Mexico is an amazing vacation destination. We can never get enough of the beautiful beaches, culturally rich cities, larger than life nightlife, helpful people, delicious Mexican food, cenotes, and vitamin D. Mexico is the true destination that describes sun, sand, sea! The other advantage of traveling to Mexico, especially during the pandemic is that the place has been open to international travellers even when Covid-19 was taking over the world.
Mexico is perfect for anyone who is looking to do touristy things or is just exploring the lesser-known parts of the continent. If you are looking for beach vacations, Mexico has enough and more too often with spectacular places such as Cancun, Tulum, and Playa Del Carmen. Traveling to any of these places would mean basking in the sun the entire day, lots of sunscreens, splashing crystal clear seawater, sandcastles, night parties, and food that will blow your mind.
When we set out planning our first trip to Mexico, I wanted to make sure it is a perfect mix of touristy endeavours and exploring the well-kept secrets. So after enjoying ourselves by the beach at Playa Del Carmen, we decided to take a one-day trip to Rio Lagartos, a silent, quaint fishing hamlet located in Mexico's Yucatán state. The name Rio Lagartos first popped up when we were searching for the Instagrammable pink salt lakes at Las Coloradas.
How to get there?
It takes about 3 hours and ten minutes to drive from Playa Del Carmen to Rio Lagartos. We hired a car and had the car to ourselves the entire day.
What is special at Rio Lagartos?
A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve spread across 70 kilometers, this beautiful is home to more than 400 bird species. It was in 1979, Mexico established the Rio Lagartos Bio-Reserve. This bio-reserve also includes Rio Lagartos, San Felipe, Las Colorados and El Cuyo. Besides the birds, one can find 59 species of mammals, 80 species of reptiles, 99 species of fish,16 amphibians, and rich and diverse flora. What is fascinating about Rio Lagartos is that it includes eight ecosystems which include the lowland jungles, coastal dunes, an estuary formed by the fresh and salty backwater channels, red root mangroves, lagoons, and connecting canals. All this is right here in one place.
What is the meaning of Rio Lagartos?
The Mayans originally called this place Hol Koben, and mainly used it as a spot to take rest before heading out to nearby ports. Merchants and travelers went to the nearby community ports for commerce in salt which even today is extracted. It was the Spanish who thought the water body to be a river and crocodiles to be alligators. So, they named the town, Rio Lagartos when they first sighted the humongous creatures in the water.
The biggest attractions:
So what does one do at Rio Lagartos? We got in touch with Rio Lagartos Adventures, which organizes flamingo and nature tours, beach lover's tours, night safaris, and crocodile safaris on their well-maintained, safe and comfortable boats. Looking to learn more about the biosphere, the nature tour is meant for you. This guided tour (yes, they speak English) takes you deep into the mangrove channels, an isolated beach on the Gulf of Mexico, and lets you spend a lot of time exploring the wildlife and plants of the Ria Lagartos Bio Reserve. For those interested, you can also stop at the mud baths and the beach if you wish to spend more time viewing wildlife.
Where are the flamingos?
One of the most popular parts of these boat rides is when you stop to spot beautiful birds. What tops the list are the flamingos and the American white pelican and the pygmy kingfisher. The pink beauties are easy to spot especially if you are traveling in spring (late April) when they gather in thousands to mate and nest in the biosphere reserve. This is a photographer's paradise where you get to take snaps that can literally make it into travel magazines. The boat stops there for as long as you want while you can take all that beauty in. You are even luckier if you head there, especially during sunset.
Crocodiles in the water!
Spotting crocodiles in an unprotected area can be a scary experience. we went a notch higher and went fo4 the night safari looking for these deadly reptiles in the night. But usually, the crocodile's tours take place in the mid-day when they are sunning themselves, or after dark when they get out to feed. It is easier to spot them in the dark as they are nocturnal creatures. Find their red eyes looking at you from the dark water, especially when the sounds of the jungle take over you. The water can be alive with feeding fish and the air full of the sounds of birds you probably saw during a day trip. With almost no light clutter the skydome is very nearly complete.
Closing the trip
After a long boat right with friends and family and an experienced guide, you get dropped off at Ria Mayan Restaurant, a waterfront cafe that is well known for its amazing seafood. Local fishermen deliver their day's catch to the restaurant. Sea trout, grouper, red and yellow snapper, shrimp, lobster (in season) octopus, and conch are the main catches. Lesser known but equally delicious species are served when available.
This perfect day trip this one is not too heavy on the budget and gives you a glimpse into the beautiful flora and fauna of interior Mexico.