Located on the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, Rio Lagartos is a nature reserve that is famous for its variety of birds, flamingos, crocodiles, and other wildlife.
During my recent stay in El Cuyo, I explored Rio Lagartos on a boat tour – one of the best things to do in the Yucatan peninsula. In this post, I’m sharing everything you need to know to visit Rio Lagartos Yucatan.
About Rio Lagartos
Rio Lagartos is a tiny fishing village on the Gulf Coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. With less than 4,000 inhabitants, it’s not quite a standard tourist destination, but nevertheless growing in fame thanks to its biosphere reserve and Las Coloradas pink lakes.
The town of Rio Lagartos is home to the Rio Lagartos Nature Reserve, which is a protected wetlands area that is known for its variety of birds, flamingos, crocodiles, mangroves, and other wildlife.
It’s no wonder that the town’s most popular attraction is a boat tour experience especially since the Rio Lagartos Reserve encapsulates 150,000 acres of protected wetlands.
Where is Rio Lagartos Mexico?
On the northern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, Rio Lagartos sits on the Ria Lagartos lagoon. North of Tizimin and Merida, it’s a great day trip if you’re visiting nearby destinations like El Cuyo, Holbox, Playa del Carmen, or Cancun.
Rio Lagartos Map
Home to endless species of birds and wildlife, the wider area around Rio Lagartos was declared the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2004.
Not only is it a quiet and charming town, Rio Lagartos adventures are plentiful and are considered one of the best things to do in the Yucatan.
Rio Lagartos ecotours are perfect for for nature lovers and will bring you to the heart of the Yucatan’s natural surroundings, where you can see a variety of wildlife in their natural habitat.
Your Rio Lagartos boat tour brings you right up to mangroves and the flamingos, pelicans, and cranes that inhabit them. You’ll also see crocodiles and other wildlife that inhabit the reserve.
Since most tours combine Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas, you’ll see the famous pink lakes either before or after your boat tour.
If you’re there for birdwatching, the Rio Lagartos flamingo season is in spring. Thousands of pink flamingos gather around April and May but don’t worry you’ll still be able to see them year round.
There’s also a crocodile farm for you to see them up close. Those who hang around Cancunita Beach during sunset and evening may spot massive sea turtles as well.
The easiest way to get to Rio Lagartos is by driving or renting a car. I drove to Rio Lagartos from El Cuyo, which is a little under 2 hours drive. There’s free parking near the marina, which makes self-visits extremely convenient.
Driving times from nearby destinations are as follows:
- El Cuyo – Rio Lagartos: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Cancun – Rio Lagartos: 3 hours
- Playa del Carmen – Rio Lagartos: 2 hours 50 minutes
- Valladolid – Rio Lagartos: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Merida – Rio Lagartos: 2 hours 40 minutes
If you’re staying in Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Tulum, or Merida and don’t have a car, the easiest way to visit Rio Lagartos is via a tour with transportation included. With the driving time, most Rio Lagartos tours are full day experiences.
Note that most tours pair Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas together, so you get to do two attractions in one swoop.
Rio Lagartos Tour from Playa del Carmen, Cancun, or Tulum
Avoid six hours of self-driving with this transport-inclusive Rio Lagartos tour from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum. Your journey begins at the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, where your 2-hour boat tour winds past mangroves, estuaries, and plenty of savanna.
You then stop at Las Coloradas for inspiring pictures and learning about how salt is made. Pampering is part of the package too – expect a Mayan mud bath plus a seafood lunch.
Rio Lagartos Tour from Merida
Another Rio Lagartos tour experience offers pick up at Merida, with transportation taking you straight to Rio Lagartos. There, you’ll take a boat tour with 2 hours of marveling the birds of the Yucatan and sunbathing crocodiles.
Mayan mud baths are featured on this Rio Lagartos experience as well, leaving you with a freshly-scrubbed glow. Finish off your trip with a stop at Las Coloradas before returning to Merida.
If you’re wondering how to get to Rio Lagartos by public transport, you may be disappointed by the answer. There are no direct buses from major cities to Rio Lagartos. You have to take a bus to Tizimin first.
From Tizimin bus station, there are local buses that run north between 4:30AM and 8PM. You can catch one of those or take a taxi, but the latter will be more expensive. I haven’t personally tried this so I’m not sure how reliable it would be.
If you choose to go to Rio Lagartos on your own, you can go directly to the marina and hire a boat operator to take you on a tour.
This is pretty much common practice there so boat operators are easy to find. When I visited, we drove up to the marina and were flagged down by a boat operator as soon as we arrived.
Our Rio Lagartos boat tour cost $600 MXN(~$30 USD) per person (2 people) but prices can vary depending on season, number of people, and what they offer on the itinerary. Tours with English-speaking guides may also cost more.
Typically, a tour of Rio Lagartos lasts about 2 hours. Some tours last around 3 hours as they include a Mayan mud bath and detour to Las Coloradas.
As soon as we arrived at the marina and parked our car, boat operators approached us and ushered us onto their vessel. Most boats are small fishing boats that seat about 6 people and have somewhat of a cover for shade. Life vests are available but not required.
As we sailed out onto the lagoon and into the waterways, our captain shared some background information about the reserve and town. Your guide will also help point out any native bird species or intriguing sights.
My friend and I were pretty lucky – we spotted crocodiles, pelicans, cranes, and flamingos within the mangroves and around the flatter wetlands. I was particularly enthralled with the crocodiles – it was so cool to get an up close view!
The last part of the tour took us into the shallower part of the river near Las Coloradas. Wild Rio Lagartos flamingos nest here and all of them are that startling pink color!
Once done with admiring the flamingos, we got to stop briefly at the backside of Las Coloradas for more pictures.
Towards the end of the tour you will also have the opportunity to put a white clay mask on your face. The flooded mud field, or mud beach, is rather swampy but still great fun! You’ll see lots of clay covered faces on other passing boats.
The guide will show you how to cover yourself up in the mud properly. If you don’t want a full-body immersion, you can just apply a layer onto your face to rejuvenate the skin.
The Rio Lagartos boat tour draws to a natural close when you’ve exhausted the sights. You’ll then be brought back to the marina, where you can rinse off, pay, and return to your car.
Follow these Rio Lagartos tips to make the most of your visit:
- Combine Rio Lagartos with visiting Las Coloradas in the same day. Don’t make the trip twice when they’re right next to each other.
- Check the weather and aim for a sunny day – not only will you spot more wildlife, but Las Coloradas will be more vibrant as well.
- Bring biodegradable sunscreen as there is little shade, while doing your part to protect nature.
- Bring a GoPro or waterproof cell phone pouch to take pictures while in the boat.
- There are no ATMs in Rio Lagartos so be sure to bring cash. While you can exchange USD, it’s more convenient to bring pesos.
- Rio Lagartos only receives Telcel phone signal and offers extremely slow wifi in their cafes. Prepare a prepaid SIM card if you need to stay connected.
The Rio Lagartos boat tour is by far one of the best things to experience in Yucatan. You don’t have to be a wildlife enthusiast to appreciate the landscapes and animals that live here.
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