International Stromatolite Symposium
January 13 and 14, 2012
Southern Yucatan Peninsula, Bacalar, Mexico
There is much to experience!
+The prime attraction: Laguna Bacalar
+Numerous Maya ruins are near Bacalar and Chetumal
+K-T extinction impact site at Chicxulub and
+Swim the cenotes
+2nd largest reef in the world is close to the coast at Majahual and its inner edge is shallow and easily reached by snorkeling (Great Barrier in Australia is largest). Caribbean fishing
+Numerous Eco-tourism activities both on the water and in the jungle -- kayak, hike, bike the jungle
+Bird watcher's delight
+Merida is the largest city in the Yucatan and is known for its colonial architecture (very european feeling). It is about 3.5 hours from Bacalar near the Gulf of Mexico.
Sightseeing and Recreation
Laguna Bacalar is the prime attraction, for many rivaling even the Maya ruins. The Laguna is home to extensive giant microbialites in the lake and in the river. The Maya called Laguna Bacalar the Lake of Seven Colors for its varying shades of turquoise and blue. Mexico's 2nd largest natural lake, 35 miles long with turquoise freshwater, white beaches, cenotes, jungle, mangroves, unique ecology, culture, and history. One of the world's true natural treasures.
When travelers first set their eyes on Laguna Bacalar, they are taken back by its beauty --"How can this be?" And then there are the cenotes, and the Rio Chaac (Maya Rain God).
Laguna Bacalar is one of the unique, World Class lagunas on Earth. The laguna is largely hidden by the jungle and thus has escaped the "Cancun" style tourism. Scientists are just discovering its secrets. The 'stromatolites' (microbialites) are representative of the oldest known organism on Earth and those of Laguna Bacalar are indeed 'giants' like no others. The laguna has many Caribbean species, e.g., rays (skates), and also populations of ciclids.
Foreign travelers require a passport and some may need a visa. U.S. passport holders do not require a visa. There are direct flights from the U.S. and most international departures to Cancun. Those in Mexico may prefer to fly to Chetumal. Flying to Chetumal (20 miles from Bacalar) usually requires a transfer flight (expensive) from Mexico City. As far as we know, at present the only airline to fly into Chetumal is Interjet, a Mexican national airline. Flying to Belize City is another option; there are several ground transport services from Belize City to Bacalar. Tulum (about half way from Cancun to Bacalar) is another option to shorten the road trip. If you are driving from Cancun, you can also stay at Tulum (southern extent of the Riviera Maya) one night to break up the drive; Tulum is also the gateway to the 1.2 million acre Sian Ka'an Biosphere. I have always driven to Bacalar from Cancun. The drive from Cancun to Bacalar is about 4.5 hours (see below).
There are many websites describing travel to Mexico. These will be excellent sources for information. Buy your air fare tickets early to get the deal you wished for. Prices increase near the Holidays.
Tip: Exchanging money at the Cancun airport staffed kiosks is expensive--the ATMs are a better value.
Please visit www.BacalarMosaico.com for information on a variety of businesses in Bacalar.
I can honestly say that the food is fresher and not as processed as in the typical U.S. diet. It truly is some of the best dining experiences I've had anywhere in the world. And without denial the fresh fish is the best I've had anywhere in the world (maybe Lake Baikal in Siberia was a match but what a trip to get it!). The very best fish ($8 US) meal was from a restaurant on the Bahia in Chetumal, a trip I hope to make many times. There are many excellent restaurants in Bacalar. The food, service, and decor are excellent. Also, be sure to dine at the little "hole-in-the-wall" resturants.
The local produce is superb. I am still complexed by the exotic produce available that I've never heard or seen previously. It is a good idea to wash your fruit and produce, as it is even in the U.S.
The tap water is generally not recommended to drink but is used for bathing. There is a ample supply of bottled water available and in large quantities in needed.
There is a lot to see and do in the Bacalar area, thus a rental car may be your choice.
Cancun is a source for many modern buses and there is very good service to Bacalar. In Bacalar, there are many taxis that will provide transportation (54 taxis in a town of pop 12,000). Rental cars are available in Cancun and over the web. I have used both National car rental from the Cancun airport and I have used a off-site car rental that was very efficient. Search Google and you will find lost of options and a wide price range. Tulum (about half way to Bacalar) is another option to shorten the road trip. You can also stay at Tulum (southern extent of the Riviera Maya) one night to break up the drive.
You should purchase Mexican car LIABILITY insurance obtainable at the car rental agency -- it is mandatory, and I have also heard it is required by law to be included in the rate of all car rentals. I have no verification of this. When you reserve your car find out if the basic liability is included in the price of your rental; also an upgrade liability is available so make sure your are asking about the mandatory amount. Your credit card covered insurances do not cover the mandatory liability insurance. If you are using a credit card for rental car insurance then you must decline the Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) and Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) that the rental agency will offer you. If you do not decline it, your credit card insurance becomes invalid. Also, a Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) may not be covered by your credit card insurance but is also not mandatory. If you are taveling on official university business, your group may require full insurance coverage. Check with your credit card company to be sure of what they offer and do your own due diligence.
Using our medium sized car rental, the trip from Cancun to Bacalar can be made on a full tank of gas. Once south of Tulum there are few Pemex gas stations so gas up early. The route from Cancun to Bacalar is a flat and straight one on Hwy 307. The trip is about 4.5 hours with about half on 3 or 4 lane roads that are in very good shape. If you have not previously driven in Mexico I would definitely suggest driving only by day--plan your air arrival accordingly. Watch out for the speed bumps, "Topes", which are usually labeled but not always--they are abundant! Use your seat belt front and back seats to prevent hitting your head on the car roof if you happen to hit a Tope at speed. I've found the driving throughout the Yucatan very easy. The main roads (e.g., 307) are very good, and the Mexican drivers very polite (e.g., usually moving to the side to allow passing), although the driving style is different than in the U.S.--but it seems to work. For example, passing is the name of the road game sometimes nearly three abreast in different directions. Not much different than in Europe (right side of the road is used the same as in the U.S.). Regardless of the different driving style compared to the U.S., I've always felt comfortable and safe. Others may have a different opinion. It is usually advised not to drive at night since much of the trip is through jungle and animals may be on the road. I've always driven the stretch at night and seen very few animals.
Comments by River Kaster, email@example.com
Lodging closer to the town center is most convenient for walking to the symposium site and also the city square. Others prefer to be more secluded (see videos). Lodging ranges from fairly expensive to very modest, depending on what you desire. In addition to the Bacalar Mosaico site above, a google search will produce additional lodging. Also, the village of Majahual on the Costa Maya Caribbean is a great location and some small hotels and smaller private rentals are available. Majahual (also spelled Mahahual) is about an hour drive from Bacalar. Chetumal on the Belize border has hotels (e.g., Holiday Inn) and is about 30 minutes from Bacalar. Google "Bacalar Mexico Rentals"; remember the lake is 35 miles long so lodging on the Laguna Bacalar could be fairly far from Bacalar. There are excellent ecotourism lodging opportunities on the laguna near Bacalar that offer a different experience, e.g., Villas Ecotucan Ecological Resort; Rancho Encantado. You will find many details by Googling 'Laguna Bacalar'.
January is busy so make your lodging arrangements early.
The Laguna Bacalar area is a principal site for many Maya ruins. In addition to the many ruins open to the public, the site of Ichkabal located near Bacalar, was discovered in 1995 and its extent and monumentality ranks it in the same category as better-known Maya sites such as El Mirador and Tikal, both in Guatemala (not yet open to the public, but indicates the importance of the Bacalar area).
Ruin trips are easily made on one's own or local guide arrangements are available.
Majahaul (also spelled Mahahual) is a tiny fishing village located on Mexico's Southern Caribbean about 50 minutes away from Bacalar on the Costa Maya. The Maya have known of this fishing and diving paradise for a 1000 years, but it is just now beginning to awaken to the attraction of eco-tourism. Numerous small restaurants and trade shops line the newly constructed Malecon ('board walk') on the beach. There are several small hotels that cater to divers, tourists, and fishermen. The pace of life in Mahahual is still slow and absolutely different from Cancun and the Riviera Maya to the north.
This magnificent Mesoamerican barrier coral reef (2nd largest in the world next to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia)
can be easily and safely
snorkeled to from shore. The
coral reef, one of the most
beautiful in the world,
passes just in front of the beach.
Akal-Ki: Holistic Health Resort
There are diverse lodging options, for example:
Villas Ecotucan: Eco-Resort
Lakefront House, Cottage and Room Rentals
Bus from Cancun to Bacalar
I've had very good luck with www.kayak.com
for travel price quotes
Taking the bus from the Cancun airport to Bacalar, by way of Playa del Carmen., Assuming that you are arriving at terminal 3, which serves most of the international flights.
After you have cleared immigration and customs but before you exit the terminal building, you will walk through a gauntlet of guys trying to sell tours, taxis, accommodations, etc. There will be service booths on both sides representing car rental agencies, tour operators, etc. Toward the end of the booths on the left you will see a booth for the bus service to Playa del Carmen. It will be labeled ADO or Riviera, or maybe both. Buy a ticket to Playa, it should cost about $100 pesos. They will tell you when the bus will leave. After you exit the building look to your right at about a 2 o’clock angle, and you will see the bus. It’s a regular Greyhound type coach bus. There is usually one for Cancun and one for Playa del Carmen.
Take the bus to Playa del Carmen. You will get off at the main downtown terminal, on the corner of Juarez and 5th. This should be the first stop in Playa. Sometimes the bus stops briefly at the Puerto Morelos turnoff (about 15 minutes from the airport) and sometimes the bus also stops at the big fancy ADO terminal in Playa, but I think that’s the second stop in Playa. In any case, you want the downtown terminal, it’s about 45 minutes from the airport and that will be where most people will be getting off.
Inside the bus terminal, go to the ticket counter and buy a ticket to Bacalar. It will cost about $250 - $300 pesos. (Prices have gone up since I last did this.) They will tell you when the bus leaves, and it’s also printed on the ticket. The bus line will be the Mayab, and it is nominally a second class bus, which means there’s no bathroom on board, (they do make a bathroom stop in Felipe Carillo Puerto), and they don’t show movies. But they do stop in Bacalar and you can load you luggage under the floor of the bus in the cargo compartment. There is very limited space for luggage in the seating area. The sign on the front of the bus might say Chetumal, and the announcements will list a whole bunch of towns they will stop in. It takes a little over 4 hours to get to Bacalar.
Get off at the main stop in Bacalar, by the gas station. The bus will stop other places along the way, but you want the main “estacion”. If you’re watching out the window it will be the second gas station on the left. The station is actually across the street and it will seem that they are letting you out on the side of the road, but there should be taxis available. Tell the taxi driver where you want to go, or better yet have the name of the hotel written on something you can show him. In the very unusual case there’s not a taxi at hand, walk across the highway to the little bus station that says ADO and ask them to get you a taxi.
Welcome to Bacalar. Enjoy.
Visit Bacalar Mosaico for a quality street map of Bacalar that can be enlarged:
Once out of the tourist area of the Riviera Maya, credit cards are useless. Have cash. It is said that the best exchange rates are through ATMs. There are ATMs in the arrival terminal at Cancun airport (after customs). Most of the Pemex gas stations have ATMs. They are also now found in Bacalar -- on the square and at the Pemex. Travellers checks are near useless.
Majahaul is an easy day trip from Bacalar
Expedicion Azul Maya / Expedicion magazine
50 km of Unprecedented Beauty and Scientific Intrigue
Gaia Restaurant, Spa, and Artist Showcase
Bacalar Travel Services
Professional Travel Logistics
Mx phone: (52) 9188.8.131.52
Club de Velas
Swim (snorkel the cenote
and have breakfast too)
(Thursday night gathering;
2km south of town square)
Watch out for unmarked one-way streets, most are not marked so observe traffic flow and parking direction.
Bacalar sign on highway; turn south then jog over one block and continue to the city square.