I’ve always loved flamingos. There’s something so graceful and yet silly about them: if ballerina comedians were a thing, flamingos would be their spirit animal. Seeing them at zoos and aviaries has always made me want to see them in the wild. I decided on my recent trip to Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula to seize my chance by visiting Río Lagartos and Las Coloradas.
And I’m so glad that I did. Seeing the flamingos, plus the otherworldly landscape of Las Coloradas’s pink lakes, was my favorite travel experience of the year!
Haphazard Rating for Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas: 2 of 5. Add two ambulances if you rent a car and drive yourself.
To See: Flamingos, crocodiles, assorted shore birds; plus the amazing pink waters of Las Coloradas.
To Eat: Lunch at Rio Lagartos Adventures, overlooking the bay.
When to Go: The best time of year to see flamingos is breeding season, March – June. I went in October and there were around 30-40 flamingos in the bay, with more in the distance at the Las Coloradas salt flats. I found one source that said Las Coloradas is at its most pink in March and July-August.
Choosing Río Lagartos
There are a few well-down flamingo-watching destinations across the globe:
- The Renaissance Private Island Hotel in Aruba, but you have to stay at the hotel to use their beach and hang with the birds
- Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, where travelers hope to catch flamingos mirrored against the glass-like surface of the salt flat pools
- Rift Valley lakes in Kenya
- Celestún Reserve near Mérida, on the western coast of the Yucatán in Mexico
- Río Lagartos, a town on the northern point of the Yucatán in the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve
When To Go
From my online research, I struggled with determining when “peak flamingo” happens. There appear to be some flamingos there all year. When I was there in person, the guides told me that March – June is THE time to go to Río Lagartos. My guide actually promised MILLIONS, which sounds like the start of a horror movie! But there’s a lot, including hatchlings since spring and early summer is breeding season.
Getting There: Ruta Flamingo
Day tours to either Celestun or Río Lagartos can be arranged from cities across the Yucatán . But because I had rented a car, I opted to drive from Valladolid and make a day of it. The funniest part was seeing highway signs that said “RUTA FLAMINGO” but at least I knew I was on track. (I would totally pay for this on a shirt, by the way.)
You can also take a bus from Merida, Valladolid and other cities to Tizimin; then take a connecting bus or collectivo van to Río Lagartos. Find out more here:
IMPORTANT: The day trips I saw from other cities didn’t include time for an outing to Las Coloradas other than the quick view you get from where the boats let you go ashore.
If you’re driving, the map shows it’s only one road – Highway 295. In Mexico, though, highways turn into small town roads. If you drive, be careful when you get to Tizimin and watch for signs: the highway became a one-way street. Local residents seem pretty used to flagging down tourists because each time someone alerted me and I was able to make a quick U-turn!
It took me at least 2 hours to get there and 2.5 to get back. I wouldn’t want to drive on that road at night, so either leave yourself time, or plan to stay overnight in Río Lagartos. Also watch out for trucks carrying large equipment for the salt factory in Las Coloradas.
If you think you might rent a car, read my post on driving in Mexico.
Hiring a Boat
When you reach the town of Río Lagartos, you’ll see signs for Río Lagartos Adventures. You can also book with them online in theory: I tried twice before my trip, but my emails weren’t answered. So I showed up and hoped for the best!
You can also hire a boat at the docks, or search TripAdvisor. Other travelers have posted contact info for their guides. Tours seem to be around $110-140 per boat depending on the length of the tour.
I lucked out with Río Lagartos Adventures and was able to join a couple on their excursion, so I paid only around $40. Other travelers on TripAdvisor report being able to match up with groups at the dock. I would go early if you’re counting on this option in case it takes time – particularly if you need a tour in English.
Río Lagartos Flamingos
El Baño Maya
On the return trip, the boats usually stop so that you can enjoy a Mayan mudbath. Supposedly it has healing properties here! It’s funny to see boatloads of tourists returning slathered in mud. Our guide gave us a chance to stop at a beach before returning to the docks, so we could paddle around a bit and wash off.
Las Coloradas Pink Lakes
The pink lakes of Las Coloradas are an Instagram-perfect landscape. Its lakes are actually salt flats from the nearby salt extraction plant. The algae in the water, coupled with the sun and extraction process, turn the waters pink. Its colors are reportedly best in July-August and March, due to the 6-month evaporation process.
On a boat tour, you can see Las Coloradas from the waters of the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Preserve. We saw some flamingos in the distance and I collected feathers for a photo. But the best views are from the other side.
If you drive or take a taxi to Las Coloradas, you’ll follow a road that stretches along the northern Yucatán coastline. I took a quick peek at the beaches and they looked deserted and pristine. I’ll definitely be spending some time there on my next trip!
After the salt extraction plant, you’ll start to see the salt ponds. Keep driving until you see a small town up ahead and signs for the protected area. A wide turn-off on the right allows you to drive between the pink lakes and get close to the water.
Swimming used to be allowed but is now prohibited, as indicated by signs. There are security guards on motorcycles patrolling the area, and even some guys offering tours, but they were all friendly.
Río Lagartos and Las Coloradas are destinations that still aren’t on a lot of travelers’ radars. If you’re a nature lover or photographer, or if you’re looking for unique day trips in the Yucatán, I think it should definitely be on your list! Let me know in the comments if you visit or have any questions about my trip.
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