Tulum (and the Yucatan Peninsula) is a lot about beaches, Mayan ruins, and cenotes. Nothing wrong with this, I actually loved it all. But Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas offered a different experience that caught my attention. If you like pink, it will catch yours too: you can see flamingos and a pink lake up there!
As a nature lover, I needed a few trips away from the tourist crowds when we were on holiday in Tulum. Rio Lagartos was one of the day trips we took.
It is a long drive to Rio Lagartos from Tulum but our exploration of Sian Ka’an Reserve – a wonderful natural activity near Tulum – the day before made me crave another nature escape. As we were flying to Salt Lake City the next day, diving a cenote was not possible. We were out of options to escape the most touristy places, and Rio Lagartos sounded exciting… So we set the alarm early and drove up there.
What you will see in Rio Lagartos
Coming from the Riviera Maya, it felt good to reach a village that has almost not been touched by tourism development. We already had this experience in Xcalac, but I really enjoyed seeing again a more authentic fishing village as I was starting to get tired of Tulum’s beach resort-style.
The Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve is a fantastic experience for bird lovers.
They say there are some 395 species of birds there. We didn’t see that many, but we saw the ones we came for: the Flamingos.
We went to the waterways where guides were waiting for tourists to take on the inlet up to Las Coloradas, one of the largest natural deposits of salt. Don’t worry too much about when to see the flamingos in Rio Lagartos. If their presence is seasonal in the other places where you can see flamingos in Mexico, they hang around Rio Lagartos all year round.
Surprise! It’s not only about the flamingos! Las Coloradas will amaze you too!
Mesmerised by the bright pink colours of the birds, we initially didn’t notice the other attraction in Las Coloradas: an amazing bubble pink salt lake. It came as a great surprise to us, as we had no idea this stop was included in the tour. In the background, we could see the huge piles of salt as an explanation for this incredible phenomenon.
The salt business has been happening for a long time in Las Coloradas. Mayans were already exploiting the salt of this region. With all the salt nearby, the concentration of salt in the water in the lagoon is high. This attracts salt-loving bacteria, red-coloured algae, planktons, and brine shrimps who then give the pink colour to the water. And as the flamingos feed on these pink creatures, they also turn pink!
That’s why the flamingos have a vibrant pink colour in Las Coloradas!
On the way, we were also happy to spot a crocodile chilling in the mangrove.
How to organise a tour from Rio Lagartos to see the flamingos at Las Coloradas
We didn’t try to go to Las Coloradas by ourselves as the boat tour sounded more interesting for viewing the flamingos. But you can drive to the very small village and try your luck from there.
There is a route leading to the salt production area, but I don’t know if it’s easy to access and open to the public. The boat tour sounded a lot more charming anyway, although it was a bit repetitive after doing a boat tour the day before in Tulum (Sian Ka’an)… But honestly, I love being on a boat. Even when crocodiles are nearby.
The price of the boat tour depends on the season and how good you are at negotiating. We were told to allow between 700 to 1,200 pesos for a six people boat. There were no other tourists to team up with so we had to hire the boat just for the two of us.
Responsible travel tip: Bargaining can be part of a culture, so you can, of course, play the game. But always keep in mind that you need to find a win-win price. In some destinations, a couple of dollars won’t make a difference for you but is a great help for your guide.
We already had our accommodation booked when we decided to go to Rio Lagartos, so we did it as a day trip from Tulum.
If you’re more flexible than us in your itinerary in the Yucatan Peninsula, I recommend fitting it after or before you visit Chichen Itza or Cancun, as you’ll already be in the north of the region.
If you don’t want to rent a car while in Mexico, here are a few other options to consider when visiting Rio Lagartos:
- Book a tour from Merida*
- Book a tour from Playa del Carmen/Tulum*
- Book a tour from Cancun*
- Hire a cab from Valladolid (900 pesos)
- Go by public transport from Valladolid
Should you stay for the night in Rio Lagartos?
If we had more time, I would have loved to spend one night in this more authentic area, away from the big tourist attractions. I would have probably picked the only hotel in San Felipe* to experience the fishing village, but if you want more choices, stay at Rio Lagartos (click here to browse for hotels*).
If you don’t want to spend the night up there, click here to read my tips on the best accommodations in Playa Del Carmen and Tulum.
Where is Rio Lagartos?
Rio Largartos is on the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. It takes approximately 3 hours to drive there from Cancun, Tulum or Playa del Carmen.
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I’ve yet to go to Mexico!! I’d love to see this as I think flamingos are so funny and fascinating. They are such a unique color, stand on one leg all the time and just sort of chill. Thanks for sharing this as it’s helpful- I want to travel to Mexico within the year!
Hi, Laura. I’m glad this post can help you plan your trip. It’s exciting that you’re travelling to Mexico this year! We had a fantastic time there, I’d love to go again. Have fun!!
That is hilarious – the flamingoes are pink because they eat pink things. I think if I ever made it to Mexico I would turn the colour of tequila! 🙂
Ahah! I would be green like the guacamole!
I love flamingoes, they are such strange birds! I actually went to Celestun to see them in Mexico, but did see a couple when we went to Las Coloradas for the pink lakes. I just went by myself to the pink lakes as I wasn’t looking for flamingoes, but the tour is much better if that is what you are looking for.
Thank you, Claire, for this very interesting feedback. It’s good to know! They are funny birds indeed!
Negotiating prices is always my weak point! I very much prefer a set price for everyone, but I understand the culture is different 🙂 I was so surprised to learn why the flamingos there were so pink. Such a fun bit of information about them.
I’m like you, Candy. I don’t like negotiating prices. But I also don’t like being fooled and pay a higher price than I should… so I often have a dilemma while travelling!
Rio Lagartos looks fascinating. The place is a new perspective about mexico for me. The flamingos are something one would definitely travel far to see. They look so beautiful and graceful. The pink lake is of course another natural phenomenon that I have read so much about and would love to experience.
Thank you, Sandy. Mexico isn’t often associated with flamingoes, that’s right. We were lucky to be able to go up there 🙂
I am planning to go to Rio Lagartos and do the sunset trip, but I also have an accommodation in Tulum! Is it safe to drive back from Rio Lagartos (from 7pm) to tulum? I’ve been seeing some recommendations not to drive at night cause the highways aren’t great
Hi, Issa. We didn’t drive back at night. The highways aren’t the best in the world (and you have to slow down often for the tope), but they aren’t terrible. I usually try to avoid driving at night (especially where there is wildlife) when possible. But to be honest, I would have driven at night between Rio Lagartos and Tulum – it didn’t seem that bad. Were the recommendations for Mexico in general or specific to the Yucatan region? What I’d be more worried about is the tiredness. It’s quite a long way.