Welcome to the sleepy fishing town on the North shores of the Yucatan Peninsula. Life is slow, but life is good at Rio Lagartos. Last March 2019 I traveled to Rio Lagartos to see Las Coloradas Pink Lake, but I ended up staying here two nights as I fell in love with its vibe. In this Rio Lagartos travel blog I will give you all the travel tips I collected while exploring the village.
A trip to Rio Lagartos is not on everyone’s Yucatan Peninsula itinerary, but while reading this Rio Lagartos travel guide I hope to convince more people to come up here. In this travel blog I will explain how to get there, where to stay and of course what to see and all the things to do in Rio Lagartos. At the end I will tell you all about my trip to Rio Lagartos as well.
While driving around on a scooter in Cozumel the idea of a Yucatan road trip was born. I met up with a friend in Playa del Carmen, listed all the best places to visit in Yucatan (Valladolid, Puerto Morelos, Costa Maya Mahahual, Bacalar, Tulum and Coba, etc.) and started creating an itinerary. First stop after Playa del Carmen was Las Coloradas Pink Lake so we headed towards Rio Lagartos.
As I said this is not a standard Yucatan tourist destination, but a little town at the end of a long road north. On the shores of the Northern tip of the Yucatan peninsula you will find a little settlement with less than 4,000 inhabitants. Rio Lagartos always used to live off the fishing industry, but slowly it is turning into a tourist hotspot. But don’t worry there are still only a handful tourists to be found here that come to admire the natural beauty this region has to offer. Most tourist traveling to the North shores of the Yucatan peninsula visit Isla Holbox, Rio Lagartos is often a little forgotten.
Rio Lagartos actually means Alligator River, but I learned from a local that it is completely wrong. There is no river, neither are there alligators. Rio Lagartos is located at a lagoon (means Ria) and the reptiles living here are crocodiles. The lagoon is declared a protected biosphere by UNESCO since 2004 because of its breeding ground for endless species of birds.
Nowadays the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve is one of the main reasons to travel to Rio Lagartos but since a few years another tourist attraction popped up: Las Coloradas Pink Lake.
21 Rio Lagartos travel tips
1. Off the beaten path
Don’t expect mass tourism in this tiny village, there are only a handful Rio Lagartos hotels which actually says enough. Exactly that is the charm of this little fishing village. It feels great to walk around town and just be one of the handful tourists that decide to travel to Rio Lagartos.
2. How to get to Rio Lagartos
Getting to Rio Lagartos by car
This is pretty straight forward as there is a long straight road heading North from Valladolid called the 295. It is not a highway and most parts you are only allowed to drive at a max speed of 80 km/h. You share the two lanes with traffic driving in the opposite direction. Remember that before you reach the town of Tizimin you make a little detour around so you don’t need to cross through the center. Right there were you get back on the 295 there is Cenote Kikil (one of the cenotes around Valladolid) may be worth checking out on your way out. They charge 100 Pesos entrance fee.
- From Cancun to Rio Lagartos: 252 kilometers - 3 hours - $12 toll.
- From Playa del Carmen to Rio Lagartos: 235 kilometers - 2h 50min - $12 toll.
- From Valladolid to Rio Lagartos: 106 kilometers - 1h 30min.
Getting to Rio Lagartos by bus
There are no direct busses to Rio Lagartos and you will need to take a bus to Tizimin first. There are multiple premium class busses serving Tizimin from all directions, ADO is the name of the bus company.
- Bus from Merida to Tizimin: 6:45am, 9:00am, 12:00pm, 2:00pm and 5:30pm. The 5:30pm bus from Merida continues until Rio Lagartos, the only premium class bus arriving in town.
- Bus from Cancun to Tizimin: 3:30am, 4:00am, 10:30am, 12:30am, 1:30pm, 2:15pm, 4:45pm, 5:15pm and 6:00pm.
- Bus from Valladolid to Tizimin: 17 busses daily between 5:30am and 8:00pm.
When you reach the Tizimin bus station you have to catch one of the many local busses going North from 4:30am up until 8:00pm. There are also colectivos driving up north to Rio Lagartos, they are faster but run when they are full. They cost only 40 Pesos. If you fancy taking a taxi Im sure you will find one but Im not sure what they charge.
3. No ATMs in Rio Lagartos
Be aware that when you travel to Rio Lagartos you bring cash money. There are no ATMs in the village. You can bring USD and exchange money but it is advised to bring Pesos.
4. Telcel phone signal
Rio Lagartos only receives a Telcel phone signal. There is no 4G available, only a 3G connection and it is not the strongest either. Wifi is pretty slow all around the bars and cafes. Telcel is the best prepaid sim card for tourists in Mexico.
5. Where to stay in Rio Lagartos
There are very few hotels in Rio Lagartos and you are definitely not spoiled for choice. There are no hostels in town and the cheapest room you will find is about 600 Pesos ($30). For solo travelers that sucks a little.
Budget Hotels Rio Lagartos are around $30 to $40 dollar per room per night:
- Hotel Mercy Inn’s: 8.7 rating out of more than 200 reviews. One block from the water, one block from the city center. They accept credit cards, shared kitchen available. Rates as best value hotel in Rio Lagartos
- Posada El Perico Marinero: 8.5 rating out of more than 300 reviews. This newly constructed hotel has an on-site restaurant and a swimming pool. Located directly on the waterfront. Balconies with Seaview and El Perico has a private pier with sofas for late night beers.
- Posada Las Glorias: 8.6 rating out of 200 reviews. This is where I stayed and the room was good, but basic. The owner was very friendly and his wife and son as well. Super helpful and there is breakfast included in the price. The breakfast is eggs cooked to order with tea/coffee, toast and jam. They have a private parking spot.
If you travel to Rio Lagartos on a slightly bigger budget then there are two options, both around $60 per room per night.
- Hotel Villa de Pescadores: 8.4 rating out of more than 450 reviews. This 3-star waterfront hotel has rooms with Seaview and is right in the tourist center on the boulevard. Great location and don’t worry Rio Lagartos sleeps early! It has a private pier with hammocks.
- Hotel Rio Lagartos: 8.8 rating out of more than 1,200 reviews. The hotel with the best review score in Rio Lagartos. This 5-star hotel includes a big buffet breakfast and also has a swimming pool. Rooms are modern and spacious and the rooftop bar is a great addition.
6. Things to do in Rio Lagartos
As I said before this laid-back fishing village is all about visiting the Las Coloradas Pink Lake and the UNESCO biosphere Reserve Ria Lagartos. First I will explain the two main tourist attractions, but for those spending a couple days in town I have some more Rio Lagartos travel tips and things to do.
7. Visit Las Coloradas Pink Lake village
Las Coloradas Pink Lake is about 20 minutes drive from Rio Lagartos and due to its high concentration of salt it makes it a perfect breeding ground for algae which give the water the red color. Just before you hit the village turn right onto a gravel road and you will see Las Coloradas Pink Lake on your right hand side after a couple hundred meters. You can’t miss it!
Actually it is a private area, controlled by the salt mine and you are not allowed to enter. You can take pictures from the side, but pictures with wires in it are not really appealing. The many workers around will offer you to enter the premisses with them on a ‘guided tour’ and it actually is only 50 Pesos a little over 2 dollar, but there is not much to see, just to get a clear picture with the Pink Lake.
Note that drones at Las Coloradas Pink Lake are strictly forbidden. Another Las Coloradas Pink Lake travel tip is to not come here at sunset as because of the reflection of the sun you can’t see the red color. That is what I did, not recommended! LOL
8. Is it worth visiting Las Coloradas Pink Lake
If you are looking for things to do in Rio Lagartos, give it a go. If you have a car then definitely do it as it does not take much time and it is free or maximum 50 Pesos. It is just fun to see, if you need to pay for a taxi then know I was pretty disappointed, as you will also read in my Rio Lagartos travel blog below. The best way to see the Las Coloradas Pink Lake is on a Rio Lagartos tour.
To be really honest all the pictures you will see online are heavily edited and so did I. But when it comes down to visiting Las Coloradas Pink Lake it seems like we are all joking each other. So therefore here is an unedited picture of Las Coloradas Pink Lake.
9. UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Ria Lagartos
But whatever you think of Las Coloradas Pink Lake the main thing to do when traveling to Rio Lagartos is the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Ria Lagartos. Ria means estuary, a word I actually had to Google, but means something close to lagoon. It is an enclosed brackish water body connected to the ocean filled by a river. Anyway in 2004 UNESCO recognised it as a Biosphere Reserve because of its incredible flora and fauna. Nowadays this is the place to take a Rio Lagartos tour and it is so much worth it. Read more about it below in my Rio Lagartos travel blog.
10. Bird watching
Needless to say that many bird watching lovers travel to Rio Lagartos and no wonder with almost 400 different bird species. A Rio Lagartos tour is the best way to get up close and personal with the big birds like Pelicans. But we also saw many different herons, sea birds and storks. The Rio Lagartos Flamingo season is in spring. Around April - May you have the chance to see thousands of flamingos.
11. Rio Lagartos tours
When you are strolling around town along the waterfront I bet about 10 people will ask you if you want a tour of the Biosphere Reserve. It is the best way to visit Ria Lagartos. I was pleasantly surprised as it is great value for money.
I only paid 300 Pesos and 50 Pesos park entrance fee, so less than $18 for a 3 hour tour full of exciting activities. WE got to see many bird species from nearby, crocodiles, saw flamingos, stopped on the shores of Las Coloradas Pink Lake, got a clay mud scrub and drove to a pristine beach to wash it off. Such a gem when traveling to Yucatan, the Rio Lagartos tour is totally worth traveling all this way for. What a great day I had.
If you want an English speaking guide you will have to ask around and you will probably pay more.
12. What to bring on the Rio Lagartos tour
When traveling to Rio Lagartos think about bringing binoculars. Bird watching is heaven and with binoculars it is double the fun. Also bring your camera and a dry bag to keep your electronics safe. I also brought my GoPro Hero 7 with me for some selfie fun. Bring a towel, biodegradable sunscreen. Be careful with the sulphur mud on your clothes. I had no problems washing it off, but some people did I heard.
13. Visit a crocodile farm
As I only found out about it on the day we were leaving I had no time to visit Granja de Crocodiles myself. This is a farm where crocodiles are being raised for their meat. Yes crocodile meat is actually not bad at all, I had it in Australia. You can hold a baby crocodile and feed the big ones. The admission fee for the Rio Lagartos Crocodile farm is $140 Pesos.
14. Drink a beer with the locals at night
The best way to learn about Rio Lagartos is to catch a beer with some locals. You will find them on the waterside on the little piers. Some piers have swings, chairs and hammocks. Feel free to use them, local fisherman love having a chat with locals and this is actually where I got most information from for this Rio Lagartos travel blog.
15. Catch camarones with locals
Every evening a handful of locals will walk up and down the waterfront with big nets. When I asked a local what he was catching he pulled up the net and showed all the little shrimps. He had a bucket full and told me they made tasted great in ceviche.
16. Go night fishing
Feeling adventurous then go night fishing with one of the locals. Join them while they go fising in the lagoon in the evening. There are many boats around going in and out of the town and you will see all the moving light on the water in the distance. Just bring a 6-pack of beer and they would love to bring you for an hour.
These local fisherman are the same people you gotta speak to may you wish to arrange one of the Rio Lagartos tours for the next days.
17. Visit the salt mountains
When you have your own car when visiting Rio Lagartos and you are driving to Las Coloradas village you will pass by the salt mine and the impressive white salt mountains. Cool to stop for a couple photos.
18. Enjoy Cancunito Beach
Looking for deserted beaches then head to Cancunito Beach also on the way to Las Coloradas village. This endless deserted beach is an important breeding ground for sea turtles so keep an eye out after sunset when they come up to lay their eggs. Also a place for a bonfire at night as I saw many bonfire pits.
19. Have a sundowner at the rooftop of Hotel Rio Lagartos
The best place to watch the sunset when traveling to Rio Lagartos is from the rooftop of Rio Lagartos Hotel. They have impressive views over the lagoon and ice cold beer!
20. Visit San Felipe village
Our hotel owner told us to get in our car and drive to the nearby San Felipe village. If Rio Lagartos is off the beaten path then San Felipe totally is. This town is even more relaxed and I am pretty sure I was the only tourist there. I has a beautiful white sand beach and some lovely colorful houses. It turned out to be a great Rio Lagartos travel tip. May you want to stay in San Felipe there is only one budget hotel: San Felipe Jesus Yucatan.
21. Where to eat in Rio Lagartos
There are loads of local eateries around the central square. When you travel to Rio Lagartos you have to try the local street food and so did I. Around 8:00pm many food stalls open their doors and they serve it all: burritos, sopes, memelas, tacos, salbutes, burritacos, huaraches, quesadillas, tortas, marquesitas and many more.
If you want a little more upscale restaurants then head to the waterfront where for 150-250 pesos fresh fish will be cooked for you. Recommended place to go are Perico Marinero, Ria Maya and La Mojarrita.
I hope all the above Rio Lagartos travel tips come in handy for your next visit. In the following I will tell you a little more details about my trip and as well as the Rio Lagartos tour.
Rio Lagartos travel blog
From an Instagram follower I heard that Rio Lagartos was not worth going: there is nothing, he said! The Pink Lake isn’t really that pink as pictures make you believe and the town is dead. Ok, that didn’t sound promising, but we were still excited to drive there as our Yucatan road trip just started.
It took a little while to get there and as we had no phone signal most of the time we didn’t find a Rio Lagartos hotel yet. On Google Maps I already saw the village was super tiny that we ended up driving into town and stopped at a hotel next to the water: Las Glorias. The friendly owner asked for 700 Pesos for a private room, but quickly went down to 650 Pesos ($34). As we looked at each other he also added that all Rio Lagartos hotels charge the same and smiled friendly. We decided to believe him and booked the place.
The owner was happy and super friendly I started giving us so much information that he was basically writing my Rio Lagartos travel blog. He urged us to quickly get in the car in drive to Las Coloradas Village to get a glimpse of the Pink Lake before sunset.
We decided to drive over and while we arrived we found out that the sun was actually already too low to spot the red color in the lake or pink whatever you think it is. The Pink Lake is actually private property and you are not allowed to enter at this point, swimming is prohibited.
We were a little disappointed as this is what we drove all day for and now there was nothing to see. Anyway we headed back to Rio Lagartos and found some hammocks on a pier to drink our ice cold beer from the supermarket. We loved the vibe at Rio Lagartos already, Pink Lake or no Pink Lake.
The next day our Rio Lagartos hotel owner convinced us to join one of the tours and he would arrange a boat with two more people and we would pay 300 pesos per person. It was one of the best value for money tours I did while on my 1-month trip to Yucatan.
First we sailed out on the lagoon and got some background information from our captain, while driving through beautiful waterways we saw plenty bird species from close range and we also found a crocodile. We searched for flamingos but only saw a few. This time of year is not the flamingo season in Rio Lagartos. The flamingo season in Rio Lagartos is in spring, late April is the best time to see flamingos up here. The tour wasn’t finished at all yet as we finally got a chance to admire the Pink Lake from nearby in its full glory. After that we stopped for about 15 minutes on the backside of Las Coloradas Pink Lake we headed onwards to a flooded beach/mud field. Our captain started digging deep as we tried to make our way through. It was like a swamp and sometimes you would get sucked in until your knee. Great fun and after we completely covered ourselves in mud we got back into the boat and drove off towards a pristine beach. Here we got rid of the mud which was supposed to make us look 10 years younger.
Later that day we drove to Cancunita Beach to see the sunset from there, a deserted beach with a few parking spots here and there. In the evening you might spot massive sea turtles coming up to the beach here to lay their eggs.
Damn what a fabulous trip to Rio Lagartos we had. In total we spent about $120 for two days with 2 people. The Rio Lagartos tour was amazing and for less than $20 per person. I would recommend everyone to travel to Rio Lagartos, for its laid-back vibe and to do a tour of the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve.
If you still have questions about traveling to Rio Lagartos please leave me a comment and Im happy to help. In total I traveled around the peninsula for more than 2 months and found 21 amazing places to visit in Yucatan. After Rio Lagartos I can definitely recommend you to see the Valladolid cenotes, travel to Isla Holbox, visit Costa Maya Mahahual or check out these Merida Mexico travel tips for a more authentic experience on your Yucatan peninsula itinerary.
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