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Friday, January 21, 2022

Getaways: Exploring Bacalar and its astonishing  ‘7-color lagoon’

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.

Just 30 minutes from Chetumal, Bacalar is one of the most stunning destinations on Quintana Roo’s extensive coastline.

A drone’s view of Bacalar’s seven-color lagoon. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The town of Bacalar itself is not that large but has been experiencing constant growth over the past couple of decades. 

A colorful sign near Bacalar’s town square near the shore of its famous lagoon. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Bacalar’s downtown near the shore features a cute little plaza surrounded by restaurants, ice cream shops, and a handful of bars. But make no mistake, this is not Cancún, nor does it aim to be. The vibe is extremely relaxed and generally subdued. 

Sunsets in Bacalar are some of the most beautiful in the world. Just sit back and relax. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Bacalar’s main attraction is its gorgeous lagoon, nicknamed the  “lagoon of seven colors.” The aforementioned colors are bands of different hues (though not always necessarily seven) which range from clear blue to turquoise. 

A view of the lagoon from one of its many small islands dominated by mangroves. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

One of the few upsides of the lockdown has been that a drop in tourism has meant that these bands of color are beginning to recover their intensity, after several years of intense navigation. 

Motorized boats on Bacalar’s “seven-color” lagoon are almost entirely used for tourism and recreational activities. Several areas in the lagoon are off-limits to motorized crafts, but that has not stopped tourists and locals from venturing in. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Several of the homes along Bacalar’s lagoon are extremely luxurious, which should not be surprising as the area has become one of the most expensive real estate markets in all of Mexico. 

A handful of hotels do exist on the shores of Bacalar’s lagoon, but they can be expensive. That being said, the view may be worth the price on its own. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Because most of the properties on the shores of the lagoon are private residences, most hotels in Bacalar are a little further inland. But this is not really much of a problem as there are several beach clubs and other points to access the lagoon itself. 

A beach club on the shores of Bacalar’s lagoon. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

One of the most popular activities in Bacalar aside from swimming and lounging on the lagoon’s many docks is kayaking. The lagoon’s calm waters and many small islands are a joy to navigate  — just remember to wear a life vest. 

From these photos, it should be clear why kayaking is so popular in Bacalar. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht  

Kayaking also offers wonderful opportunities for birdwatching, especially in the early morning.

Snail kites are often misidentified as eagles and are plentiful in the area surrounding Bacalar Lagoon in the southeast of Quintana Roo, near the Belize border. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Aside from the lagoon, Bacalar is also home to several cenotes, most famously the Cenote Azul. This above-ground cenote more closely resembles a lake and given its large size and crystalline waters, it is truly wonderful to swim in.

The food served at the Cenote Azul restaurant is also quite good, though prices have really increased over the past few years. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Though Bacalar has only truly become popular over the past decade or so as a destination, the region boasts a history that goes back thousands of years.

Bacalar and its lagoon are also in close proximity to several fascinating archaeological sites including Dizbanché, Oxtankah, and Chacchobén.

An aerial view of the Lintel or Owl Temple in Dzibanché, a beautiful Classic-era Maya pyramidal structure. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
The colonial-era Spanish fort of San Felipe was built to combat English and Dutch encroachment and piracy. Photo: Carlos rosado van der Gracht.

The area also witnessed some of the first contacts between the area native Maya and European conquistadors in the 16th century.

Bacalar is also a popular point of departure for travelers on their way to Central America. It is roughly 30 minutes from the Belize border. 

Getting to Bacalar from Mérida by car takes about five hours. The roads are good and there are several spots along the way to stop for a rest. Taking the bus usually takes a little longer (around six hours) and costs approximately 600 pesos.

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