The pink lakes in Mexico were on my bucket list for a while, after seeing Instagram photos of the bright pink water and gorgeous blue sky, with a girl floating on an inflatable pink flamingo. I wanted to be on that flamingo, and take a dip in the unearthly pink water. So, when I realised the pink lakes of Las Coloradas were in the Yucatan region of Mexico where I was going to be for a few weeks, I knew I had to visit! So here is the lowdown on how to visit the Mexican pink lakes independently on public transport, and if I think it’s really worth the effort to do it without a tour or not!
Where are the Pink Lakes in Mexico?
The pink lakes are in a tiny town called Las Coloradas, on the northern coast of the Yucatan peninsula, about 2 hours’ drive from Valladolid, and about 3 and a half hours from Cancun – by car. If you are backpacking Mexico then it is still possible by public transport but takes a lot longer. The pink lagoons are close to the Rio Lagartos nature reserve, famous for its colonies of flamingos, and tours of the reserve often include a visit to the pink lakes.
What are the Pink Lakes?
I had envisioned a beautiful pink lagoon, rather like La Laguna Colorada I had seen on my tour to the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. That lake is naturally formed, and has a stunning backdrop of a mountain watching over the lake. The pink lakes in Mexico however, are part of a salt factory, and although the colour is natural, the lakes are formed into rectangles to allow for easier collection of salt from the mineral rich water. The lakes are part of private property, belonging to the salt factory, and although it is not enforced, there were signs everywhere to stop people entering the area, and from getting in the water, so there really is no romantic pink lagoon in Mexico as I had hoped.
Can you Swim in the Pink Lakes in Mexico?
No. Apparently, this used to be allowed, hence the inflatable flamingo shot, but now the signs clearly state you are not allowed in the water. I did see several people paddle in the pink water to take photos, but at least when I was there, no-one was so brazen as to get in fully. The pink water is not toxic, but is very salty, so bear in mind if you do dip your toes in, any cuts or blisters will sting like hell! I just put my pink toes on the pink beach, that was close enough for me! The sand on the beach was slightly sparkly from the salt, it was quite a sight, even if it wasn’t as I expected.
Is there anything to do around the Pink Lakes?
Not really. In Las Coloradas town, there is literally nothing. There is a beach but it is filthy and covered in plastic bottles and rubbish. When we were there, there were no restaurants open anywhere, so we bought some snacks from the corner shops & used the toilet in the Six store as there was no other option! Thankfully it was clean, although you’ll need your own paper.
If you are not on a tight budget, there are guides riding motorbikes who will offer to give you a tour around the lakes, and to take you to see flamingos for around $100 pesos per person.
There are tours of the Rio Lagartos natural reserve which leave from Rio Lagartos, which include a boat trip into the reserve to see flamingos, crocodiles and plenty of other birdlife, and a visit to the pink lakes. I had read that these tours were relatively expensive for cash-strapped backpackers like me, so I decided to take the bus to Las Coloradas, with a couple of girls from my hostel.
How to Get to the Pink Lakes by Public Transport
If you are in Cancun and want to visit Las Coloradas on public transport, I highly recommend spending the night in Valladolid first. A bus from Cancun to Valladolid takes around 3 hours on the second class Oriente or Mayab buses, and less on the more expensive ADO buses, then there is only one bus a day to Las Coloradas, which makes visiting the pink lagoon from Cancun in a day impossible without a car or a day tour. There are plenty of decent hostels and hotels in Valladolid, I stayed at Hostel la Candelaria which was lovely, and had a fabulous breakfast.
The next morning, take a bus from Valladolid to Tizimin, which is about half way between Valladolid and Rio Lagartos. Second class Oriente buses leave every 45 minutes or so, although ours was supposed to leave at 8am and was half an hour late setting off. To make sure you get the (only!) connecting bus from Tizimin to Las Coloradas, I recommend taking the 8am Oriente bus from Valladolid, which cost $30 pesos. There are no ADO bus routes to Las Coloradas, so don’t bother looking on their website for bus times.
There is only one bus per day that goes directly to Las Coloradas from Tizimin, and that leaves at 10.30am, from the bus terminal behind the terminal where you just arrived from Valladolid. Ask at the ticket desk if you need help finding it, or just go out the door, turn right & right again to get to the entrance of the other terminal.
There are collectivo minibuses that go from Tizimin to Rio Lagartos, but the only way to get from Rio Lagartos to Las Coloradas without a tour is to take that 10.30am direct bus, which passes through Rio Lagartos on the way, and costs $50 pesos each way.
The bus to Las Coloradas takes around an hour and a half to get there from Tizimin, and will drop you off in the same place it picks up from. The only return bus from Las Coloradas to Tizimin leaves at 3pm. Don’t miss it, as that is the only one! When you buy your ticket in Tizimin, double check that the bus times haven’t changed. You don’t want to get stuck in Las Coloradas!
Is Visiting the Pink Lakes Worth It?
This is a tough one. I am glad I went, and although it wasn’t how I imagined, the pink water was still pretty cool. However, I am travelling slowly and have time to spare – honestly if you don’t have long to spend in the Yucatan area I don’t think it is worth it to come here by public transport to just see the lakes. All in all, it took us four hours to get to the lakes, and after 30 minutes to an hour, you are done taking pictures. Then you have to wait for the bus back, which will take you at least 3 hours to get back to Valladolid – so it is a long day for relatively little enjoyment.
If you would like to do a full tour from Rio Lagartos, to see the natural reserve and the flamingos, then it is worth seeing the pink lakes as part of the tour (make sure it is included in your tour package, as not all tours go there). Prices vary from around $15 per person to $100+ per boat of 6 people, plus a small fee to enter the Rio Lagartos reserve. Some tours apparently take you a different reddish-brown lake, not the pink lakes at Las Coloradas, so be sure to clarify exactly where you want to go. The lakes we went to can be clearly seen from Google Maps satellite view, right next to the town of Las Coloradas.
Another option is to hire a car, which would cut the journey down to around 2 hours each way, and give you the flexibility to return to Valladolid much quicker. Merida is also within easy reach of the pink lakes, if you have you own car. With your own car it is even possible to take a day trip to the pink lakes from Cancun, although it will still be a long day. You could take a day trip from Cancun to Rio Lagartos and combine a Rio Lagartos tour & an independent visit to the Pink Lakes if your tour doesn’t include it.
Bear in mind the weather too, if you are in Mexico in rainy season. The colour of the water is always pink in some of the lakes, but if you have clear weather then the sunshine gives the water a stronger pink colour – if it is very cloudy or raining the colours will be much duller. We were lucky, and visited the day after a thunderstorm – the water was still pink, and we had a combination of cloudy reflections and bright blue sky.
Overall, I am glad I went, but don’t think I would go again. If you have your heart set on visiting the pink lakes in Mexico then I don’t want to crush your dreams, but think carefully about other things you may prefer to do instead.
Have you visited the pink lakes in Mexico? Or perhaps the pink lakes in Australia? What did you think, was it worth the trip? I’d love to hear your opinions, just add a comment below.
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