Bacalar pueblo magico, Mexico – a magical village, seven shades of blue and weird cowboys.
Bacalar Pueblo Magico and some weird things about it
After the long stay in Tulum we decide (or I decide but about this later) to split the trip to the border with Belize and stop by for a night in Bacalar pueblo magico. Bacalar is a tiny village on the edge of the spectacular lake Bacalar. You can reach it again with the ADO bus and I strongly recommend doing so for a night or two.
The slogan of the place is „Bacalar pueblo magico”, which means „magical village” and that’s exactly what this place is. The actual lake is quite big and often referred to the „Lagoon of the Seven Colors”, but I disagree – they are way more! You can explore the lagoon by boat, rent a kayak, jet ski, dive, snorkel or simply swim, or admire the lake from one of the many docks.
The bus station is conveniently placed on the highway, it’s not really a station, it’s more like a place where the bus drops you off and picks you up, without a sign or anything. There is a tiny ADO office on one side of the road, where you can buy tickets.
Where to stay in Bacalar
The place we booked – Hospedaje Consuelo – is 15 min walk away but on this day is unbearably hot. This is the first really boiling hot day so far, way worse than Tulum, so it feels like we walk forever (the 10 kilogram backpack doesn’t help either). For an unknown reason Denny is quite grumpy the whole way and I have no idea why, but decide not to ask and make things worse.
The accommodation is a bit further from the main square and everything looks a bit scruffy. Denny gets grumpier with every step. I keep ignoring her. Our room in the guest house is really, really simple and I mean it – a bed, a TV, A/C, a table and 2 chairs, that’s all. We check-in and I immediately want to go and explore because we don’t have much time here. Denny is not happy at all!
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Where to go and things to do in Bacalar, Mexico
We haven’t eaten and it’s time to do so. I check Google maps in search for a nice place, with a good view near the lake, where we can have lunch. Success! The place is called La Playita. On the way there Denny questions why on earth we bothered even to stop in this village and why we couldn’t just leave the country without stopping here. I keep ignoring her. Keep in mind that by now we haven’t seen the lake or the central part of the village, just small run down houses and streets.
The story goes like this – the village is on a small hill and we have around 5-6 streets to reach the lowest part and the lake. We keep walking. Denny is still grumpy. And suddenly, the miracle happens – some parts of the picturesque lake come in our view. Denny looks at me with a questionable face – „Ha! There is water!?”. Me, with even more questionable face, “Of course there is water. We are going to the lake! Where were you thinking we are going!?”.
A second of silence. Denny looks at me, looks at the lake, at me, at the lake, „There is a lake!?”. And in this very same moment it’s all crystal clear to me! This pure soul had no clue we came to this small village in the middle of nowhere only to see the magnificent lake of Bacalar! Not sure what she was thinking, though, but if I was in her shoes, I imagine I would be grumpy too.
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Where to try some great local food
Everything is much better now, we are both in a good mood (Denny is even excited!) and we head to the restaurant. First we spot a place, with an entrance fee that looks way too touristy for us, so we continue in search of La Playita.
The place is a great surprise – it has a beautiful garden, hammocks, benches and colorful wooden sun beds. We choose a table on the wooden platform, under a big umbrella, with a great view of the lake. The service is really good and the food is amazing. The only minus for us is that smoking is forbidden (like elsewhere in the village). But its like a fairytale place and in a total contrast with the rest of what we saw so far from the village.
The food is cheaper than Tulum, most probably because there are not many foreigners, I guess. It’s our time to enjoy the lazy afternoon. There are countless boats and kayaks in the water, the sun is shining, the food is great, the beer is cold… somebody pinch me, please!
Explore the village
After finishing lunch is time for a walk. On the hundreds of docks around, you can just sit, relax and admire the lake. We found a small hostel with a dock and it’s my favorite time – beer time! My excitement is crushed instantly – on the dock is not allowed to have any drinks and by any drinks I mean ANY drinks – no liquids, even coca-cola. Well, it was thaaat close to be perfect. Anyways, let’s just sit and enjoy the quite afternoon.
It’s almost sunset and we decide to explore a bit more of the village. You can go to a small fortress, overlooking the lake and located right next to the main square and the colorful sign of Bacalar.
The village has a dramatic history and this fortress played an important role, defending it from European pirates. Bacalar is the first place conquered by the Spanish in 1543. Placed strategically close to the border didn’t help for the tranquility either, because there were fights for it constantly.
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City kids in a village
We keep wandering around the small back streets and observing the everyday life of the locals. Looking at their houses, yards, decorations, shops, cars, dresses and murals. It’s all chilled and relaxed.
And suddenly – bam! 20 meters in front of us we spot a rooster! Like a big big angry rooster! As the real big city kids we are, that’s way too scary challenge for us. We cannot just continue and pass by it! We need to go back and take the next street. And guess what happens on the next street? Yes, another one!
After going back and forth between different streets stumbling across roosters everywhere, we manage to get to safety and avoid those scary, scary animals. You should have seen the laughing faces of the locals. Priceless!
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A very interesting thing we observe several times in Bacalar pueblo magico are some kind of a strange religious families. They are quite tall and skinny, with white skin and blue eyes – a total contrary of the most Mexicans. The man and the kids (only boys!) are dressed quite similar or in exactly the same way – perfectly clean blue/white striped long sleeve shirts, black overalls and black shoes. The woman are all in black and look quite similar as the man. They either travel by horse carriage or by trucks.
We searched the Internet but couldn’t find any information about them. If someone knows more, please, share in the comments.
Have fun like the locals do
After dark on the main square/park we find some sort of celebration. It’s Saturday, of course there is a celebration! It seems like there is a small village concert. The park is full of people, loud music is playing, kids are playing around, people are dancing, really nice atmosphere. There are a lot of tourists but locals, we are the only foreigners around.
Suddenly around the corner an open double-decker with all the colors and lights in the world appears! The same latino hits (that you hear every second in every place) are blasting from the speakers and it looks like a moving discotheque from the 90s! No one pays attention to it except of me (and all kids)! I get super exited and I know that I want a ride on this thing now! The bus stops at the corner and we start running towards it! No chance for missing it!
The ride is 20 pesos (~ 1 €) and the person in charge tells us that it will be around 30 min. Great! „Do we have time to grab a beer?”, „Si, señora.”. Viva el Bacalar! Surprisingly it’s not just us on the bus, but there are many other people as well. There is even a „just married” couple who joins us too. The ride is really nice – people are waving from their houses and yards and we are observing the village from above. The bus attendant yells every time when a branch of a tree is coming. You need to duck down, otherwise I imagine it would hurt a lot.
How to get from Bacalar to Chetumal and after that to Caye Caulker, Belize
The next morning is time for our bus to the border town of Chetumal and Denny will tell you more about how we accomplish this mission:
Getting to the island Caye Caulker in Belize is handed to Tsveti (as all other travel routes and plans, but I need to say it). We leave Bacalar in the morning preparing mentally that today will be one pretty long day and we need to have patients, open our eyes and ears, and if everything goes according to the plan, at the end of the day our reward will be the island Caye Caulker.
We enter the office of our favorite ADO, which is placed on the big road (the locals maybe call it highway) and is not bigger than 9 sq. meters. The clerk reassures us that the bus will come in front of the office on time – exactly at 13:00.
Getting into the right bus from Bacalar to Chetumal, for which we bought tickets in Tulum.
Important! Always check which company you have tickets with. It turned out that a lot of people thought they bought tickets for ADO but had for Mayab, which is a cheaper option than ADO but with older buses. They sell their tickets also in the ADO counters and it’s important to make sure which company you are choosing.
It turns out that there is a traffic accident and the bus to the capital Belize City will be late with 2h. This is not the bus we are waiting for but ours comes from the same direction. We have time to wait but the boat is just one – at 15:30 – and it won’t wait just for us. We have at least 40 min bus ride, taxi to the pier, buying tickets for the boat and doing the migration formalities for the Mexico-Belize border crossing!
The clock is ticking. Think fast!
Option 1: waiting for a collectivo with two free seats (meaning that we need to abandon the already purchased ADO tickets).
Option 2: hitchhiking. We decided agains almost instantly.
Option 3: crossing fingers and facing our fate – either the bus will come any second and everything will be ok or we’ll be late and sleep in Chetumal (at first sight nothing special – a big port town).
Doubting Thomas. I go back again to ask the nice clerk. Just in case. I hand him the ticket, he looks at me – “It is on time and will be here any second now”. Checkmate! Either I didn’t understand him, or he didn’t understand me. Not good. I’ll smoke. I go out and in front of me a miracle is arriving! The bus!!!
Before we board Tsveti instructs me to sit in front because, when we arrive, we need to exit the bus as quick as possible, take the backpacks and be the first to get on a cab to the pier. The reason: the only explanation for all of those tourists being on this bus is not to wander around Chetumal but to take the boat. The same (and only one in the afternoon) at 15:30 which has around 30 seats.
Done! But we got rid of almost all of the pesos we had, because we thought we won’t need them anymore. We spared 50 pesos for a taxi (after a research) and 50 pesos for food. The cab driver says 100 pesos. No way. 90? No! 80? It’s a lot! 70? Mmm, ok!
Important! Barging with the taxi drivers often has positive effect and they lower the price. But they are not always ready for a sacrifice like this. Be aware of the situation and the chances to take another taxi. Most taxis doesn’t have meters, so it’s important to have the price upfront.
We got to the port and there are at least 15 people already waiting. It turns out that Tsveti’s plan worked out and we are first from all of the people from the bus. We pay for the tickets, check-in the backpacks and start looking for the emigration desk. They… are closed, tho! The desk will open at 14:30h. Good, we will wait. Every minute hurrying tourists arrive and with quick pace do the same procedure.
Important! There is an exit fee of 500 pesos (~ 22 €) per person. We checked online and it says you pay in USD, not in pesos and that’s why we had dollars. The customs officer accepts USD but the exchange rate is horrible. But! If you happen to be in the same situation the trick is to exchange the USD to pesos in the boat ticket counter and go back to the customs officer.
Important! With some flight operators the exit fee is included in the ticket. Not AirFrance, tho. The fee is different depending how you exit the country. If the exit tax is included in your ticket you need to have a hard copy of the breakdown from the flight company and hand it to the officer. We saw couple of people, who had the form but wasn’t accepted.
Since we arrived at the port the wind is horrible and it doesn’t stop raining. Great weather for sailing! We can’t get seats at the back, so we are in front where is always bumpier. For the next hour I live trough the worst 3600 seconds in my life (from a total of 2-3h ride). Outside Neptune is raging and the boat is shaking and jumping, as you are inbetween two bumper cars and you are hit by one at a time from left and right. Thank god to my childhood dentist – dr. Karaliiska, if you are reading this I send you greetings!
Goodbye, Mexico! Hello, Belize!
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Crossing Mexico – Belize border and local border control
The first stop is the island San Pedro which is the border town to enter Belize. I don’t know if you have ever crossed a border by boat and especially in this part of the world, but here the situation is as follows: the customs office is a small house on a platform in the water at the end of a dock. The customs officers are nowhere to be seen. They will come. Ok… we’ll wait. Me, „a bit” annoyed by the trip, try to light a cigarette. It’s forbidden! Why? First you need to cross the border. Pff, fine.
We line closer to the door to do the paperwork faster. After a while the customs officers appears and someone starts making order. It turns out that the post-it notes on our passports are important. Whoever bought ticket first is number one; number 2 and so on. And now is the time to line according to this number. It’s an organized place, I admit it.
The security check in some bars is more strict than here. I was thinking they’ll say something about the bananas we are carrying, but it turns out I can import a tank and no one will notice. Everything lasts for couple of minutes and we are out again to wait for the boat to the final destination – the island Caye Caulker.
Keep in mind:
Important! There is a small fee of 2 BZD (Belize Dollars) (~ 0,80 €) for maintenance of the border. I know, it sounds weird but it’s a practice in Central America. They even gave us a receipt with our names on it!
Important! There is a person on the boat who exchanges money – USD, Mexican pesos, Euro and many more (but not British pounds which is irony because Belize was ex British colony with the name of British Honduras and now it is part of the commonwealth and their money has Queen Elizabeth II on it). With some of the USD we have, we buy Belize Dollars but it turns out that you can pay and buy everything with USD. 1 USD = 2 BZD and the rate is fixed. There is no way of scams.
Next stop on our Lazy Road Trip Central America – island Caye Caulker, Belize.