Recent Posts on the Casa’s Blog
- A New Casa Estrella de Bacalar Video
- A Magic Town in the Yucatan Peninsula, Bacalar, Quintana Roo, Mexico
- The Lake of Seven Colors
- Anona Drink- Healthy!
- Stromatolites, ancient life in Mexico’s Laguna Bacalar
- Our Magical and Amazing Visits to Casa Estrella de Bacalar
- Meditating at Casa Estrella de Bacalar
- Casa Estrella de Bacalar on YouTube
- Around and About Bacalar, Yucatan Peninsula, Quintana Roo, Mexico
© John Lamkin
Story and photos by John Lamkin
Swaying in my hammock, the cool tropical breeze kissing my toes as I gaze across the azure waters of Laguna Bacalar, I sample a banana from the grove nearby. These have no relation to bland, pithy, supermarket bananas. This banana is creamy and tastes slightly of custard with a hint of lime, while others have been small and very sweet, with an apple flavor, or large with a hint of cinnamon. But trying to keep these tasty bananas, the whispering breezes and the luxury of languor on this beautiful Caribbean-colored lagoon from distracting me from my writing is a challenge. When compared to the bustle and clang of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, three or so hours north, the village of Bacalar’s tranquility is a breath of relief, so I deal with the distraction.
The lagoon, which is a fresh water lake—the second largest in the country, is lined with coconut palms that are dripping with orchids. The area abounds with orchards of orange, lime and exotic hardwood trees and is home to more than 150 species of multihued tropical birds. Laguna Bacalar is just being discovered by tourism. It has always been known for the spectacular colors, much as the waters of the Caribbean, with its range of hues from emerald greens to azure blues.
Bacalar is a Magic Town. Pueblo Magico (Magic Town) is an honor bestowed on a few small towns by the Mexican government. Situated on the shore of Laguna Bacalar, the town is a small, quiet 16th century village which is inhabited by leisurely people and where tourists can experience some atypical adventures. On the streets, one sees Mennonites in 19th century dress, clip-clopping along in a horse and buggy, and selling ripe tomatoes fresh from their fields. There is the old Spanish fort of San Felipe, which houses a small museum offering enlightening stories and murals about the ancient Mayan civilization, the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, and the European pirates (both male and female) who raided the area in the 18th century, thus making it necessary to build this fort. Depictions of the caste wars, during which the Maya rose up against their conquerors/slave owners, added more insights into the rich, exciting history of this place. The fort was built by Mayan Indian labor when the Spanish first landed in the late 1500’s. Like the charming zocolo, or central plaza, the fort has undergone extensive restoration in the past few years making it a major attraction. The village of Bacalar has retained its feeling of authenticity where “real” people carry on their everyday lives. Many of the Mayan women can be seen in their traditional colorfully embroidered huipiles, especially on market day.
Lately a new attraction has been added—scientists have discovered that Laguna Bacalar is one of the few places in the world that stromatolites can be found. The Laguna’s living giant microbialites are the some of the largest in the world at over 16 miles long and taller than 10 feet. Their formation supports many acres of mangroves and vegetative growth in the southern end of the Laguna. The southern Rio Chaac, or “Rapids” as it is known locally, offers an opportunity for people to view (float, snorkel, or dive) the enormous undercuts of the giant stromatolites.
Activities around the village include Mayan language classes, mountain bike rental and tours, jungle walks, zip-lining, sailing and boat tours. At the far end of the village is the lovely Cenote Azul, located on the edge of a beautiful, palm-fringed cenote, whose depth is seemingly bottomless. The large, semi-outdoor restaurant is housed in a spacious palapa and serves primarily fresh seafood from the area as well as venison when available.
The area provides a doorway into the lives of the Maya where one can share in the indigenous culture in a meaningful way. The ancient Mayan cities, as well as the thatched huts of the living, contemporary Maya, offer intimate, yet contrasting, views of this millennia-old culture. Nearby are the ancient Mayan cities of Dzibanché, Kohunlich, Oxtankah, Chacchoben, the recently discovered Ichcabal (not yet open to the public) and the contemporary Mayan villages such as Chacchoben and 20 de Septiembre. In one village I visited I entered the jungle after being blessed by Mayan shamans, where “chicileros” scampered up tall trees to gather the chicle that chewing gum is made from. I was also be treated to savory “comida tipica,” the staple food of the Maya, and to typical folk dances and witnessed how artisans have plied their crafts to sustain their way of life.
The Caribbean beaches Mahahual and Xcalak are one hour and one and a half hours from Bacalar. Mahahual has a cruise ship dock that receives many of the major cruise lines. Xcalak has great diving and deep-sea fishing. You can charter a boat from there for world-class diving and snorkeling at Chinchorro Reef. Farther up the coast is the famed biosphere reserve of Sian Ka’an.
About an hour south of Bacalar is the capital of the state of Quintana Roo, Chetumal, located on the bay leading out to the Caribbean ocean. Long a major water route for the Maya, it was also used by the marauding pirates active in the area during their heyday. Now a beautiful, tropical city with a broad boulevard along the Bahia, it is home to the Museum of Mayan Culture, providing a superb introduction to this ancient civilization. This museum has stunning reproductions of ancient Mayan sites in the area as well as a complete representation of the Mayan “Tree of Life” extending three levels from the underworld to the topmost branches reaching toward the heavens. Just across from the Museum is the Mercado, selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, to souvenirs, to modern electronic equipment. Also available throughout the city are numerous Internet access as well as dentists, doctors and hospitals. The restaurants along the “Bahia” provide cool outdoor dining. Chetumal also has the only national airport in the area with flights to Mexico City and other parts of the country.
Chetumal is near the border with Belize, Central America, which provides Las Vegas-style casinos and tax-free shopping in the Free Zone, connecting the two countries. The English speaking country of Belize, with its various cultures and diversity of terrain is often included in vacation plans for this area of the Yucatan Peninsula.
One of the resorts, typical to the trend of eco-tourism developing around Bacalar is Rancho Encantado (which means, “Enchanted Ranch”). It is a small eco-resort and spa set on the shores of the Laguna that was a sacred place for the ancient Maya who called it Xbalamkin (meaning, “Where the sun is born”). They launched their dugout canoes from where the resort now stands to travel up the coast to Tulum, and as far down as Honduras, where merchants traded goods and priests performed sacred ceremonies. Tours of the Laguna and of the Maya sites can be arranged through Rancho Encantado.
Even with all the “distractions” I was able to finish my writing while still enjoying this bit of paradise.
IF YOU GO
Mexico Tourism http://www.visitmexico.com/en/
Adventure in Quintana Roo http://visitmexico.com/en_us/VisitMexico30/Adventure_In_Quintana_Roo
Mexican Caribbean http://www.mexicancaribbean.com/
Magic Towns http://www.visitmexico.com/en/magictown
Stromatolites in Laguna Bacalar http://www.lagunabacalarinstitute.com/stromatolite.html
Rancho Encantado http://www.encantado.com/en-us/
story & photos by Susanna Starr
Known as the lake of the seven colors by the ancient Maya, Laguna Bacalar is still relatively unknown by most tourists but….it’s changing.
When I first arrived in 1985, Laguna Bacalar was an undiscovered treasure. With the same striking beauty of the Caribbean ocean, so dear to my heart, this was a body of water that felt similar but much more gentle. I found the water of Laguna Bacalar to be fresh water and, instead of sand beaches, the grassy and wooded areas rolled down to the water’s edge.
Now, Casa Estrella, the home we built on the water’s edge has been our own private retreat. Situated on a small cove and located next to Rancho Encantado, the resort we created over two decades but sold ten years ago, it offers privacy, seclusion and tranquility. Sharing an entrance with the Rancho allows us the feeling of complete privacy and the long driveway through old growth trees leads to lovely landscaped gardens. It’s proximity to Rancho Encantado encourages us to have lovely lunches on its deck, romantic dinners in its spacious palapa dining room and visit wit friends staying at one of its beautiful accommodations.
Now that Laguna Bacalar has made its appearance on the world stage with visitors seeking out the discovery of this small town located on its shores, we find that the sleepy village of the nineteen eighties has changed into a village which is now becoming a destination. There are wonderful new restaurants with outdoor dining and views of the spectacular colors of the Laguna as well as the sidewalk cafes that line the parque, the center of town.
Located in the southern-most part of the Yucatan Peninsula, it is one of the last areas to be developed, so we still enjoy the lack of commercial tourism that pervades most of the Yucatan Peninsula today. In this relaxed atmosphere, you can spend days in the sunshine reading, swimming, and just restoring. Or, you can hire a boat and tour the Laguna or drive to one of the nearby major archeological sites, still relatively unvisited. Although just little more than a half-hour from the city of Chetumal, there’s never a need to leave the village of Bacalar which, with it’s small market and variety of grocery stores, provides just about everything that’s needed to enjoy an “off the beaten track” vacation.
Stays at Casa Estrella de Bacalar may be reserved from this site or Airbnb or Travel Advisor
by John Lamkin
The healthy anona fruit drink is made with anona fruit, lime, stevia and water. Scoop out and strain the meat of the fruit and blend together with the lime and stevia. Experiment with measurements as they will depend upon the strength of the stevia. In Bacalar we pick the anona and limes from our trees. We have to get stevia at the store. Although, there is a stevia farm a few kilometers down the road, but they don’t process the leaf there.
Here’s another good reason to visit Laguna Bacalar and our vacation rental, Casa Estrella de Bacalar.
Story and photos by Susanna Starr
First published in Examiner
We discovered the pristine waters of Laguna Bacalar in 1985 and fell in love with the serenity and the beauty of the water and the unspoiled village of Bacalar. That was the year we bought our home on it’s shores and a parcel of land a few meters north. Over a short time we added to the original parcel of land and began the building of Rancho Encantado, a small eco-resort that evolved over the following years until it was sold.
View slideshow: Stromatolites, ancient life in Mexico’s Laguna Bacalar
Guests were and still are enthralled by the beauty of Laguna Bacalar but no one, until recently, knew that just off the shores in front of the land the Rancho is built on, lies one of the most amazing discoveries ever made. Just a few short years ago, stromatolites, one of the most ancient life forms on Earth, were identified. And we thought they were just beautiful rock or coral formations found in Caribbean waters!
Our own home, located at the northernmost part of the land that was once part of the Rancho, is about where the 10 km. (6.2 miles) formation ends. It is thought to be the largest living fresh water formations on earth. They stretch south to what is referred to as “the rapids” where they are close to the surface of the shallow waters. Boat tours to this area are offered by Rancho Encantado. Not too far south in the Bay of Chetumal in Belize is another formation of 1.5 km.
For many of us who have lived in this area, we have thought of this 42 mile body of Laguna Bacalar to be sacred and it has often been referred to as having a “feminine spirit”, nurturing and completely self-replenishing, fed by the nine cenotes that constantly replenish the water, keeping it clean and clear.
It is thought that the ancient Maya used this area to launch their boats to follow their trade routes during the time of their highly developed civilization, since many of their major cities were inland. Later the Itzaes, from Bacalar, left for Chichen Itza where they became the last reigning Mayan dynasty.
In the 16th century Spanish pirates entered the Laguna for safe harbor. Later, when the Spanish conquered the area, a fort was built for protection against the marauding pirates. The fort, known as San Felipe de Bacalar, has been beautifully restored and is open to the public. It is situated directly across from a canal, the remains of the dyke built by the Spanish, still in evidence.
Although Bacalar has had a romantic past, the estimated 3.5 billion year old formations of stromatolites really places history in perspective. There is now a substantial body of information concerning these living organisms which can easily be accessed through various websites, including wikipedia.org. Most astounding is that this life form may be one of the oldest on earth, beginning the life cycle that has produced all that we know in nature today, including us.
Story and photos by Mari Pintkowski
Our first visit to Casa Estrella de Bacalar last April was magical,
but our second visit in July was even more amazing. When my husband
and I arrived at the house it was hard not to begin snapping pictures
immediately when we saw the garden full of colorful tropical plants
and terracotta pottery leading up to the carved wooden front door with
flowering vines hanging in front of it.
Once inside, fresh flower arrangements decorated each and every room.
The layout of the house is perfect for a couple or two couples. There
are two bedrooms separated by the colorful, fully furnished kitchen
and dining room with a large table looking out at the verdant backyard
and lake of seven colors. The master bedroom with a view of the lake
has air conditioning, a queen bed, chaise lounge and a huge bathroom
with a shower/tub that in itself is a work of art. Nature surrounds
you everywhere. There are fluffy towels galore, mirrors and bath
products so that no detail has gone unnoticed. The second bedroom has a
double futon, a chaise lounge, good reading light, air conditioning
and a charming bathroom with a walk-in shower.
The Mexican art, including: pottery, hand-woven rugs, textiles,
paintings and drawings and wood carvings let you know you are in the
home of people who treasure the handicrafts of indigenous people of
The house also has a small, comfortable living room that is
beautifully decorated that includes a DVD player, many interesting
books and magazines about Mayan history and local sites, wi-fi (It
works even better at the restaurant next door.)
We spent most of our time moving peacefully from the hammocks on the
outside deck, to the lounges on the grassy lawn at the edge of the
lake, to the beautiful dining set where we ate all our meals. The lake
is like bathwater in the summer, and a little cooler in the spring.
You can walk right into the water from the back yard and swim to your
hearts content. The big trees growing along the shore give you plenty
We ordered from the menu (20% discount for Casa Estrella guests) at
the Rancho Encantado Resort next door and the friendly staff delivered
our meals with a smile. If you prefer the resort has a lovely dining
room that overlooks the lake. The spa was offering a special and both
of us had a facial and salt-scrub combination with massage. Rinsing
off in the lake on the back side of the little spa was very
refreshing. There is also a large jacuzzi at the resort if you want to
tear yourself away from Casa Bacalar.
The morning sunrises were spectacular and drew us out of bed to go
kayaking on the lake when the water surface was like glass. As the
wind comes up in the afternoon it becomes a bit choppy.
Because we are B&B owner/operators in Tulum just two hours away, we
escaped to Bacalar to rest and regenerate. Next time we may visit one
of the nearby Mayan ruins, the Cenote Azul or try the zip line at
BioMaya. There are many interesting tourist sites within an hour (and
some a little farther) if you want an adventure vacation. The town of
Bacalar, only five minutes away, has an assortment of small
restaurants, local shops, and ruins of a historical fort. A ride or
walk through town will give you a glimpse of a developing Mexican
For us, we are already planning our next trip to return for more R&R
and maybe some local sight-seeing.
Mari and Louis www.laselvamariposa.com
Casa Estrella de Bacalar is a vacation rental located on the shore of Laguna Bacalar (the Lake of Seven Colors) in Bacalar, Quintana Roo, Yucatan Peninsula MEXICO. Click here for more information or here to contact us regarding availability and reservations.
by Susanna Starr
Although many of us certainly understand the concept of being here now, the mind still likes to travel and takes us on many trips, many to places that we’ve already visited. Being at Casa Estrella, on the shore of the magical Laguna Bacalar, is a place I often revisit in my mind. The astounding colors of the water, the pristine clarity and the gentle, soothing sound of the waves against the shoreline, is a never ending source of delight.
But that’s not all…..each day brings new discoveries in the opening of various exotic flowers, the growth of the different plantings, the feeling of spaciousness in the lawn that extends to the water’s edge. Each day, on my morning walk, I gather the hibiscus, the bougainvillea and the amazing bird of paradise blossoms, which I add to the colorful arrangements of various leaves from the immense variety of plants, and place them in each room. At night, the delicious perfumes of jasmine, of Juan de la Noche, of gardenia and lime and orange blossoms fill the air with their subtle fragrances. There are plants in the master bathroom garden, more rare, that blossom only once or twice a year but when they do, their perfume is intense.
Each room has been designed to feature hand made furniture of exotic hardwoods, hand loomed textiles and all kinds of art to please the eye and the hand. The spacious main bedroom also acts as an office and being able to look out at the water, or watch the breeze blow the palm fronds, or just listen to the sounds of the birds, makes working at the computer almost as nice an experience as lying down on the chaise on the terraza. Is it only in my memory that the weather seems to be perfect always? Even when it’s windy, it’s so protected on the terraza, that the wind isn’t intrusive. So, I can just continue to read, and be part of the environment, with no intrusions from the outside world. This gives me the unique opportunity to go inward, to simply be quiet. Some might call it relaxing, which it is, but for me it’s something more – it’s my own form of meditation. Sometimes I see physical results of this time at the house, like the collection of small paintings I did that continue to give me pleasure.
Another time of being there produced a couple of hundred pages of writing that will some day become part of a memoir. But I know that other things are going on as well, even when they have not yet made themselves manifest. When those times of occasional restlessness occur, I remind myself of this, that the quiet time is important, too. Having no agenda, waking up to each day satisfied to watch it unfold, without my overt direction, requires a shift, an “allowing.” For some people, travel means going to new places, having new experiences, meeting new people, tasting new foods, visiting different cultures, having adventures. Maybe it’s because I feel satisfied that I’ve already done much of this, that I appreciate the feeling I have in my “other” home. My particular need is to be plugged into the beauty of the natural environment. It’s a never-ending source of awe, giving me that sense of great appreciation and gratitude that provides the nourishment for my spirit.
story and photos by Susanna Starr
Just a little more than half an hour away from the city of Chetumal and its airport, and about the same distance as the border with the country of Belize, is the small town of Bacalar, nestled on the shore of the pristine waters of Laguna Bacalar, one of Mexico’s hidden treasures.
This area, in the southernmost part of the Yucatan Peninsula, is just at the point of developing as a tourist destination for the eco-minded traveler who seeks escape from the larger, often over-developed areas of the northern part of the Peninsula. Just an hour away from the nearest seaport of Mahahual on the Caribbean coast, a stopping point for cruise ships, the laguna is virtually undiscovered by tourism. It has always been known for its spectacular colors, much as the waters of the Caribbean, with its range of hues from emerald greens to azure blues and the famous brilliant arrays of turquoise and aqua. It is commonly referred to as “la laguna de los siete colores” (lagoon of the seven colors).
Being sheltered from the ocean’s winds and salt sprays, the fresh waters of Laguna Bacalar provide a gentler, more nurturing feeling, making it ideal for swimming, kayaking, snorkeling and other water sports. Fishing, too, is more of a relaxing sport than the challenge of deep ocean water .For deep-sea fishing, the Caribbean coast is only an hour away, as is the famed nature reserve of Sian k’an.
Read more on Susanna Starr’s blog.