Mexico’s rich and diverse culture, warm people, and beautiful nature are a winning combination that attracts throngs of tourists from all over the world. While many beach and large city destinations are well-known and visited on a massive scale, tourists often miss out on the charm and authenticity of smaller surrounding towns. For this reason, Mexico’s government initiated a campaign to promote tourism throughout the republic’s lesser-known but exceedingly magical towns or “pueblos magicos.” According to Wikipedia, pueblos mágicos are “imbued with certain characteristics that make them unique, historically significant, with great traditions, and offer magical experiences to its visitors” that include but are not limited to “symbolism, legends, history, important events, festivals, traditions, great food.”
Bacalar is one of these magical towns. Located about two and a half hours south of Tulum, Bacalar is known first and foremost for the giant freshwater lagoon upon whose shores the town lies. The lagoon is massive and is known as the “lagoon of 7 colors” (la laguna de los 7 colores) for its uncanny resemblance of the Caribbean ocean’s vibrant blues, greens, and turquoises. Unlike the ocean, however, the lagoon is fresh water with lake-like tranquility and also river-like rapids at its narrower points. Here are some of the activities and places that give Bacalar its “magical” qualities.
Bacalar’s beautiful lagoon is perfect for swimming, paddle boarding and kayaking. There are very little currents or waves at the widest parts of the lagoon and all along its shores are grassy knolls and palm trees where locals and tourists come to hang hammocks, picnic, swim and relax. If a picnic is too high-maintenance, I would recommend a bar and restaurant called La Playita that has delicious drinks, gourmet quality dishes, and a whimsical, natural ambiance. An iconic landmark of Bacalar is its many long wooden docks that lead out to small palm thatched-roof palapas that are the subject of most selfies and group pictures on social media accounts.
In recent years, paddle boarding has become very popular, and there are plenty of rentals around town and even in hostels. A really fun activity that is gaining popularity is paddle board yoga during sunrise or sunset where an instructor guides you through various yoga poses on the paddle board in the middle of the lagoon. Magical indeed!
At narrower parts, the lagoon looks like a river with stronger currents and even rapids. A really fun activity is to rent kayaks or book a kayak tour of the lagoon where clients are dropped off up-river, spend up to 4 hours kayaking the rapids and docking at certain points for pictures, and are then picked up down-river.
A giant freshwater cenote called Cenote Azul is located right next to the lagoon. The cenote is perfectly circular and nearly black in color due both to its depth and to its contrast with the bright and vibrant blues and greens of the lagoon as a backdrop. There is a small restaurant located at the entrance of the cenote with bathrooms and changing areas.
As Bacalar has been gaining popularity, there has been a lot of cultural development in the form of cultural centers (centro cultural), public circus and musical presentations, and great bars and venues for culinary exploration and music concerts. The cultural community center Galeon Pirata hosts circus conventions, music concerts, sustainable living workshops and regional cultural art exhibitions to name a few.
Another venue worth visiting is El Manati, a cafe, restaurant and art space that offers reasonably priced food, daytime concerts, and a space for art exhibitions and workshops. For a nice taste of night-life, La Catrina bar and restaurant always has great live music and dancing with an eclectic variety of different bands most nights of the week.
There are endless possibilities of lodging in Bacalar with something for everyone. For the younger crowd there are affordable hostels, for those seeking a bit more luxury and comfort, there are an array of boutique hotels, and for families and groups of friends there are airbnbs galore. The closer the hotel or hostel is to the center of town, the louder the surroundings due to proximity to bars and public functions. Camping is also offered in certain hostels as well as Club Azucarero del Rio Hondo, a park-like area north of the Bacalar town center.
Bacalar Pueblo Magico, a magical town not only for its striking Lagoon of 7 Colors, but for the music scene, cultural displays, and public events that range from sustainability conferences to regional food festivals to circus conventions. Enjoy a typical day in Bacalar with paddle-boarding and swimming by day, a sunset kayak trip in the evening, and a night out dancing to live music at la Catrina. Whatever you end up doing, Bacalar will surely enchant you with its magic.
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