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The ultimate guide to Rio Lagartos Yucatan

No doubt you’ve seen Rio Lagartos (also referred to as Ria Lagartos) in countless Instagram pictures by now. 

This biosphere reserve is famous for its iconic pink lakes (also called Las Coloradas), but it’s also a treat for nature lovers and birdwatchers alike, especially for the colonies of pink flamingoes that choose this area as their safe nest for mating and giving birth.

Rio Lagartos is located on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, and it’s is home to more than 400 bird species.

However, the reason why many visitors come here is to see the gracious pink Flamingos, also known as the American Flamingo. 

Fun fact: Rio Lagartos has the highest concentration of flamingos in Mexico. So high, in fact, that there are 2-3 flamingos for every resident in the area, or so they say.

What most people don’t know, though, is that Rio Lagartos is a dedicated nature reserve. The Mexican government designated this area, spread over 60,000 hectares (233 square miles) as a reserve in 1999; it later became a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2004. 

Rio Lagartos Flamingoes

Here, you’ll find some of the richest ecosystems in the Yucatan Peninsula. Instagram-worthy shots aside, if nature and wildlife are your things, Rio Lagartos is a must-visit location for you.

There are a total of eight ecosystems in this beautiful area, from mangrove forests to coastal dunes and even Mexico’s first Ramsar site. 

For those of you who are unaware, a Ramsar site is an area of wetlands that are considered to be of international importance due to its ecological diversity.

Rio Lagartos is also the name of the small town right on the ocean from where the boat tours leave. Here you can experience the local authentic charm, and romantic walks while admiring spectacular sunrises and sunsets by the pier.

Lastly, you’ll find authentic Yucatan cuisine at Rio Lagartos. It’s no secret that Mexican food is delicious, and the cuisine here will appeal to everyone who visits the area, especially seafood lovers. Vegans will have a hard time though (just warning you).

There are also a few nice hotels for your convenience. In fact, as I explain more later in this post, the best way to enjoy a tour in Rio Lagartos is by leaving early morning at sunrise.

That’s why it’s recommendable to spend the night before the tour here.

Now that you know more about this wonderful place, you must be wondering how to get here and how to make the most of your time. That’s what this post is about. 🙂

Ril Lagartos bird
Fregate in Rio Lagartos

Do I need travel insurance in Mexico? Yes, you do! I can never stress enough what a lifesaver it can be in unexpected situations. Although I hope I never need it, it gives me peace of mind to know that whatever happens I am covered. I have been using  Safety Wing and I find it quite fair, covering a lot for its pricing level. Depending on your needs or you can compare different insurance companies on this useful site, TRAVEL INSURANCE MASTER. Make sure you read carefully what’s included before making the purchase. If you are undecided yet you can read my post on the best travel insurance for Mexico for more clarity.

The best tour in Rio Lagartos Yucatan

We will cover how to get to Rio Lagartos in a moment. Before that, I would like to give a shout-out to the best guide in Rio Lagartos, William Canto.

When I visited I also had a friend recommendation of a super professional guide-slash-photographer, William. So I hired him and I had a blast exploring Rio Lagartos, learning about the local flora and fauna and the entire network of ecosystems.

I arrived in Rio Lagartos a day before my scheduled tour with William (the guide). It was raining heavily so any impromptu exploration was out of the question. I just got myself a room in the first place I found and stayed the night there. 

I’d highly recommend that you do proper research on where to stay during your visit. My room was fine for the night, but I could’ve picked better if I wasn’t traveling on the cheap.

So to make your job easier I’ve included some of my recommendations on places where you can stay while you’re in Rio Lagartos, at the bottom of this article.

So the next morning, I met William at 7 AM. Since it was a private tour, we could just make up the schedule as we went along. 

Rio Lagartos River
Rio Lagartos pink flamingos

Naturally, the first order of business was to snap some pictures of the iconic pink flamingoes. Afterward, we navigated south to spot other birds and check out some spots.

You can take a clay bath along the beach; the clay here is very rich in minerals that rejuvenate and moisturize your skin.

Personally, I didn’t pause for the clay bath because my primary purpose for being there was photography. So I dedicated more time to snapping some spectacular (and very memorable) pictures of birds.

I have to mention here that my guide, William, surpassed my (already high) expectations. He’s the only guide in Rio Lagartos who has a biology degree, and he’s very passionate and knowledgeable about the area. 

As a self-taught photographer who’s intimately familiar with the landscape, he’s also the ideal person to show you all the spots in Rio Lagartos where you can take the best pictures.

William provides private tours for up to 6 people. He keeps the group size small on purpose because he’s going for a quality service. Having experienced his services myself, I’d say he’s definitely one of the best guides in the area.

I’m not being paid anything by him and I am not biased by any means, I’m just happy to talk about his tours as I had such a great time because of him.

Rio Lagartos boat at sunset

In addition to standard private tours, he also provides special tours during the right season when baby flamingoes are hatching.

If you’re interested in those, there are two things you should be aware of. First, these tours need special permission because Rio Lagartos is a biosphere reserve; the permits will be handled by your tour operator. 

Second, and more important, slots are limited and get snatched up fast, so make sure to book your place in advance.

If you’re interested in services (which I highly recommend), he has his own company and you can find his contact on Facebook. He speaks English.

Now, let’s move on to the standard tour that he offers.

Standard Rio Lagartos tour (2.5 hrs duration)

Availability: Throughout the year, not season-specific
Languages: English and Spanish
Number of participants: 1 to 6 (children over 3 years count as adults)
Price: MEX$ 1500 for the entire boat for 2.5 hours(split between the participants, for example: if there are 2 participants, they’ll pay MEX$ 750 each)

The standard tour is centered around observing the signature bird of Rio Lagartos, the pink flamingo. But you’ll also be able to observe other birds like seagulls, cormorants, eagles, and more. A lot of people are also able to catch sight of crocodiles. 

Rio Lagartos translates to “Alligator River”. It was named as such when the Spanish spotted the crocodiles here, mistaking them for alligators.

Rio Lagartos Hawk

The tour covers approximately 20 kilometers, through canals surrounded by mangrove forests. You’ll make a brief stop at the Las Coloradas, famed for their pink color and salt industry.

Visitors will then get an option to take a white clay bath; the minerals in the clay contain a lot of minerals that are great for the skin.

Before returning to Rio Lagartos, you’ll stop at a white sand beach to wash off the clay and rest a bit. All in all, a very enjoyable tour, and one I highly recommend. 

Photography Rio Lagartos Tour (4 hrs duration)

Availability: Throughout the year, not season-specific
Languages: English and Spanish
Number of participants: 1 to 6 (children over 3 years count as adults, but since it’s a photography tour I would not recommend screaming kids)
Price: MEX$ 2500 for the entire boat for 4 hours.

If you’re interested, make sure to contact him through his Facebook page for bookings and details.

Rio Lagartos at sunrise

How to get to Rio Lagartos Yucatan

So now that we have clarified which guide you should hire, we need to understand how to get to Rio Lagartos.

There are different ways to get to Rio Lagartos – Yucatan and I am going to explain each and every one of them (starting with my favorite one) so that you can decide which one is the best option for you.

Visiting Rio Lagartos by car

The best way to visit Rio Lagartos and the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula is by renting a car. I am sure you would have guessed that if you have been reading this post for a while.

I find it much more convenient because I get to decide where to go when to stop and for how much time. 

If you are concerned about driving in Mexico, worry not, I have got you covered.

It’s very safe to drive around the Yucatan Peninsula. Just make sure you follow the simple tips that I am recommending in my post.

If you are concerned about safety in Mexico you can read my post on that topic as well.

The best place for renting a car in Mexico is Discover Car Rentals, not only because I get commissions if you are using my link but also because it allows you to compare different companies and they also offer full coverage, to complement the insurance offered by the rental company, if that’s not enough.


Car rental

Discover Cars Mexico Review

Browse through international and local car rentals and find the best deal.


Getting to Rio Lagartos by Bus

In order to get to Rio Lagartos by bus, you’ll have to take a circuitous route. There are no direct buses to Rio Lagartos from Tulum, Cancun, Merida, etc.

So first, you’ll catch a bus to Valladolid, then to Tizimin, and from Tizimin to Rio Lagartos.

You can also skip Valladolid by catching a bus directly to Tizimin, but direct buses to Tizimin are few and far in-between.

Here is the bus schedule Tizimin – Rio Lagartos – Tizimin

noreste schedule Rio Lagartos Tizimin Rio Lagartos

Regardless of which way you use to get to Tizimin, from here, you can catch ADO or NORESTE buses to Rio Lagartos without any issues.

Rio Lagartos fregate

ADO line also handles another bus company named MAYAB. But in order to get information about it, you’ll have to use the chat system on the ADO website, because its schedule is not available online.

Or you can ask directly at the bus station.

As you can see, it’s a little time-consuming to get to Rio Lagartos By bus and that’s why I was suggesting a car rental.

However, if driving in Mexico is really not your thing but you don’t have much time, you can also join an organized tour. It won’t be with William but you can still enjoy the spectacular biosphere.


How to get to Rio Lagartos Yucatan by an organized tour

Although I can’t recommend enough William’s tour, I understand that you might have limited time and prefer to join an organized tour from your hotel so that you can do everything in just one day.

In fact, there are plenty of organized tours from the hotels of the Riviera Maya, Cancun, and Merida.

Most of them include a stop at the spectacular archeological site of Ek Balam or Las Coloradas.

Rio Lagartos full-day all-inclusive tour from Playa del Carmen

Rio Lagartos full-day all-inclusive tour from Tulum

Rio Lagartos full-day all-inclusive tour from Cancun


What to wear and bring on the tour to Rio Lagartos

To make your visit more enjoyable, you need to pack some essentials with you when you visit Rio Lagartos.

Here are my recommendations: 

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Map of Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas

I have included a map with the road directions from Canun but you can easily see the road from Playa del Carmen and Tulum, the distances are pretty much similar.

I would suggest that you use the Toll Roads, when available, to save time and also to purchase a Mexican Sim Card, definitely one of the best Mexico travel tips I could give you. It’s practical and makes you safer. 🙂

Rio Lagartos
to Rio Lagartos road Map from Cancun ( photo © Google Maps)

Where to stay in Rio Lagartos Yucatan

Now that you have plenty of information about Rio Lagartos and some tours you can take, let’s look at places where you can stay while you’re in the area.

Hotel Rio Lagartos

Hotel Rio Lagartos Yucatan

Hotel Rio Lagartos is probably the biggest hotel and the most expensive, around 80 USD per night. It’s not luxury, but it’s the most upscale in the area. I didn’t stay there but I went visit and the rooms are quite spacious and seem comfortable. Besides if you happen to be in the right location you may have spectacular views over the bay.

View rates and availability on Booking.com

Posada El Perico Marinero

Posada El Perico Marinero is one of my favorites in Rio Lagartos. The rooms have an option of sea view or pool view; while both are beautiful, in my humble opinion, you should always opt for the sea view.

View rates and availability on Booking.com

Casa Ka’an Rio

Casa Ka’an Rio provides the best bang for the buck for those of you who are looking for affordable accommodations. The rooms and premises are clean and comfortable, and the hotel is located right in front of the Marina.

View rates and availability on Booking.com


✨ Mexico Travel Planning Guide ✨

👉 Do I need travel insurance to travel to Mexico?

I would do it if I were you. You never know what can happen and know that no matter what, you will be covered with any expenses will give you peace of mind, and make your travel worry-free. You can check out SafetyWing which I have used and find it affordable and comprehensive and also Travel Insurance Master which is great because you can insert all your information and what kind of insurance you need and their system will pull out the best insurance for your need.

🚰 Can I drink tap water in Mexico?

No, you can’t! Maybe in some areas or in some homes where they have installed water filters but to be on the safe side, I would say, never drink tap water in Mexico. Carry a water bottle with you and fill it up where you find available potable water sources. Most of the hotels have those.

🚗 Is it safe to drive in Mexico?

The short answer is: depending on where you are. Although in general if you stick to the main roads and don’t drive at night you should probably be safe. In lesser tourist areas you should probably check the local news to stay up to date. Driving in the Yucatan Peninsula is easy everywhere, even at night, although I would still avoid it. I usually use Discover Cars because the site offers the options to compare prices among different car rentals and you can add their own full coverage.

Read more on my guide on Renting a car in Mexico.

📱 Will my phone work in Mexico?

It will probably work, especially if you have a European or US phone, but your roaming rates may be to the stars (check with your SIM provider). Even if have an affordable international rate, you will be much better off by buying a Mexican SIM Card. It’s cheap, easy to set up, and it will keep you connected with your friends, family, and, more important, google Maps so you will never get lost!

🤕 Is it safe to travel to Mexico right now?

The short answer is, yes it is. However, there are parts of Mexico that are indeed troubled and you should avoid for now, and others that are super safe and easy to travel around.

Regardless of where you are you should always use some common sense rules such as, never flaunting expensive clothing, accessories, electronics, or money and keeping a low profile.

Read more on my detailed guide on safety in Mexico. If you are traveling to a specific destination I have got you covered as well:

💉 Do I need any vaccine to travel to Mexico?

No, there is no vaccine requirement (of any kind) to travel to Mexico

🇲🇽 Do I need a visa to travel to Mexico?

If you are coming from the US or Europe you don’t need a VISA to enter Mexico. Once you get in you need to fill out a form that you need to keep with you until you leave. If you don’t have it you will pay a fine.

Although the tourist visa for US and European travelers used to be 6 months long which you could easily renew by leaving the country for a couple of days and going back, nowadays they have been stricter. You may be asked how you would sustain your living and other similar questions. Sometimes they even ask you to show your credit cards.

It seems odd but they can do that. If you intend to stay longer than a usual couple of weeks’ vacation time, just be honest and explain your plans. If you are not from the US, check this site to see if you need a visa

💸 Where do I find the best travel deals for Mexico? 💸

A trip to Mexico can be expensive if you love to travel with all the comforts (like I do). There are a few tricks that will help you find the best deals. Here are my tips:

👉 DON’T travel in the high season, which is Holy week, Christmas and winter in general, and August.
👉 Book months in advance to find early booking discounts
👉 Use aggregators such as Discover Cars to find price comparisons and VRBO for vacation rentals!
👉 Look for packages flights+hotels on Expedia or Skyscanner as usually, that’s where the best deals are.
👉 Check on Booking.com or Hotels.com for hotel deals

Happy travels!!