This lagoonside town throws on white sand along the Lake of Seven Colors, along with light-touch hotels, home-style restaurants and suitably spoiling spas.
If you’re the type of person who likes to hold a finger up to the wind to see which way the travel trends are blowing, we think you’ll like Bacalar. Way down south from now-crowded Tulum, you’ll find the latest Mexico “it” destination on the border with Belize. The hush-hush east coast hinterland offers natural beauty in spades thanks to the Laguna de Siete Colores (the Lake of Seven Colors), edged by preserved wetlands and estuaries that winter travelers will love. Here, large builds are prohibited and hotel rooms are limited, so tread lightly with our barefoot guide to this ecological Eden.
In keeping with Bacalar’s efforts to preserve its shoreline, lagoonside Casa Shiva is a discreet, low-lying set up of thatched cabanas and geodesic domes, designed to immerse you in nature. That’s not to say it doesn’t know how to spoil, with various sun decks, hammocks and a pool. The domes appeal to backpackers while the all-wood two-level villas have a private terrace, living room, dining area and a small kitchenette. Tours are offered to explore the soft, white-sand beaches around the lagoon, and the nearby cenotes of Cocalitos, Esmeralda and Azul.
Experiencing your first temazcal – the ancient Mayan sweat-lodge ceremony – is one reason to book into the spa at Casa Hormiga – which offers a variety of treatments. Some are the usual options (reflexology, deep-tissue massages, hot stones and sound healing), but Casa Hormiga is the place to go if you’re keen to try a local custom, such as the ancient cacao ceremony.
Who wouldn’t want to spend their winter vacation in paradise if it meant having nature right within easy reach? That’s the main feature at Mi Kasa Tu Kasa boutique hotel, which has its own dock on the lagoon. Guests can enjoy a serene, contemplative setting with easy-to-organize outdoor activities (thanks to complimentary kayaks and paddleboards), a swimming pool, a private beach area and a balcony in every room, giving a direct view of the lush gardens.
La Playita (which translates into “the little beach”) is the ideal spot to dine at after you’ve enjoyed a swim in the lagoon. The Latin fusion menu favors seafood: braised octopus, tuna steak, prawn ceviche, empanadas with chimichurri and tuna melts. But leave room for dessert. Favorites include chocolate cake, cheesecake and chocolate pie. Post-lunch food coma? La Playita has hammocks for snoozing under tropical trees.
The visionaries behind Mia Bacalar take sustainability seriously. No one enters the water if they’ve applied sunscreen, and kayaks and canoes aren’t allowed on the lagoons on Wednesdays. Nature, too, needs a day of rest. Otherwise, luxury rules. Consider the spacious Grand Je’Ex Suite, designed in the shape of a snail, with floors of marble, exterior lighting on the terrace, and direct access to the hotel’s garden. Plus there are rejuvenating vapor baths to help winter travelers ease into holiday mode.
Craving comfort food? Finisterre Bacalar is a popular Mediterranean restaurant and pizzeria serving traditional Italian dishes such as pesto gnocchi, salmon ravioli, fettuccine with tomato and cheese, plus an excellent range of risottos (seafood, mushroom, black truffle, lobster, shrimp and zucchini). Pizzas run the gamut: Caprese, Margherita, vegetarian, four-cheese and the house specialty, salmon, cream cheese and pesto. There’s a full range of cocktails and live music nightly.
After a week of delicious Mexican food, you’re probably in the mood to change it up a little. Head to Nao Bacalar restaurant for Asian fusion: sushi, tempura, teriyaki mains, yakimeshi fried rice, vegetarian poke bowls (available as an appetizer or entrée). The bar staff can make any mezcal cocktail you wish: the Nativo blends sour orange, pineapple, pepper and vanilla, while the Bacalar is heavy on the avocado and lemon.
If you’re looking to dial things up a little, the Bacalar Beach Club is your go-to spot. It’s the kind of place where you’ll swing by for lunch – and end up staying until late. The menu takes you through, with full-on meals (seafood rigatoni) or light snacks (shrimp tacos) for any time of day. The music is lively, especially as the night edges on. The mixologists know their stuff, handily creating cocktails out of mezcal, brandy, rum, gin and tequilas.
All Habitas hotels are built to minimize their environmental impact, with a drive to eliminate single-use plastics and support for reforestation programs around the world. The box-fresh Bacalar edition is a case in point: it’s ‘tents’, but not as you know it, with triangle-shaped structures, set in the jungle, mangroves or beside the lagoon, all draped in white muslin inside. Catamarans, kayaks and paddleboards help you explore, and local live-music sets and family-style Mayan restaurant Siete, sate you come evening.
This must-try spot from Ricardo Méndez, one of the chefs behind Mexico City’s lauded Pujol restaurant, is a surefire sign that Bacalar is on the up. Tostadas packed with cured fish and matcha salsa and lobster risotto make up the moreish menu, with a zero-waste bar serving up tequila- and mezcal-based cocktails. Book early to avoid missing out on this masterclass of modern Mexican cooking, all romantically laid out around palm-dotted grounds, strung with fairy lights and lit by candles.
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