On our road trip through Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico in September 2016, we had two main points on our agenda: to celebrate my (Vid) birthday in a gorgeous place and to find and photograph the much-talked-about coloured lagoons and flamingoes of Yucatan Peninsula. In early 2016 we had seen photographs of a bright pink lake – at first we thought it was a product of someone’s imagination run wild while using Photoshop, but on reading more we realised that there was a place in Mexico where these coloured lagoons did exist. What’s more, they came with a gorgeous side of pink flamingoes that call this area home. Some people wish for a million dollars on their birthdays. Me? coloured lagoons and pink flamingoes por favor.
We had such an incredible time visiting this area at different times of the day that we decided to share some tips on how to find the coloured lagoons and pink flamingoes in the Yucatan Peninsula. Not just that, we have some beautiful images from the area that will tempt you to pack your bags and get going on a drive through this beautiful part of Mexico.
If you haven’t already, have a look at what all we got on during our Mexican road trip in the Yucatan Peninsula!
Getting to the coloured lagoons
Rio Lagartos is a four hour drive away from Cancun/Playa Del Carmen. Roads are in good condition for an hour or two but get narrower and bumpier as you get closer to the coloured lagoons. The coloured lagoons can be found right next to the fishing village called Las Coloradas, located on the northern tip of the Yucatan peninsula. There are no accommodation options in Las Coloradas so it’s best to stay in the nearby fishing town of Rio Lagartos. We stayed at Yuum Ha boutique hotel and had a comfortable stay. You can book it here.
Although a trip to Las Coloradas can be done as a day trip from Cancun or Valladolid or Merida, we strongly recommend spending a couple of nights here. Whether you’re driving from Cancun towards Merida or the other way around, Rio Lagartos is a small detour off the main highway.
Rio Lagartos, which is a part of the Ria Lagartas Biosphere, has been on the rise as a tourist destination and the pink lagoons and flamingoes have a big role to play in that. As soon as you get into the village, you’ll be approached by tour operators trying to sell you boat tours into the estuary that promises varied birdlife and wildlife, including flamingoes and crocodiles. We opted to explore the area in our rental car and are so glad we did. Although we didn’t get to see crocodiles, we got to spend a good amount of time photographing the lagoons and flamingoes as well as driving around without a plan, which we wouldn’t have been able to on a short 2-3 hour boat tour. These 2 days were definitely the highlight of our road trip in the Yucatan peninsula.
Finding the Pink Lagoons and Flamingoes in Las Coloradas
Once you have settled into your hotel in Rio Lagartos, we suggest going for a saunter in this sleepy little town. Although dining options are limited, there are some local shacks that sell delicious local food. Since we wanted to photograph the lagoons and birds in different lighting, we decided to head to Las Coloradas on a bit of a recce and we ended up experiencing a gorgeous sunset. Las Coloradas is a 30 minute drive east of Rio Lagartos and the coloured lakes are located right besides this little village.
In the above image, you’ll be driving in from the left (west), which is where Rio Lagartos is. As soon as you hit the first lane of houses in Las Coloradas, you’ll notice a dirt track going towards the right. Head onto this one and you’ll spot the first ping lagoon on your right. You can continue to drive on this web of dirt roads – be careful though as some of these tracks have been now barricaded by the factory that produces salt.
If instead of turning right you continue going straight past the village of Las Coloradas and follow the dirt path towards El Cuyo (to the right of the image above), you’ll see many dirt roads branching to your right. From here on, the world is your oyster 🙂 Bring out the Columbus in you and explore this area. Be CAUTIOUS and remember the turns you are taking – there are no sign posts and these tracks don’t show up on GPS, so you don’t want to end up in a situation where you can’t make your way back to the main road. We ventured onto one such track and drove around lagoons and witnessed a beautiful sunset, with gorgeous pink flamingoes making their way back to the lagoon. Don’t believe us? Here you go:
While the sunset is great in this area, if you want to experience the lakes and their true colours, you must come back during the day when the sun is high up in the sky.
What makes the lakes of Las Coloradas pink?
As you drive from Rio Lagartos to Las Coloradas, you’ll notice a large salt producing plant on your right. It was this company that made these salt lakes in the area, right next to the estuary. The salty ocean water from this estuary and mangroves floods these man made lakes. Gradually the water evaporates leaving behind salt.
This salty water is also home to red-coloured algae called Plankton as well as brine shrimp, which are pink in colour. As the concentration of these organisms increases, the lakes turn bright reddish pink. As a matter of fact, the flamingoes are pink because they feed on these organisms in these lakes.
When you make your way back to Las Coloradas during the day, take the first right onto the dirt track as soon as you enter the village of Las Coloradas. The best thing was that there was nobody else around and we had the entire area to ourselves 🙂 Here are some stunning photographs from our time here during the day:
If you find yourself driving through the Yucatan peninsula, make sure you stop in Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas for a couple of days – you’ll come back with the most beautiful photographs and stories to tell 🙂
Drop us a line if you have any questions about Rio Lagartos. Do read all our articles on Mexico to get an idea of what to do on a road trip in this beautiful country.