Rio Lagartos: a Day Trip from Tulum to See Flamingoes and a Pink Lake

Tulum (and the Yucatan Peninsula) is a lot about beaches, Mayan ruins, and cenotes. Nothing wrong with this, I actually loved it all. But Rio Lagartos offered a different experience.

I am a nature lover and I needed a few trips away from the tourist crowds. Rio Lagartos was one of the day trips we did from Tulum.

It is a long drive to Rio Lagartos from Tulum but our exploration of Sian Ka’an Reserve – a wonderful natural activity near Tulum – the day before made me crave for another nature escape. As we were flying to Salt Lake City the next day, diving a cenote was not possible. We were out of options to escape the most touristy places and Rio Lagartos sounded exciting… So we set the alarm early and drove up there.

What you will see in Rio Lagartos

Coming from the Riviera Maya, it felt good to reach a village that has almost not been touched by tourism development. We already had this experience in Xcalac, but I really enjoyed seeing again a more authentic fishing village as I was starting to get tired of Tulum’s beach resort style.

The Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve is a fantastic experience for bird lovers.

They say there are some 395 species of birds there. We didn’t see that many but we saw the ones we came for: the Flamingoes.

We went to the waterways where guides were waiting for tourists to take on the inlet up to Las Coloradas, one of the largest natural deposits of salt. Don’t worry too much about when to see the flamingoes in Rio Lagartos. If their presence is seasonal in the other places where you can see flamingoes in Mexico, they hang around Rio Lagartos all year round.

Rio Lagartos - flamingoes

Surprise! It’s not only about the flamingoes!

Mesmerised by the bright pink colours of the birds, we initially didn’t notice the other attraction in Las Coloradas: an amazing bubble pink salt lake. It came as a great surprise to us, as we had no idea this stop was included in the tour. In the background, we could see the huge piles of salt as an explanation for this incredible phenomenon.

Salt business has been happening for a long time in Las Coloradas. Mayan were already exploiting the salt of this region. With all the salt nearby, the concentration of salt in the water in the lagoon is high. This attracts salt-loving bacteria, red-colored algae, planktons, and brine shrimps who then give the pink colour to the water. And as the flamingoes feed on these pink creatures, they also turn pink!

That’s why the flamingoes have a vibrant pink colour in Las Coloradas!

On the way, we were also happy to spot a crocodile chilling in the mangrove.

Rio Lagartos - Crocodile
Rio Lagartos - Pink Lake


How to organise a tour from Rio Lagartos to see the flamingoes in Las Coloradas

Rio Lagartos - How to organise a tourWe didn’t try to go to Las Coloradas by ourselves as the boat tour sounded more interesting for viewing the flamingoes. But you can drive to the very small village and try your luck from there.

There is a route leading to the salt production area, but I don’t know if it’s easy to access and open to the public. The boat tour sounded a lot more charming anyway, although it was a bit repetitive after doing a boat tour the day before in Tulum (Sian Ka’an)… But honestly, I love being on a boat. Even when crocodiles are nearby.

The price of the boat tour depends on the season and how good you are at negotiating. We were told to allow between 700 to 1,200 pesos for a six people boat. There were no other tourists to team up with so we had to hire the boat just for the two of us.

Responsible Tip: Negotiating can be part of a culture, so you can, of course, play the game. But always keep in mind that you need to find a win-win price. In some destinations, a couple of dollars won’t make a difference for you but is a great help for your guide.


We already had our accommodation booked when we decided to go to Rio Lagartos, so we did it as a day trip from Tulum.

If you’re more flexible than us in your itinerary in the Yucatan Peninsula, I recommend fitting it after or before you visit Chichen Itza or Cancun, as you’ll already be in the north of the region.


If you don’t want to rent a car while in Mexico, here are a few other options to consider to visit Rio Lagartos:



Planning a trip to Rio Lagartos?

If we had more time, I would have loved to spend one night in this more authentic area, away from the big tourist attractions. I would have probably picked the only hotel in San Felipe* to experience the fishing village, but if you want more choices, browse for hotels in Rio Lagartos*.


Where is Rio Lagartos?


Rio Largartos is on the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. It takes approximately 3 hours to drive there from Cancun, Tulum or Playa del Carmen.


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Day trip from TULUM - CANCUN PLAYA DEL CARMEN - Rio Lagartos

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I am a part-time traveler: I combine a full-time job with a passion for traveling. I love to share my trips and tips to inspire others to explore what’s around them. Before moving to Australia, I lived in France, England and Turkey. I’ve finally found my balance in Brisbane.

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