bacalar-lake-pier-3

Bacalar – Mexico – Information


OCTOBER 2016:




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OVERVIEW:

I made my way from Mahahual to Bacalar by public transport (Colectivo).

Mahahual was a small, relaxed, tourist village with a nice Caribbean Beach setting.mahahual-o-beach

In Mahahual I stayed to GRANDPAcking Standard in a hostel: Hostel Jardin.mahahual-hostel-jardin-bed

Mahahual accommodation is expensive; the Hostal Jardin was the ONLY accommodation that I could find online that I could afford.

As is usual in such Mexican Tourist spots, almost all (if not all) ‘western quality’ accommodation is online.mahahual-hostel-jardin-entry

The Jardin is borderline for GRANDPAckers. But the Double Rooms were perfectly adequate, it had a nice central garden, and a communal kitchen area.mahahual-m-beach It was time to head for Bacalar. A couple of people have told me how nice it is … so, I though I’d take a look.

I planned to stay in Bacalar for 7 nights.


MAHAHUAL TO BACALAR:

Bacalar is situated on a lake about 20kms north of Belize and 15kms inland from the Caribbean coast. Bacalar Lake is the second biggest fresh water lake in Mexico.bacalar-location-map

You can get from Mahahual to Bacalar directly by Colectivo; It is the same Colectivo that goes from Mahahual to Chetumal.

Colectivos are 12 seater Minivans that, usually, service short routes.

They leave from Mahahual every hour from 5:45am until about 8:45pm. The price to Bacalar is MXP75 (to Chetumal it is MXP85). The trip takes 1 hour to Bacalar.

Colectivos are not as comfortable as ADO Buses and they can get pretty crowded (especially in Peak Season). You, usually, only want to take Colectivos on trips of no more than 2-3 hours. They can get uncomfortable if you are in them for any longer than that.bacalar-main-road-north

When the Colectivo dropped me off in Bacalar I wondered if I had made a mistake … I was dropped off on the main road and Bacalar didn’t look very appealing.bacalar-main-road-south

From my drop off point, I had a 700 meter walk to my Hotel.


ABOUT BACALAR:

Bacalar was a city of the Maya civilization in Pre-Columbian times.

This was the first city in the region which the Spanish succeeded in taking and holding in 1543.bacalar-village-map

Bacalar is laid out in the typical Spanish Colonial Town ‘grid’ focused on a central park.

As you approach the lakefront from the main road, the town gets more and more picturesque.bacalar-fort

The Spanish built a fort to defend the town against raiding pirates. The fort is next to the main square and is still in excellent condition.bacalar-pata-view-to-fort

The lakefront is mainly private land. Public access to the lakefront is intermittent between these private properties and, invariably, offers poor recreational access.bacalar-lake-entry

But there are benches and tables to laze around on along the path down to the lake.


COMMUNICATIONS:

In Mexico, free internet is widely available in the restaurants and bars. Your accommodation almost always provides free internet too (quality can vary). In the bigger towns and tourist areas, this is reasonably reliable.bacalar-main-park

This means that you don’t need the usual GRANDPAcker 2GB Mobile Phone Data Package; you should be able to get away with less data.

After my total frustration with Telcel, I was giving AT&T a try … in Mahahual, I had no signal … in Bacalar, I was OK again.


BEACHES:

There aren’t any; this is a lake. But the water is clean and you can swim.bacalar-lake-pier-3

Access is from Avenue 1 … the road that runs parallel to the lake.

bacalar-lake-pier-1

It is particularly nice to relax on and swim off of one of the piers.

There are 2 good public accesses to the lake. The first one is free for pedestrians and is found at the bottom of Calle 14. The second is in the national park at the bottom of Calle 30. Entry for pedestrians is MXP10. Both offer access to a pier where you can stay and swim.
bacalar-lake-pier-2


WHERE TO STAY:

You can stay anywhere in and around the central park or lakefront.bacalar-lake-piers

There is no doubt that being on the lakefront is best … if you can afford it! Lakefront accommodation is expensive.

A general accommodation search for the 1st week of November (the last month of ‘Hurricane Season’) reveals the following …

HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):

BOOKING.COM:bacalar-booking-hotels
AGODA.COM:bacalar-agoda-hotels
EXPEDIA:bacalar-expedia-hotels

It is nigh impossible to find accommodation that isn’t already listed online.

Hotel and Hostel search sites display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You, usually, have to add 19% to the displayed price to get the final price.

As you can see, even looking 4 weeks in advance for accommodation just before Peak Season, accommodation is too expensive for GRANDPAckers.

All of the (above) options are away from the lakefront.

If you start your search very early, you may be able to find the ‘deep’ discounts that you need so that you can afford to stay in a GRANDPAcker Standard Hotel in Shoulder Season … if, not, you are looking to come in Off Season.

TRIPADVISOR VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):

If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.

Holiday Rentals are usually rented by the week. A simple future search on TRIPADVISOR.COM demonstrates what’s available nicely (please note that these prices are in US$s):bacalar-tripadvisor-rentals

Vacation Rentals are, usually, displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any Security Deposit (if required).

The Vacation Rentals available (above) are too expensive for GRANDPAckers.


MY ACCOMMODATION:

I booked 2-3 weeks in advance. I arrived on the 5th October in Hurricane Season. I have been in the Yucatan Peninsula for 1 month now in Hurricane Season and I haven’t seen any bad weather (yet) … just the odd shower and rainy day.

I used all of my usual and favourite search engines and couldn’t find anything under MX500 / night … this is the ‘upper limit’ that I have set myself for accommodation.

Simply put … I know that if I can’t find accommodation for under MXP500 / night, then I can’t afford to GRANDPAck there … in which case, I might just as well ‘rough it’ in a cheap Hostel room, save money on accommodation, and have more spending money to have more fun!

I am finding BOOKING.COM and EXPEDIA.COM better than AGODA.COM in Mexico.

I nearly gave up on Bacalar completely but, then, I got inventive and starting searching the internet for each hotel’s “private” website.bacalar-pata-facade

I found the Pata De Perro website which listed a Double Fan room with a Shared bathroom for MXP400 / night including taxes. It was the only place that I could afford. I emailed them and asked if they had a room available.bacalar-pata-view-to-park

They emailed me back to say that the price on their website was in error but they would honour it. They had put aircon into the rooms and the prices had gone up accordingly. Their website listed their rooms at their old ‘Fan Room’ rates.

bacalar-pata-room-entrybacalar-pata-bathroom-entryTo secure the room, I had to pay 50% in advance using PayPal. I paid the remainder in cash on my arrival.

The Pata is located next to the central park.

There are restaurants at the front and a rooftop bar where you get a 10% discount.

The room that I booked shared 2 bathrooms with 1 other room.bacalar-pata-rooms-hallway

bacalar-pata-bathroom-sink bacalar-pata-bathroom-toiletApart from the walk down the hallway, they might just as well have been ensuites … you wouldn’t know the difference. I never had to wait to get into the bathroom once.

The Pata meets GRANDPAcking Standard.

The bedroom is small but well laid out and comfortable.bacalar-pata-room-bed

The aircon was a new, silent heatpump.

The wardrobe offered plenty of space for your clothes.

The shared bathroom was very clean and kept clean daily.

On the 1st floor there was a communal kitchen that offered free coffee in the mornings, free water, and a fridge.bacalar-pata-room-furniture


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:


Booking.com






TRANSPORT:

By Foot:

You can walk everywhere on foot.

Trike / Tuk Tuk:

You don’t find things like Trikes or TukTuks in Mexico, so those ‘supercheap’ options are not available to you.

Scooter / Bicycle:

The Pata offered ‘mountain bikes’ at MXP150 / day (from about 8:00am in the morning to about 9:00pm at night); This is expensive even for Mexico.

The truth is that there aren’t many places to go … except, perhaps, a trip to Cenote Azul.

Taxi:

Taxis are reasonably cheap in Mexico if you know what the Rule Of Thumb should be. Alas, tourists get over-charged frequently.

Taxis do not use meters and the price should be confirmed first. The guideline is MXP10 for the ‘flag fall’ plus MXP10 / km. You can almost double this at night.

So far, I have found UBER Taxis to be a safe and cheaper option than using Taxis on the street. But, alas, UBER does not operate here.


EAT & DRINK:

Along the lakefront you will find Tourist restaurants offering plenty of meals in the MXP120-250 price range.bacalar-avenue-1-fort

There are 2 such restaurants that get good reviews: La Playita and Kai Pez.

I tried the La Playita one night.

bacalar-la-playita-1 It has a very pleasant atmosphere with indoor and outside seating.bacalar-la-playita-2

It is popular and, even in October, reservations needed to be made to get the best tables for the main meal time (about 7:00pm).bacalar-la-playita-3

I had a beer (MXP25) and a Goat’s Cheese Salad (MXP102). I had eaten a big Poc Chuc lunch that day and only wanted a light salad.

I was surprised to find that a beer along the lakefront was only MXP25 … I was expecting MXP30-35. A beer is MXP25 almost everywhere around town.

With meat, the salad was MXP180. This was the cheapest item on the menu.

Be warned … you may need to be patient if you go to eat there at sunset. After 15 minutes of waiting I finally got a menu, after 25 minutes I actually got a beer, and after 45 minutes I finally got my salad. But, it was a nice salad.bacalar-la-playita-salad-mxp102In town you can get a reasonable, basic meal for MXP50-100.

A well rated mid-range restaurant is El Barril’s on Calle 7 between Calle 20 and 22. I tried their Ribs one night (MXP95). Beers were reasonably priced at MXP25.bacalar-el-barril-ribs-mxp95

A highly rated budget restaurant is Christian’s on Calle 16 between Calle 7 & 9. They are famous in town for their Tacos … so I tried their Nachos for MXP50. Beers are reasonably priced at MXP25.bacalar-christians-nachos-mxp50

Another place recommended by the locals is the Cocina Orizaba on Calle 7 between Calle 24 & 26.bacalar-cafe

You can get a good meal here for MXP45-60. I tried their Poc Chuc for MXP60. There were 10 tacos in that basket … there was so much food that I couldn’t eat it all. The soup was included in the price.

They do breakfasts for MXP45. Given the size of the Poc Chuc, I would imagine that you get a good breakfast for your money too.bacalar-cafe-poc-chuc-mxp60

Finally, I tried another highly recommended restaurant: The Pizzeria Bertilla on the corner of Ave 5 and Calle 20. A Peperoni pizza was MXP90 and a beer MXP25.bacalar-bertilla-peperoni-pizza-mxp90 bacalar-bertilla-restaurant

You have your usual ‘Street’ options of Tacos at MXP10-12, Quesodillas MXP15, and Tortas at MXP25-30.

The ‘saving grace’ of Bacalar is that you can eat reasonably cheaply.

There are Superminis around town if you want to take advantage of the fridge back at your Hotel / Hostel … prices are reasonable.

The rooftop bar above the Pata is nice with beers at MXP29 … you get a 10% discount. You also get a nice view out over the central park. I tried their Cesar Salad for MXP100 (before discount).bacalar-pata-rooftop-cesar-salad-mxp100bacalar-pata-rooftop-bar-view

Next to the central park you will find the only pub. Here you can get a large Chelada (beer with salt and lemon in a 1L Carafe) for MXP55. If you like lemon (like me) you will enjoy a Chelada. You can also try a Mechelada which adds tomato ketchup!bacalar-chalada-mxp55

If you like to mix with the locals, you can try The Jungle on Calle 24 between Ave 5 and Calle 7. A 1 liter beer will set you back only MXP35 and a 330ml MXP20. They’ve got a decent jukebox which is usually playing some decent music.bacalar-jungle-bar

GRANDPAckers will, most likely, be in Bacalar in Off Season. Expect the restaurants and bars to be almost empty.


YOUR HEALTH & SAFETY:

There is no reason to feel unsafe here. But, as always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.


WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:

Alas, when it comes to actually doing stuff, Bacalar is a bit of a Tourist Trap.

Life focuses on the lake.bacalar-tourist-map

You can get 4 hour boat trips around the lake to see the ‘usual’ sights and cenotes for as low as MXP350. For MXP500, you can take a sail boat.

Entrance to the cenotes is MXP10 … so, you can just go and visit them yourselves. Cenote Azul is meant to be the best of the bunch (and the farthest away from town center).

At some piers you can rent kayaks. There are a couple of things that you can do yourself: the Pirate Channel and Bird Island. But, that gets expensive at MXP120 / hour for the kayak.

There are some good ruins to visit nearby; Chacchoben being the best one. I tried to get there on public transport … but failed to find a way to do so. You can find organised tours being sold around town.


MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:

MONEY:

There is an ATM in the central park; it seems to be reliable. there are others around town.

SHOPPING:

Strangely, given the Tourist Trap nature around the lake, there aren’t that many Tourist shops.

Bacalar has a couple of small Supermarkets. One is on the central park next to the Pata. Willie’s is a block up the road on Calle 22 between Calle 7&9. Both are reasonably priced.

If you spot a Willie’s always shop there in preference to an OXXO. OXXO are 10-20% more expensive than elsewhere … Willie’s is almost always a better price.

Fruit, in particular, was well priced around town with Bananas and Mangoes going for about MXP15 / Kg.


WHEN TO GO:

playa-del-carmen-climate-table

July through October is hurricane season in this part of the world, and the weather becomes more changeable and less predictable during these months.

The rainy season is May through October.

The high season is December through May as these are the months with the most temperate and driest weather.

GRANDPAckers should find some affordable accommodation options in Off Season: June to September. May and October may be possible if you find deep discounts and book months in advance.

Peak Season is likely to be impossible … you won’t even be able to afford to Backpack it.


GETTING AWAY:

Bacalar is so close to Belize that some places offer transport options to both Belize and Guatemala.bacalar-tripsFrom Bacalar I head back north to Valladolid (to see some more Maya Ruins) before continuing on to El Cuyo or Isla Holbox (depending on what deals I can get on what looks like very expensive accommodation).

I plan to be in Merida from 26th October to 3rd November … my hotel is already booked. Apparently, Merida holds an excellent festival at the end of October … and November 1st & 2nd is Mexico’s National Festival of the Dead.

I will tell you more about that in a later post.


CONCLUSION:

Bacalar is a very pleasant and relaxed lakeside holiday location. I would suggest that, to get the best out of Bacalar, you need to find accommodation on the lakefront. But, this is hard to do.

Many GRANDPAckers will love Bacalar but they will only be able to afford to get lakefront accommodation in Off Season.

Even then, you may need to drop your standards to Backpacker level (a simple Double Fan room with Shared bathroom).

The cost of accommodation (again) is the problem …

TTFN


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