Bacalar, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Often people think that the Mexican State of Quintana Roo is nothing but white sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters, and wild nightlife. This perception is in part due to the now world-famous resort town of Cancun and also to the growth of hotels in the Riviera Maya. However, the southern part of the State, close to the border with Belize, is home to lots of mysteries, adventures, and many a captivating story about bloody battles and pirate attacks. All of them took place in beautiful natural surroundings, the intense green of the jungle, and the amazing blue tones of the Caribbean.
Luckily, these treasures have partially been kept from the masses, and only a few travelers have gotten close to these tranquil traditional towns in southern Quintana Roo. We are talking about Chetumal and Bacalar; the latter was recently named a "Pueblo Magico" (Magic Town). So far Bacalar is the first town in Quintana Roo that features the characteristics of a "Pueblo Magico" according to studies performed by the Mexican Ministry of Tourism at the beginning of 2007.
Aside from the welcome funding the town has received from the Mexican government and substantial investment in the creation of a tourism infrastructure, it is also important to highlight the wonderful natural elements that make Bacalar a small paradise, nestled in the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Bacalar Lagoon is also known as "The Lagoon of Seven Colors" because of its ever changing tones which range from sandy white to hues of green and blue. This variety of color occurs due to a combination of factors: the crystalline water, the soft color on the bottom of the lagoon, the sun's rays, and the undulating depth which doesn't exceed 20 feet. The lagoon is only twenty minutes from Chetumal, the capital city of the State, and it is one of the main attractions in Bacalar, because visitors can swim, rent motor or sail boats and also kayak here. Spending a day admiring the charming flora and fauna of the area, or just relaxing on a hammock, are both great options as well.
The Fort of San Felipe Bacalar is another major attraction in Bacalar. The walls, columns and bastions still show battle scars from times gone by. It was built in 1725 to help fend off raids by pillaging pirates and also to stop illegal wood dealers from stealing Bacalar's "Palo de Tinte"(a precious wood extremely valuable at that time, used to dye fabrics). Bacalar's fort became of even greater importance between 1763 and 1790, due to military and political hostilities between New Spain and England, and the fact that British forces in Belize, then a British colony were amassed just across the Rio Hondo (the Deep River).
The Guerra de Castas (The Caste War), between 1847 and 1901, was an armed conflict in which the indigenous Mayan population rebelled against people of European descent in protest against the hardships they had suffered. During this war, the rebels stormed the town and the Fort of San Felipe Bacalar on several occasions, but were unable to emerge victorious.
Nowadays, the Fort is a modern museum of local history, with exhibitions and collections including historic pre-Hispanic and colonial pieces, drawings, city maps, a beautiful mural, multimedia devices and even the skeleton of a real pirate of the Mexican Caribbean!
If you're lucky enough to visit the beautiful town of Bacalar during the first fifteen days of August, you may have the chance to experience the traditional Fair of San Joaquin de Bacalar, an annual event anxiously awaited each year by the locals. Among the many attractions are outdoor concerts, folkloric ballets, contemporary dance presentations, horse races, games, cockfights, and exhibitions on the mixing of cultures between Belize and Mexico.
During this celebration, the popular "Rio Hondo-Bacalar Nautical Marathon" is also held. This event consists of a series of races between small boats that reach impressive speeds of up to 125 miles per hour! The backdrop for this race is the beautiful Bacalar Lagoon and the Rio Hondo (Deep River), which is also the natural border between Belize and Mexico.
The competitors that have taken part in this nautical marathon say that as they race along the Hondo River numerous Mayan towns can be seen, and the friendly townsfolk come out to wave and shout words of encouragement to all the participants. You can also visit these small towns, for when you come to Bacalar you can follow the same route as the competitors do, on a rented motor boat, wave runner or kayak.
Finally, at the entrance of the town, next to the lagoon there is a beautiful natural well called the "Cenote Azul" which is an amazing 656 feet wide and 295 feet deep. Surrounded by vegetation, Cenote Azul is a firm favorite with professional divers because of the intricate passages, rock formations and mysterious caverns all waiting to be explored.
Come and discover the multicolored magic of Bacalar, a fascinating and beautiful town to visit at any time of the year, where the hospitality and kindness of the local population will win your heart and make you want to stay forever. Artists, who have made their homes in Bacalar after escaping from the noise and pollution of big cities, make up a large percentage of the population. History comes alive in this quaint "Pueblo Magico" full of legends, joy and exciting adventures.