LAKE BACALAR –
Our time is up in Merida and we emabarked on the longest drive (4 1/2 hours) of our Yucatan Peninsula roadtrip. It was nice to escape the city life of Merida and get back to the water. Upon arrival in the small town of Lake Bacalar, we could immediately feel the unpretencious and relaxed vibe.
The town is a bit rough around the edges and that’s what actually appealed to us. However, do not let the appearance of the town fool you. Because, just behind the trees is a lake that will simply knock your socks off. There is no ocean in Bacalar, just a spectacular, and I mean spectacular fresh-water lake with several shades of blue. Rarely do you see a lake with water so blue and when the midday sun shines down on the lake, the colors really ignite. All activity in this town centers around the blue lake with every imaginable water activity on offer.
The Bacalar Lagoon is one of the most impressive lakes we have seen in all our travels. It reminded me of my favorite lake in the entire world, Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island in Australia. Lake Bacalar is also up there with the many mind blowing lakes all across New Zealand. Bacalar is still a little bit under the radar and slightly off the beaten path. However, I can see the writing on the wall this will not last. Fortunately, the community takes a great deal of pride in the cleanliness of the lake and I am just hoping this beautiful lake environment will not get ruined by the inevitable increase in tourism.
There are tons of beach clubs and restaurants that line the lake to eat, swim and chillax. The key is doing your homework by locating the best ones to hang out at as that will make a big difference in your comfort levels. These places can get super busy and just like with the cenotes, its best to get to the lake early to avoid the crowds to experience maximum serenity. The other absolute ‘must do’ is booking a boat tour around the lake. We booked with Amir Adventures. While on our boat tour, I did notice a unique looking boat with couches and massage beds on the deck and looked completely different than all the other tour boats. It was called Nimfa Tours Bacalar, this boat would be real fun to book for a private boat excursion.
You can easily spend all your time on Lake Bacalar but a visit to Cenote Azul is a must. This cenote looks like a huge round lake and on a sunny day, it’s fabulous for a swim.
Pro Travel Tip – We rented a nice Airbnb in town but it was not directly on the lake. Next time, I would pay the extra bucks and stay directly on the lake in an Airbnb house that has its own private dock.
Tulum is a combo town on the Riviera Maya. On one hand, you have a laid back hippie haven which seems to attract the type of people who are into the spiritual side of life. On the other hand, you have the young and fashionable Instagram crowd. The further away from Cancun and Playa Del Carmen you get, the more laid-back things become. Tulum is a perfect example of this.
There is a huge stretch of beach just outside the main town centre with various areas to lay down your beach towel, chair and umbrella. There is also the option to relax on the daybeds at one of the many beach clubs with the fashion conscious crowd. The main public beaches on the northern end (La Palmas and Playa Paraiso) are a bit more down to earth. Further south, along this same stretch of beach is more of a fashionista scene and where the chic, (but in my opinion) overpriced boutique beach resorts are located. This narrow road stretching the length of the beach is a real clusterfuck with restaurants, boutique shops, and hipster resorts all very tightly packed together. I must admit, the scenery on this main beach road was visually appealing as your surrounded by a tropical forest but the area felt a bit congested to us. Maybe because it’s high season now but the traffic kinda reminded me of the chaos running along the main beach road in Seminyak, Kuta & Legion beaches in Bali.
Although we loved hanging on these beaches during the day, we were glad to leave this area by the end of the beach day and head to the confines of our more spacious Airbnb in the main town where the locals reside. There is a new hip, up and coming area currently being developed in Tulum called Aldea Zama. This is another alternative area to base between the main town and the beach resorts.
However, being on the Riviera Maya there are many alternative beaches to visit in order to get away from the crowds on the main Tulum beach. An alternative ‘hidden gem’ beach that is often overlooked is just a bit north at SOLIMAN BAY. Lunch at the beachside, feet in the sand, hole in the wall joint called Chamico’s will set you straight w/ some great seafood. To burn off that seafood munch, simply walk on the beach a bit further south and you can relax in this isolated area with very few humans in sight.
Now most of the time in beach destinations, I know exactly what to do – head to the sand, find a hammock, or search for a cold coconut. In Tulum, there’s a lot more to choose from including Mayan ruins, a shitload of cenotes to swim around and secluded beaches outside the hotel zone. Of course, you can always opt to go on a taco hunt in an effort to source out some kickass 75 cent tacos. The best taco joints we unearthed were: Taqueria Honorio, Antojitos La Chiapaneca, both in the main town. We also hit up a good taco place located in the young, hipster hotel zone called Taqueria La Eufemia.
Outside the beaches, the most popular outdoor activities are as follows:
1) ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES: Coba & Tulum Ruins. The Tulum ruins overlook the amazing beach from atop rugged cliffs. It is an absolute ‘Must’ to get there at opening before tour buses arrive for a far better experience.
2) CENOTES: Cenote Dos Ojos, Gran Cenote, Cenote Aktune Ha, Cenote Sac Actun
All four of these cenotes are ‘Must’ visits as they all were visually stunning. Dos Ojos & Gran Cenote both had spacious grounds to relax. Dos Ojos having hammock areas and Gran Cenote having a nice grassy area. I loved Cenote Aktune Ha which had a beautiful natural setting. We did not make it to Cenote Sac Actun but heard it was a true gem from fellow travelers.
There a tons of cenotes in the Tulum area. However, the challenge is locating the ‘under the radar’ cenotes that are a bit more difficult to reach and not as well known. The reward when finding these lesser known cenotes is additional solitude in a majestic natural setting. Each cenote has their own unique beauty and crystal clear water. You can swim, snorkel and even scuba dive thru the underground cave tunnels. The most popular cenotes (Dos Ojos and Gran Cenote) are amazing, but it order to absorb the atmosphere in relative quiet, it’s important to arrive early to beat the crowds.
3) KAAN LUUM LAGOON – nice lagoon in nature with swings/hammocks in the water.
Restaurants in Town Centre –
El Asadero, Il Bacaro, Antojitos La Chiapaneca, Taqueria Honorio, Don Confeto, El Camello, Los Aguachiles, El Capitan
Restaurants in Hotel Zone –
Had a huge list but never made it to this area at night. We were too busy eating in town.