Crocodiles, flamingos, and… pink lakes! This is Río Lagartos, Mexico – a tiny, quiet town on the Yucatan Peninsula perched on the shore of a brackish-water estuary, the Ría Lagartos. It’s a quiet, lesser-known part of the Yucatan state that sees far fewer tourists than the peninsula’s more popular Caribbean coast. But if tranquillity, nature, and stunning sunrises are your bag then this is seriously worth a visit…
Planning a Trip to Río Lagartos
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The town’s name is a double mistake. Río means river, but the town is on an estuary (a ría), not a river. Early Spanish explorers mistook the lagoon for an estuary. Then they mistook the local crocodiles for alligators (lagartos in Spanish). And the area became “Alligator River”.
These days, just for double confusion, the town is Río Lagartos and the lagoon and biosphere reserve is the Ría Lagartos. So don’t be surprised if you see it written in two different ways! Whatever you call it, Rio Lagartos makes one of the best day trips from Merida – or it’s perfect for a longer stop if you truly want to get away from it all!
If you’re renting a car, Río Lagartos is really easy to reach. The route is fairly straightforward and from Cancun it takes about 3 hours. Just follow Google Maps or Satnav and follow signs to Tizimin, they push on north from Tizimin until you reach Río Lagartos.
To reach Río Lagartos by bus you need to reach Tizimin first and then swap either for a bus or collectivo.
From Cancun you can take either an ADO or a Mayab bus, both leave from the central ADO Bus Station. The journey from Cancun to Tizimin takes around 3.5 hours and costs 128 MXN*. There may also be second class Oriente and and Noreste buses but I didn’t check these out. Head to the ADO station a day or two before you want to leave to check the times and prices.
From Merida you can take a Noreste bus to Tizimin. There are several bus stations in Merida so make sure you head to the Noreste Bus Station. The jourey from Merida to Tizimin takes about 2 hours and costs 170 MXN*.
From Tizimin to Río Lagartos you can either take a bus or a colectivo. Both take an hour and cost 45 MXN*. Colectivos are more frequent than buses but you might have to wait for it too fill up. They’re also not as comfy as buses and might be a bit of a squeeze! They leave from a stand about two blocks from the bus station in Tizimin – ask someone to point you in the right direction.
*As of February 2017.
Cuando es el próximo bús a Tizimin? When is the next bus to Tizimin?
A qué hora es el primero bús a Tizimin mañana? What time is the first bus to Tizimin tomorrow?
Donde están los colectivos para Río Lagartos? Where are the colectivos to Río Lagartos?
This is a very small town, so the selection of where to stay in Río Lagartos isn’t huge. There are only a handful of hotels in town, but here are my recommendations…
Yuum Ha Boutique Hotel – I stayed at Yuum Ha Hotel and would totally recommend it. Stylish, tropical decor in a modern property overlooking the lagoon, it’s in the perfect location and the rooms are seriously comfortable. This is (I believe) the newest hotel in town and that really shows.
Hotel Tabasco Rio – A cheaper option that’s still perfectly comfortable is the hotel Tabasco Rio. I also spent a nice here and would happily recommend it (although I preferred Yuum Ha). Comfortable, quiet, and really friendly.
Biosphere Reserve – A protected reserve with over 400 bird species, Ría Lagartos is great for nature lovers and bird watchers. Even if you’re not a big “twitcher”, though, it’s well worth a visit. This is honestly one of the most beautiful places I saw in Mexico. As well as the famous flamingos, you’ll see pelicans, racoons, and possibly even the elusive local crocs.
Boat Tour – The most popular thing to do in Río Lagartos is to head out by boat to explore the biosphere reserve. Go for a sunrise tour to see the lake at it’s most spectacular, and you’ll find the reserve is far quieter first thing as most boat tours leave a little later.
Crocodile Farm – Down the road from the main town is Itzamkanac Granja de Crocodrilos, a crocodile farm. It’s a volunteer-run collective of local farmers, and although this is a proper working farm (these crocs are being raised for meat, which is more common than you might think) visitors can come along for a tour once a day, at feeding time. Guests can help feed the crocs, go inside the cages, and even hold the babies. I was a bit reluctant to include a mention here as I know that attractions like this don’t sit right with everyone. But I did think the crocs were being well cared for and the farmers really knew their stuff. If you want to learn more about the local crocodiles and get a very hands-on experience with the beasties, it’s a fun trip.
About a 30 minute drive from Río Lagartos is Las Coloradas. The town’s name literally means “the red ones”, and it’s been named after the famous pink lakes which are found there. These are man-made salt lakes built by the local salt factory, which can be spotted from a mile off thanks to it’s huge mountains of white salt. The pink colour is caused by microscopic algae which is commonly found in sea salt fields. As the water evaporates and the salinity levels get higher, the algae gives off a red pigment, turning the lakes bright pink.
These insane, otherwordly lakes are an unmissable experience. Be warned, though, you aren’t technically supposed to be here. The factory don’t mind visitors popping by to take photos, but they draw the line at swimming. So don’t get in!, don’t litter, and don’t go passed the gates marked “no entry”.
There are no ATM’s in Río Lagartos, so bring plenty of cash. Tizimin is only a short drive away if you need to get cash or supplies.
The town is tiny, so you can easily walk around it. If you want to explore the local area though, you may need to rent a bike or hire a local driver. Ask at your hotel for recommendations.
If you’ve visited Río Lagartos recently and have any other great tips, scroll down and share them in the comments!