We visit Cancun, Mexico annually and are pretty adventurous. We love the idea of exploring a different area every year. When I came across pictures of a beautiful pink lake that is located four hours from Cancun, I knew I had to visit Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas. What I found was better than I expected, but not exactly what I read on the internet. Join along on my adventure and see what I found.
- You can catch a bus from Cancun or Merida. Check out the schedules.
- You can arrange an organized tour from Cancun that includes a boat tours on Rio Lagartos and a visit to Los Colorados.
- Rent a car and drive yourself. If you take the tollways the drive is pretty direct and easy. The only problem you may encounter is that this far from touristy Mexico, so fewer people speak Spanish. When we visited, a manhunt was going on for El Chapo’s kidnapped sons. Having a fluent Spanish speaker made it quicker getting through the Federales checkpoints.
- Secure a driver who can take you from Cancun to Rio Lagartos. This is my preferred method of sightseeing when I travel. I like that we can travel at our own pace, stopping wherever and whenever you want. I also learn much more about the politics, culture and lifestyle of an area by really getting to know one of its locals. We are fortunate to have had the same driver, Daniel, for the last twenty years. He was our driver on our ill-fated trip to Belize and it might not have ended so well without him there.
Rio Lagartos, the Town
Rio Lagartos is the name of the quaint, typical Yucatan fishing village on the coast of Ria Lagartos. There is not much more to the town than humble housing for its residents, a few hotels and restaurants for the tourists. There are also docks for the fishing and octopus catching boats, which are also used to give tours.
Ria Lagartos, the natural reserve
Ria Lagartos is a UNESCO world heritage site for its importance for birds. When Francisco Hernandez in 1517 discovered the river named it “Lake of Many Dragons, or alligators”. This is the first misconception about what we would find here. Although we did see reptiles, the particular dragons in question are really crocodilos, or crocodiles.
To really see the beauty of this river and to get to see many of its birds, particularly the numerous flamingos, you need to go by boat. If you do not go into town with an organized tour it is very easy to find a fisherman waiting to offer you a tour at the docks. They will only accept cash and the town does not have an ATM. The cost is usually around $100-$150 for a two-hour tour of up to six people. We were extremely lucky and Daniel’s nephew, Manuel Abraham Silva, was available to give us the tour. Manuel normally works as an octopus fisherman, but is very happy to do a more lucrative tour. If you are interested in hiring him for a tour his phone number is 5-998-219-2430. The best way to get a hold of him is to DM him on Facebook.
Manuel’s boat was very clean with a covered area to protect all seven people on board from the sun. He also had an ice chest in which we could store our drinks and snacks. We first spent a half an hour exploring the mangroves on the way to view the flamingo lagoon. We spied many beautiful birds, such as herons, egrets, ibis and kingfishers. There are over 395 different bird species here.
This lagoon has the highest concentration of birds in Mexico. The flamingos congregate on a shallow lagoon and the boats can’t get too close. Therefore, bringing binoculars would be a great idea. Humans staying away is good for the birds, as we do not disturb their habitat. There are always flamingos here. I was impressed with the number we saw in August, however there are thousands in the spring. It must be magical at sunset to see so many in one place!
La Playa de Las Coloradas
After our flamingo viewing, we crossed the river to view the pink lakes of Las Coloradas. What we found was actually truer to the name, Las Coloradas, which means The Colors, not the pinks. What we found were reddish-brown lakes among a backdrop of stark white mountains protected by a guard on an ATV.
The research I had done had promised a natural pink lake due to microscopic algae in the water. According to our guide, this is far from the truth. Las Coloradas is actually a salt mine. Through a series of dams, water is contained in pools and is treated with chemicals. This causes the salt to precipitate out, so that it can be mined and later made into the big white mountains, then sold. Depending on when you visit, the water may be pink, red or brown depending on how much water has evaporated out. Although it was not as strikingly pink as I expected, it was still a unique and beautiful sight that I am happy to have seen. And when I started researching my trip to Las Coloradas I didn’t realize I would get to see flamingos. So I still got my fair share of seeing pink!
You can also access Las Coloradas pool’s and its town by car. There is a chance that the water’s color from that side, where there is a bigger pool, is due to the microbes, but it is definitely also adjacent to the salt mine, so I am suspect. We visited the pools in the afternoon. I have also heard that the color changes throughout the day as the sun warms the water.
Baño Maya or Clay Baths
The sulfuric clay that lays along the beaches of Ria lagartos is said to have curative properties. Most tours end with a good old slathering of the mud on tourist’s bodies. Many of the tours put it on at the Playa Las Coloradas. Manuel took us away from the masses to a more private beach where he painstakingly looked for the perfect clay that didn’t stink near as much.
You will then take the boat ride back toward town looking like the strange-looking ghosts that you saw going past you on your way in.
A Bath at the Beach
Manuel then took us to a fabulous shallow beach accessible only by boat. There we washed off our clay. We spent a while frolicking in the perfect water. As a note of caution, we all ended up with a sunburn. I think this was because we were exfoliated by the clay. We then spent so much time in the shallow water. We reapplied sunscreen when we got out, but we were burnt already.
Under a palapa he fed us lunch of an incredible ceviche that he made yesterday’s catch of octopus. This whole experience a highlights of the day. The beach was a great escape from the hordes of tourist that we had been with around Cancun.
The ride to Rio Lagartos through Mexico was interesting as well. It goes through many Mayan villages where you can stop, meet natives and try some food. In spite of the fact that their houses look primitive, the happiness and open smiles of these people are a good reminder of what is truly important in life.
If you are a nature lover or just want to see a more remote, but equally as beautiful part of Mexico outside of Cancun, a visit to Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas is a must add to your Mayan Riviera itinerary. This trip was a great reminder to me that sometimes the best adventures are those that don’t go the way that you plan.