Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A paradise near Cancun: Rio Lagartos

While researching for some great vacations in the Cancun area, over and over again I came across a place in the Yucatan called “Rio Lagartos.” It seemed to be a place of stunning landscapes and natural wonders. 

After looking at hundreds of photos and reading about this spectacular place my experiences of this day was nothing compared to how I imagined it to be. 

Flamingos in Rio Lagartos
The ancient Mayas called this place Holkobén and used it as a rest stop on their way to the nearby lagoons from which they extracted salt to sell (which continues to be extracted, on a much vaster scale now). Many years later in 1979, Mexico established Rio Lagartos Bio-Reserve in the state of Yucatan and is now internationally known as the land of the flamingos. An amazing day trip during your Cancun vacations. 

The day began with a brief introduction with our tour guide and the captain of the boat, and then it was time to depart. As we made our way to the flamingos our guide showed us many different types of birds including Great Blue Herons, Tiger Herons, Roseate Spoonbills, Kingfishers, Anhingas, Frigates, Common Black Hawks, Ospreys, Wood storks, Snowy Egrets, and White Ibis. Some of these birds I had only seen in zoos and in photos, so it was a real treat to see them in their natural habitat. Before we departed we were told that if we were lucky we would see one of the largest crocodiles in the river, and I guess we were. The crocodile must have been around 10 or 12 feet long and its teeth a few inches. It came close enough so that we could get some excellent photos, but we kept our distance. During our trip we saw 2 other junior crocodiles tucked away in the mangroves. 

The area surrounding Rio Lagartos
Our next stop was to see the famous flamingos. On the way we passed what looked to be snow- a long line of white. We were soon told that it was salt (we would get to have a magical experience a little later on). On getting closer to where the flamingos were, it was just breathtaking, hundreds of flamingos all in a few centimeters of water. When we moved closer, they started running on the surface of the water and then took off! A truly amazing sight. For those who were quick enough, they were able to take some great photos. What an amazing souvenir of our day trip from Cancun!

It was then time for a swim, but not in the ocean nor in the river nor in ´normal’ water. This water was pink! The pink colored water is the result of tiny marine micro organisms called carotenoids. As the water in the salt ponds evaporates, their concentration increases and the water becomes redder. They are the main food source for flamingos. These micro-organisms contain beta carotene which is also the reason for flamingos’ color. The water looked inviting and different– almost thicker. Once we were all in the water, we were told to lie back. The strangest thing happened: we all floated in the water. Almost like the sensation that people in space feel. Completely fascinating. It was then time to have a “Baño Maya” (Mayan Bath) with the white colored mud that was at the bottom of the lake to cover ourselves in. The mud is very rich in minerals and left both skin and hair very soft. Under the Mexican sun this soon dried off and then it was time to jump in the river water and wash all the mud off.  

Flamingos flying over Rio Lagarto
After all of this excitement it was time to head back to shore and enjoy a few ice cold beers and some freshly caught fish. This gave us all a good chance to share photos and feelings of our spectacular trip before going back to our resort in Cancun. 150% recommendable and I will be back very soon to re-live all of these magical experiences in a fantastic part of the World: Rio Lagartos.

How to get there:
  • From the Riviera Maya, Tulum and Costa Maya: the easiest way is to take the Coba road and carry on towards Chemax and Valladolid, and continue to Rio Lagartos
  • From Cancun and Puerto Morelos: get on the Valladollid-Tizimin- Rio Lagartos road. This may seem like a long way round but it allows you to make a stop at the ruins in Ek Balam which are north of Valladolid.
  • From Merida: take the road to Motul-Tizimin.The highway is connected to the Periferico (beltline) around Merida on the northeast side. You will see sign posts to Rio Lagartos

900 Mexican pesos for a guided tour for 2-6 people | Opening hours: They will work to your schedule (minimum 2 hours).

  1. When taking the “Baño Maya” do not get the water in your eyes, as it's very satly.
  2. There’s no bank or ATM in town, so bring lots of cash (Mexican pesos or USD).
  3. Most residents aren’t sure of the town’s street names, and signs are scarce. The road into town is the north–south Calle 10, which ends at the waterfront Calle 13.
  4. Combine your trip to Rio Lagartos with a trip to Valladolid or the Mayan ruins at Ek Balam
Did you know that...
  • As of September 2012, 43,000 flamingos have been recorded in the Yucatan, the majority of which nest and feed in the Rio Lagartos area.
  • A total of 388 species of birds have been counted in Rio Lagartos and also 59 species of mammals, and 80 species of reptiles 99 species of fish.
  • The flamingos have few predators, one of the biggest one is the jaguar. However, very few adult flamingos are caught by them, because as soon as the flamingos feel under treat they expand their wings (which are black inside), making them out to larger than they are which usually scares jaguars away.
  • There are 18 archaeological sites in the Bio-Reserve.