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 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 about visiting Rio Lagartos Yucatan, including how to get there, boat tour information, and visitor tips.
About Rio Lagartos
First, let’s start with some of the basics on 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.
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 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 Rio Lagartos 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 from March-June but don’t worry you’ll still be able to see them year-round!
There’s also many crocodiles in the reserve that you can see up close–at your own risk! Those who hang around Cancunita Beach during sunset and evening may even spot massive sea turtles as well.
Here are the different ways to get to Rio Lagartos:
Drive to Rio Lagartos
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 to Rio Lagartos: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Holbox to Rio Lagartos: 3 hours
- Cancun to Rio Lagartos: 3 hours
- Playa del Carmen to Rio Lagartos: 2 hours 50 minutes
- Valladolid to Rio Lagartos: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Merida to Rio Lagartos: 2 hours 40 minutes
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Book a Tour to Rio Lagartos
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 trip.
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.
👉 Book the Rio Lagartos tour from Riviera Maya by clicking here!
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 at 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.
👉 Book the Rio Lagartos tour from Merida by clicking here!
Take Public Transportation to Rio Lagartos
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 4:30 AM and 8 PM. 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.
Here’s what you need to know about the Rio Lagartos boat tour:
How to hire a boat operator at Rio Lagartos
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.
How much does the Rio Lagartos boat tour cost?
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.
How long does the Rio Lagartos boat tour last?
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.
Here’s what you can expect on the Rio Lagartos boat tour:
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.
Rio Lagartos Boat Tour
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.
Tips for Visiting Rio Lagartos Yucatan
Follow these Rio Lagartos tips to make the most of your visit:
- Combine the experience with Las Coloradas: Combine Rio Lagartos with visiting Las Coloradas in the same day. No need to make the trip twice when they’re right next to each other.
- Aim for a sunny day: 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: Be sure to bring biodegradable sunscreen to do your part to protect nature as there is little shade when you’re out on the boat.
- Bring a GoPro or waterproof camera: Bring a GoPro or waterproof cell phone pouch to take pictures while in the boat.
- Bring cash: There are no ATMs in Rio Lagartos so be sure to bring cash. While you can exchange USD, it’s easier and more convenient to bring pesos.
- Don’t expect strong cell service: 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.
Rio Lagartos Yucatan: FAQs
Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about visiting Rio Lagartos:
You’ll be able to see flamingos in Rio Lagartos by taking a boat tour of the Rio Lagartos Reserve. Rio Lagartos flamingo season is in Spring and March-June is the best time of year to see the flamingos in Rio Lagartos.
The easiest way to get from Merida to Rio Lagartos is by driving or renting a car, which takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes. Without a car, you can also book a Rio Lagartos tour from Merida with transportation included.
To get from Isla Holbox to Rio Lagartos, you’ll need to take the ferry to Chiquila, and then drive from Chiquila to Rio Lagartos, which takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes.
There are no ATMs in Rio Lagartos so you’ll want to bring enough cash (pesos are best) to cover your expenses.
Yes, Rio Lagartos is a small town and fishing village that feels very safe. As always, travelers should take proper precautions but can feel safe walking around this quiet town. While on a boat tour, travelers should also be careful not to touch or come in close contact with the wildlife.
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Conclusion: Visiting Rio Lagartos Yucatan
I hope this guide to Rio Lagartos was helpful in planning your visit!
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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🇲🇽 Traveling to Mexico soon?
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✈️ Flights: I recommend using Skyscanner for the best Mexico flight deals. Be sure to sign up for their price alerts for your preferred travel dates.
🚗 Rental Cars: I recommend using Discover Cars because you can compare multiple car rental companies and see detailed ratings for overall value, ease of pick-up, efficiency of agents, car condition, and overall time spent.
🚙 Cancun Airport Transportation: I recommend booking a private transfer with Cancun Airport Transportation for the quickest and most hassle-free option!
🤿 Tours & Activities: I always use Viator or GetYourGuide for booking tours and activities in Mexico. You can cancel up to 24 hours before the tour for a full refund, plus they have excellent customer service if you were to have any issues.
🚨 Travel Insurance: After my Dad broke his hand in a taxi accident in Playa del Carmen, I always recommend buying travel insurance before your trip for added peace of mind! I recommend Travel Insurance Master for short trips or Safety Wing for digital nomads.
☀️ Biodegradable Sunscreen: Don’t forget to add biodegradable sunscreen to your Mexico packing list! Regular sunscreen is prohibited when swimming in the ocean and cenotes in Mexico, so you’ll need to pack some biodegradable sunscreen for sun protection. I recommend Sun Bum Sunscreen, which is reef-friendly, vegan, and cruelty-free.