By Julia Reynolds
The locals call it “la laguna de siete colores,” but for travelers fortunate enough to spend more than a couple of days at Laguna Bacalar in Mexico’s state of Quintana Roo, the lagoon may reveal herself in even more than seven incantations of shimmering turquoise, cobalt, azure and eggshell.
October is rainy season in the Yucatan Peninsula, but that doesn’t always represent a drawback to potential visitors to the region. Stretched out in a hammock on a dock over the air-transparent waters of the laguna, one can watch a late-afternoon storm approach. The sunlight fades, the rush of sudden wind cools your sweltering body, and thunder resonates across the heavy stillness suspended muggily over the water.
The surface of the lagoon transmutes to an eighth, a ninth, a tenth shade of blue or green, transformed by the steely grey sky and maybe a streak or two of distant lightning. The rains begin gently, with a few drops hitting the woven palapa roof above the dock every minute. Then, all at once, the sky opens as if a seam holding it together suddenly rips. The cascading rains fall all around you, lending undulating texture to the surface of the water and filling the air with that soul-soothing sound of raindrops pummeling palm trees and woven rooftops.
Fifteen, twenty minutes pass like this. Jasmine, plumeria, and orange trees become saturated and glistening, intensifying their scent in the air. In the center of the lake, the clearest turquoise streak still glows, its vibrant hue made even more striking by the way the rest of the water has taken on the deep grey color of the sky.
And all at once, the clouds give way again, parting as if exhausted by the task they’ve just performed. The sun makes its way back to restore the lagoon and its surroundings, not just to their previous radiance, but to an improved version with every blade, leaf, and petal washed clean and sparkling fiercely in the sunlight. In that moment it’s easy to see why the Mexican government has designated Bacalar “un Pueblo Mágico.”
For the environmentally conscious traveler (which hopefully encompasses most nature lovers), Bacalar is something of a dream come true. Located around 30 kilometers northwest of Chetumal, Quintana Roo’s capital city, Bacalar moves at a pace of its own and feels about as tranquilo as Mexico gets. Zero-impact activities abound from kayaking the crystalline waters of the lagoon, swimming, stand up paddleboarding, and cycling to the lowest impact activity of all: hammock lazing with a book at the edge of the shimmering water.
Accommodation ranges from bare-bones budget to eco-minded luxury, with many properties taking a sustainable approach and utilizing the abundant alternative energy sources. The Centro Holistico Akalki is a dreamy eco-friendly option located directly on the lagoon. The atmospheric “Cabañas Lagunas” are completely solar-powered and hover just over the aquamarine surface of the water, Bora Bora-style.
Akalki also utilizes greywater for the organic garden on the property, provides free bicycles for guests’ use, and avoids the use of toxic chemicals in cleaning supplies. Rooms don’t have air-conditioning or power outlets to reduce energy consumption and the property doesn’t have a pool for the same reason. But who needs a pool when what is arguably the best swim in Central America is a step off your private dock away?
Rancho Encantado is another stunning property designed and run with a high level of respect to the environment. You won’t find televisions or fast WiFi here, but you will find ambiance and relaxation by the, well, boatload. Encantado is also mainly powered by solar energy and provides a fresh breakfast in the morning with local organic eggs and fresh local fruit. Kayaks and paddle boats are also included to maximize enjoyment of the main attraction—that spectacular beckoning lagoon.
Encantado’s waterfront palapa-roofed restaurant, Los Hechizos, which translates to “locally produced, craft,” has some tasty vegetarian options, like jicama salad with a citrus, cilantro, and habanero dressing. They even make their own veggie burgers.
Speaking of veggie burgers, I (oddly, one might think) had the best veggie burger I’ve had in my life at Mango y Chile in Bacalar, adjacent to the fort at the edge of the pueblo overlooking the laguna. Made from scratch out of 100% organic veggies (lots of beets and mushrooms) and served on a house-made coconut focaccia topped with avocado, this thing was absolutely delicious. Vegetarians and vegans growing weary of lettuce and bean tacos will rejoice at this all-veg café; the falafel and house-made French fries are also excellent.
As tourism in the Yucatan continues to boom and tourists flock from all over the world to the famous white sand beaches of Cozumel, Tulum, and Cancun, Bacalar is a still-sleepy escape from the package-tour masses. With waters that are easily comparable in beauty and clarity to the Caribbean Sea (without the salt residue or shark fear) it’s a gorgeous place to enjoy any water-centric activity. Book a cabaña over the lagoon, spend a few days or a few weeks, and allow the laguna’s essence of tranquilo to soothe your harried soul.
Julia Reynolds is a travel writer, adventure enthusiast, and serial nomad living (mostly) in the Hawaiian islands. She is currently on a one-year trip around the world, avoiding air travel when possible and traveling slowly over land and sea. Some of her best travel experiences to date have been kayaking the Napali Coast of Kaua'i, diving the isolated atolls of Belize, and rock climbing in the Krabi region of Thailand. Her worst travel experiences have been getting robbed in Guatemala, breaking her back in Thailand, and breaking multiple bones in a mountain bike accident in Alaska. She still loves the places where the worst experiences occurred.