The photo of a pink lake, I’ve posted some time ago on Instagram, seems to have fame on its own :) No one wants to admit that but apparently everyone loves pink ;) Las Coloradas in Mexico, which I visited during my trip around Yucatan Peninsula, triggered so many questions – what, where and how and is it worth it – that I decided to dedicate a separate post only to talk about it.
Let’s begin in such a way: it was not the first time I saw water in such an intense color. I saw my first colorful lagoon in Bolivia and it was undeniably one of the most beautiful and stunning wonders of nature I have ever, ever seen (you can read more about this place in the post about lagoons in Bolivia HERE, I encourage you to take a peek in there too).
Mexican Las Coloradas is still a niche place, far from being swarmed with hordes of tourists. Even only a few locals know about this place, which, probably, would change soon. Its location is obviously one of the reasons – it’s situated in the middle of nowhere, which for me is a huge plus, because it makes it a bit like a hidden bounty.
Las Coloradas is located on the eastern end of the Yucatan Peninsula, near a small, fishing village, also Las Coloradas, and it is a part of Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve – the biggest marsh area at the coast. So, while visiting the lagoon you should have in mind the fact that it is only a small piece of a fascinating entirety of natural ecosystem.
Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve offers a whole range of landscapes – from mangrove forests and branchy river mouths, through coastal sand dunes to bogs, marshes and untouched beaches.
The pink lakes of Las Coloradas (because in fact there are a dozen or so of them, you can see it properly from the bird’s eye view) came into existence as a result of salt mining, which is one of the main sources of income of the locals. At present, while entering the reserve lands, you have to go past huge salt mounds and factory buildings. This is the modern landscape but this area has been used for salt mining already in ancient Maya times, for who salt was an important ingredient in the diet but also a natural food preservative. The devil’s in the detail – then it was done in a more natural way and on a smaller scale. Salty sea water, stored in mangroves flowed through flat plains, forming there shallow, salty lagoons. The sun made the water evaporate, leaving only salt.
Where does the pink come from?
In spite of appearances the uncanny color of the lake is absolutely natural. The natural dye, which makes the lakes so incredibly colorful, is comprised of red plankton and crustacea of artemia genus.As a result of the evaporation, these organisms concentrate, making the color more and more intense. But this is not the end. Flamingos, which prey on these creatures, come to this area, making another pink attraction of Las Coloradas.
How to get there?
There are a few ways to get to Las Coloradas but some are definitely more fun than other. I reached these lakes on a motorcycle, as it was my mean of transport during my trip around Mexico.
But if, for any reasons you have, you don’t want to choose two wheels, I would definitely recommend you to rent a car, because without it getting there might be the worst nightmare.
The Las Coloradas pink lakes are situated about two hours away from Valladolid and three hours from Cancun, so basically no matter from which bigger city in the vicinity you will set off, it would be a small excursion and a few hours spent only on the road. But it is manageable to do in one day.
You should head in the direction of Rio Lagartos. A few kilometers before Rio Lagartos just turn right and follow the signs to Las Coloradas. On the way you will drive past a salt factory and a small town that looks deserted – it’s a good sign!
If you feel brave, there is also an option to go there by bus, which runs from Cancun to Rio Lagartos, but it stops so many times that the whole trip is estimated to take 7 hours… one way!
I love to organize and sightsee on my own but if any of you prefers organized trips, I’ve found a company with which you can visit Las Coloradas: Eco Tour
How visiting Las Coloradas looks like – the reality is not all rosy
The policy of the Mexican government relies on employing as many people as possible – in order to decrease unemployment, so in fields like tourism it translates into excessive numbers of “guides”. And every one of them competes for customers and simply keeping the head above economical water. The results are absurd and such places like Las Coloradas can make a perfect example of it. Before we even arrived at the gateway to the lake area, in a distance of, I don’t know, 100 meters we were approached by about 10 guides (for example driving on their scooters next to us), who offered their services. The further we drove, the worse it was. At the gateway there was a small army of guides who couldn’t find customers to guide for love or money.
It turned out quickly that even if you don’t want a guide, you have to pay his or her share, because it is a part of the entrance fee. And, of course, the rule of consequence applies, because after driving such a long way, you will agree to anything, otherwise it would be a waste of time and effort. Classic shtick. It never gets old. In this way, a mustached Mexican became our “guide” for 50 pesos (top-down rate – it’s the entrance fee), so he did: open the gate, walk about 50 meters with us along the lake and say two guide-like sentences, i.e.: “This lake is pink because of a bacteria in it” and “If you stand there (pointing professionally with his finger towards a lump of sand at the shore) you will have a good picture”. And that was it. Sheer comedy.
Some time ago swimming in the pink lakes was allowed, now it’s absolutely forbidden. Even if you approach the water too closely, Mr. Guide gets angry and orders you to step away.
Where to stay and eat in Las Coloradas?
The city of Las Coloradas is very small, so most probably you will find neither a place to sleep nor a decent restaurant. Tourists who come here for, for instance, two days, stay in Rio Lagartos, which is located 30 minutes by car. I think that the most known, and probably of the highest standard, hotel in the area is Villa de Pescadores. There is a cheaper option, i.e. hotel Tabasco Rio.
When it comes to a restaurant I can recommend you Los Negritos – it looks inconspicuously but shrimps in fresh desiccated coconut and fish soup were absolutely fantastic.
Is it worth to go to Las Coloradas?
Before you arrive at a decision you should consider all aspects. First of all, the credit for the pink color should go to the light. The lake looks the most spectacular flooded with sunshine and while the sky is cloudless. If the weather is flawless, it’s best to see the lake between noon and 2 PM. If there are clouds or when the sunbeams shine at the lake at a different angle, the effect would not be that spectacular.
It is also true that you have to plan a few hours only to reach the place, so I would really think it through, if you wanted to go there to see only one attraction. But if it would be on the way to any other place – why not?
However, if you’ve never seen a similar place and you’re not planning to visit pink lake in Australia or Laguna Colorada in Bolivia any time soon, it is worth to see the Mexican version, because undoubtedly it would be a very interesting natural experience.
Also have a look for on a short drone video I made :)
*** Also, answering your frequent questions about the equipment I use: I have a DJI Mavic Pro drone, so all the bird’s eye views that you see on my blog and in social media are done with it :)