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How to Plan a Trip to Río Lagartos Mexico

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aerial view of a road running along a spit of land covered with green shrubbery, on one side is the turquoise ocean and on the right is a bright pink lake. Las coloradas in Rio Lagartos Mexico

Crocodiles, flamingos, and pink lakes… welcome to Río Lagartos, Mexico!

This tiny, quiet town on the Yucatan Peninsula is 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 Río Lagartos is seriously worth a visit.

The town is also home to one of the region’s Insta-famous sights, the pink lakes of Las Coloradas. If you’ve seen the bright pink water on your Instagram feed, you’ve probably wondered if these lakes really are that colour!

Well, I can promise you they are – but they still really need to be seen to be believed.

So I recommend planning in a trip to both Las Coloradas pink lakes and the gorgeous little town of Río Lagartos for your trip to Mexico

Planning a Trip to Río Lagartos Mexico

I spent quite a few days in Río Lagartos while I was in Mexico, and have visited those shockingly pink lakes at Las Coloradas on two separate occasions. The area is an amazing one – full of incredible nature. So use my travel guide below and start planning your trip to Río Lagartos!

A row of American flamingos standing on one leg in a large lake in the Rio Lagartos, Mexico.

READ MORE: 27 Places to Get Off the Beaten Path in Mexico (Rio Lagartos is one of them!)

What’s in a Name: Is it Ría or Río Lagartos?

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 called 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! 

A sunrise over a wide river in Rio Lagartos with three birds silhouetted in the orange sky and a small boat silhouetted in the foreground
Sunset over Ria Lagartos

How to Get to Río Lagartos

By Car

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, then push on north from Tizimin until you reach Río Lagartos.

By Bus

To reach Río Lagartos by bus, you need to reach Tizimin first and then swap either for a bus or colectivo.

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. 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 (shared taxis) 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.

a row of pelicans on a sandbank in a river in front of a small town in mexico
Pelicans in front of Río Lagartos town

Useful phrases for Getting to Río Lagartos

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?

Aerial view of bright sunrise over a wide estuary with thick green mangrove forests on either side
Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve

Where to Stay in Río Lagartos

Río Lagartos is a small town, so the selection of places to stay 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.

Click here to check prices

Hotel Tabasco Rio – A cheaper option that’s still perfectly comfortable is the Hotel Tabasco Rio. I also spent a night here, and would happily recommend it (although I preferred Yuum Ha). Comfortable, quiet, and really friendly.

Click here to check prices

Things to See and Do in Río Lagartos

Spot Flamingos in Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve

several flamingos in the distance standing on the far side of a wide river in front of a low tropical forest
Flamingos in the Ría Lagartos 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.

Take a Sunrise Boat Tour

a golden sunrise with the sun appearing behind from a silhouetted forest on the far bank of a wide river. there is one small silhouetted bird in the orange sky.
Sunrise on the lagoon

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.

Visit a Crocodile Farm at Feeding Time!

closeup of three crocodiles on a sandy floor
Crocodiles in Rio Lagartos

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 mention the Crocodile Farm as one of the top things to do in Río Lagartos, 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.

How to Visit the Pink Lakes at Las Coloradas Mexico

a large man made lake filled with bright pink water reflecting the fluffy white clouds in the bluew sky above at Las Coloradas in Mexico
No special effects; the lakes really are that pink!

Home of the famous pink lakes, Las Coloradas is about a 30-minute drive from Río Lagartos. 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”.

Final Río Lagartos Travel Tips

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! 

Planning a Trip to Rio Lagartos

10 thoughts on “How to Plan a Trip to Río Lagartos Mexico”

  1. Since all the violence that is occurring now in Cancun and Playa, do you feel travel by bus or rental car to Rio Largatos is safe? Should we just stay on property to be safe?
    Thank you!

    1. I was in this area for most of November and December and had no problems. I’m never going to say Mexico is definitely safe to travel etc, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near as bad as the headlines make out. Personally I’ve never encountered a problem. The violence is between gangs etc and very rarely targeted at tourists. As long as you stay safe and behave sensibly, generally I think you’ll be fine (that’s my advice for travelling in all countries).

  2. if we can choose, what is the best time of year to visit to see a large number of Flamingos. I know the come to nest around April and then do they leave and return in October leaving only these 2 months to see them in large numbers ?

    1. There are flamingoes all year round in Rio Lagartos – sometimes more or less of them depending on the season. If you want to see the biggest numbers of them, come during nesting season :) But whatever time of year you visit you will see plenty! I was there during January/Early Feb and there were LOADS!

  3. I live in Florida so I’m pretty awash in alligators and crocodiles. Judging from photos, tho, I would like to see the Pink Lake. However, I hear differing opinions about whether the water is really pink or people are just upping the saturation on their photo editors. Is it worth it to go to there if the main mission is pink water? What is your opinion?

    1. I promise the water really is pink!! It varies depending on time of day and season, I believe. There are many lakes as it’s actually a salt mine. The lower the water is in a pool, the more pink it looks. Some look brown or red if there’s more water. But when the conditions are right and it’s a sunny day the water looks incredibly pink. My photo was edited in photoshop as much as all my photos are, to bring back the natural colour and lighting which cameras don’t always capture. It really was that pink when I went!

      My opinion is that it’s definitely worth the trip. The lagoon is beautiful and the boat tours are great for spotting wildlife and birds (not just crocs!). And its a really gorgeous area – I’m sure you could add in some stops along the way or the way back in order to make the most of the trip!

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