10 Must-Know Tips About Bacalar Boat Tours

So, you’ve decided to visit Bacalar. Congrats! With turquoise water so clear that it’ll make you do a double-take, it’s hard to go wrong with visiting there. However, there are some things you can do to make your trip even better, and one of those is getting tips on Bacalar boat tours.

Needless to say, you’ve come to the right place. I’ll share the advice I wish I had known before choosing a Bacalar boat.

Accessibility Note: If you’re a wheelchair user, make sure to take a look at our guide on wheelchair travel in Bacalar.

An Overview of Bacalar Boat Tours

If you’re short on time, below is a quick run-down on tips you should know before choosing a boat tour in Bacalar.

  • Prices are the same at different companies
  • Boats are cheaper than pontoons
  • You can request special stops in advance
  • Talk of tips will keep you out on the water for longer
  • Put sunscreen on after the swimming portion of your tour
  • Pontoons sell out faster than boats
  • You can book a private tour
  • Food and drinks are allowed
  • Pick a morning tour for clearer water
  • You must wear a life jacket

Do you have time for more context?

If so, great! Read on and I’ll give you all the nitty-gritty details for each of these points.

Tip #1: Boat Tours Between Companies Cost the Same

A boat dock in Bacalar.

I understand the urge to ask multiple boat agencies for prices, and I’m not about to discourage it. However, be prepared to hear the same Bacalar boat tour price over and over again.

Furthermore, as an American and solo traveler, I was sure that the same price each agency was giving me was inflated.

As it turns out, it wasn’t. Shame on me.

Assuming you book your Bacalar boat tour once you arrive in town, the boat agency sales reps will watch you like a hawk as you go from person to person checking availability and prices. However, you’ll likely start noticing a pattern aside from equal pricing—the departure times and current number of tourists signed up for a tour may sound uncannily similar to the last person you just asked.

No, you’re not crazy.

And neither are they.

From my observation, it seems that the individual agencies work closely together, rounding up smaller groups of people and combining them together on a single boat.

Furthermore, if they know about a departure time or the type of boat you’re looking for, they’ll point you in the direction of a different agency.

This very situation happened the morning that I was looking to join a tour. I’m not sure if the man who referred me received commission for it, but either way, it was comforting to know he was genuinely trying to find the best option for me.

Tip #2: You Can Save Money By Forgoing a Pontoon

People swimming by a boat during one of their Bacalar boat tours.

Taking a pontoon tour is the cool thing to do in Bacalar.

It’s for a good reason—they’re more spacious and allow you to get up and move around without quite literally “rocking the boat.”

There wasn’t availability for a pontoon tour the morning that I wanted to get out on the lagoon. While I recognized that was my own mistake for not booking sooner, I ended up having an amazing time on the other boat tour option in Bacalar—a speedboat.

To my delight, my originally 350 peso expense for a pontoon tour became a 250 peso expense for a speedboat tour. That’s roughly $18 to $13 USD, respectively.

And yes, a $5 difference likely isn’t going to break most people’s bank accounts, but when you account for adding a tip on top of that (which is super important—more on this soon), it helps.

Please take note that these prices are based on my summer 2021 trip for a group tour. I took my Bacalar boat tour with a Mexican family who was also charged the same price per person, so I know (and appreciate!) that they didn’t give me an inflated foreigner rate.

Tip #3: Request to Visit the Abandoned Hotel

A view of Bacalar's abandoned hotel from the water.

There are five places that almost all Bacalar boat tours visit, regardless of the agency you choose. They include:

  • Canal de los Piratas
  • Cenote de la Bruja
  • Cenote Esmeralda
  • Cenote Cocalitos
  • Isla de los Pájaros

That said, some boats deviate from this list regarding where they let you off to swim, usually with the intention of choosing a quieter part of the lagoon.

And while we’re at it, here’s a tip within a tip—the only difference I noticed when talking to different boat tour agencies was how long they’d let you swim for. Some said 20 minutes, others said 30 minutes. And they almost always make a stop at two swim spots.

However, aside from requesting quieter areas to swim, you can also ask for your boat driver to take you to Bacalar’s abandoned hotel.

This hotel was formerly owned by a Yucatan governor. When the government realized that he was in cahoots with a drug cartel, they threw him in jail. Fifteen years later, and he’s still there.

When that happened, locals ransacked the hotel. They took everything from large pieces of furniture to small trinkets. Today, a 24/7 guard person watches the property, which is increasingly deteriorating.

My boat driver surprised my group with a stop in front of this hotel. It became one of our two swimming spots, and we had the entire place to ourselves. It was a little jarring thinking about the types of people and conversations that passed through the very place where I stood, but it was a highlight of our Bacalar boat tour nonetheless.

Tip #4: Promising a Good Tip Will Get You Farther

Green-blue water in Bacalar.

I was lucky enough to join a boisterous Mexican family for my boat tour. Not only did their fun-loving personalities add to the tour experience, but they started talking early on to our driver about the good tip they were going to give him.

The driver fed into this, letting us know that he isn’t the boat owner. Instead, like many of the boat drivers, he pays a daily fee to rent the boat with the hope of making back that money and more from the tours he provides.

That spurred our fuel even more for wanting to give the man a good tip, and it equally spurred him to want to give us the best experience possible. Hence, the surprise stop at the abandoned hotel.

Our tour also lasted three hours, where a typical Bacalar boat tour lasts 2 – 2.5 hours.

And at the end of the day, not only did we get to enjoy an amazing tour and a boat driver who was eager to share his knowledge of the lagoon with us, but we also felt good knowing that our tips went to keeping food on his table.

Because the boat tours in Bacalar are so cheap, it doesn’t take much to give your driver a generous tip. But instead of silently handing over the tip at the end of your tour, try bringing it up casually in conversation. Chances are good that they’ll go above and beyond to deliver you a superb experience.

Tip #5: Put Sunscreen on After Getting in the Water

Round stromatolites in clear water.
These rock-like formations are actually living beings called stromatolites.

You probably chose to visit the Yucatan partly to get some sun, and you likely packed a big bottle of sunscreen in your suitcase. However, you’re not allowed to enter the Bacalar Lagoon with sunblock on.

The reason being is that even eco-friendly sunscreen is damaging to the environment. In particular, it can kill the lake’s stromatolites, which are rock-looking structures in the water that are actually living creatures.

In fact, stromatolites are one of the earth’s oldest forms of life, and scientists estimate they date back around 3.5 billion years. As if that isn’t impressive enough, Bacalar is one of the only places in the world that still has stromatolites.

The swimming portion of a Bacalar boat tour usually happens about mid-way through and then again towards the end. Your boat will have a cover to offer some shade, but it’s not a perfect solution since the sun can still enter at an angle, depending on the direction.

Therefore, if you’re concerned about getting burned, consider wearing a lightweight long sleeve shirt and pants. Of course, if you don’t plan on swimming, you’re free to sunscreen up right from the start.

Tip #6: Pontoons Can Sell Out

A vacant and spacious pontoon.

As I mentioned earlier, tourists often prefer taking a pontoon over a speedboat in Bacalar. As a result, these pontoons can sell out if you’re traveling during the high tourist season.

Furthermore, they won’t run a pontoon nor a speedboat if you’re a single traveler and there isn’t another person signed up to form a group tour. Unless, of course, you want to book a private tour, which we’ll cover next.

For this reason, I recommend booking your Bacalar boat tour at least one day before you plan on taking it.

I didn’t follow this advice. So, what I encountered on the morning of my self-assumed tour were the agencies telling me that I needed to take a wait-and-see approach with the hopes that one or more people would sign up for a tour. Even then, they said they were running low on pontoons.

You can probably gather the rest by now—I got paired with an awesome group of people, took a speedboat, and had the time of my life.

But would I risk booking a boat tour in Bacalar on the same day again?

Not if I could help it.

Tip #7: You Can Book a Private Tour

A private hut that you can view during one of your Bacalar boat tours.

If you’re traveling with a medium or large group, booking a private tour is a fantastic option. You’ll likely end up paying a similar price per person as a group tour, and you’ll have the advantage of choosing your exact departure time and where you want to visit.

Furthermore, if you wish to spend an extended amount of time out on the water, whether it be to swim or visit some of the lesser-known areas, you can communicate this with the boat agency in advance and negotiate a price.

Booking a private Bacalar boat tour as a solo traveler would get expensive. However, if there’s no way the agencies can form a group tour for you, and assuming they have a boat available, you can ask for a private tour.

Tip #8: Food and Drinks Are Allowed

An ice cream cone with cherry and pistachio flavors.

Food and drinks are allowed on the Bacalar boat tours, and some people really go all-out with this.

Alcohol is allowed, and the group I took my tour with even came equipped with a cooler. They shared their drinks and snacks with everyone, including our boat driver (a non-alcoholic beverage for him, of course!).

At the very minimum, I recommend bringing a bottle of water. It gets sweltering in Bacalar, and as gorgeous as its blue freshwater is, you don’t want to drink it.

The tour boat docks are located near many restaurants. In fact, some of the agencies also have their own restaurant on site.

Therefore, if you don’t bring a lot (or anything) to eat and your tour finishes around a mealtime, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from.

Tip #9: Morning Tours are Better

Lily pads in calm water the morning of a Bacalar boat tour.

The early bird may get the worm elsewhere in the world, but in Bacalar, the early bird gets the clear water.

That’s right—there’s usually a significant difference in how Bacalar’s water looks in the morning compared to the afternoon.

That’s because as the day wears on, the wind picks up. Since more wind equals more waves, it kicks up the sediment and gives the lagoon a slightly diluted blue hue.

That’s not to say that you should avoid afternoon Bacalar boat tours at all costs, though. On the contrary, the lagoon is so beautiful that if you’re the type of person that likes to sleep in, you won’t even realize you’re missing out on seeing the water even clearer.

While we’re on the subject of clearness, keep your eye out for fish. They usually steer clear of areas where a lot of tourists swim, but once you’re away from those areas, you could catch a glimpse of some swimming by. I even saw one about 12 inches long!

Tip #10: Life Jackets Are Required

Me wearing a life jacket on the boat ride.

You’ll either be celebrating or groaning at this one. Bacalar runs strict regulations with their boat tours to prevent accidents, and wearing a life jacket is one of them.

The good news is that your boat driver will provide you with the life jacket, and they have several sizes, including for kids.

Furthermore, the one time when you’re allowed to take off your life jacket is when the boat stops at swimming spots. Even if you choose to stay on the boat instead of swim, you can remove your lifevest.

Ready for Your Bacalar Boat Tour?

A series of stromatolites in Bacalar.
An area in front of the abandoned hotel.

You can’t say you’ve been to Bacalar unless you’ve taken a boat tour. In fact, it’s essentially the only tour you can take there.

Because restaurants and private houses occupy the majority of Bacalar’s lakefront in and near the town, without a boat tour, you’ll only be able to get glimpses of the lake by exploring some docks (which is a neat and must-do experience, too).

I hope this post has given you a better idea of what to expect and how to prepare for your boat tour in Bacalar. If you have questions or would like to share your own Bacalar tips, please leave a comment. I look forward to chatting with you!