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.
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.