Las Coloradas & Río Lagartos Tour: Is It Worth It?
If you’ve already researched a Las Coloradas tour, you’ve likely heard conflicting feedback about whether or not it’s worth it. Some people say the pink lakes are so pink. Others say they look like brown mush. And almost all agree that it’s a really long trip to get there from just about every major destination in the Yucatan.
Here’s a quick background on my Las Coloradas tour experience to give you some context for this article: I visited in June as a day trip from Merida. As you’ll soon see, I visited on a cloudy day, although the rain miraculously held off until the late afternoon while we were eating lunch.
In hindsight, the cloudy weather is a plus for you, dear reader, because it’ll help me help you to keep your expectations in check. That said, I’ll keep my fingers and toes crossed that you have a sunny day, for they say that Las Coloradas’ pink color when the sun is out is incomparable to what it looks like on a cloudy day.
Accessibility Note: If you’re a wheelchair user, head over to our post on Wheelchair Accessibility in Las Coloradas for more details.
The Good About the Las Coloradas & Río Lagartos Tour
I’m all about finding the positives when I travel, so let’s start there. Below were some of my favorite parts about the Las Coloradas tour:
- The road is paved and isn’t packed with curves for people who suffer from car sickness.
- Even on a cloudy day, the lakes still had a pink hue.
- You can see flamingos year-round at Río Lagartos.
- The boat ride is underrated (more on this shortly).
Although you’ll literally see Las Coloradas through rose-colored glasses, you might not feel that the tour is all sunshine and roses (how about those puns, eh?). Below are some points that might make you shy away.
- The tour makes for a long day—expect to be gone for 12 – 13 hours if you’re traveling from Merida.
- Almost all agencies stop at an “untouched” beach, which in my opinion, is an unnecessary use of an hour.
- People uneasy about boats likely won’t feel comfortable cruising down Río Lagartos.
The Nitty-Gritty of the Las Coloardas Tour
There’s no shortage of tour agencies ready to sell you a tour of Las Coloradas and Río Lagartos. Since I took my tour from Merida, I’ll be talking about my experience from there. However, you can also take this tour from Cancun and other major destinations in the Yucatan.
After checking prices at many travel agencies in Merida, I ended up booking my Las Coloradas tour with Sol Turquesa for 850 pesos. That was in June 2021. It was the lowest price I was offered (the highest being 1,250 pesos).
Between being a single traveler and an American, the odds were stacked against me for getting a fair price on this tour. But as a spoiler, whether or not I did, I ended up feeling it was a good deal.
Below are some items to note as you’re trying to find a good deal on your tour:
- Most travel agencies don’t include the Las Coloradas entrance tickets (approximately 120 pesos), Río Lagartos boat tour (250 pesos), and lunch (varies, but usually starts at 120 pesos) in their prices.
- The Las Coloradas entrance ticket price varies depending on your nationality (Mexican residents receive a discount) and what part of Las Coloradas you visit.
- The more people in your group, the more price negotiation power you have.
For full transparency, I’m writing this post from an independent standpoint—Sol Turquesa didn’t sponsor my trip, and they had no idea that I’d be writing a blog post about Las Coloradas.
I’ll be honest—my expectations are always at the bottom of the barrel when I book a tour with an agency off the street. However, I was extremely impressed with Sol Turquesa’s punctuality, professionalism, and comfortable van.
Arriving at Las Coloradas
The van ride from Merida to Las Coloradas took around 2.5 hours, which doesn’t include the almost one hour we spent picking up other tour guests (the pickups started at around 7:00 am) and the much-welcomed restroom/coffee/convenience store stop we made just before heading out of the Merida city limit.
Travel Tip: Load up on water and snacks to bring with you before departing Merida, for you won’t eat lunch until around 3:30 – 4:00 pm. Also, you must pay for all entrance fees in cash, and you won’t have access to ATMs until the end of your tour when it’s too late.
When our van approached the entrance to Las Coloradas, we were greeted by a mass of men waving signs and trying to point us in the “right” direction to take the tour. Our driver stopped and chatted with them for a minute before choosing a route.
This is the part I’m a little unclear about, as I couldn’t get a direct answer. However, it appears that many people own different parts of the pink lakes, and each one runs their own business from them.
My tour van ended up taking us to the far end of the pink lakes, where we were greeted with a sign in Spanish warning people that where we were wasn’t the true Las Coloradas tour.
However, while it’s true that there are many parts of the pink lakes you can visit, I’m pretty sure this sign was letting people know that they should be leery of any tour guide who says that it isn’t necessary to pay the entrance fee to see the pink lakes.
While it’s true that you can see a glimpse of the pink water without paying the entrance fee, I agree with the sign—go inside to have better views of the lakes. After all, you traveled all that way to see it!
The Restroom Situation
When you arrive in Las Coloradas town, your driver will make a stop in front of someone’s house so you can use their restroom. This is a nice little income for locals who offer up their restrooms, as they charge 5 pesos per person (around 25 cents).
In exchange, you’ll receive a clean space, toilet paper, and a flush toilet.
Most of these locals have multiple restrooms in their front yard, so you won’t have to trudge through their home.
I enjoyed this restroom break because it offered a bit of time to walk around the tiny town. I could even see what appeared to be preparation for salt mining going on from across the way.
Entering Las Coloradas
Once you pay your entrance fee, a Las Coloradas guide will lead you along a path that separates the pink lakes from the ocean.
Note: To help give you realistic expectations for Las Coloradas, I didn’t alter any photos of the pink lakes that you see in this post.
Unlike in the past, all visitors must remain with a Las Coloradas-approved guide; they have strict rules about where you can walk, and your guide will call you back if you wander too far.
Although it felt a little uncomfortable to be watched so closely, it’s for the greater good of protecting the lakes.
We ended up having a fantastic guide who was extremely knowledgeable about the pink lakes and passionate about their conservation. Needless to say, he added tremendous value to the experience.
Our guide explained to us that the pink water is a natural phenomenon resulting from a high salinity and a large concentration of red bacteria. How does the bacteria get concentrated, you ask?
Well, these lakes, which locals use for salt mining, don’t have a source of water that constantly feeds into them. Therefore, the sun has the opportunity to evaporate the water at a quicker rate, thus increasing the pinkness of the water.
Eventually, these lakes dry up and that’s when they harvest the salt.
Don’t worry, though—there are many pink lakes in Las Coloradas and they mine the salt in cycles, so you’ll always be able to see a pink lake in some area.
The Best Time to Visit Las Coloradas
As you’ve probably guessed by now, there are better times than others to take the Las Coloradas tour. Unfortunately, weather is the biggest factor that impacts how pink the lakes will be when you see them, so there’s not a whole lot you can do there.
Nevertheless, it’s good to have an understanding of what kinds of events impact the pink water at Las Coloradas. They include:
- Whether it rained recently, for this will stir up mud in the water.
- Whether it’s sunny or cloudy. The pink turns much brighter when the sun is out.
- Where they’re at with processing the salt. The closer the lakes get to being ready for salt harvest, the pinker the water.
- Whether it’s windy, as this changes the glass-like appearance of the water.
Is Swimming Allowed at Las Coloradas?
Save your bathing suit for the next stop on your tour—the beach—for swimming is no longer allowed at Las Coloradas.
Not only are you not allowed to swim, but the guards will get after you if you try to approach the water to even dip your toes in. It’s understandable they’re so strict about this, for the sand along the edge of the water is fragile.
Nevertheless, you’re allowed to stand near the edge in areas where the ground is firmer.
The Other Side of Las Coloradas
Las Coloradas’ pink lakes are mesmerizing, but to be honest, I found the contrast between the green-blue ocean and pink water to be just as enthralling.
The wind had whipped up seafoam on the ocean side, which wasn’t the case a handful of feet across the way for the pink lakes side.
Getting an Areal View of Las Coloradas
I can’t speak for all parts of Las Coloradas, but in the section my tour group stopped at, we had the option to climb up an observation tower for an additional 60 pesos (about $3 USD).
Most people in my group opted out of it, but I choose to climb up and I’m so glad I did, for I had an amazing view of the stretch of land that we had walked along during the tour.
Nevertheless, some of my favorite views from the tower weren’t of the pink lakes, but rather the contrast between the pink and green-blue water.
As an FYI for anyone hoping to enter the area with a drone, drones are no longer allowed in Las Coloradas, so lookout towers like this one are now as good as it gets.
The lookout tower I went to also offered a great view over the ocean where they had other salt mining areas set up.
A Beach, You Said?
My tour group spent around one hour at Las Coloradas, and that felt like a good amount of time—enough to learn about the lakes’ background and have free time for photos without feeling like we had too much time on our hands.
For the next portion of our tour, we went to a beach that was less than a 10-minute drive from Las Coloradas. This beach stop is included in just about every Las Coloradas and Río Lagartos tour I came across, so it seems hard to avoid unless you set up a private tour.
Don’t get me wrong—I love beaches. However, one hour of free time at a beach that is underwhelming compared to many other beaches in the Yucatan didn’t feel like a great use of time on such a long travel day.
The beach is shallow and the waves are calm so it’s good for swimming. However, there was a lot of seaweed the day I visited (of course, this could be a seasonal thing).
Although they advertise the beach as being pristine in the sense there aren’t buildings or restaurants nearby, I was disappointed by the amount of trash in the shelter areas where tourists congregate.
Embarking on the Río Lagartos Tour
The last portion of the Las Coloradas tour (except for a late lunch stop—make sure to bring those snacks to power you through!) is a boat ride on Río Lagartos.
I have to admit that I didn’t expect much from this portion of the tour, for Las Coloradas is what inspired me to take the tour. Nevertheless, I was amazed by the boat ride and ended up enjoying Río Lagartos even more than Las Coloradas!
The boat ride begins at a local dock beneath a low-lying bridge. Our driver then drove us 20-feet away from that bridge to nearby mangroves where a crocodile greeted us (a little too close for comfort, if you ask me!).
The crocodiles are wild, but our boat driver said that locals tamed a handful by feeding them. I’m cringing with you, environmentalists.
The driver carried a few fish on board and threw one to the crocodile who put on quite the show of eating it.
We then took about a 10-minute boat ride to a wider part of the river where we encountered hundreds of flamingos across dozens of small flamingo colonies.
For full transparency, I edited the photos below to help make the flamingos stand out more, for the boat drivers aren’t allowed to get too close to them and my iPhone only zooms in so far. However, I assure you that they were very pink.
Just like our Las Coloradas guide, our boat driver was a chatty man who shared lots of information about the river’s ecosystem. He told us that flamingos get scared off easily, so it’s prohibited to get too close to them. Otherwise, they’ll panic and could break their fragile necks in an attempt to escape approaching humans.
Below is a photo showing about as close as boats are allowed to get to the flamingos—and my driver ended up not even getting that close.
Perhaps this won’t come as a surprise to you, but the flamingos get their red color from the same bacteria that makes Las Coloradas pink. However, they consume the pink properties by means of dining on shrimp that live in the pink water.
Lucky for the flamingos (and humans worried about their small boat tipping over), crocodiles don’t travel into this section of the river because the water is too salty.
Despite the cloudy weather, we had a calm day out on the river. The river is widest by the flamingos and then narrows significantly as it makes its way to Río Lagartos town, which is where your van and driver will await you.
The boat ride lasted around 1.5 hours and, in my opinion, was worth every peso to see the beautiful wildlife.
A final stop you’ll make before arriving in Río Lagartos town is an area where you can take a Mayan mud bath. Some people in our group choose to get out and have the full Mayan mud bath experience (it’s prohibited to remove the mud from there, so this is a one-time kind of opportunity).
For those who don’t want to smear mud all over themselves, your boat driver can give you a sample piece so you can rub a little on your hands.
After the mud bath, the boat continues to Río Lagartos town, where it’ll stop at a small beach to let anyone off who took the mud bath so they can rinse off.
We ended up having 1.5 hours to eat lunch in Río Lagartos town—way longer than needed, in my opinion, since we still had a long trip back.
However, it’s a nice opportunity to stretch your legs and stroll along the small boulevard that runs along the river.
FAQ About the Las Coloradas & Río Lagartos Tour
Do you still have questions about taking the Las Coloradas and Río Lagartos tour? Hopefully these will help you out.
Can you take the Las Coloradas tour from Valladolid?
You can, but it most likely has to be in the form of a private tour. Although Valladolid is closer to Las Coloradas than Merida and Cancun are, it seems there aren’t enough tourists that spend the night in Valladolid to make it worth the time for tour agencies to run group trips to Las Coloradas.
Are there life jackets on the Río Lagartos boat?
Each seat comes with a life jacket, and it’s your choice whether or not you want to wear it. The boat has a maximum capacity of seven tourists per boat.
Are there flamingos year-round at Río Lagartos?
Yes, you can find flamingos year-round when visiting Río Lagartos. However, you’ll encounter the greatest number of them from March to June, as this is the time of year when they migrate to the area to breed.
Is the Las Coloradas and Río Lagartos tour worth it?
For me, visiting Las Coloradas and Río Lagartos was very much worth it. I think the most important ways to prepare for this tour are to know that it’ll be a long day and to keep your expectations low about just how pink the pink lakes will be.
Will You Be Taking the Las Coloradas Tour?
I’m not about to tell you that the Las Coloradas tour is for everyone. However, I do think that it’s grown a bad reputation for being “too far” and “not colorful enough.” I hope that by showing you unedited photos of the pink lakes on a cloudy day, you have a better sense of the kind of colors you might encounter on the relatively bad side of the color scale.
Laura’s love for traveling started with a trip to Jamaica. Since then, she’s spent over five years living in Latin America and four years wandering the globe. 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 wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.