A Wheelchair User’s Guide to Bacalar, Mexico
Bacalar is a small tourist town that sits on beautiful Lake Bacalar near the Belize border. People lovingly call it the Lagoon of Seven Colors because of its blue color that ranges from deep navy to see-through turquoise.
If you’re thinking about visiting Bacalar as a wheelchair user, I’ll share some recommendations along with many photos so that you can get a feel for the town’s accessible areas.
Note: The information here is based on my observation as a non-wheelchair user. If you have firsthand experience as a wheelchair user in Bacalar, I’d love to hear about your time there and your recommendations in the comments section. I appreciate it and I’m sure that our future readers will too!
General Overview of Accessibility in Bacalar
The town of Bacalar runs along a small hill. So, when you’re exploring its roads that run perpendicular to the lake (odd-numbered streets) you’ll encounter mostly flat terrain.
If you take any of the even-numbered streets running parallel with the lake, you’ll come across a short, but fairly steep, climb. Furthermore, these perpendicular streets have more unmaintained sidewalks. So, for most wheelchair users, it’ll be easiest to stick with exploring the odd-numbered streets.
Avenida 1 (Boulevard Costero), Avenida 3, and Avenida 5 are Bacalar’s core streets that run through its center. The sidewalks are relatively well maintained, and drop-down curbs are mostly present.
If, like me, you’re under the impression from looking at a map of Bacalar that you’ll be able to roam down Avenida 1 while enjoying great views of the lake, that’s unfortunately not the case. You’ll get some glimpses of the water, but for the most part, the lake is hidden behind restaurants and tourist boat docks.
Instead, the best way to enjoy the lake is by wandering out on docks and taking a boat ride. I’ll talk in detail about the accessibility for both of these shortly.
I encountered one public wheelchair accessible parking place in Bacalar, and it’s the one you see in the photo above.
Yes, the sign really is leaning against a cinder block!
The accessible parking spot is located on Avenida 3 to the left of the Bacalar ruins when you’re facing the ruins as you look out at the lake.
You can also find accessible parking spots at banks and Oxxo convenience stores in Bacalar.
Accessible Restrooms in Bacalar
I didn’t come across any truly accessible restrooms during my time in Bacalar, although that certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t any.
The closest accessible restroom I found is located outside of a PEMEX gas station near the ADO bus station on Highway 307.
When you’re on the highway facing ADO, the gas station is to your immediate left. The restroom itself is located in an orange building to the right of the gas station, as seen in the photo below:
This accessible restroom is far from being up to ADA standards—in reality, its spacious size is the only thing that makes it somewhat accessible.
There’s a person who manages access to the restrooms. For a 5 peso fee (about 25 cents) you’ll be able to enter, and they’ll give you a wad of toilet paper.
Wheelchair Accessible Lake Viewing Areas in Bacalar
With those basics under our belt, let’s look at some of the best places to enjoy views of Bacalar.
In most cases, there are small sets of low-lying stairs to access the docks. Many of the stairs have wide enough platforms between each step to comfortably fit a wheelchair if you choose to venture down them. I’ve included photos of the stairs here so you know what to expect.
Even if you don’t take the stairs, you can still enjoy nice views of the lake from behind them. There’s also a couple of fully wheelchair accessible docks that I’ll show you.
Lake Viewing Area #1: Calle 18
Calle 18 is a street that leads down to a free public dock in Bacalar, located one block from the fort.
It has a nice wooden boardwalk that leads from the street to the start of the dock.
Once you near the dock, you’ll encounter two steps, as seen here:
If you don’t want to, or can’t, tackle the steps, you’ll get to enjoy views of the lake as seen in the photo under the Calle 18 heading. The brush needed a good trimming when I visited, so hopefully, it’s better when you’re there.
Should you go out onto the dock, you’ll have some of the best views in Bacalar from land. In fact, I took the cover photo of this post at this very dock.
Lake Viewing Area #2: Calle 16
Head down one block from Calle 18 and you’ll encounter yet another free public dock on Calle 16.
This dock has a similar setup as Calle 18 in the sense that there’s a wide, accessible path leading to the dock and two stairs to get down to the water.
Calle 16 is a better option for wheelchair users who won’t be taking the stairs since there isn’t any brush obstructing the view of the lake.
If you choose to take the stairs, below is a photo of what you can expect to see. I took this photo towards the end of the dock, looking back at land.
Lake Viewing Area #3: Calle 14
Yes, you read that right—there’s yet another public dock one block away from Calle 16.
In reality, Calle 14’s dock itself isn’t accessible due to a narrow path to get there because of a tree that stands in the way.
However, this dock allows you to get much closer to the lake than the other two docks we’ve discussed so far.
The dock at Calle 14 is also unique from the other docks because you can drive right up to it and park. There isn’t an accessible parking space, but you can form your own since there aren’t marked spaces, either.
This is a lesser-known dock. So, you likely won’t have to worry about there not being enough space to park.
Lake Viewing Area #4: Kai Pez
We’ve arrived at the end of the free Bacalar access points I encountered. So, this next viewing area is at a restaurant called Kai Pez.
Kai Pez is the best place I came across for wheelchair users during my stay in Bacalar because they have an accessible path that leads out to their lawn.
After you stroll a short distance through the lawn, you’ll arrive at this beautiful 100% accessible dock:
Furthermore, Kai Pez offers outdoor accessible seating with lake views. They have indoor accessible seating as well.
Unfortunately, I forgot to check out their restroom while I was there. However, I have a hunch that they might have an accessible bathroom given their commitment to accessibility in other parts of their property. If you visit there and find out, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.
Kai Pez is one of many restaurants along Bacalar’s lakefront. Based on some peeking I did down these restaurants’ driveways, it looks like several of them may be accessible.
In fact, driving into these restaurants’ parking lots and asking about wheelchair accessibility is another way to do sightseeing of the lake from your car. Most restaurants have someone outside showing prospective customers their menu, so it shouldn’t be hard to flag someone down to ask them whether their restaurant is accessible.
Taking a boat ride is a must while in Bacalar. And, thanks to the popularity of pontoon boats, you don’t even have to leave your wheelchair to do it.
The people working for boat tour companies in Bacalar are extremely friendly and accommodating. I spoke with my boat driver about accessibility on the pontoons, and without hesitation he said they can absolutely accommodate wheelchair users.
In some cases, you might be able to wheel directly onto the pontoon, as is the case with this one:
In other cases, my boat driver said if the door is too narrow, they’ll lift you over it in your wheelchair. He also said that they can lift your chair over the steps to get down to the dock where the pontoons are. The steps are similar in size and width as those at the public docks.
You can opt to either join a group tour or rent out the entire pontoon for a private tour.
The tour takes about two hours and costs around $15 USD per person for a group tour. If you’re friendly and promise a generous tip, your driver will likely extend the tour time, which was the case with my group—we were out on the water for nearly 3 hours!
Once you’re on the water you’ll get to enjoy breathtaking views of turquoise water and private docks with huts.
Nearly all tours on Lake Bacalar include the following five visits:
- Canal de los Piratas
- Cenote de la Bruja
- Cenote Esmeralda
- Cenote Cocalitos
- Isla de los Pájaros
However, there are some off-the-beaten-path places you can visit, too, if you request them in advance, such as this abandoned hotel that belonged to a now incarcerated Yucatan governor.
About 15 years ago, the governor got caught for his connections with a drug cartel. Once he was thrown in jail (where he remains today), locals invaded his property. They took beds, dressers, cooking ware, and anything else they could get their hands on.
Now, they have a 24/7 watchiman (guard) to protect the property. It’ll be interesting to see if they decide to refurbish it someday.
San Felipe de Bacalar Fort
Bacalar’s beautiful fort is a must-see during your visit. As mentioned earlier, there’s an accessible parking space located next to it.
There’s a fee to go inside the fort, but most of it is inaccessible. So instead, consider strolling around the perimeter of the part that’s located on top of the hill.
There, you’ll encounter a mixture of gravel and grass. The stone wall is low so you’ll be able to enjoy excellent views. Furthermore, you’ll see Lake Bacalar in the distance. Looking at it from the hill will give you a whole new appreciation for the lagoon’s range of colors!
Cenote Cocalitos is a park located beside a sinkhole. There’s a small entrance fee to get in, and parking is a free-for-all event where you can make your own accessible space on the grass or gravel driveway.
The park itself is small and mostly grass, so I recommend taking the trip there if it didn’t rain recently.
You’ll likely pass by this park on your tour, but there’s a huge advantage to visiting it from the ground—you’ll get to see stromatolites up close.
The Amazing Science Behind Stromatolites
Stromatolites are hands-down one of the most amazing natural phenomenons that you’ll ever see, even though they may not look like much at first. These microbialites are the oldest living organism on earth, and Bacalar is home to one of the largest freshwater stromatolite populations in the world.
It’s easy to mistake stromatolites for rocks. Below is a photo of protected stromatolites in Cenote Cocalitos.
Scientists believe that stromatolites are around 3.5 billion years old. Given that earth is around 4.5 billion years old, the BBC makes the case that stromatolites offer us an inside view of how the earth looked as continents formed.
Unfortunately, tourism and agricultural practices are putting Bacalar’s stromatolites in danger. Therefore, if you or anyone you’re traveling with plans on getting in the water, do your part to wash off your sunscreen before getting in—they say that even eco-friendly sunblock is damaging to stromatolites.
Balneario Ejidal is another park you can enter in Bacalar for a small fee. They offer better accessibility for wheelchair users than Cenote Cocalitos since there’s a cement path that leads to various areas of the park.
Most notably, they offer an accessible cement dock. This is a great option for anyone who’s uneasy with the wooden docks, as many of them are older.
I happened to visit Balneario Ejidal right before it rained, so my photos aren’t overly attractive. However, they say the water is beautiful on a sunny day!
Travel Tip: Regardless of the weather, the water in Bacalar tends to be calmer in the morning since there’s usually less wind. Therefore, this is often the best time to enjoy the lagoon’s colors.
Are You Ready for Bacalar?
Bacalar is a stunning destination. Although there are plenty of areas for improvement when it comes to wheelchair accessibility, in my opinion, there are enough places you can access that make it worth the trip.
If you have questions about visiting Bacalar, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help. Alternatively, if you’ve already spent time in Bacalar as a wheelchair user, I’d love to hear about your experience, tips, and advice in the comments section.
Hey! Will you be Wheeling Around the Yucatan?
If so, good news!
We’ve put together several other accessible blog posts on destinations in Mexico’s Caribbean peninsula. Check them out below:
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.