Rio Lagartos Flamingos

Touring Rio Lagartos

Northern Yucatan, Mexico


There’s a never ending list of things to do on a trip to Playa Del Carmen or Cancun. Rio Lagartos and Ek Balam are two less known and more ‘off the beaten path’ places I wanted to check out. After visiting, I can’t believe they’re not much more well known! This combination made for one of the most memorable all-day trips I’ve experienced here.

The first part of the tour is simply getting there, and that required a roughly 3 hour van ride from Playa Del Carmen (closer if you depart from Cancun). Along the way we learned all about the wildlife in the area on our tour guide’s iPad, and since the tour I took just happened to be full of Italians, I spent some time learning a few Italian words too!

It was worth every minute of the ride… the exquisite Ria Lagartos lagoon is a recognized biosphere reserve; and part-time home to over 300 species of birds, most notably pink flamingos. Happy to leave the van we were heading onto the lagoon by boat. We all got a nice surprise next to the dock, hiding among the mangroves was a crocodile! As soon as we got in the boats this croc came over to investigate giving us all a great view of his teeth.

Ria Lagartos Crocodile

As we sped across the narrow lagoon in search of our pink-feathered friends I couldn’t help but notice how shallow the water was, only about 1-2 feet! Within a few minutes there were hundreds of flamingos glowing in the bright sun all around us. With the boat engines off we floated around watching the birds effortlessly pluck their meals from the water.



Our next stop was one of the most bizarre landscapes I’ve laid eyes on. Next to the lagoon were shallow canals of dull red foaming water. There’s a large salt extraction operation here that supplies a large amount of the grainy white substance to Mexico’s dining tables.

Rio Lagartos Salt Lake

Our guides started digging through the surface of the cracking earth to reveal a damp mud containing huge concentrations of salt. I’m no expert on skin, but apparently this extra salty soil is perfect for an exfoliating mud bath. Here I am in the middle of nowhere receiving a luxury spa treatment.

Rio Lagartos Mud Bath

After we finished romping around in the mud it was time to hop back on-board the boat and race across the lagoon.

Rio Lagartos Lagoon

We traded the red tinted water for murky brown stuff and it was time to get some more close encounters with the wild animals that live here. Within a few seconds of pulling up next to the bank our guide pulled a large horseshoe crab (aka a helmet crab) out of the water. These crabs are protected by a large shell the resembles a helmet and feel slimy. Unfortunately they’ve got tiny legs so we wouldn’t be having crab legs for lunch.

Holding A Horseshoe Crab

Horseshoe Crab

Next we spotted a black hawk perched up in the tree branches. They threw a fish off the boat and the hawk instantly swooped down and plucked it from the water.


Black Hawk

After a quick ride we made it to Rio Lagartos town, where the lagoon meets the gulf of Mexico and the water turns from a murky brown to bright turquoise. We stopped in shallow water and rinsed the mud off before heading to town for lunch. All the areas of skin I had applied the salty mud to were no extra soft to the touch, this stuff really works!

The provided lunch was a tasty platter of fish cooked in a variety of ways with veggies and fries. With our bellies filled it was time to hit the road and journey to the Ek Balam ruins.

Read Part 2 – Ek Balam Ruins Here