Bacalar is known for its historic attractions, such as the San Felipe Fort. // © 2017 Mexico Tourism Board
Feature image (above): It's often called the “Lake of Seven Colors.” // © 2017 iStock
Believe it or not, Caribbean Mexico doesn’t end at Tulum. While it might be tempting to set up shop on the sugary shores of the popular destination and live la vie boheme for a week (or three), a venture farther south into the heart of Maya Quintana Roo will reveal a veritable trove of treasures. Bacalar, or the Lake of Seven Colors, is certainly one of the flashier jewels in the collection.
Bacalar, a Pueblo Magico (“magic town”), is named for the lake on which it sits — the second-largest freshwater lake in Mexico, renowned for its many glittering, swirling shades of blue that span the gradient, from pale turquoise to an inky and mysterious navy. The lake is the main attraction in this Caribbean-style town, which draws a laid-back crowd that shares a love for adventure and all things backpacker chic.
Outdoor activities — including kayaking, boating, swimming, stand-up paddleboarding and exploring the surrounding mangrove forests — are a main draw of the lake. Travelers can also indulge in natural spa treatments that utilize the therapeutic limestone sediments that settle to the bottom of the shallower parts of the lake. Nearby the lake is the renowned Cenote Azul de Bacalar, which is a popular snorkeling and scuba-diving spot. The cenote spans about 600 feet in diameter and runs some 300 feet deep.
The town of Bacalar itself has an interesting history, as well. It was founded by the Maya people and enjoyed a salty pirate past due to its importance in the commercial trade routes along southern Mexico. Iconic sites include the San Felipe fort, with its views over the lake, as well as San Joaquin church.
Where to Stay
One of the most popular resorts in the area is Rancho Encantado, an eco-friendly resort with cabin-style hotel rooms right on the shore of one of the most picturesque parts of the lake.
Accommodations are scattered throughout the sprawling property and range from double rooms to the luxurious Laguna Master Suite, complete with a master bedroom, a spare room with two single beds, a terrace facing the lake, a hammock and more. Most rooms have their own terrace, and select rooms have private Jacuzzis. A dock on the lake leads to a shaded palapa complete with swinging hammocks that make the perfect perches from which to lazily take in the electric blues of the water. The hotel also has an on-site restaurant, a spa, a swimming pool and kayaks that are free to use.
A bit farther out is The Explorean Kohunlich by Fiesta Americana, an eco-luxury all-inclusive resort tucked in the jungle about an hour from Bacalar. The hotel’s emphasis is on exploring the showpieces of southern Quintana Roo in immersive and luxurious style.
One of the attractions of The Explorean is a day trip to Bacalar; the resort arranges a kayak excursion for clients across the mirrored surface of the lake and deep into the mangroves. Guides encourage guests to hop out of their kayaks and marinate themselves in the limestone sediment, which is a natural exfoliant. The whole excursion is capped off with a luxurious lunch along the shore, complete with fresh ceviche, grilled meat and, of course, plenty of tequila.