Prior to my trip last November, Bacalar wasn’t even remotely on my radar. In fact, I’d literally never heard of it.
Daniel proposed it as an option, and I’ll be honest I was a bit wary. It was going to take us around 24 hours of total travel time to get there from London, and there wasn’t even easy access to the ocean?? Not to mention he wanted to stay at this particular resort, which is super enmeshed in nature (like, outdoor showers nature), and I’m really not a nature girl.
However, because it was a trip that wasn’t just for the two of us (we were meeting his parents there), I really didn’t put up much of a fight. And thank god I didn’t!
While on day one I was pretty miserably bitter—I believe I uttered the words “there’s no way I’m going to enjoy this, I’m so tired and wish I’d stayed home”—by day three I felt like a brand new person, and I was ready to take up residence and never leave Bacalar again.
Bacalar easily became one of my favorite places we’ve ever traveled, which is why I’m excited to share all the best things to do in Bacalar. Keep reading to hear all my best recommendations, and feel free to use the table of contents if you know what you’re looking for!
- Frequently asked questions about what to do in Bacalar
- Best things to do in Bacalar
- 1. Swim and sunbathe in the stunning lagoon
- 2. Enjoy a boat tour
- 3. Explore the cenotes
- 4. Paddle the Pirates Channel
- 5. Float down Los Rapidos
- 6. Lounge the day away at a beach club
- 7. Enjoy some kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding
- 8. Visit Fuerte de San Felipe de Bacalar
- 9. Take in in the town of Bacalar
- 10. Go on a day trip
- 11. Eat everything in sight
- 12. Experience the most beautiful sunrise and sunset
Frequently asked questions about what to do in Bacalar
Is Bacalar worth visiting?
Let’s cut straight to the chase: Bacalar is absolutely worth visiting. I totally get why people ask this, and I’ll be honest, when Daniel was pushing for us to go to Bacalar, I was skeptical myself. It’s not a straight shot to get to, I’d never heard of it before, and there’s no beach super nearby. I had it in my head that it was Tulum’s “less cool” alternative. But boy was I dead wrong – there are loads of things to do in Bacalar!
Bacalar, despite being a bit off the beaten path, quickly became one of my favorite places I’ve been lucky enough to get to visit. Like, we flew in from London, and basically traveled for 24 hours straight and I can honestly say I didn’t care one bit, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Bacalar is magical that way.
I was also really worried that I wouldn’t enjoy the lagoon, as I’m a pretty big fan of the beach and all the waves that you get in the ocean or sea. But I was honestly worried for nothing. We took one trip to the beach early on in our vacation so we could see if we wanted to make the trip a few more times, but after comparing the lagoon to the beach we found that we much preferred lounging at the lagoon. The water is unimaginably clear, the temperature is ideal, there’s no icky salt or sand to deal with, and you don’t have to spend a long trip in a car to get there.
So yes, before I end up rambling on forever: Bacalar is worth visiting.
How many days do you need in Bacalar?
The amount of time you need in Bacalar is entirely dependent upon what you want to do in Bacalar, and what kind of vacation or larger trip you’re on.
We spent nine days in Bacalar, which, based on people’s reactions, seems to be an abnormally long amount of time. However, we all agreed that nine days was perfect for us, any longer and it might have begun to drag on, and any shorter and we’d have felt rushed. We wanted to make sure our trip was a good balance between rest and relaxation, and exploring Bacalar and the surrounding areas.
Lots of people visit Bacalar as a stop on a wider trip to Mexico, in which case 2-3 days is definitely doable. But if you want to have a full vacation in Bacalar, and you want to make sure to get in all the things to do in Bacalar, including relaxation, I’d say to give yourself 4-5 days.
What is the best free thing to do in Bacalar?
The best free thing to do in Bacalar is obviously the lagoon! If you’re staying somewhere with private lagoon access (like we did) then you may have access to kayaks and SUPs and snorkels free of charge. However, even if the place you’re staying doesn’t offer any of this, you can easily find public access to the lagoon, making it without a doubt the best free thing to do in Bacalar.
The next best things to do in Bacalar for free is to explore the center of Bacalar. There are so many cute shops and restaurants to check out, not to mention a lovely little square in the middle where you can sit and people-watch for hours!
Is Bacalar cheaper than Tulum?
Yes, Bacalar is pretty significantly cheaper than Tulum. That’s one of the main perks of going to destinations that are a bit off the beaten path.
Now, obviously it’s all relative. There are ways to travel cheaply in Tulum, and there are ways to splurge in Bacalar, but on average, yes – Bacalar is pretty nicely priced comparatively.
What is better Bacalar or Tulum?
I don’t really think it’s possible to say definitively if one is better than the other, but the general consensus (and my personal opinion) is that these days, Bacalar is better than Tulum.
Don’t get me wrong, Tulum is stunning and you can have an amazing time there, but, like so many popular destinations, years of over tourism have sort of diluted the magic and beauty of this destination. I wouldn’t necessarily advise against going, but I would just say that if you want something authentic, and that feels like it’s worth the price, Bacalar is going to be a better bet.
Can you swim in the Lagoon Bacalar?
Yes, you can absolutely swim in the lagoon in Bacalar, and in fact that’s probably my personal number one choice of best things to do in Bacalar.
There are loads of places you can enjoy the lagoon, either from boat tours, beach clubs, your hotel, or public beaches.
One thing to note is that Wednesdays are the lagoon’s “day of rest”. You are allowed to swim on these days, but water activities of all kinds (including boat trips, kayaking, and even stand-up paddle boards) are prohibited that day. This is worth considering if you are only coming to Bacalar for a short visit.
What are the best months to visit Bacalar?
The best months to visit Bacalar are between November and April, primarily to avoid the rainy season. It also gets incredibly hot in the summer months: crazy high heat and humidity, mixed with heavy rain, is not a recipe for a nice vacation. Not to mention hurricane season, which you should also keep track of and ends roughly around mid-November.
November comes right at the end of the rainy season, so it’s about half and half rainy/not rainy days. We actually visited in mid-November and I believe there were only two rainy days, and both were more of a passing storm than an all day downpour, so don’t worry too much, the weather shouldn’t heavily impact your ability to explore all the things to do in Bacalar.
It also was still super warm the whole time because it’s quite near the equator, so you can be pretty confident that you’ll have warm weather for most of the year.
Best things to do in Bacalar
1. Swim and sunbathe in the stunning lagoon
Ok, obviously, right?! But hey, it’s worth saying.
Without a doubt one of my favourite things to do in Bacalar was swimming in the lagoon, and sunbathing on the shore. You can achieve this at any number of beach clubs (I’ve added some specifics down below, so keep reading!) or the public access points that are all around the lagoon as well.
Some hotels will also have private lagoon access, like ours did, which I highly recommend as the ideal way to take advantage of this relaxing and lovely place.
2. Enjoy a boat tour
We chose to do a boat tour of the lagoon when we were in Bacalar, and I’m so glad we did because it ended up being one of the best things to do in Bacalar. This allowed us to see so many of the main sights of the lagoon in one go, and our guides were so knowledgeable that we were able to learn all about the history and natural beauty of the area.
Because there were four of us, we chose to do a private sailing tour rather than the very common tourist boats that you can join. Our particular boat tour included snacks and drinks, and took us to a few cenotes, Bird Island, the Pirates Channel and Los Rapidos. I highly recommend it.
3. Explore the cenotes
Cenotes are, essentially, underground sinkholes that are constantly generating fresh water to pump into the lagoon. They’re actually located all up and down the Yucatan peninsula, and there are three right inside the lagoon. They’re very cool and impressive, and probably one of the most famous things to do in Bacalar.
Many boat tours will take you to see at least one cenote, most often Cenote Negro (black cenote), which is named because it’s so deep (nearly 250 feet) that it appears much, much darker than the rest of the lagoon. While it’s not really a place that is advised for swimming due to the depth of the cenote, it’s nice to visit on a tour because your guide will tell you all about this historical and natural significance of the cenotes to the region.
If you don’t want to take a boat tour to see a cenote, you can also visit Cenote Cocalitos by visiting Cocalitos Beach Club. And last but not least is Cenote Esmeralda, which sits between Cenote Negro and Cenote Cocalitos.
4. Paddle the Pirates Channel
The Pirates Channel is another sight that most boat tours will bring you to, though you can easily rent your own kayak and go there yourself.
Our guides told us that the area was originally used for trading by the indigenous Mayans, but during the 16th and 17th centuries, it attracted the attention of pirates, who would use the channel as a passage to raid the town of Bacalar.
Now, it’s a serene spot in the lagoon that’s popular for swimming due to its shallow depth and shockingly turquoise waters. There’s even a structure of a “shipwreck” to complete the look, which is actually the foundation of a restaurant that never came to fruition.
5. Float down Los Rapidos
Los Rapidos is a narrow section of the lagoon lined by mangrove trees to create a bit of a “lazy river” situation. The bigger areas of the lagoon don’t really have waves or a current, so it’s certainly unique compared to the rest of it.
We were brought to Los Rapidos by our boat tour and swam against the current one way, then rounded the bend to float the other way, but you can definitely head there on your own by kayak or car!
The easiest way to visit solo is to go to Los Rapidos Bacalar beach club and restaurant, which sits at the point of the rapids where you turn around if you were to swim it. Here you can enjoy the beach club and all the relaxing amenities it has, as well as the restaurant, while also getting to enjoy Los Rapidos.
This was a really unique option of things to do in Bacalar, and I’m glad our tour brought us to it, because I don’t think we’d have gone on our own! I will definitely be going to the beach club next time, though.
Pro Tip: Remember, you can do all of the above in one day on a Bacalar boat tour, which typically last around three hours and bring you to all the must-see sights around the lagoon.
6. Lounge the day away at a beach club
Personally, I enjoyed our experience of staying at a hotel that had its own private lagoon access, but if you don’t opt for accommodation with lagoon access, a beach club will be your best friend! Because there aren’t really “beaches” in the traditional sense, these beach clubs are the best option for getting that relaxing beach vibe feeling at the lagoon. Relaxing by the lagoon is definitely one of the best things to do in Bacalar.
Beach Club Blu is a great option in my opinion because it’s a bit more remote and less loud and crazy than some of the ones more in the center can be. It’s also near to Cenote Azul, which is a nice plus.
La Playita is a pretty laid back option, that seems more casual in their approach. As far as I can tell, so long as you eat with them, they’re welcoming to you. We ate here for dinner one evening, and it was a really lovely atmosphere.
Bacalar Beach Club is a bit more high end and in the center of town. They have a really lovely pier and nice food and drinks, as well as a pool.
As previously mentioned, Cocalitos Beach Club is one of the most popular options, and it gives access to one of the three main cenotes in the lagoon. There are also picturesque water hammocks and a restaurant.
These are only a handful of options—there are tons of beach clubs along the lagoon that range in price and amenities, so you’ll be sure to find a great option for you.
7. Enjoy some kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding
This is definitely one of the most popular things to do in Bacalar Lagoon. You can enjoy some kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) in Bacalar either at the various beach clubs that line the lagoon, or at your hotel if they provide them!
I’m not usually one to do these kind of water sports, but I enjoyed being able to try in Bacalar near our hotel because the lagoon is so calm. It was perfect for a beginner and was a nice, un-intimidating experience. Whether you’re a seasoned professional, or are just getting the hang of it, this is a great option for things to do in Bacalar.
8. Visit Fuerte de San Felipe de Bacalar
If you’re wanting to get a feel for the local history on land in Bacalar, the best place to do that is to visit the fort that occupies the center of town. It was built by Spanish colonizers in 1733 to protect against attacks from pirates and rebellions from the indigenous population. It was then taken by Mayan rebels in 1859, who held the fort until the area was conquered by Mexican troops in 1901.
Today you can visit the fort and see the moat and the murals, as well as the small museum inside between 9am and 7pm. Entrance fees were roughly $3.00 a person, and we stayed for probably 45 minutes or so, though if you’re a major history buff you may want longer.
9. Take in in the town of Bacalar
Bacalar is not a hugely massive town, but the downtown area is really cute and lends itself to a decent amount of exploring and wandering, making it a great option for things to do in Bacalar. Be sure to take a photo with the Bacalar sign that indicates its status as a Pueblo Magico, a town of extraordinary natural beauty and culture.
The middle of the town is occupied by a central square that has a flea market in the evening (I’m not sure if it’s year round, but it was there when I was there in November). There is also a nice pathway and lots of benches. It’s very well lit and populated with families, so don’t worry about exploring at night. During the day be sure to keep an eye out for all the pretty street art and murals that line the streets of the downtown area.
One of the best ways to get the lay of the land after arriving in town is with a guided 2-hour bike tour of Bacalar and the surrounding area, where you’ll be shown four specific “public entrances” to the lagoon (areas where you don’t have to pay to swim), as well as a few popular streets for eating in Bacalar and some of the town’s most impressive murals.
Many of the shops along the square stay open late into the evening, so you can even explore and shop before or after dinner! I was particularly partial to Ahura Mazda Minerales, a really lovely crystal and incense shop. The selection was incredible, and the shop owner was so knowledgable and nice, despite our language barrier.
Last but not least, there are also a ton of restaurants, both casual and high end, and you can see all my top picks in my Where to eat in Bacalar post.
10. Go on a day trip
I suppose this doesn’t technically fit into “things to do in Bacalar”, as I’m advising you to leave Bacalar, but I think it’s worth it. If you’ll be in Bacalar for more than a few days, you may want to take a day trip out of the city to see what else the area has to offer!
A tour of the Mayan ruins near Bacalar is something that I think everyone should experience. They’re so incredibly impressive, and unlike other ancient structures in Mexico, the ones closest to Bacalar are often completely empty. We were the only people at some of the structures when we visited, and it was an absolutely surreal experience to be exploring and climbing these temples completely alone with no other tourists.
Plus, our guide Lorenzo was extremely knowledgeable about everything from the Maya history to the archaeological work done on the sites to the local flora and fauna. We also had an excellent three-course lunch at a gorgeous resort tucked away in the middle of the jungle. If there’s one thing you go out of your way to do with an extra day in Bacalar, make it this tour!
Mahahual is perfect if you want to spend some time in the ocean instead of the lagoon for a day. The city itself is also a cute beach town worth exploring for a bit. I recommend checking the cruise schedule well ahead of time (it is a major cruise port very commonly known as Riviera Maya) and trying to visit on a day when no cruise will be in port for a more chilled experience. In any case, it is worth pre-booking your driver to Mahahual as well as some chairs at a beach club for the most seamless visit.
If you want to read more in depth about day trip options, including some that aren’t included here, check out this post about the best day trips from Bacalar!
11. Eat everything in sight
One of the best, if not the best, things to do in Bacalar, and Mexico in general, is to eat as much as your heart wants. Mexican food is genuinely one of my absolute favorite cuisines, and it’s really hard to get quality Mexican food many places outside of The American West and Southwest, as well as, well obviously, Mexico. Because of this I like to make sure to treat myself to as much Mexican food as I could possibly want, to hold me over until the next time I’m able to have this perfect cuisine.
Considering how small Bacalar is, there’s actually a shocking amount of good restaurants to choose from. Like, it’s a bit overwhelming! To help ease the decision fatigue a bit I’ve selected my top picks to share here, and if you want my more in depth list, check out this post I wrote about the best places to eat in Bacalar.
Costera 28 was one of the best dining experiences we had in Bacalar. We had the restaurant entirely to ourselves because it still wasn’t quite the high season yet, and the staff was attentive but not overbearing. We even got to hear from the chef himself about some of the dishes. We chose to do the taco tasting menu, which I highly recommend.
A few of the tacos are made with offal, which I normally would be a bit stressed out by, but they actually ended up being our favorite tacos. I love the way that Mexican cuisine can be so inventive with things like insects and offal—it makes even a slightly squeamish eater like myself curious and excited to try these things!
Another high end and lovely choice is Siete, the restaurant at OurHabitas Bacalar. We were staying here during our time in Bacalar, so we became very well acquainted with the menu (and I can confidently say that pretty much everything on the menu is perfection – I miss these dishes often). You can make a reservation even if you’re not a guest at the resort, and I highly recommend you do (though I recommend staying here even higher, to be honest). Honestly, staying at OurHabitas was probably one of the best things to do in Bacalar for me personally.
For more casual choices I loved Selva, an incredibly delicious restaurant we found completely by random chance thanks to our taxi driver who suggested it. It’s a bit off the beaten path, is isolated in an alleyway, and the toilets are seemingly perpetually broken, but the food was unbelievable. The tacos were so delicious and everything was made super fresh.
Last but not least is Mr. Taco, which seemed to be one of the most popular restaurants on the main square. It’s super casual and there are a ton of options on the menu. Portions are pretty small and prices are really affordable, so don’t be afraid to get a feast.
12. Experience the most beautiful sunrise and sunset
One of my absolute favorite things to do in Bacalar was enjoy the sunrise and the sunset. I’m not normally an early riser, but the sunrise in Bacalar is never too early. When we were there in November it had just started rising closer to 7am, which made it more than reasonable to wake up and go enjoy the sunrise over the lagoon.
Sunrise SUP tours are a very common people in Bacalar seem to take in the morning golden hour. We saw people out every single morning and it looked so peaceful!!
Sunsets are also relatively early, happening around 6-7pm depending on the time of year. Sitting along the lagoon sipping on a cocktail and watching the sun dip down is one of life’s most beautiful pleasures. Even better is getting to then watch the moon rise up as well.
If you hotel doesn’t have lagoon access you can always head to town early for sunrise, or stake out a good spot at a beach club for sunset!
Ready to explore the best things to do in Bacalar?
Bacalar, Mexico was one of the most magical trips I’ve ever been on, and I knew as soon as I got back that I couldn’t wait to get the word out about how perfect this destination is and share all the best things to do in Bacalar.
Whether you prefer a relaxing lounge vacation, or a more rugged backpacking adventure, Bacalar is perfect for you. Check out my Bacalar archives here, and be sure to pin this post to save it for later!