Río Lagartos is one spectacular place that you just do not want to miss during your vacations in Cancun or in the Riviera Maya. This is absolutely once in a lifetime experience and the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful birds on earth: flamingos. The ancient Maya named this place Holkobén and used it as a rest stop on their way to nearby lagoons from which they extracted salt to sell (salt continues to be extracted, but on a much vaster scale now). In 1979 Mexico established Rio Lagartos Bio-Reserve in the state of Yucatan and is now internationally known as the land of the flamingos.
I had always heard about this place in the Yucatan Peninsula and the stunning landscapes and nature that can be found there. After looking at hundreds of photos and reading about this spectacular place, the experience of actually being there went beyond expectations.
The day began with a brief introduction to 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 lucky. The crocodile must have been around 10 or 12 feet long and its teeth a few inches large. It came close enough so that we could get some excellent photos, but we kept our distance. In fact during our trip we saw two other junior crocodiles tucked away in the mangroves.
Our next stop was to see the famous flamingos. On our way we passed by what looked to be snow- a long line of "white." We were soon told that this was salt and we would get to have a magical experience a little later on. As we approached the flamingos, it was just breathtaking: hundreds of flamingos in a very limited area. The closer we moved they faster would run on the surface of the water and then take off! A truly amazing sight. For those who are quick enough, you can take some great photos here.
After taking some amazing pics, it was 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. 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 carotenoid, which is the reason for the flamingos’ color, amongst other factors. The water felt very different– almost thicker. Once we were all in the water, we were told to lie back. The strangest thing happened: we all floated on the water. Almost like the sensation that people feel in space. Completely fascinating.
It was then time to have a “Baño Maya” (Mayan Bath) with the white colored mud that was at the bottom of this lake to cover ourselves in. The mud is very rich in minerals and left hair and skin very soft. Under the Mexican sun, it soon dried and then it was time to jump in the river water and wash all the mud off.
After all this excitement, it was time to head back to shore and enjoy a few ice cold beers as well as some freshly caught fish. This gave us all a good chance to share photos and feelings of our spectacular trip. 110% recommendable and I will be back very soon to re-live all of these magical experiences at this fantastic part of the world: Rio Lagartos.
How to get there by car:
From the Riviera Maya, Tulum and Costa Maya: the easiest route is to take the Coba road and continue on the road to Chemax and Valladolid, to then continue to Rio Lagartos.
From Cancun and Puerto Morelos: take the Valladollid-Tizimin-Rio Lagartos. This may seem like a long way round but you can make a stop at the beautiful 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.
Price to visit the bioreserve: 900 Mexican pesos (approx. 75usd) for a guided tour for 2-6 people |
- When taking the “Baño Maya” do not get the water in your eyes, as its very salty.
- There’s no bank or ATM in town, so bring lots of cash (Mexican pesos or USD).
- Most residents aren’t sure of the town’s street names, and signs are few. The road into town is the north–south Calle 10, which ends at the waterfront Calle 13.
- Combine your trip to Rio Lagartos with a trip to Valladolid or the Mayan ruins of Ek Balam.
- As of September 2012, 43,000 flamingos have been recorded in 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, 59 species of Mammals, 80 species of Reptiles and 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 threat they expand their wings (which are black inside), which makes them out to be larger than they are and usually scares the jaguars away.
- There are 18 archeological sites in the Bio-Reserve.