bacalar is to simply chill out and enjoy the lake. Swim, sunbathe, and laze around… interrupting your silence every few minutes to remark on just how incredibly BLUE that water is!
There aren’t really any beaches around Bacalar Lagoon – at least not traditional, sandy beaches like you’d find along the coast.
Instead, there are numerous balnearios or beach clubs. These are lakeside clubs which usually have a bar and/or restaurant and several chairs or sun loungers. Some also have changing rooms and towel rentals.
Many have small jetties into the lake, so you can hop straight into the deeper water to swim without wading through the silty mud at the water’s edge. There are loads to choose from, so here are a few of the most popular beach clubs in Bacalar…
- Beach Club Blu (my personal favourite) – a little outside of town, near Cenote Azul, this is a super chill beach club with great music and some dreamy views of the lake. It feels a little remote and quieter than the beach clubs nearer town.
- La Playita – great food, good vibes, and a long jetty for swimming. There’s no minimum spend or entry fee at this one, as long as you eat at the restaurant they seem happy for you to stick around and swim!
- Bacalar Beach Club – stylish spot close to town with a pool, bar, and decking area with sun loungers.
- Cenote Cocolitos – perhaps the most famous beach club, but it’s currently closed (as of Feb 2023).
- Los Aluxes – water hammocks, swings, and a picturesque dock.
- Balneario Ejidal – one of the cheaper and more rustic beach clubs, but very popular with families as it has waterslides which drop out into the lake!
9. Go paddleboarding or kayaking on the lake
On my first trip to Bacalar, I spent a couple of afternoons exploring the lake by kayak. We rented them from our hostel and spent a particularly memorable day towing my friend’s giant inflatable swan around behind us!
You can rent kayaks and paddleboards from a variety of places around the lake, including many of the balnearios, or join one of the fab tours listed below. It’s a great way to explore at a slower pace, and with relatively calm waters Bacalar is an easy place to paddle.
10. Explore the Mayan ruins at Kohunlich
Chichen Itza gets all the glory, but the Yucatan Peninsula has many more Mayan and Prehispanic ruins to visit. One, Kohunlich, is within easy reach of Bacalar – so it makes a great day trip.
Due to bad timing, I sadly wasn’t able to visit Kohunlich on my last trip. It’s another one for my “next time” list! But a friend of mine went a few years ago and says it’s incredible.
The 21-acre site is surrounded by dense tropical jungle, so it has a really cool, adventurous atmosphere. One of the most impressive structures is the Temple of the Masks, a pyramid dating from around 500AD, which has a central stairway flanked by huge stucco masks.
RECOMMENDED TOUR: Tour to Dzibanche and Kohunlich with 3 Course Meal Included
11. Visit the Pirates Channel (Canal de los Piratas)
The Canal de los Pirates, or Pirate Channel, is one of my favourite places to swim in Bacalar. It’s an artificial channel which links Bacalar Lagoon with the smaller Laguna Mariscal, which in turn is linked by streams and swampland with the River Honda.
It’s thought the channel was originally used by Mayans for trade. Then, during the 16th and 17th centuries, it attracted the attention of pirates, who would apparently sneak up the channel in order to raid the town.
Today, it’s a stunning swimming spot known for its almost unnatural-looking turquoise waters. There’s also a “shipwreck” to explore: the ruins of a boat-shaped restaurant which collapsed before the building was completed. These often-graffitied walls are great for jumping into the cool waters of the lake.
Most of the boat tours visit the Pirates Channel, or you can rent a kayak and paddle over there yourself.
12. Go Ziplining at Tirolesa Kan Kin Bacalar
Fancy a bit of adventure? Head to Tiorlesas Kan´Kin, a zipline park in the forest near Bacalar.
There are 5 towers and almost 1.5km of zipline altogether, allowing for a thrilling new perspective on the area! Glide over the treetops and enjoy stunning views of the jungle and the lagoon. You may even see monkeys and other local wildlife!
13. Take a day trip to the Beach at Mahahual
Mahahual is another great day trip from Bacalar. This small beach village enjoys clear blue sea and pure white sands backed by swaying palm trees – so it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular spot with tourists!
This beach is known for its incredible coral reefs. There’s one just off the coast, which you can visit without a boat or a guide. Then there’s the protected Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve, known for its sea turtles, coral reefs, and underwater shipwrecks, where you can take snorkelling and diving tours.
14. Dine at some of these great restaurants
There are a lot of great bars and restaurants in Bacalar, from crowded local spots to trendy new eateries. These are a few of the best…
- Mr Taco – definitely the best tacos in town, possibly the best I had in Mexico! Tiny, always crowded (queues are likely) and WELL worth it. The fish and shrimp tacos were my faves – but there’s a huge range with good veggie options too.
- La Playita – great seafood and casual eats in a lovely garden setting by the lake.
- Mango y Chile – one of the most popular vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Bacalar with great views.
- Barbanegra Bacalar – the food we ordered was hit and miss, but some dishes were great and the atmosphere is very cool.
- Chacá Restaurante – outdoor dining and great food at one of the most popular restaurants in town.
- Nao – sushi and Japanese food with lake views.
15. Watch the sunrise over the lake
It’s not very often that I’ll drag myself out of bed in time to watch the sunrise – but in Bacalar, it’s worth it! The town (and most hotels) are on the western shore, facing east across the lake. Which means you can watch the sun come up over the water, painting the lake in golden tones.
So set your alarm and get yourself down to the water’s edge to watch one of these very special lakeside sunrises! It’s absolutely worth it.