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Bucket list experience:

Last updated: 13 November, 2022
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.

Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay near this experience, closest first

Marriott Cancun

Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico

This family-orientated beachfront hotel sits next to Cancun’s most luxurious hotels but comes at a lower price – the beach here is top-notch, the restaurant outstanding.

Official star rating:

Azul Beach Riviera Cancun

Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Family-friendly beachfront in Puerto Morelos – just south of the airport, with kid-friendly pools and plenty of activities.

Official star rating:

Grand Hotel Cancun

Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico

A large resort on the best stretch of beach in Cancun. Stays, however, are stylish, understated and sophisticated – with fabulous dining and an ocean balcony fronting every room.

Official star rating:

Kai Hotel Tulum

Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico

A good value hotel on the choicest stretch of sand and in the shadow of Tulum ruins. Its cabanas come with ocean views.

Official star rating:

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.

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Other worthwhile experiences near this experience if you have time or interest..

exterior of the Museum of the Mayan Culture in the city of Chetumal, Mexico

Museum of Mayan Culture

Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico

A must for any culture vulture, this small museum in Chetumal has precious artefacts and state-of-the-art exhibits offering real insight into Maya life and culture.

Best for ages: 13+ | £2

Website >
Overview >