You gaze out at a lagoon that conjures endless adjectives for the word “blue”—azure, cerulean, sapphire, navy, turquoise. Locals call it the Lagoon of Seven Colors, but to your eyes this estimate seems humble for such mesmerizing hues. And this is just one of the mesmerizing experiences in Bacalar, which also include slumbering archaelogical sites and lovingly prepared meals.
Designated as one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos, or Magic Towns, in 2006, Bacalar is among those special places a traveler might not find on their own. Magic Towns are villages set apart from the standard tourist stops, but not so far that they’re unreachable (Magic Towns must be within three hours of a well-established locale). Sitting on the southern edge of the Mexican Caribbean, Bacalar ticks every box for an enchanting escape from the ordinary—from natural beauty to swashbuckling lore.
Here’s how to experience its magic.
Enjoy Engaging Activities
Overlooking Lake Bacalar, or the Lagoon of Seven Colors, Bacalar’s namesake lagoon shimmers with stunning shades of blue, thanks to its limestone bottom. Fed by underground rivers, much like the cenotes typical of the Yucatán Peninsula, it’s a hub for activities like swimming and kayaking. Another option for exploring the expansive lake: boat tours that cruise out to areas full of lush mangroves and spots to snorkel.
A short drive from Bacalar, Cenote Azul offers one of the deepest plunge pools in the region, dropping down some 295 feet. Swim in the clear water or try cavern diving. There are life jacket rentals and a restaurant on site.
Check Out Historic Sites
Located about a half-hour from Quintana Roo’s capital Chetumal, Bacalar was founded by Mayans and is surrounded by easy-to-reach archaeological sites for day trips, including Kohunlich, Dzibanche, and Chacchoben, among others. Historically, the town was besieged by pirates, leading to the construction of the Fort of San Felipe by the Spanish, which was completed in 1733. Within the imposing stone walls surrounded by a deep moat, there’s a small museum dedicated to local history, including pirate tales.
Then visit the 18th-century Church of San Joaquin, dedicated to Bacalar’s patron saint. In late summer, the town hosts a lively fiesta celebrating Saint Joaquín, showcasing traditional costumes and dance.
Taste the Deliciousness
Along with colorful, locally made handicrafts such as woodcarvings, embroidered huipiles clothing, and woven hammocks, Bacalar offers endless creative dishes in its burgeoning dining scene, which features a lot of restaurants. One of the best finds in the south part of the Mexican Caribbean is Nixtamal—a hidden gem showcasing local cuisine. Situated a less than 10 minutes on foot from the town center, this eatery features a traditional pre-Hispanic stove made of mud and sand, along with a charcoal grill and wood-fired oven.
For a budget-friendly breakfast or lunch, El Manati is a popular pick for casual eats, ranging from vegan chilaquiles to oatmeal topped with coconut and pecans. Another local fave is Ixchel Bacalar, which serves fresh, locally inspired cuisine on homey earthenware.
Check into Authentic Hotels
On the shores of Lake Bacalar, you’ll find plush waterfront cabins at the charming Hotel Rancho Encantado—a relaxed eco-resort with one-of-a-kind design accents. Unwind in the on-site spa, which is housed in a rustic-chic space and features a full menu of reflexology, massage, and facial treatments.
Another option is the luxurious MBH Maya Bacalar, tucked away in nature and offering a collection of beautifully decorated villas outfitted with private steam baths, hot tubs, and balconies. Start your day with a gorgeous breakfast at the hotel’s Xant Ha restaurant, which also serves lunch, dinner, and cocktails.
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