Rio Lagartos is a small fishing town about 3 hours north west of Playa del Carmen, in the Yucatan province. To be honest, it’s a town I hadn’t given much thought to, until I connected with a new friend on Facebook who was on her way to visit Playa del Carmen for a week. Somewhere in her research she had stumbled upon ‘the pink lakes’ and mentioned wanting to see them. Well, if I needed any motivation to learn about this town, hearing ‘pink lakes’ was enough to get the ball rolling!
A quick image search on google pulls up a stunning array of bright pink photos, that surely have to be photoshopped…. Right?!
Well.. We were about to find out!!
The Planning Stage
No great adventure happens without a well thought out plan… HA! Just jokes, I don’t plan anything that I don’t have to!!
So after Sarah mentioned this trip a week before her arrival, I looked into it a bit, and offered to book a rental car and drive us there. That was the end of that for the next week.
Seth and I were on a house sit in Cancun, and only had 2 days free before Sarah flew home. So when we finally discussed it again on Sunday (during a fabulous day trip to Isla Mujeres.. More on that another day), there was really only one day we could go. That was the following day, Monday, February 13.
Another friend and fellow blogger, Elaine from FinallyElaine.com, caught wind of our plan and thought the idea of spending Valentine’s day with a couple of single girls and a teenage boy at the pink lakes of Mexico sounded like a FAB plan!
So NOW it was time to plan!
Having rented a car at Budget the week before, I knew I wouldn’t be in for a surprise with insurance prices. I booked online through Expedia for about $1/day, Then paid the insurance fee of $680mx per day on pick up. Full disclosure: I could have paid just $400mx/day for liability, but since 3 of us were splitting the cost it felt like a smarter decision to make sure we were 100% covered.
We booked our hotel room on Hotels.com (my go-to, since I love earning free nights!). Hotel Tabasco Rio was the winner… mostly based on price. We got a room with 2 double beds for $35usd. (Sarah opted to have her own room, though they do offer a room with 2 double beds and a single that would be perfect for a family!).
And We’re OFF!
We didn’t pull out of Playa until around 8pm Sunday night. The drive was smooth, and we arrived at Rio Lagartos around 11PM, after a gas stop in Valladolid. (NOTE: There are NO gas stations between Playa and Valladolid… Get gas before hitting the highway!)
We checked in without issue, and got some advice from the girl at the front desk about waking up for the sunrise and catching a boat tour in the morning. She told us we could book a tour through the hotel for $1200, or just head out to the docks anytime after 7am and find a guide ourselves. Having done my research I knew we could get a boat for around $1000mx at the dock, so we opted to just take our chance in the morning.
After a busy day of driving, we were ready for bed! The alarms were set for 5:30am (much to Seth’s dismay) so we could catch the sunrise and begin our day of adventure.
A REALLY Early Morning
Morning came awfully quickly (especially if you ask the teenager that’s usually in bed until noon!), and we were quick to hop out of bed and head to the water.
We found an empty dock to get comfortable, and settled in to watch the sun come up. And it did not disappoint!! Even Seth agreed that it was worth waking up for, which is pretty high praise if you know teenagers 😉
Once the sun was up, tour operators were starting to come out so we lined up a boat to take us out onto the Ria. We arranged for a 2.5 hour tour in a 6 person boat for $1000mx. This is pretty standard pricing for the area, and it’s actually a great price when you consider a the other tour prices around Playa and Cancun! If you want to cut the price a bit, wait around until a few more tourists show up and try to share a boat with them!
Boat Tour of the Ria
So we piled in to the boat, and we were off! The water was so calm and the breeze was welcome. Even at 7am, you could feel the heat creeping in. Being one of the first groups out was wonderful! The Ria was still waking up, and the stillness of the water was enchanting. As we made our way back we were able to wave to the fisherman who were pulling their nets in after their early morning tasks.
The Ria is home to hundreds of breeds of birds, so there was TONS to see. Our guide clearly grew up in the area, because he was seriously pro at spotting the different animals. He was quick to turn off the engine so we could get some good shots (he must have sensed he was in the presence of bloggers ;)), and explained what it was that we were looking at. It was helpful that Elaine speaks Spanish and could translate for us, but not altogether necessary, so don’t let that worry you when choosing a boat for your tour.
He even pulled a Horseshoe crab out of the water to show us! …Then put it on my head… What a weird feeling! When he started crawling towards my face, that was the end of that!
Brave guy that he was, as soon as he saw this crocodile hiding in trees at the shore, he reached over with his sandal to draw him over! The croc made his way over and got nice and close to say hello. So close, that Elaine even reached over to touch his back! I wasn’t that brave.. but it was very cool to see him up close!
Breakfast with Flamingos
When we made it to the back of the ria we found the flamingos. They were amazing! There were 2 other boats out there already, so we all sat quietly together enjoying the sound of the flamingos talking to each other. Were they ever noisy! Such beautiful birds. I’m so glad we got to see them!
Floating in the Salt Pond
Once the flamingos had had enough of us, we headed to a salt pond a short distance away. It’s not very pretty looking, but was it ever cool! As soon as you get into the water you’re floating. It’s actually hard to stand upright, because the high salt content creates such buoyancy.
Mayan Mud Bath
We were then whisked away to another little pond that was surrounded by mud. This mud is apparently very good for your skin, so we were given a traditional Mayan Mud Bath, and covered head to toe in mud. So neat!
Back to Shore
After rinsing off at a beautiful little beach at the mouth of the Ria, we headed back to shore for some breakfast and to walk around the town a bit. It wasn’t even 10am yet, and our day was off to an amazing start! But the adventure wasn’t over yet… We still had pink lakes to see!
Pink Lakes at Los Coloradas
After breakfast it was time to head over to the pink lakes at Los Coloradas. They’re a 25 min drive from Rio Lagartos, so you’ll need a car or to pay a taxi to take you over.
When leaving Rio Lagartos there is a sign at the edge of town showing San Felipe is right, Los Coloradas is left. Turn left and follow that road for about 25 min. As you pass a large salt hill you’ll know you’re getting close. Right after that you’ll come up right beside the pink lakes- you truly can’t miss them! A security guard on a motorcycle does patrol the grounds to make sure people aren’t swimming or going where they aren’t supposed to. He’ll likely let you know the best side to go for the pinkest pictures, so stop and chat with him!
The lakes are pink because the high salt content draws in shrimp and plankton, and they colour the water. As you get close to the shore you’ll see the salt collecting along the edge. You can even reach down and pick up a handful!
Swimming is not allowed at these lakes, and honestly you wouldn’t want to. The salt makes the water almost slimy. But man, is it ever cool to look at!
Survey says… YES! They really are as pink as the photos show!
Lunch time in San Felipe
After we finished soaking in the beauty of the pink lakes, it was time for lunch. Before we headed back into Valladolid, we cut across the highway to the small seaside fishing village of San Felipe. The views here are beautiful, and the houses are built with wood, as opposed to the cement bricks we’re used to seeing in Quintana Roo. The colourful, wood-sided houses are so neat to look at! Quite the contrast to what we’re used to, both in Playa del Carmen, and in our hometown of Edmonton, Alberta.
The restaurant we stopped in for lunch was clearly a local favourite. The place was packed! And we saw a couple customers walk in with a whole fish in their hands, and give it to the kitchen to cook for them. Not something you’d ever see in the US or Canada!
Our server brought an assortment of ceviche as an on-the-house appetizer. I’m not a fan, but it got rave reviews from the other girls! Having had breakfast not too long before, I opted for (my fav) guacamole, and Seth just had fries. But I couldn’t resist splurging on a margarita!
The restaurant is called Restaurant Vaselina, and it looked to be the busiest place along the coast. Head in on the main road, and when you hit the water turn left. It’ll be one of the last buildings on your left!
Finding an Agave Farm
I may have been raised in the plains of Canada, but I am no farmer! BUT, agave farming is something I can definitely support! These agave plants are turned into tequila. Since we were driving through an area with several Tequila distilleries we had to stop in to see the fields! We were too late to take a tour, but it’s on the list for our next visit. For today, seeing these fields was a nice way to break up the drive.
Our last stop of the day was the Mayan city of Valladolid. It is the oldest city in the Yucatan, and home to authentic Mayan culture and sights.
We didn’t arrive in town until after 5pm, so we didn’t have much time before the sun set. Our first stop was Calzada de los Frailes.. This is the street that connects the San Bernadine Convent to the main square, and is lined to authentic architecture and bright colours. Here we had a small tour of a chocolate factory, and sampled some delicious fresh-made chocolate and hot cacao.
We then walked back to the town square and got a nice look at the Church of San Gervasio at dusk. We chatted with the ladies selling embroidery for a bit, and Sarah picked out a few to take home with her.
By now it was completely dark, and our adventure had hit the 24 hour mark. After an amazingly full day, we were all ready to hop back in the car for the 1.5 hour drive home!
So there you have it. Our 27 hour day trip to Rio Lagartos, the pink lakes of Los Coloradas and Valladolid, in a nutshell! Everything included, it cost us under $100 usd each! Considering you’re hard-pressed to find any excursion for under that around Playa del Carmen and Cancun, we were thrilled to do this trip for that price, including a hotel room and car rental!
I hope this helps you plan your own day trip to Rio Lagartos and the pink lakes! Don’t forget to Pin this for later!