Just under five hours drive from Merida and we were in yet another slice of paradise: Bacalar. Fittingly, I learned about this place from a friend in our first paradise, Tulum. I’ve been itching to visit here since then and finally we had the perfect excuse: UK friends visiting.
We stayed in a lovely little hostel called Pata de Perro. For just 1500 pesos a night we had a suite in to which we could fit four adults, two kids, one laughing dolly and two toy cars.
Handily it is right on the zocolo (main square), just metres from the fort and just one road back from the laguna.
If, like us, you like to arrive somewhere having done officially no research in to what you’re actually going to do, Bacalar can be a trifle confusing so let me enlighten you: it’s a fuck-off great big lake! It is enormous and there aren’t that many points of easy access if you aren’t staying in a lakeside hotel.
From the zocolo you need to head down to the lakeside road. If you walk left for a few blocks you’ll come to one of the public areas. A 10 peso entry (for adults, kids go free) gets you in to Balneario Ejidal Magico Bacalar, a big lakeside area with palapas (thatch umbrellas with tables and chairs for 30 pesos), a cafe area, bathrooms and two large water slides (out of action on the day we were there). Although it isn’t the most beautiful place, the water is very clean and fairly shallow. We spent a happy two hours swimming out to the little rafts in the water and jumping off them. We didn’t try the cafe so I can’t comment but Col did say the loos were ‘ok’ and that the staff were very helpful in giving him ideas for somewhere with water swings.
About three kilometres along the coastal road, amongst all the more upmarket hotels, we found Los Aluxes, an incredible hotel that happily let us in for lunch and a swim. The only deal was that we had to spend 150pesos per head in the restaurant to be able to use the facilities. Hah! We assumed it’d be super expensive and that we’d struggle to spend so little but we were wrong, it was actually all very reasonable. Guacamole, for example, was just 40 pesos for a large and delicious portion. This lovely hotel has a a swing set over the water, a water slide, an outdoor jacuzzi and a number of sunbeds. Service was great and this hotel gave us exactly the Bacalar experience we’d been hoping for: water, swings and somewhere to relax and enjoy. Truly it was perfect.
On Saturday we tried to find somewhere else to try but were informed that most hotels weren’t quite so welcoming to non guests. We walked, instead, to the other public area, where the lanchas sit and wait for tourists but the beach area was closed off for a wedding. Apparently this is pretty common, hence needing a plan before heading over to Bacalar.
Tours: most the tours seem to be pretty well identical and involve riding around in a lancha or sailing boat to see the various sights on the lagoon: a number of cenotes (we swam in one that is reputedly 90m deep) that give the water its distinctive areas of vividly different coloured water, bird island and the incredible pirates’ canal, a small an extremely shallow area of beautiful water where you can swim and play to your heart’s content. It was so beautiful there that we went back on Sunday morning for an hour before heading back to Merida.
We also spent an hour exploring the little fort (there is an entrance fee but it isn’t much). The kids loved running around and examining the canons and there’s a fairly interesting little museum on site too.
Food: Unusually for us, we actually ate in the restaurant attached to our hostel every single morning as well as that first night. We got a ten percent discount and the food was perfectly good enough. The hostel actually offers coffee and a weird (stale?) cinnamon bread included in the price – the kids ate the bread and we drank the coffee whilst we waited for our fruit and pancakes to arrive each day! We had one misunderstanding over their use of pancake/hotcake – both being identical items to them but entirely different to us. Suffice to say we ended up apologising! When they forgot to bring our two fruit plates on the last day they were slower to apologise than we had been! They spent a good few minutes insisting we must have had them and forgotten before conceding that was unlikely and apologising (made more entertaining by the four year old totally ignoring the adult conversation and then demanding ‘donde esta mi plato de frutas?’, which then meant the poor waitress also had to apologise to him!
We also ate at La Playita, a huge restaurant on the lake shore. It is reputedly the best restaurant in town and it was fine, if a little pricey. We got the last shore side table, which was great except that it had no light over it, making reading the menu a trifle tricky. Col and I shared a portobello mushroom and goats’ cheese burger, which was amazing, and some pretty good coconut prawns. Col also greedily ordered empandas, which were nice enough.
The final night we simply ate marquesitas as we walked around the carnaval. They were exactly the same as anywhere else: cheesy peanut buttery mix in a cone!
Before leaving on Sunday, we had lunch in the truly excellent Mango Y Chile, a small but amazing vegetarian restaurant. Its menu was less varied than we expected but we all found something to eat: they had three burgers, one falafal, one beetroot and one pumpkin seeds. All came with fries. I had the best coffee frappe I’ve ever had and we all finished by sharing two delicious doughnuts.
Los Aluxes (pronounced alushes), mentioned above, was also a great option for lunch. We had huge plates of breaded chicken, enormous burgers (still steak hache in our house), quesadillas, prawn and chipotle rollos and fishy dishes. All delicious. They also serve wonderful litres of cold limonada or naranjada, both very welcome on beautifully hot days.
We were lucky (?) that Bacalar seemed to be celebrating carnaval earlier than everywhere else so we got to see the rehersals during the day and the actual performances in the evening. Nothing was especially professional, which added to the charm. We saw primary school kids on stage dancing their little hearts out. It was adorable. Our SG kept asking why she wasn’t allowed to go up and join them! What was less adorable was that the music was kept at full volume until 4am two nights in a row. A discussion with the hotel owner revealed that she was also furious as it had never happened before and when she’d gone to check out what was happening it appeared that there was no one there, just loud music blaring. Needless to say, we didn’t sleep much while we were there. The kids, however, loved the fairground that accompanied carnival.
All in all, Bacalar is one of the most beautiful and relaxing places we’ve ever visited and we would highly recommend that everyone time time to check it out.