Rio Lagartos Flamingos and Las Coloradas

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Last Updated on July 17, 2021

Did you know that there is a place where you can see both flamingos in the wild AND pink lakes? It’s in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula in the city of Rio Lagartos and the nearby Las Coloradas. Find out how to get there, where to stay, and if you need to book a tour to visit Rio Lagartos, Mexico to see pink flamingos with bonus pink lakes!

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Haphazard Rating for Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas: 2 of 5.
Get There: Fly into Cancun and drive. Or, book a Rio Lagartos tour from Valladolid, Merida, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or other cities in the Yucatan.
To See/Do: Boat excursions to see flamingos, crocodiles, assorted shore birds of the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve; sport fishing tours; plus the amazing pink waters of Las Coloradas.
When to Go: Flamingo season in Rio Lagartos is March – June, since spring and early summer are breeding season. Flamingos are present all year, but expect to see significantly more during this time. To see the Las Coloradas lakes at their most pink, I found one source that said to visit in March and July-August.

Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas Pink Lakes

The Best Rio Lagartos Tours

If you’re looking for the best tours to see Rio Lagartos, here are my top tips from different cities in the region:

Rio Lagartos Flamingos & Las Coloradas Pink Lakes

Where are Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas?

Rio Lagartos, Yucatan is a sleepy fishing town in the state of Yucatán, Mexico, about 65 miles (105km) north of the city of Valladolid. The closest airports are in Cancun and Merida. Rio Lagartos means “alligator river” and is located at a lagoon, the Ria Lagartos, which is part of a natural reserve. This makes it a perfect habitat for wild birds, including flamingos. It’s also a popular spot for sport fishing. Las Coloradas is about 10 miles east of here – just follow along the beach road from Río Lagartos (16km).

  • Want a home base for exploring the region? Check out my travel guides to Valladolid and Merida.
Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas Mexico map
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula has two flamingo spotting spots: Celestun Reserve and Rio Lagartos!

Places to Mingle with Flamingos in the Wild

There are a few well-down flamingo-watching destinations across the globe:

  • Aruba: The Renaissance Private Island Hotel, but you have to stay at the hotel to use their beach and hang with the birds
  • Bolivia: Salar de Uyuni, where travelers hope to catch flamingos mirrored against the glass-like surface of the salt flat pools
  • Africa: Rift Valley lakes in Kenya, Nata Sanctuary in Botswana, Walvis Bay in Namibia
  • Camargue National Park in France
  • Ria Formosa Natural Park in Tavira, Portugal

In Mexico, there are two places where you can see flamingos:

Celestun or Rio Lagartos?

If you’re visiting Merida already, it makes more sense to make a stop or a day trip to Celestun. But it is more remote, and there’s not much to do there. Rio Lagartos can be seen on a day trip from Valladolid or even Tulum.

I had a hard time deciding between Rio Lagartos and Celestun since I was visiting both Mérida and Valladolid. In the end, I decided Rio Lagartos fit into my trip better and it’s closer to more of the tourist areas.  Plus once I figured out I could add on Las Coloradas, it was an easy choice.

Flamingo Season in Rio Lagartos

Flamingo season in Rio Lagartos is March – June, since spring and early summer are breeding season. Flamingos are present all year, but expect to see significantly more during this time.

I visited in October and there were around 30-40 flamingos in the bay, with more in the distance at the Las Coloradas salt flats. 

My guide promised MILLIONS of flamingos if I would return in spring, which honestly sounded a little scary! In any case, expect to see a lot in the March – June time frame, including hatchlings.

The Las Coloradas lakes are always pink, but it’s best to visit around noon on a sunny day when the waters appear the most pink.

How to Get to Rio Lagartos

Day tours to either Celestun or Rio Lagartos can be arranged with tour operators from cities across the Yucatán. You can easily take a trip from Valladolid to Las Coloradas or even Tulum to Las Coloradas. Click here to jump back up the page to my best Rio Lagartos tour recommendations.

How to get to Rio Lagartos by bus

You can take a bus from Merida, Valladolid and other cities to Tizimin; then take a connecting bus or collectivo van to Rio Lagartos. Find out more and check the bus routes here:

How to get to Rio Lagartos by car

Rio Lagartos is about 3 hours by car from Cancun, 2.5 hours from Tulum, or 1.5 hours from Valladolid. Using a GPS, follow the route to Valladolid and then turn north on Valladolid – Tizimin/México 295, which will take you directly to Rio Lagartos. The best part of getting there was seeing highway signs that said “RUTA FLAMINGO.”

Driving in Mexico - Ruta Flamingo
This way to ridiculous pink birds! (I would totally buy a shirt that said this!)

If you drive, be careful when you get to Tizimin and watch for signs: the highway became a one-way street through the town. 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!

There are hotels in Rio Lagartos if you want to spend a few days fishing, birdwatching, or relaxing on the nearby beaches.

If you plan to rent a car and drive, read my post on driving in Mexico.

Great egret at Ria Lagartos Biosphere
A great egret in the Ria Lagartos Nature Preserve

Rio Lagartos Tours (Or How to Hire a Boat from the Docks)

When you reach the town of Rio Lagartos, you’ll see signs for Rio Lagartos Adventures.  I tried to book online before my trip, didn’t get a reply to my messages. So I showed up and hoped for the best, and it worked out just fine.

You can also hire a boat at the docks for a tour. If you check TripAdvisor, too, some travelers have posted contact info for their guides. Tours were around $110-140 per boat depending on the length of the tour.

I lucked out with Rio 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.

Photographing the Flamingos

On the tour, I was surprised to see that the flamingos were right in the bay just a few minutes from docks!  We also saw some off in the distance at Las Coloradas. The guides were careful not to get too close to the flamingos and disturb them, so it helps if you have a zoom lens or camera with a digital zoom. My photos were taken with a 200mm lens, and I still wished we could have gotten closer.  

Rio Lagartos Flamingos
A pair of flamingos – did you know that what looks like their knee is really their ankle? That’s why it’s so bendy. Their knee is hidden under their feathers!
Rio Lagartos Flamingos
More trivia: Did you know a group of flamingos is called a flamboyance?
American Flamingos a Rio Lagartos
There are six types of flamingos. Those found in Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve are American flamingos.

Want to add some history to your Mexico trip? Don’t miss my guide to the best Aztec and Mayan ruins in Mexico!

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Nestled in the jungles of Mesoamerica, the rediscovered ruins of Maya, Aztec and Zapotec cities stand as monuments to the power and knowledge of these ancient civilizations. How many of these Mexico ruins have you visited, and which are on your bucket list?

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Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve

If you’re a bird-lover, consider taking a longer tour of the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve. Here you’ll find mangrove estuaries and wetlands that are home to vulnerable and endangered plant and animal species. The Ria Lagartos beaches are also a nesting zone for marine turtles, including the hawksbill and green sea turtles.

Our guide got us up-close with a crocodile and several shore birds including cormorants, egrets, and a common black hawk.

Rio Lagartos means alligator river
Did you know that you can tell an alligator from a crocodile by if they see you later, or after while? #dadjokesbadjokes

El Baño Maya | Mayan Mud Bath at Rio Lagartos

On the return trip, the boats usually stop so that you can enjoy a Mayan mudbath at el Bano Maya!  It reportedly 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.

What makes the Las Coloradas Lakes Turn Pink?

Mexico’s Las Coloradas pink lakes are a landscape practically meant for Instagram. 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 bright 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 of the water are from the other side, by the salt extraction plant.

Rio Lagartos Flamingos and Las Coloradas
The view of Las Coloradas from the boat excursion
A flamingo feather from Las Coloradas
Be sure to collect feathers! (Not when attached to birds though!)
Flamingos at the salt flats
Flamingos in the distance at the salt flats

Getting to Las Coloradas from Rio Lagartos

From Rio Lagartos, you’ll follow the same highway from Valladolid (Mexico 295) that continues on to Las Coloradas. This road 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!

Follow this the road until you pass the salt extraction plant. Then 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 bright pink lakes and get close to the water.

Can You Swim in Las Coloradas?

Unfortunately, not any longer. Swimming at Las Coloradas is now prohibited, and you’ll see a lot of signs posted to remind you. Technically, the salt flats are private property, so you definitely need to respect the rules. There are security guards on motorcycles patrolling the area, and even some guys offering tours, but they were all friendly.

A warning: the salt flats themselves are an industrial area. You’ll be able to get photos of the pink sand beach and rose-colored water, but you might have to position yourself to avoid some power lines and trash! (Yes, really.)

Why You Should Visit Rio Lagartos

If you have a tattoo that says “FLAMINGOS 4-EVER,” you pretty much have to go. Or a shirt that says “Ruta Flamingo.”

OK, but really, 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 Mexico’s Yucatan, I think a trip to see the Las Coloradas flamingos should be on your list!

Where to Stay in Rio Lagartos

Hotel Rio Lagartos - Where to Stay in Rio Lagartos
Budget hotel option Hotel Rio Lagartos
Budget hotel option Hotel Punta Ponto
Villa Nirvana Blue - Where to stay in Rio Lagartos
Luxury accommodation at Villa Nirvana Blue
Villa Ríaluz - Where to Stay in Rio Lagartos
Luxury accommodation at Villa Ríaluz

Search for more Rio Lagartos Stays

More info on visiting Rio Lagartos Flamingos and Las Coloradas

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Rio Lagartos Flamingos & Las Coloradas Pink Lakes

Want More Mexico Travel Tips?

Check out my guide to visiting Oaxaca for Day of the Dead

Find out the best Tulum beach hotels and Mayan ruins in the Yucatan

Or get tips for visiting Tulum on a budget

Best Mexico Ruins: Ultimate Guide to 20+ Ruins in Mexico

Nestled in the jungles of Mesoamerica, the rediscovered ruins of Maya, Aztec and Zapotec cities stand as monuments to the power and knowledge of these ancient civilizations. How many of these Mexico ruins have you visited, and which are on your bucket list?

Read more

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Adrienne, The Haphazard Traveler

I used to be a hot travel mess, but I got better! I kept the name and now blog my best tips for culture and adventure travel from around the globe. Follow along for travel advice, destination info, and photography from faraway lands - and at home in Washington, D.C.

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