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Mexico now has
a seat-belt law.
If you are looking to experience more of a "Mexican Holiday" then Bacalar is a great place to visit.
Unknown to many people is that Mexico does have “cottage country”. Most people just never think about it, but yes, it is there and Bacalar is one such place.
Laguna Bacalar [Bacalar Lake] is the second largest fresh water lake in Mexico measuring approximately 50 miles from North to South. “Bacalar” is the small city located next to the lake.
On our first visit some ten years ago we arrived quite late at night from a long trip from Ocosingo. It was pitch black and we could not see much. Our friend new a place to camp and we ended up sleeping under a palapa next to the lake. In the morning it was beautiful. The water was feet away and very shallow with a limestone bed. We spent the entire day just lying around, it was fantastic.
Since then Bacalar has grown [not like Playa del Carmen] but still maintains its rustic charm set against the million dollar houses that line the lake.
This is a tourist destinations primarily for Mexicans, which is great for non-Mexican visitors because most of the time foreign travelers are in hotels where the only Mexicans are hotel staff and related workers. In Bacalar there is a good chance that if you end up there on a weekend your hotel will be packed with Mexican families and you will be the only non-Mexican tourist at the hotel!
GETTING TO BACALAR
Bacalar is situated in Southern Quintana Roo next to highway 307. The drive there is effortless as the highway has been widened to four lanes and repaved in recent years. It is also almost straight for the entire journey, North and South to Bacalar.
Driving South from Tulum you pass through the odd pueblo and there are gas stations every so often but not much more than that. Felipe Carrillo Puerto is the only city you pass by traveling South from Tulum.
You can catch 1st class ADO bus from any pueblo along highway 307 to get there. There are no colectivos that run South of Tulum to Bacalar.
Bacalar is close to Chetumal. To get there you exit Chetumal going West on highway 165 then turn North at the junction with highway 307.
THINGS TO DO IN BACALAR
Bacalar is for people who love lakes [water skying, swimming, fishing, jet-skying, sailing, canoeing] but it is also a good base camp location for visiting Mayan ruin sites.
The area has a rich pirate history and the San Felipe Fort and museum are worth a visit [the museum is in the fort]. It is small and requires an hr or less.
Cenote Azul is located nearby and is a popular swimming location. There is a restaurant/bar there. We ordered hamburgers there once. The burgers came with two patties, bacon, a slice of thick grilled ham, lettuce, tomatoes and two slices of different cheese [it was gross].
Majahual is a a couple hrs drive away. There are public beaches there and shopping for the cruise ships that dock there.
Chinchorro reef is located some 25 miles off the coast of Majahual [and Chetumal]. This is a world class diving destination. We have not dived there but we took a boat out to the reefs once and snorkeled. Dolphins appeared and swam around us for around 15 minutes. This was an amazing experience.
The Maya archaeological ruins of Chacchoben, Dzibanche, Kohunlich, Oxtankah, Calakmul and Chicanna are in the visinity.
We have visited all of these ruin sites. Most impressive is Kohunlich, which is believed to posses a large reflective telescope in the form of a temple and pool. We saw Toucans there.
Oxtankah also has an unusual round temple, not very common in the Mayan world. When visiting Oxtankah you can visit Chetumal museum, which has some interesting things and the downtown market is located close to the museum. However in recent years product at the market has switched from cheap “Made in Mexico” stuff to “Made in China”.
Driving to Calakmul from Bacalar is a bit of a haul. Especially when the drive in to the ruins off the highway is a grueling 60+ mile winding one-lane jungle pot-holed road. We have seen peccaries [wild boors], lots of turkeys and spider monkeys at Calakmul.
To visit ruin sites West of Xpujil [in Campeche] it is advisable to stay at Xpujil and not attempt to drive from Bacalar.
NOTE: Chacchoben has been created more as an “attraction” for cruise ship passengers docking in Majahual. [It is not on the above map.]
RUIN SITES IN QUINTANA ROO
*** large site ** medium site * small site
RUIN SITES IN CAMPECHE
*** large site ** medium site * small site
RESTAURANTS FOOD IN BACALAR
Bacalar is a small city. There are lots of “Mexican” restaurants. In fact they're probably all Mexican. That means no English menus and the food is...... guess? All Mexican.
When we are in Bacalar we have found the “Polio Asada” [Mexican BBQ Chicken] to be fantastic! There are a few guys BBQing at the side of the highway and some of the restaurants make it. This is what we usually crave when we know we are going there.
Some of the hotels also have restaurants with English menus. The food we have had at the hotel restaurants is okay, nothing special. The best food is at the Mexican restaurants along the side of the highway.
There are of course supermarkets and lots of “mini-supers” [convenient stores] in Bacalar.
The only hotels we have ever stayed at there have been lake hotels. They have been clean but seen better days, but definitely no worse than some of the dives we have stayed at traveling around the US and Canada. Don't expect 5 star with all the amenities here.
At the time of this writing we presently only carry one Bacalar hotel, but there are more if you do a search.