Published On: Mon, Apr 28th, 2014

A long weekend in Río Lagartos

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RÍO LAGARTOS, YUCATÁN – The fishing port of Río Lagartos is located in the north-east corner of Yucatán state, directly north of the city of Tizimín. The village was called Holkobén by the Maya, who used it as a place to stop on their way to Las Coloradas, where they extracted salt from the water (a practice which continues on a commercial scale today). The Spanish explorers arriving in the area mistook the ría (estuary) for a río (river), and the abundant crocodiles for lagartos (alligators), and the name stuck.

Today, a relatively sleepy fishing village, Río Lagartos lacks its own beach, meaning it fails to attract the tourist crowds who pack other beach towns such as Progreso, Chelem, and El Cuyo during the season. If you are looking for somewhere to spend a quiet few days, this could be the place.

01 Balcony view from the Hotel Villa de Pescadores (credit Stewart Mandy)

Balcony view from the Hotel Villa de Pescadores (Photo: Stewart Mandy)

There are a number of small, family run hotels in town – we chose the Hotel Villa de Pescadores, right on the malecón (water front promenade), and were generally happy with our decision; it was clean and cool, and with a stunning view from the balcony. The lack of blackout curtains meant the sun woke us by 6.30am each morning, not exactly what we wanted on our ‘mini vacation’, but with little to do in the evenings after 10pm, it was not a major problem.

Fishing boats and lighthouse in Rio Lagartos (Photo: Stewart Mandy)

Fishing boats and lighthouse in Rio Lagartos (Photo: Stewart Mandy)

 

There really is nothing to do in the evenings in Río; most bars and restaurants close by 9pm, and other than strolling along the malecón to people watch, you won’t find any entertainment.

Stunning evening view in Rio Lagartos (credit Stewart Mandy)

Stunning evening view in Rio Lagartos (credit Stewart Mandy)

Fish, flamingos and crocodiles. They are the ´big three’ in Río, and boat tours are available to catch the first, and view the other two. At the right time of year, once away from the town, flamingos stretch in all directions in the estuary, as far as the eye can see. Out of flamingo season (which, unfortunately was the case during our visit), they are fewer in number; the boat captains know where to look however, and you can be sure of seeing at least a few of the beautiful creatures.

Flamingos in the ría (credit: Jesus Herrera)

Flamingos in the ría (credit: Jesus Herrera)

 

We took the ‘standard’ flamingo tour, available from any of the docks along the malecón. In addition to flamingo viewing, you’ll most likely see a crocodile or two, plus will have a chance to float (swimming being impossible due to the salt content) in one of the pink pools where the salt is produced, as well as a visit to the ‘Mayan spa’ mud area – if desired you can cover yourself with the mineral rich mud, and wait until you return to town to wash it off.

Evening view of the malecón (credit Stewart Mandy)

Evening view of the malecón (credit Stewart Mandy)

We also ventured out for an evening crocodile tour, and while we saw less crocodiles than we might have hoped for, the experience of being out on the water in the mangroves at night, far from the lights of the town with the brilliance of the stars overhead was well worth it.

Lobster tails at Los Gaviotas (credit Jesus Herrera)

Lobster tails at Los Gaviotas (credit Jesus Herrera)

It goes without saying that the seafood in Río is sublime; lobster, shrimp, fish, and ceviche; all fresh from the sea, and served to you in a wide variety of ways. We ate at ‘Los Gaviotas’ and ‘Perico Marinero’, and would recommend both without hesitation.

Tour boats in the mangroves (credit Jesus Herrera)

Tour boats in the mangroves (credit Jesus Herrera)

For beer and seafood ‘botanas’ in the afternoon, we walked along the ´malecón’ to ‘El Bandolón’, a family and tourist friendly cantina, offering beer by the liter, and ´botanas’ (snacks) including delicious ´chivitas’ (small sea snails marinated in lime juice to make ceviche).

It's not a tree branch... (credit Jesus Herrera)

It’s not a tree branch… (credit Jesus Herrera)

From Río, we took the road to Las Coloradas, crossing the impressive new bridge, built recently to replace the original wooden bridge across the estuary. Commercial salt production on an impressive scale takes place here today, with the pink tinted pools of water stretching for a vast distance. The area is popular with flamingos, and the further we went past Las Coloradas, the more birds we saw.

Salt mountains at Las Coloradas (credit Jesus Herrera)

Salt mountains at Las Coloradas (credit Jesus Herrera)

The map indicates an unpaved road all the way along the coast from Las Coloradas to El Cuyo; we inquired locally as to its condition, and received a couple of non-committal “well it should be OK” comments. Feeling intrepid, we headed off, and indeed for many miles, the road was well packed and maintained. Once we left the salt production area however, the condition deteriorated fast, and by the time we eventually reached El Cuyo, we had had more than enough of the jolting and bumping.

12 El Cuyo beach (credit Stewart Mandy)

El Cuyo beach (credit Stewart Mandy)

El Cuyo was buzzing with tourists; the pretty beach area was packed, and we enjoyed a cooling swim in the ocean and some fried fish at one of the many restaurants, before heading back to Río Lagartos via a longer but considerably faster inland route.

Flamingos near Las Coloradas (credit Jesus Herrera)

Flamingos near Las Coloradas (credit Jesus Herrera)

We only spent three nights in Río; however thanks to its tranquil, unrushed atmosphere (and yes, let’s be honest, its lack of anything to do after 8pm…) we returned to Mérida feeling refreshed and ready to face the world again. For a quiet weekend getaway, and some of the region’s best seafood, we would highly recommend it.

 MAP - Rio Lagartos general location

By Stewart Mandy

Questions or comments? Let us hear from you below, or send an email to stewart@theyucatantimes.com

Stewart Mandy

Stewart Mandy

Questions or comments? Let us hear from you below, or send an email to stewart@theyucatantimes.com

Born in Europe, raised in the Middle East, and a long-time resident in the Americas, Stewart has been based in Mérida, Yucatan since 2010, and has lived and worked worldwide in the media, travel, tourism and transportation industries for well over 20 years. His local contacts and global knowledge provide him with unmatched access to the stories ‘behind the stories’ and he likes to take you to the places that others don’t or won’t go. From the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego, from Moscow to Melbourne, from Bergen to Buenos Aires, Stewart has been there. Chances are, wherever you are heading, he knows the score.

In addition to The Yucatan Times, Stewart contributes (or has contributed) to “The Examiner” (www.examiner.com), “Business Briefings”, “Cruise & Ferry Magazine” and “The Apollo Magazine”. He is a former editor of “rolling pin CRUISE” magazine.

He can be contacted by email at stewart@theyucatantimes.com or smandy@gmail.com

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