Cancun to Atitlan Roadtrip (part 2): Tulum and Bacalar (Mexico)


Tulum, seen from the ruins of Tulum

After Valladolid my next stop on this road trip was the beach town of Tulum. This is around an hour and a half away from Valladolid (yes, no long, long journeys on my road trips).


I have visited Tulum before, on my last trip to Mexico two years ago. Then I stayed in the town (the ‘town’ is really just a long, dusty street full of cheap guest houses, restaurants and tourist shops). From the town you can get a taxi or collectivo to the beach (or the ruins that sit above it), or you can hire a bike.

This time, however, I stayed in a guest house near the beach (12 minutes walk, they proudly declared on; more like 12 minutes by jet aircraft but it was walkable).


Tulum is what it is. It is a very laid back beach town, not a resort as such and definitely nothing like Cancun et al, but it is a holiday destination. Plus it is reachable from Cancun for day trippers, which keeps the place busy and the prices a little higher.


There are a selection of beach cabins and hostels available with varying facilities. I booked a basic guest house; a room with its own bathroom and shower plus my necessity of reliable wifi cost me £18/US$24 a night. Dorm rooms are cheaper. A better class of hotel would have hot showers. You get what you pay for in this town.


Getting a bit crowded on the beach…



Lake Bacalar, showing off a couple of its seven colours

Next I moved on another three hours (by bus) down the road to Bacalar. Bacalar isn’t so visited by tourists; its relative remoteness from Cancun/Playa del Carmen and the resorts helps to keep it a little quieter and less discovered.

It is a small place, nothing more than a few streets really. It works on a numbered grid system, but a lot of the streets aren’t marked, which doesn’t help.


The obligatory sign…

There are a handful of restaurant/bars and a few small grocery stores and that’s about it. There is an ATM machine but probably best to bring enough cash with you to start with rather than chance it. When I staggered there needing a small amount of money to feed myself for my last day, I found it had run out of money.  Not many places accept card (as generally in this area).  In the end I had to cash in some of my emergency dollars for a really bad rate at the small Western Union.


The main attraction of Bacalar is a lake known as the lake of seven colours. All the main activities in town revolve around the lake: boat trips, kayaking, snorkelling, etc. There are also two public bathing areas, where you pay a small amount of money to go in and swim.

My highlight was a boat trip to see the lake and its seven colours.    It was a bit of an ordeal to find a boat trip, since they wait until they have enough people and often that takes a while in the low season. Totally worth the wait though.


Lake Bacalar


Lake Bacalar displaying another of its seven colours

It really was quite beautiful when the sun finally shone on it and the water shimmered.  We made a couple of stops for swimming or snorkelling.


The sand here is said to have beneficial properties for your skin, so you can slather on an impromptu skin mask.  You have to ignore the slight sulphur smell.

If you only have very limited time then the boat trip is the thing to do. If you have longer there are some nearby ruins, and also Cenote Azul, which is one of the deepest cenotes in the region and good for diving (apparently; I didn’t get there though).


Note: the water in both Tulum and Bacalar has a high sulphur content.  If you spend a lot of time in the water, this is what will happen to your silver jewellery.

After Bacalar I was ideally placed for the next leg of my journey over the border into Belize.

9 replies »

  1. Hello Sarah. I stayed near to Tulum when I went to Mexico. That was in a past life and it was a lovely hotel and resort, but unfortunately got terribly destroyed by a hurricane a few years later. I remember then how gorgeous the beaches were, so untouched. That aside, did not really like Mexico (too many Americans lol). Safe travels to Belize I hope it not full of the British Army for you. Hugs and stuff xxx

    • Yes in some ways the Americans have done for Mexico what the British (and other North Europeans) have done in Spain and France. Tulum isn’t as bad as some of the other more resorty places although it does have a Starbucks, which is always a sign a place is about to become unbearably resort-like. There is a growing eco-tourism centre to the other side of the town. Bacalar was nicer.

  2. Phenomenal lake colour variation!
    As always – you make me feel like I’m there!
    Jealous of your travels-‘lonely planet should employ you with these details!

  3. Bacalar looks lovely. I wasn’t as much into the touristy Tulum. I think I would like Bacalar more. Moving to Merida in February, so hope to do some more exploring through the Yucatan.

    • I considered moving to Merida, but I wasn’t so sure about it. There certainly is a lot to do there within driving distance. But really I’m still looking for the right place to settle for a bit.
      I liked Bacalar, although it is a very small, quiet place. I like the quiet but it was a bit quiet even for me. However for a couple of days it was lovely and the lake is amazing.

  4. Got the vibe that Tulum wasn’t that great, but Bacalar’s lake looks beautiful 🙂 Considering going during my short trip to the Yucatan, thanks for sharing 😉

    • It depends what you like really. I found Tulum too touristy, but I still thought it was ok for a couple of days. Bacalar was beautiful, but a couple of days there was enough because there really wasn’t much to do apart from go on the lake

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