Quintana Roo, while the state name might not be familiar to a lot of Americans, is home to some of the most well-known tourist spots in all of Mexico. These include the likes of Tulum, Cozumel, and Cancun. Each of these places is brimming with culture and history, but in my opinion, they’ve also been paved over in a lot of ways, to create strange enclaves for visitors. Bacalar, on the other hand, is relatively far from international airports. And so far, it has retained its small town character, while continuing to showcase whst put it on Mexico’s list of exceptionally special towns – Pueblos Mágicos.

There is a long list of what to do in Bacalar. Most of the activities are linked to the Bacalar Lagoon. The town itself also has places to explore, good food to eat, and a relaxed atmosphere that makes Bacalar a great place to rest and dip your toes into Mexican culture.

what to do in bacalar

This town is a wonderful option among the Pueblos Mágicos of Quintana Roo for anyone looking for small town life, simple comforts, and lots of nature-based exploration. Whether you are considering this town as a stop on your own explorations, or you are just curious about it, let this guide be your window to the wonderous world of Bacalar, Mexico.

What to Do In Bacalar and Why Visit

Bacalar is perfect for visitors who are not looking for the big resort experience. It’s a very nice ecotourism spot, with a few historic options to explore as well. Visiting Bacalar is ideal for the polite traveler who wants a genuine experience, rather than a town reshaped by tourism. Please, come to this place with respect and support small businesses here. I would hate to see Bacalar transformed into a resort town. It deserves better.

The Lagoon

what to do in bacalar

The small Pueblo Mágico is bordered to the east by a lagoon of the same name, and much of what to do in Bacalar revolves around this multi-colored body of water. The water is so clear, and often still, that you can see a full array of colors across the lake. Brilliant blues over the sand, red reflections of the sky at dawn or dusk, and pops of green from both within and surrounding the water. And it’s ever changing, whether from the tones of the sky throughout the day, the movement of wildlife along the shore, or the weather itself. Whether you are looking for some moderate adventure and activity, or something more relaxed there are options here for you. Furthermore, the town is home to a very cool historic monument and great food. So, Bacalar has got you foodies and history buffs taken care of as well.

For the water fanatics among you, there are relaxed boat cruises that you can take to soak it all in. Or, if you are like us, and you are looking for something active, there are many tour organizers who can take you out kayaking on the water.

Lakeshore

what to do in bacalar

(c) ABR 2023

There are also some places for loafing on the shore – drink in hand and palapa shade all around you. I must say, I was so inspired by the beauty of the jungle on the shore of Bacalar Lagoon, it has become a central piece of my retirement vision board. Specifically, I spied a house tucked among the trees, on the shore, with the perfect amount of lantern light in the early morning. And since then, I have seriously been dreaming about nestling down in the jungle somewhere in my elder years.

In any case, for those of you less interested in delving into the watery wilds of Bacalar, the Centro has plenty of great options. There is Fuerte de San Felipe de Bacalar, a fort and museum in the center of town. And for food, the must-visit spot is La Playita with its huge, light covered tree, and access to the lake. I’ve never eaten anywhere more magical.

Exploring the Lake

As I mentioned above, the top of your list of what to do in Bacalar should have one or more options on the lake. It’s beautiful and unique, and the town adds a cultural characteristic that mixes human artistry with the natural beauty. When determining what you’d like to do here – consider how much time you have, what your energy levels are, and then prioritize accordingly. Unfortunately, aside from just putzing around town, many of these options can be a little pricey. But you can compare operators to search for the right balance of cost and quality for your needs and preferences.

Kayaking

what to do in bacalar

Our top priority for exploring the lake, and the only way we did, was via kayak. We wanted to get up close and personal with this beautiful place. And we were looking for a workout as well. The lake is the gem among the Pueblo Mágicos of Quintana Roo.

We used a Lonely Planet Guide book to pick the ecotourism company that we wanted to go out with us. Through that we ended up going with Ecotucan. I don’t think that they have a website, but you can find them on Google Maps under Villas Ecotucan. To get our tour set up, we stopped by their office the day before and asked about making a reservation. You might consider calling a few days ahead, because for us, this worked. But I am not sure they were jazzed about how last minute it was. That being said, we had a great guide that took the two of us out – he had lots of knowledge and I felt very safe with him.

Our tour was several hours long and took us out along the shore by the Villas. We left very early in the morning, but that meant that the lake was very calm and we got to see sunrise on the water. That’s where we passed by the dreamy, jungle treehouse that I fell in love with. We were also able to see so many birds at dawn.

Kayaking Experience

what to do in bacalar

Then we crossed the lake and went into a maze of mangroves. (These are trees that thrive in wetlands, and can seem to grow directly out of the water. They are known to be important mitigators of ocean sea level rise). It was really fun to paddle through the narrow waterways in there. Sometimes we had to put our paddles into the sand to make it through. Then the guide took us to a soft, sand beach for a breakfast of fresh fruit.

I was exhausted on the paddle back, but seeing the lake in the early morning, through sunrise was really exceptional. It’s a magical place and Ecotucan is a great group to go with.

I can’t recall exactly what we paid, but it wasn’t cheap. Totally worth it, but you definitely pay for what you get. We had two guides to just me and my friend and we were out on the water for several hours.

Boat Rides and Beach Clubs

If kayaking is not your cup of tea OR you just can’t get enough of the lake when you are visiting Bacalar, there are other options for getting out on the water. There are lots of powered boat tours that you can partake in. These will get you on the lake at different times of the day as well. We didn’t do any of these tours, but there are plenty of options and a guidebook or your hotel might help you pick.

There are also some beach clubs around Bacalar, where you can pay to hang out on the playa where there is food and drinks. One of these is around Cenote Negro, and I was sorely tempted to visit. Lakes with nice beaches are even superior to hanging out on an ocean beach in my opinion!

Activities in Town

As I mentioned at the beginning, there is more to what to do in Bacalar than just nature-based stuff. There is a cool little fort in town, as well as some magical places to eat. For the history buffs and foodies, this is where you can really dig into what makes Bacalar culturally significant.

Fuerte de San Felipe de Bacalar

what to do in bacalar

(c) ABR 2023

In the middle of Bacalar, there is the small Fuerte de San Felipe de Bacalar, which includes a small museum. The fort is a very cool structure on its own, and having visited forts across the US and the Caribbean, I really enjoy comparing the ways that people in colonial times designed these buildings. There are also some really exceptional views of the town and the lake from here. It’s a great spot to take in the history, photograph and landscape, AND take some nice selfies.

what to do in bacalar

(c) ABR 2023

What’s really interesting about this spot (aside from the unique structure) is that their museum is very raw and honest. They cover the strife and suffering that came to these lands when the Spanish started to colonize. There is a lot encapsulated in the museum about the experience of the Indigenous Mayan people and what they went through at that time. They also include stories of the settlers and the town over time. This makes the fort and its museum a great place to learn about the story of Bacalar. It’s more than just a tourism spot – it’s a historic location that has long been strategic to the people calling this place home. Again, it’s part of what makes Bacalar one of the Pueblo Mágicos of Quintana Roo.

Restaurant on the Lake

what to do in bacalar

(c) ABR 2023

La Playita was one of my favorite things about our visit, which is a bit of a surprise, because I never thought that a restaurant would impress me that much. I’ve been to some really cool, themed eateries, but honestly, this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been.

From the street, it looks like just another beach-side eatery, but once you step inside, you find yourself in the shadow of a massive tree. Its branches stretch out over half of the open-air seating or more, and there are warm, yellow lights and lanterns strung among the arms of the plant. Beyond that is the crystalline water of the lake itself. Sitting here and eating is so peaceful even when it is busy. Between the water and the tree, it just can’t be beat.

I can’t really remember much about the food. At the very least, it was ok. But this place is so cool and unique, it is an attraction in and of itself. 

More on Mexico and Quintana Roo

If you are wondering about what to do in Bacalar, than you might be interested in exploring Quintana Roo. Along with Bacalar, I visited all the Pueblo Mágicos of Quintana Roo, so I will be writing guides for each of them. Along with that, I am planning to touch on seeing some of the coolest ruins of this Mexican state. There is so much to do here, and the experience that we had in Quintana Roo was so wonderful. If you can, explore beyond Cancun and Cozumel!

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