Rio Lagartos

Rio Lagartos in a nutshell? Paradise for nature lovers and peace seekers.


A small, sleepy fishing village set to the North of Tizimin, on the Gulf coast, Rio Lagartos is slap bang in the middle of a massive, 60,000 hectare nature reserve and lagoon where you can find flamingos, crocodiles, over 300 species of birds and many fish.

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Rio Lagartos sits about 3 hours driving from Cancun (up in the left-hand corner on this map)

The Maya had used this area in their journeys to and from nearby Las Coloradas, where they extracted precious salt from the waters, for years and years and knew it as Holkobén . The modern name Rio Lagartos (‘alligator river’) came about when the Spanish conquistadores mistook the narrow section of estuary for a river and the numerous crocodiles for alligators. The (inaccurate) name stuck.

Our journey from Merida to Rio Lagartos on public transport was simple and took about 3 hours. We took a Noreste bus to Tizimin (2 hours approx. ) where we found a van to take us the final stretch to Rio Lagartos (1 hour).

Flower market in Tizimin
Chloe in Tizimin

We stayed in a lovely, clean and charming posada called El Perico Marinero. It is right on the seafront, opposite the fishing boats. The pool was wonderful, the rooms were clean and the staff were really helpful, especially in putting us in contact with our local hero, Santiago, the kind man who did our boat trip on the Sunday.


One of the squid fishing boats opposite the hotel. Bait is hung from the bamboo poles and dragged along the bottom of the water.

The majority of people make their way to Rio Lagartos in order to see the wildlife. It is a kind of Mecca for bird lovers (apparently the are called ‘twitchers’ – who knew!). They come from far and wide to see the incredible variety of species…

…on land:

Yucatan Wren, Yucatan Bobwhite, Mexican Sheartail, Carnivet’s emerald,
Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Grove-billed Ani, Tropical kingbird, Tropical Mockingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Turquoise-browed Motmot,Vermilion Flycatcher, Mangrove Vireo,Rose-throated Becard, Plain Chachalaca,, Mangrove Cuckoo,White-lored Gnatcatcher.

…and in the mangroves and waterways:
Mexican Bare-throated Tiger-heron, Roseate Spoonbill,Woodstork,
Blue-winged Teal,Boat-billed heron, Snowy and Great Egrets,Reddish Egrets, White Ibis, Tri-colored and Little Blue Herons, Pygmy KingFisher
Brown and White Pelicans, Magnificent Frigatebird, Anhinga, Double Breasted Cormorant,Royal and Sandwich Terns,Herring,Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls,Green Heron.

As a non-twitcher, I admit that most of this list provokes in me nothing more than enjoyment of their beautiful, evocative names but during my two days in Rio Lagartos, and without really looking for them, I saw hummingbirds, herons, flamingos, pelicans and kingfishers.


Our boat trip started at about 9am. We paid 800 pesos for four of us which seemed really reasonable to me, since we saw and did so much during the three hours.

Karen and Santiago, our guide


Our in the estuary, the water was deep blue, calm and beautiful.

Cruising along in our little boat we suddenly spotted bright pink, almost luminous, dots on the horizon. Flamingos! And so many of them! We had been promised flamingos and sure enough soon we were close to the colony, watching these majestic birds feeding and flying. It really was a beautiful site to behold. I can’t believe that any animal can be that pink!



After staring in awe at the flamingos for a while we moved off and started our journey through the narrow waterways between the mangroves.


After about twenty minutes enjoying the views from the boat, we arrived at the salt pools, near Las Coloradas. Las Coloradas is a small village where  local populations have been extracting salt for hundreds and hundreds of years. Although now done on a much larger scale, the same process that the Maya used is still in practice today and the salt is loaded up into cargo ships and sent all around the world.


The amazing thing about it though, lies in the colour of the pools. At certain times of year they are bright pink. The process of solar evaporation creates highly condensed water pools that turn pink from the high concentration of crustaceans that also turn the flamingos their glorious pink hue.

The water is pinkest in the summer months (shown above) but even in the winter, when we visited, we could appreciate the pink tones of the water.

The water here has about 40% salt content, meaning that swimming there is similar to swimming in the Dead Sea – a really fun experience.


After floating around in the salty water for a while, laughing a lot at the strange feeling of buoyancy, we did a ‘Mayan mud bath’ in the waters nearby in which you can find a grey, mineral rich mud that is great for your skin.


On the way back to the town we even spotted one of the famous crocodiles – I was so amazed that I didn’t take out my camera! His head was resting on the surface of the water and after a minute or so he disappeared back into the mangroves.

We finished the morning at an ‘ojo de agua’ near the village, where we washed off the mud, soaked up the sun and drank a refreshing beer and then later that day we had a delicious lunch at La Torreja to celebrate Anna’s birthday, where the fish was just so fresh.


I really loved Rio Lagartos. It is a working village, full of fishermen going about their days, friendly local people and the other, much treasured, locals – the hundreds of species of birds and animals who live in the biosphere reserve happily and peacefully, out of harms way.




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