Mexico is replete with incredible scenic wonders, but few sights are as unique and breathtaking as the pink lakes in Quintana Roo. Known locally as Las Coloradas (“blush red”), the cotton-candy-colored lakes attract tourists from all across the world. If you find yourself visiting the Cancún area or exploring the Riviera Maya, a short detour to Las Coloradas is well worth the journey. 

Why Are the Lakes in Las Coloradas Pink?

To answer the most obvious question, the lakes are pink due to the abundance of red and pink marine life including red algae, brine shrimp, and plankton—all of which thrive in water with high salt content. These man-made lakes are extremely shallow, and the marine life becomes highly concentrated as the salt water evaporates. As the sunlight reflects off of the water, it magnifies the pink hue of these animals and organisms beneath the surface. 

The pink lakes actually belong to a major salt production factory, and that’s why it can be difficult to get close to the water (more on that later). In fact, the Las Coloradas has been a salt mining community for thousands of years, going back to the ancient Maya.

Mexico’s Pink Lakes - Where are they?
Source: @roccogarza

Where Are the Pink Lakes? 

Las Coloradas can be found on the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, in the Río Lagartos Biosphere Reserve. This protected wetlands region covers over 150,000 acres and is home to an array of exotic wildlife including flamingos, crocodiles, colorful birds, and even jaguars. It’s about a 150-mile drive northwest of Cancún to the Pacific Coast, and the journey typically takes about three hours. 

The Río Lagartos area has become increasingly popular as a tourist destination in recent years (thanks largely to the lakes’ popularity), but it’s still off the beaten path and quite limited in terms of accommodations. There are a few excellent restaurants and hotels, but don’t expect the kind of bustling resort atmosphere that you would find in Cancún or Playa Del Carmen. In fact, it can be difficult even to find an ATM in Río Lagartos, so it’s recommended that you bring plenty of Mexican pesos for your day trip.

Can You Swim in Las Coloradas? 

Unfortunately, the pink lakes are not a designated tourist attraction and are—for the most part—fenced off and inaccessible to the public. Less than 10 years ago, it was easy for anyone to drive up and take photos at the lakes. You could even go for a swim. However, thanks to social media and the internet, the pink lakes have gained considerable popularity in recent years and have attracted hordes of visitors. As a result, most of the land has been fenced off by the salt factory that owns the lakes. 

The good news is that you aren’t completely out of luck. You can still see the pink water up close; you just have to book a tour with a reputable touring company. Companies like Cancún Adventure will take you across the Río Lagartos Lagoon and show you areas of the water not restricted by the salt factory. Some tours will even allow you to swim in the water. These types of tours are available from Río Lagartos as well as Cancún.

Source: @ourtravelventure

What to Bring With You to Las Coloradas 

Make sure to pack the following essentials when leaving for Las Coloradas: 

  • - Mexican pesos. There are no ATMs in Las Coloradas and few ATMs in Río Lagartos.
  • - Weather-appropriate clothes.The dry season runs from December to April, and the rainy season lasts from May to November. Check the forecast before you go. 
  • - Sunglasses. The reflection of the sunlight off the lakes can be very powerful. Make sure to have a good pair of UV-protective sunglasses with you. 
  • - Sunblock. Even during the rainy season, the sun can be intense in this region. 
  • - Your best camera. If you’re fortunate enough to see the pink waters up close, you want to immortalize the moment. 

Is it Safe to Travel to the Pink Lakes? 

This sparsely populated area of Mexico is quiet and safe for travel. As long as you heed all posted signs in Las Coloradas (i.e. don’t trespass on private property to see the pink lakes up close), you shouldn’t run into any trouble. 

The worst thing that’s likely to happen is having your car break down in a remote area without nearby emergency services. If your car is getting old or prone to mechanical issues, it’s a good idea to stick with touring companies and their transportation.

How do You Get to Las Coloradas From Cancún
Source: @montserratfranco

How do You Get to Las Coloradas From Cancún?

The easiest way to get to Las Coloradas is to book a tour that leaves from Cancún. There are tours and also city buses that depart daily from Terminal ADO Cancún station. The only downside is that this tends to be the slowest way to travel. The journey on a city bus can take more than five hours, and a tour bus from Cancún doesn’t afford you much freedom for exploring or sightseeing along the way. 

If you prefer to drive, take the 180 past the 305 and head north on the 295 until you reach Río Lagartos. 

There’s another way to get from Cancún to Las Coloradas, and that’s to drive from Cancún to Chiquilá and then catch a bus from Chiquilá to Río Lagartos. From there, you can take a tour that departs from Río Lagartos. We recommend this route because it saves you from having to drive the full distance on your own, allows you to avoid the most desolate part of the drive, and enables you to explore other historic communities like Chiquilá. 

To do this, take the following route: 

  • - Take the Cancún - Valladolid/Carr. Costera del Golfo/Av. López Portillo/México 180 toward Merida.
  • - Head onto the 305D north to the QROO5 north and continue onto Kantunilkin - Chiquilá/Reform. 
  • - Exit at Puerto de Chiquilá and park at the Chiquilá ADO bus terminal. Public parking is available.
  • - Take the bus departing to Río Lagartos (check the schedule ahead of time, as this bus only departs twice a day). 

Things to Do Along the Way 

If you’re going to make it a day trip from Cancún, there are a few worthwhile stops along the way that you’ll want to check out. One exciting thing about exploring Mexico is stopping in those beautiful historic towns that tourists seldom see. Two particularly noteworthy towns on the road to Las Coloradas are Valladolid (where the 180D meets the 295) and Chiquilá (located at the northern tip of the QROO5). 

Things to do in Valladolid: With its beautiful colonial architecture, ancient churches, and vibrant downtown, Valladolid is a great place to explore. Many tourists come specifically to dive into the cenotes, natural sinkholes connected to ancient caves. Cenote Zaci, located near city center, is one of the most popular cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula. Valladolid is also home to some excellent restaurants like La Casona de Valladolid and Yerbabuena Del Sisal.

Things to do in Chiquilá: If you have a bit of time to spend in Chiquilá, take the ferry to Holbox Island (Isla Holbox). There, you can take an island tour, rent a bike, or try the world-famous lobster pizza that’s available at eateries like Roots and Edelyn Restaurant. You can also kayak through the mangrove forest. If you don’t have time to visit Holbox, you can still enjoy a bit of fishing in Chiquilá, as the town is one of Mexico’s top fishing ports.

Things to Do in Las Coloradas & Río Lagartos
Source: @ericelendt

Things to Do in Las Coloradas & Río Lagartos

Once you arrive in Río Lagartos, there’s much more to do and see than just the pink lakes. The road leading to Las Coloradas is lined with gorgeous white-sand beaches like Cancunito Beach. Have a picnic, splash in the water, and look for sea turtles (which are abundant in the area). The great thing about this area is that the beaches are far less crowded than those along the Riviera Maya.

From Río Lagartos, you can book a boat tour of the Biosphere Reserve or visit Granja de Crocodiles, an active crocodile farm where you can hold baby crocodiles. After you finish your pink lakes tour, you can finish off the day from the Río Lagartos Hotel roof. Enjoy a cold beer while watching the sunset over Las Coloradas. 

If you get hungry, there are also some excellent restaurants in Río Lagartos, including: 

  • - La Mojarrita 
    • Address: calle 9 x 17, 97720
    • Excellent prices, good catch-of-the-day seafood. The ceviche and octopus are especially popular.
  • - Deja Vu Bar 
    • Address: calle 9 x 15
    • This is a relatively new restaurant that’s generating a lot of buzz. Great party atmosphere with live DJs and outdoor seating. Guests love the shrimp mac and cheese. 
  • - Macumba Restaurant
    • Address: Calle 9 y 11 Ocean View 10 
    • Fresh fish, casual atmosphere, and friendly staff. Try the garlic lobster and coconut prawns.
  • - Restaurante La Chiquilá
    • Address: Calle 9 62A | East End
    • Outdoor dining by the sea with the best guacamole in town. Enjoy a Tecate and dine on fresh garlic fish filets. 
  • - Perico Marinero 
    • Address: Calle 9a N 111 B 
    • This place has something for everyone. Yes, the fish is fresh, and the ceviche is delicious, but they also have options like fried chicken and pasta dishes. The diabla shrimp is especially popular. 

If you need to spend the night in Río Lagartos, there are about half a dozen hotels in town, ranging from 30 to 60 dollars a night. 

Is It Worth the Trip? 

Considering the travel time and tour requirements, you’ll need to reserve a full day to see the pink lakes. If you only have a weekend or a few days to spend in Cancún, it might not make sense to sacrifice a full day to get a short glimpse at the lakes. However, if you’re enjoying an extended stay in a Riviera Maya luxury villa and are looking for fun excursions that are off the beaten path, Las Coloradas is well worth the visit. 

Make sure to take your time, book a guided tour, and see some of the beautiful historic sights along the way. It’s a trip that you’ll surely treasure for a lifetime.


Featured image via expertvagabond