Bacalar isn’t a place that most travelers visit in a day because of its distance from the Yucatan’s more commonly visited destinations. Nevertheless, is it possible to take a Bacalar day trip from Tulum?
Yes, it is—just as long as you’re okay with spending 5 – 6 hours on the road.
As full disclosure, I’ve never taken a day trip to Bacalar from Tulum. However, I have traveled from Tulum to Bacalar by bus, and my two-night stay in Bacalar was enough to give me a feel for what is—and isn’t—possible to do there in a day.
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1. It’s Best to Rent a Car
Taking a Bacalar day trip from Tulum is technically possible by bus.
However, it’s better to take the bus if you left a valuable in Bacalar after your day trip and want to make a cheap beeline back down there.
Bus schedules from Tulum to Bacalar aren’t very conducive for a day trip since the earliest bus departs at 9:00 am.
Here’s a peek at what the ADO bus schedule looks like.
ADO Bus From Bacalar to Tulum
|Departure from Tulum||Arrival in Bacalar|
|9:00 am||11:50 am|
|10:00 am||12:50 pm|
|12:00 pm||2:50 pm|
|12:55 pm||4:00 pm|
ADO Bus from Tulum to Bacalar
|Departure from Bacalar||Arrival in Tulum|
|3:20 pm||6:10 pm|
|4:20 pm||7:10 pm|
|5:20 pm||8:10 pm|
|7:20 pm||10:10 pm|
Nevertheless, if you’re on a tight budget and can’t find anyone to split the cost of a rental car, taking the bus is an option. The Bacalar boat tours run throughout the day, so you’d have time to catch an early afternoon tour.
Furthermore, the Bacalar bus station is located less than 15 minutes on foot from the downtown lagoon area.
On my round trip journey from Tulum to Bacalar in July, the bus was sold out the day of departure. Therefore, I recommend booking your bus ticket in advance.
2. You Won’t Need to Drive Once You’re in Bacalar
Even though I recommend driving a rental car for your Bacalar day trip from Tulum, it’ll be a park-it-and-leave-it situation once you arrive.
Bacalar is a small town. So, the time it would take you to drive around and find a spot could end up taking longer than walking.
Some of Bacalar’s popular places of interest that you can walk to include:
- Boat launches to take a tour
- Public lake entrances
- San Felipe Fort
- Main Plaza
- Restaurants with private lake entrances
That said, if you’re itching to get out and see more of the Bacalar region, you can hop in a car or on a bike if you’re a fast rider. A short drive along the road that follows the lake (with limited water views) will take you to Cenote Cocalitos.
For a small fee, you can enter this park and see stromatolites up close.
Stromatolites look like rocks but are the oldest living organisms on earth. As if it couldn’t get cooler, Bacalar is home to one of the largest remaining freshwater stromatolite populations in the world.
There’s no need to fret if you don’t have time to visit Cenote Cocalitos; your boat tour will take you to the outskirts of this area.
So, you can view the stromatolites from the water.
3. Book Your Boat Tour in Advance
As a solo traveler, I figured it would be easy to snag a spot on a boat the morning I wanted to take a tour of Bacalar’s famous Lagoon of Seven Colors.
Snag I did, but barely.
Needless to say, my summer visit to Bacalar had a lot more tourists than I expected. The boat tours were so full that I had to wait around, hoping for a no-show tourist. Lucky for me but sadly for them, it happened.
The moral of the story?
Taking a Bacalar day trip from Tulum doesn’t give you the luxury to fool around trying to find an agency to book your boat tour in person.
So, I recommend reserving your tour before you arrive in Tulum.
Traffic is a rare issue on the road between Tulum and Bacalar, but it’s still a good idea to build in some buffer time before your tour. If you end up arriving early, consider grabbing a bite to eat at a lakeside restaurant while you wait.
To learn more about the ins and outs of cruising around Bacalar’s lagoon, check out my must-know tips on taking the Bacalar boat tour.
4. Rain is More Common in the Afternoon
If you need another reason why it’s better to start your Bacalar day trip from Tulum early in the morning, here it is.
Bacalar is a tropical environment, with rain falling throughout the year. Although Bacalar sees its fair share of rainy mornings, there’s a higher chance of rain happening in the afternoon.
So, by driving from Tulum to Bacalar early, you’ll be able to join a morning boat tour.
Two other reasons why taking the boat tour when it isn’t rainy is beneficial include:
- The water has more brilliant blue colors when the sun is out.
- Rain stirs up mud at the bottom of the lagoon, muting some of the water’s colors.
If you have the luxury to plan your trip around the weather, it’s best to avoid traveling to Bacalar from June – September. These summer months can bring over six inches of rain every 30 days.
In contrast, March has the lowest rainfall, at a mere 0.9-inch average for the month.
5. Work Up Multiple Appetites
Taking a day trip to Bacalar from Tulum isn’t the time to skimp on meals.
Contrary to what I imagined before arriving in Bacalar, the “lakefront” boardwalk follows the lake, separated by a thick row of tour agencies and restaurants that block lagoon views 90% of the time.
Occasional public access areas sit squeezed between these private facilities. But they’re strictly wooden piers jutting into the water; there’s no shore you can walk along.
Therefore, since you don’t have the advantage of spending the night at a lagoon-front hotel property, I recommend aiming to eat at a minimum of one waterfront restaurant.
However, if time and your stomach can manage it, eating two meals in Bacalar will give you even more varied access to beautiful lagoon views.
Luckily, Bacalar’s waterfront restaurants won’t completely drain your wallet. You can expect meals to start at around the same price that you’d pay for an average lunch or dinner in the U.S.
Furthermore, you can grab a drink or dessert at a restaurant instead of digging into many heavy meals.
6. Things Aren’t Always How They Seem
I’m not about to tell you that you shouldn’t visit Bacalar. However, if you’re in Mexico with limited vacation time, it’s best to give some serious thought before embarking on a Bacalar day trip from Tulum.
Personally, I loved my trip to Bacalar, afternoon rainshowers and all.
However, I’ve spoken with many travelers who commented that it wasn’t worth it. Much of that came down to their high expectations.
The photos you see of Bacalar online range from crystal clear to turquoise blue lagoon water. While the lagoon truly has a range of colors, the photos are often enhanced.
So, here’s some humbling reality:
- A windy day will make the water choppy.
- Rain stirs up the white mud in the shallow parts of the lagoon.
- Pollution from agricultural runoff, garbage, and a poor sewage system gives Bacalar’s waters a green hue at times.
The bottom line?
Keeping your expectations in check can make or break your experience in Bacalar (or any place, for that matter).
Since Tulum offers many beautiful—and closer—day trips, it’s worth assessing all of your options before making your way down to Bacalar.
FAQs About a Bacalar to Tulum Day Trip
Now that we’ve talked about what a Bacalar day trip from Tulum entails, let’s look at some other common questions people have about it.
How far is Bacalar from Tulum?
Bacalar is close to a three-hour bus ride from Tulum. If you drive, you can expect it to take closer to 2.5 hours. Distance-wise, Tulum and Bacalar are about 120 miles apart.
Is it possible to visit Bacalar in a day from Tulum?
Yes, it is. However, because of the long travel time, it’s best to spend at least one night in Bacalar before returning to Tulum.
Can I see all of Bacalar in a day?
You’ll be able to see Bacalar’s most popular attractions in a day from Tulum, including taking a lagoon boat tour, visiting the San Felipe Fort, seeing the Plaza de Armas, and exploring public pier accesses.
Are there day trips I can take from Bacalar?
If you decide to spend two or more nights in Bacalar, you can take a day trip to the city of Chetumal or the beachside resort town Mahahual.
To Take a Bacalar Day Trip From Tulum or Not?
Deciding to visit Bacalar in a day from Tulum comes down to personal preference.
Time and how much you have your heart set on seeing the Lake of Seven Colors are some of the biggest factors that’ll likely impact your decision.
Do you have questions about visiting Bacalar that I didn’t answer here? Leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help.
Alternatively, if you end up taking a Bacalar day trip from Tulum, I’d love to hear how it went and your takeaways. Your tips and experience will be valuable for future readers.
Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She's an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she's befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on solo female travel and wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister.