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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 26 June, 2023
Expert travel writer: Alex Robinson

This beautiful freshwater lake, set in tropical forest and wild orchid meadows, was called ‘the place where the sky is born’, by the Maya. Its brilliant blue, chalky waters – which are fed by a series of giant cenotes – look like a cloud-filled sky. There’s wonderful kayaking and swimming here.

The lake is home to one of the world’s largest numbers of stromatolites, coral-like organisms found in only a handful of places and regarded by biologists as one of the earliest lifeforms on earth.

The best way to explore Bacalar is by kayak. Kayakers should head to the far eastern shore of the lake, where the orchid meadows begin, and to the lake’s southern extremities where there is wonderful shallow-water swimming.

While you’re there

There are a series of spectacular, little-visited Maya cities set in the rainforest near Bacalar. The best are at Dzibanche, Kinichna and Kohunlich, all set in wildlife-filled rainforest parks.

The Mayan Cultural Museum in nearby Chetumal town is also a must-see, with precious artefacts and state-of-the-art exhibits offering real insight into Maya life and culture.


Price: Free
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 8+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

Bacalar is 210 km south of Tulum (3-4 hours’ drive). Numerous daily buses run between Cancun and Chetumal, stopping at Bacalar town from where it is straightforward to organise hotels. There are simple restaurants in Bacalar town.

If you want to stay the night, Botadero Paraiso is a rustic, but beautifully-located camp set in orchid-filled forest on the lakeshore. They also offer conservation-orientated kayak trips, visits to ruins and forest walks.

Rancho Encantado is an authentic lakeside hotel and the ideal base for exploring the area. They can also organise trips on and around the lake.

When to do it

The lagoon can be visited all year round. Kayaking and swimming can be done anytime.

The weather in the Mayan Riviera is generally good all year round, and the water is always warm enough for swimming.

Destination guides


Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Mayan Riviera

Talc-white beaches, reefs teeming with life, ruined temples in misty rainforests – the Riviera Maya offers a family or romantic beach holiday with a dash of Indian Jones adventure.