On the Mexican-Belize lies the Bacalar Lagoon — turquoise waters, or emerald, or maybe it’s aquamarine? There are seven different colours to the lagoon so it’s hard categorize just what colour the lagoon really is. And under two hours away from Bacalar, is the beachfront village of Mahahual on the Caribbean Sea. Combined, they make for a great one week family holiday. We recently went over our Easter week and here is what we did.
Day 1: We flew in Chetumal and rented a car and headed to Bacalar first. Being five people we were grateful for the rental car, but if you are fewer people you could easily do the week with taxis. We stayed at Rancho Encantado at a lagoon suite for the five of us. We had such an amazing stay, the staff were all lovely and so helpful, what incredible service, and the cabins are so comfortable and perfect. The lagoon suites have tree swings or hammocks strung out over the lagoon from your private access. The garden rooms have lagoon access from the main wharf. The children loved the pool and the pizzas. The food was very good and breakfasts had pancakes, which kept the children happy.
Day 2: Rancho Encantado will also organize excursions for you. So we did their lagoon boat tour for half a day. (If you aren’t at a hotel, my friend also has a highly recommended boat tour operator Roberto and Veronica WhatsApp 982-139-0097) but they were away when we were in Bacalar.) We really loved the boat lagoon tour which left from the hotel dock. Bacalar and the surrounding areas are very concerned with sunscreen affecting water life. So we were told to just get the reef friendly sunscreen when we got there, except we didn’t see any, and so we used rasher vests and hats and got very pink. So I would suggest bringing your own reef friendly sunscreen and using it in advance so it soaks in. Hats with a strap are a necessity as there is a constant breeze and water shoes are really useful as the bottom of the lagoon is a bit mucky, but if you don’t mind that, velcro sandals would be fine too. We used them a lot in Bacalar. On the boat tour we did the “pirate channel” a very shallow channel that leads to another lake, the bird island and saw the three cenotes (under ground springs) that feed the lagoon. And we swam a few times off the boat. February to June you can see the migratory birds, the hotel said the best weather is December to May, with it getting hotter in May. The rains are June to August.
There are three cenotes that feed the lagoon — Esmerelda, Negro and Cocolites, which has stromalites on the edge. Stromalites are macro fossils which grow very slowly and Bacalar is one of the few places where you can find them. You aren’t supposed to touch them and it is another reason why sunscreen is discouraged.
In the afternoon my husband and the boys drove into Bacalar to see Fort San Felipe perched on the lagoon. It is a small fort, with a good overview, but I think the highlight was the giant iguana they saw by the cannons. My husband said the best coffee he had all week was at Mango y Chile next door.
Day 3: We went to Cenote Azul which is a warm, open air cenote about 90 meters deep. It’s a 25 pesos entrance fee and everyone is encouraged to wear a life jacket (50 pesos ea) due to the depth and vastness of the cenote. There is also a rope through the middle of the cenote. There is parking onsite, bathrooms and changing area and a delicious restaurant. Trees, swings and docks you can jump off of. We spent most of the day here.
Day 4: We donned our water shoes and headed to Los Rapidos, a lazy river not far from our hotel. We spent over five hours here! It was so much fun. Adults and kids 10 years + were $150 pesos, kids 2-10 are $100 pesos to enter. Life jackets are free. Go early (we arrived at 10:30 a.m. as it opens at 10 and already quite a few tables were taken). You can get a table by the river and leave your things or get a locker for $50 pesos. Kayaks can be rented as well, 1 person $200 pesos/hour or 2 people for $400/hour. You walk up the boardwalk and then float down the 500-700 meters back to your table! I didn’t have any cell service (so nice!) but you can rent wifi as well. Bathrooms/ change rooms and a restaurant with some of the best onion rings we have ever had, great fries, seafood tacos, burgers and pizza.
I wished we had had one more full day as there was a lot we didn’t have time for. Other than the fort day, we just went into Bacalar itself once, for ice cream at Dolce Amaro.
Here were things our friends have recommended that we didn’t have time for!
La Playita has come highly recommended by friends with children, as you can go and spend all day there and access the lagoon with shade, lots of food options (pizza!), drinks, nice music and ambiance — so easy to relax. Our friends (without kids) went just for dinner and said it would be better for the day with kids and not to go solely for the food.
Sac-Ha, my friend said very chill, where you can access the lagoon at a shallow point with kayaks for rent, toilets, shades and small snacks for sale.
Ecoparque Bacalar which is a square boardwalk out into the mangroves. It looked like such a nice walk and was high on my list but we ran out of time.
Balneario Ejidal Magico is another lagoon entry point (for a small fee) with slides, restaurants, toilets and some shade.
La Trattoria Del 46 was a place I wanted to eat at but we found we were full on two meals a day. As well as Finisterre (Italian restaurant near the fort and beside the ice cream shop).
Breakfast spot which we didn’t get to but my friend loved was El Manati Bacalar.
Our boat tour operator said his favourite seafood restaurant was Kai Pez which is in a shady spot on the lagoon (with parking) and the menu looked delicious!
Cocalitos which is another popular spot to access the lagoon and see the stromatolites was closed for family reasons so I don’t know how long it has or will be closed.
I guess we will just have to go back!
Day 5: We said goodbye to Bacalar and got packed up to drive the 1 hour or so to Mahahual beach town. There is minimal cell service (basically zero) and not many gas stations so if you are driving get gas when you can. En route we stopped at the 2,000 year old Mayan pyramid Chaccchoben. It was $75 pesos to enter, parking, small snacks and bathrooms. A shady meandering walk through a jungle like forest lead to many different pyramids. The trail is 1.5 km total and you can also hire a guide for about $8 USD per person/50 minutes. Chacchoben was the largest pre-Colomnian city founded in the Los Lagos region.
We arrived to Mahahual which is a seaside village, largely serving the many cruise ships that come in mid-morning. It’s a quiet spot with an early-to-bed and early-to-rise schedule which suited us just fine! The hotels mostly face the seafront with a large malecon which was a road but is now all pedestrian which is really nice. There are also hotels on the second and third streets in from the beach (which cars are allowed to drive on but they are one way forming a loop). We stayed at the Blue Reef which was an economical choice, very clean, right on the beach and staff were absolutely amazing — so kind, helpful and sweet, we really enjoyed our stay. We had a two bedroom, two bathroom seafront suite which fit the five of us perfectly. There is a restaurant attached, Jamie’s, which we ate many breakfasts and if you ask them to reserve you beach chairs they will and then they will bring you drinks to the beach or food (we had the mixed ceviche and nachos and both were great).
Days 6-8: While we were there is was very windy so we spent most days on the beach or in a (free) kayak from the hotel. The seafront is shallow, and there are no waves. It has a seaweed fence so it’s all golden sand. Super safe for children.
The last day the wind died down and we booked a snorkel excursion with La Tempestad through the hotel which was great value for money ($350 pesos pp for 1.5 hours). Memo was our guide (spoke English) and he took underwater photos and videos of us the whole time and then texted them afterwards. All gear was provided. He was so wonderful with our daughter (who was having mobility issues after a recent leg surgery) and he gave her the life preserver to hold as he pulled her the whole time.
Diving Pepe (which is attached to the Blue Reef) also had a similar tour and friends had recommended him and he does diving too. There is diving, snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding and fishing.
Day 9 we traveled back (just under two hours to Chetumal) and flew back to Mexico City.
We ate so so well in Mahahual! Some of our favorites were:
- Jamie’s for breakfast and lunch.
- Nohoch Kay for ceviche and lobster tail, very well priced and delicious food. Kids had burgers.
- Yaya beach for breakfast and we had two suppers here. The fish tacos were great, the salmon pasta was amazing. Kids liked the burgers (notice a theme!?)
- The ice cream next door at Gelateria La Dolce Vita was great, the cones are to die for, and they have a really nice chocolate tart.
- La Chilangaloense Mezcaleria y Cevicheria is owned by the same woman who owns manages Jamie’s. This restaurant was so incredible. Some of the best food I’ve had in Mexico and the best margarita of the whole trip. The burgers were more of a steak sandwich so kids weren’t enthused, but you can sit right on the beach and try a few plates of different fish tacos and they were so unique and delicious. The best.
- Fine croissants and pastries and a pretty good americano were had (twice) at Panderia La Tartaleta.
- We wanted to make it Malecon 21 but never got there.
The staff at the hotel Blue Reef were so fabulous. Our kids got a bad sunburn (we applied suncream many times and stayed in the shade but this Mexican sun is too strong for us!!) and they brought us aloe vera from their garden. They were such a pleasure. The wifi in our room was very weak, but strong in the lobby and restaurant. They said December to March is a good time for Mahahual, August is also good, rains start in September.
Other hotels that looked nice were Noah, 40 cañones, Pachamama (second street in), El Fuerte, and friends stayed at the Nacional Beach Club and said it was good. We had booked thinking the sea might be a bit much and we would need a pool, but you don’t need a pool as the sea is pretty much a pool! I would say beachfront and AC are what you need.
If we could do it again…. While we liked the advantages of having a car (especially as we are five people and our daughter just had leg surgery, and so we could be a bit freer) I think maybe we didn’t need to rent a car (you might spend $300-$500 pesos for a few taxis a day or maybe not need a taxi at all the days you are at Mahahual). I would bring my own eco-sunscreen. I would do one more day in Bacalar at the expense of Mahahual, but I think I am more of a lagoon than a beach person. (creature from the black lagoon??) But splitting it between the two was a fun way to do it. We were glad we brought small, thin camping towels, rasher vests and long swimsuits, waterproof camera case, hats with a strap and water shoes. April was a great time of year to go, the weather was perfect and the waters were warm.