Is traveling to Bacalar, Mexico with kids safe? What things are there to do around Laguna Bacalar? Is Bacalar a family-friendly destination?
In late December 2021, after waiting anxiously for a couple of months, we received our baby's passport. With that, it was time to set off to our first international destination after being blessed with parenthood last year. Bre and I have spent about six months collectively exploring a lot of Mexico, and our love for the country runs deep. That being said, it only made sense that our baby's first international destination would be Mexico.
We'd fly into Cancun, get a shuttle directly to our all-inclusive resort where we would spend a week sitting poolside by the day, having an early dinner at the resort restaurant, and retreat to our room in time for Indy's bedtime where we would crash after watching some Netflix.
Wait... what happened to you two and all the adventures you used to go on?! This doesn't sound like you!
If you were reading that and thinking that didn't quite sound right, you were correct. No judgment on anyone that wants to travel that way, but we have never traveled any country that way ... and why would we start now just because we have a baby? We desire to show Indy the more authentic side of each county -- never losing sight of what makes travel so magical and life-changing.
When researching where we would take Indy on his first big Mexico adventure, we landed on a place we'd never been but have always wanted to explore: Bacalar, Mexico in the state of Quintana Roo.
We debated between Bacalar or Isla Holbox, both places we'd never traveled, but landed on Bacalar after reading many other travelers' advice. Some of the comments we saw were:
Bacalar is what Tulum used to be.
If you are looking for an adventurous up-and-coming destination, choose Bacalar, Mexico.
The blue water... that amazing clear blue water... have you seen the colors of the waters?!
After spending nine days in Bacalar, we can confirm that it's a perfect destination to travel for families and kids. And we're here to answer a question we always get asked - yes, Bacalar is safe! In fact, it's one of the safest destinations we have explored in Mexico.
Welcome to a full travel guide to Bacalar Mexico. Whether you are single, travel with a partner, or have a family, this guide has something for everyone. Enjoy!
What Makes Bacalar so Unique?
Bacalar, Mexico is in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula. It sits just minutes above the Belize border and a few hours south of better-known destinations like Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Contrary to a lot of assumptions, it is not actually on the ocean, but rather a massive lagoon. The lake is approximately 30 miles long and a mile wide at its widest point.
So, then what is that body of water right next to Bacalar Town and how is the water so blue and clear? It actually has many names; Laguna Bacalar, Seven Colors Lagoon, Laguna de Bacalar, Bacalar Lagoon, La Laguna de los Siete Colores, etc. and is one of the most unique bodies of water we have ever seen -- especially considering it's a lake.
How it becomes so clear and blue is nothing less than Mother Nature's magic on display. A combination of active microorganisms and the light-colored limestone bed provide the perfect conditions to create one of the most unique bodies of water. The bottom of the lake is covered in fossilized stromatolites, which look like giant white rocks. We were told it is very important to protect these by not walking on or touching them, similar to how we treat coral reef. It's absolutely important to protect the microorganisms and stromatolites so the water can be enjoyed for many decades to come! This includes using reef safe sunscreen and applying it well in advance before taking a swim.
Oddly enough, one of the best things is that it's not saltwater, so after a swim, you don't feel like you immediately need to rinse off.
In 2019 and early 2020, the lake unfortunately turned to a murky brown color, leaving many tourists disappointed when visiting Bacalar. This happens occasionally after a large storm. Many locals believe the snails washing up on shore had something to do with the color change. As of our trip in 2022, the lake was beautiful, clear, and blue as could be.
Bacalar is also home to four large cenotes. Cenote Azul (one of the deepest in Mexico), Cenote Cocalitos, Cenote Esmeralda, and Cenote Negro. For all of you water lovers, there is no shortage of swimming here!
How to get to Bacalar, Mexico
Via Cancun International Airport
You can travel via rental car, bus (ADO bus), or hire a driver. The journey is approximately 4 hours and 15 minutes, so if you're traveling with kids, we might suggest breaking the journey up by stopping in Puerto Morelos, Tulum Town, or Playa Del Carmen for a night. You could also catch a connecting flight to Chetumal International Airport and follow the option below.
Via Chetumal International Airport
This is the quickest and easiest option shall your flight path allow for it. We were lucky to be in Miami, Florida for work for a few days prior to coming to Mexico and there is a 2-hour direct flight from Miami International Airport to Chetumal International Airport. There are also direct flights from Mexico City, another place we highly recommend spending a few days in as a layover option. Once we landed in Chetumal, we were hoping to just catch an ADO bus from the airport over to Bacalar. But, we quickly learned that ADO does not operate out of the airport. So, instead, we paid the 600 pesos for a cab from Chetumal International Airport to Bacalar which took 30 minutes.
The Belize border is only a few kilometers from Bacalar, so if you've been traveling Belize, it's simple enough to cross the border and be at the lagoon in a matter of minutes. Most travelers we met were on their way to/from Belize. This blog seems like a really great resource for the options for making that journey if you want to check it out!
Where to Stay in Bacalar, Mexico
This family-owned boutique hotel is in the perfect location to enjoy all of Bacalar's restaurants and things to do -- mostly via foot without having to even hop into a car for a long journey. Walkability is one aspect we always look for in all of our stays. Each room is very comfortable and opens up to a large garden with lush vegetation. There is an on-site restaurant for breakfast and a full bar to enjoy an afternoon cocktail or nightcap after a long sunny day wandering around Bacalar. What really won us over was the family that runs this hotel. They're one of the most welcoming and accommodating families we've stayed with in all of our travels around the world. When checking in, they tell everyone that their place is like your home, and they really live up to that. They show genuine interest in getting to know you and will bend over backwards to make your stay as beautiful as possible.
Casa Chukum is truly a gem and it will not disappoint! We 100% recommend staying here.
This is certainly one of our go-to options when looking at where to stay in a new destination. However, we had a difficult time finding an Airbnb that looked accommodating for kids. Since having Indy, we usually look for Airbnbs that mention they provide items for children, such as a pack and play, high chair, etc. Even if you plan to bring your own items for your kid(s), a listing usually mentions if it's family-friendly. Our friends (kid-free) stayed at an Airbnb and had a great experience.
The Best Restaurants in Bacalar, Mexico
We have to admit, we were blown away by the restaurant scene in Bacalar. Considering it's not a very well-known destination, we were pleasantly surprised by the variety of vegetarian/vegan options. After nine days and many delicious meals, we uncovered most of the options in this Mexican pueblo.
This restaurant lands high on our list of places you must eat at when in Bacalar. Their restaurant is located in a beautiful courtyard filled with lush tropical plants. Their menu caters to breakfast and lunch and offers a wide variety of creative Mexican dishes and drinks. Everything is extremely fresh and flavorful!
We loved the "Emoladas" which are delicious vegetarian enchiladas with a unique mole sauce. The maracuya (passion fruit) infused water was the absolute perfect hydration on a hot Mexico day. Also, all of their desserts are a must, so save some room!
Expect to pay between 100-180 pesos for a dish and drink.
If you are looking for good food and live music, this restaurant has options for everyone. We specifically chose to visit for dinner because they had a live band playing, and we were all for that good ambiance and energy. We really enjoyed the vegetarian sandwiches and variety of options!
At the end of our meal, we found out that on Wednesdays they have a unique pay it forward program called the Gift Economy Program. When you ask for your bill, they instead reveal that someone else paid for your meal. Instead, you chip in money (whatever amount you want) for the next person's meal. A really fun and thought-provoking concept! We loved the concept so much that we ended up contributing more than our bill would've been so that the staff could receive a nice tip.
Once again, expect to pay about 120-180 pesos per person for dinner and a drink.
This simple place right on the plaza offers delicious tacos and burritos for meat-eaters and vegetarians. The seating area is quite small and it's usually pretty busy, so we chose to take our food to go and enjoyed it back at our hotel! The burritos were absolutely delicious!
This place is a good bang for your buck as they provide you with plenty of food for 80-100 pesos per person.
Mango y Chile
One of the most popular restaurants in town that really caters to those that are in search of vegetarian or vegan food. We tried a couple of their vegetarian/vegan burgers, which were quite good but pricey, and replenished with a mango and chocolate banana smoothie.
Unfortunately, this restaurant will set you back 200-300 pesos per person. If we're being honest, it probably isn't worth the hype.
We walked past this place about ten times before we decided to give it a try. From the outside, it looks like a Tulum beach club and the kind of place that would charge you just to walk in. We stopped by for lunch one day and had two delicious meals: fish tacos and a basmati rice dish with lots of fresh veggies.
We liked it so much we convinced our friends to try it with us for dinner. Although dinner wasn't quite as tasty as our lunch, it was still worth it. The live music and twinkle lights overhead create a cozy atmosphere.
Expect to pay 120-180 pesos per person for a drink and a meal.
Things to do with Kids around Bacalar Lagoon
Enjoy a Swim in Laguna Bacalar
Whenever we first show up to a destination with a body of water, Bre immediately asks, "where and when can we go swimming?" Our hotel informed us that the best place to go swimming was right down the hill from where we were staying.
Balneario Ejidal Mágico Bacalar has a small entrance fee of 15 pesos per person but will give you direct access to the lagoon. It also has picnic tables (you are supposed to pay a little extra for these but they didn't always charge us), changing facilities, and a restaurant right on site. The food and facilities are nothing special, but the beers are cheap and it was worth it to take a dip in the water!
Cenote Azul & Cenote Cocalitos
You've likely heard of all the cenotes in the state of Quintana Roo and these are two of the best. We visited both of these cenotes in the same day since they are close in proximity. You can take a short taxi from Bacalar town, which will take 10 minutes, or you can take a long walk, like we did, and arrive in about an hour.
We started the day at Cenote Azul which carries an entrance fee of 25 pesos per person. They have plenty of access points into the dark blue water, a restaurant, and bathroom facilities. There is more shade available at Cenote Azul, so if you are someone who is looking to hide from the hot Mexican sunshine, then this is your spot! This is one of the deepest cenotes in Mexico and it looks like a large lake. You can swim in the deep waters and even jump off of a palm tree into the water!
We then walked about 15 minutes over to Cenote Cocalitos, which carries an entrance fee of 35 pesos per person. This cenote is more like a cove on the lake with some of the clearest blue water you can find right off the shore. There is less shade here, but they do have a restaurant that serves food and drinks. For all you sun lovers out there, this is a good place to work on that Mexico tan! This location has a beach club kind of atmosphere.
Sunset or Sunrise Boat Tour
Enjoying a sunrise or sunset boat tour is an absolute must while visiting Bacalar! Although tours are offered all over town, we booked our sunset boat tour through our hotel. The boat tour company, called Summertime Boat Tours, is owned/run by Casa Chukum. This worked out to our advantage because not a lot of the other travelers around town know about this tour unless they are staying at the hotel. Needless to say, the day we went sailing, we paid a group tour price but had the boat all to ourselves.
We set off in the late afternoon and had a perfectly clear and sunny day. The tour guide was open to take us to different spots (wherever we wanted), but we just kept telling him to take us somewhere where we can swim in perfect blue water with no one else around. We enjoyed fresh fruits, some beers, and just being able to genuinely enjoy the magic of this place.
For sunset, our boat driver took us over to Pirate's Bay where we watched one of our favorite Mexican sunsets ever.
When booking a boat tour in Bacalar we recommend asking some questions:
How many people are allowed on the tour/boat?
Is the itinerary flexible?
Is it a motorized boat or a sailboat (we much preferred the sailboat)?
What food/drinks are provided?
This adventure comes with very mixed reviews. We spent the better part of a day debating if we should embark on the journey to float down the rapids. Ultimately, we decided not to go. If Indy were a little bit older, we might have decided to go. On top of our safety concern with a baby, we read there isn't much shade there and sometimes it can turn into a drunk party scene.
That being said, we have also heard some amazing recommendations about this place and it looks stunning in photos.
Do your own research and decide for yourself. If you've been, do you recommend it? As of June 2022, the most recent TripAdvisor reviews give very low ratings with comments like these:
"classic tourist trap"
"biggest disappointment ever"
"wouldn't go back or recommend"
All in all, we are happy that we skipped Los Rapidos.
Explore Town, Try Some Street Food, and Check out the Ruins (Fuerte San Felipe de Bacalar)
Bacalar town is extremely walkable, has an island life vibe, and lots of street art. When we were there in February 2022, the town square was under construction to include more vegetation and beautiful open space. There are tons of shops around town to stop into.
Right on the town square is an old Spanish fort Fuerte San Felipe de Bacalar. The fort, built in 1725, protected the Mayans from constant attacks from the English, Dutch pirates, and French. For a small entrance fee, you can learn a little bit more about the history of this place and support the preservation of this landmark.
Visit the Local Market
The local's market, Mercado Municipal de Bacalar, and is on the corner of Av.9 and C.28. Here you will find fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and goods. If you are looking to see a more authentic side of Bacalar and how the locals go about their day-to-day lives, this is the perfect place to do that. There is a juice bar inside that sells some of the freshest and most delicious juices without the high prices!
We recommend adding Bacalar to the top of your bucket list before it explodes with tourism. It's such a gem and the water alone makes it a dream destination!
For love and adventure,