All photos courtesy of Colby Holiday

Forget Tulum, this beach town is better! The warning ? There is no beach.

Do you know those places that you want to keep selfishly hidden and just for yourself? You know those with cerulean waters that shame the perfect postcards and overwater bungalows giving off dreamy Maldivian vibes, but with far fewer zeros in the price? Yeah, those. It’s Bacalar – the local off-grid hotspot and the sleepy town dwellers are slowly waking up. Word is spreading over the “Maldives of Mexico” and this aptly named travel destination is on the brink of a boom.

Here’s the thing: while Bacalar has that beach town vibe, there’s no actual beach. That’s right, you won’t find a beach here, per se. As massive as they may be, these azure blue waters of Bacalar are part of a giant freshwater lagoon known as the Seven Color Lagoon (Laguna de los Siete Colores); its name is derived from the seven shades of blue that you will find in the lagoon. You’ll also find man-made entrances to the lagoon and even popular “beach clubs”, just… without the beach. Despite this fact, Bacalar remains one of Mexico’s best beach towns, and if you’re looking for a laid-back getaway without the ultra-touristy crowds (looking at you Tulum), then head towards Bacalar.

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Which way to paradise?

Located in the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico, Bacalar is only two and a half hours south of Tulum, and if you’re arriving from Cancun, you can expect a four-and-a-half-hour drive to this heavenly place. Not only does Bacalar border the beautiful Caribbean Sea, it’s also just a 40-minute drive from the Belize border.

Once you arrive, you might not find idyllic beaches where you can bury your toes in the satin sand while sipping sumptuous sunsets, but you can soak up the sun from the cozy comfort of a hammock or a playful swing suspended above the crystal clear waters, drink in hand (optional).

What makes Bacalar so magical?

We don’t call this place magical just for fun. Bacalar is recognized by the Mexican government as Pueblo Magico (“Magic City”), a esteemed recognition reserved for the most amazing and extraordinary cities in Mexico. That alone prioritizes what you can expect when traveling the Lagoon of Seven Colors.

Bacalar Lagoon

What makes Bacalar particularly unique is that you will generally find very few lakes and rivers on the surface of the Yucatán Peninsula. This is because the bedrock of the peninsula is made up of porous limestone, which means that water (i.e. precipitation) does not stay above the ground. Instead, it weaves its way through the soluble limestone, creating a maze of subterranean rivers, caves, and sinkholes, better known as cenotes. This water eventually flows into the sea, but it also reappears in the form of lakes and lagoons, making Bacalar the largest freshwater lake in Yucatán and the second largest lake in all of Mexico.

To add to its majestic charm, Bacalar is also home to stromatolites.

Stroma-what?

Stro-mat-o-lites, also known as the world’s oldest living life forms, are only found in a handful of places on Earth. These living fossils date back 3.5 billion years. Just to give context, the Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years and homo sapiens has been around for 200,000 years. Therefore, stromatolites predate dinosaurs. Stromatolites predate plants. Stromatolites predate humans. Before all of this, there were stromatolites that breathed life into what we know today as the world, providing 20% ​​of the Earth’s oxygen.

You will see these rock formations and these prehistoric treasures dotting the lagoon; however, living organisms are incredibly fragile, so you can look, but DO NOT TOUCH!

The best of Bacalar

Who needs a real beach when your proverbial backyard is a water playground and 26 miles of marvelous blue waters beckon to be explored? Spend languid days lying on the shores of Cocalitos, better known as the Sanctuary of the Stromatolites, or relax in one of the hammocks on stilts taking in all those breathtaking views.

Consider renting a boat or kayak for the day, or taking an excursion that will allow you to venture to the most incredible corners of the lagoon. Get off the boat and wade through the crystal-clear shallow waters; or, in some parts, you can even relax on the soft sandbanks in the middle of the lagoon. Don’t jump on the Canal de los Piratas (Pirates’ Canal) during your boat or kayak adventure. This channel is where the pirates entered Bacalar and looted the precious wood. You won’t find gold or loot here, but the real treasure is the sulfur-rich clay sand, perfect for a little DYI exfoliating treatment.

Snorkelers, unfortunately, won’t find much marine life in the lagoon. Due to the minerals in the water, it is difficult for marine life to survive here. However, if you head to the nearby Cenote Azul, you can experience a unique cave diving experience in one of Yucatán’s deepest cenotes, measuring 90 meters (295 feet) deep, and explore its nautical underworld.

Not to be missed is an excursion to Los Rapidos (the rapids), a narrow channel with crystal clear waters and gentle rapids perfect for kayaking or drifting happily downstream. You can easily spend an entire day here, alternating between refreshing dips in the canal and relaxing on the banks with a cold brew in hand.

Bacalar might not be packed with beaches, but one thing is for sure, it will be quite difficult to find another destination in Mexico that offers these incredible beach town vibes.