There are places that feel like home and when you're there, time slows, things taste better, you sleep better; and when you are away your heart aches to be there again. In general, my husband and I have fallen in love with the Yucatan over the last few years. We get as far away from the cities as possible, and venture to small towns, fishing villages, rarely seen Mayan sites. Our most recent trip, for our first anniversary, we went really far off the grid! We even stayed in a jungle hut, sleeping under mosquito nets. (That's a story for the next travel blog!)
While cruising around Google Earth, looking at things to do around the peninsula, my husband found a spot that looked too good to be true. He started googling images, searching flickr, and sending me messages, "I think we need to go here...but there's not a lot about it online." He could find photos, but travel sites had very little to say. The impression was that it was too far off the beaten path for most travelers, had very few hotels, even fewer restaurants, and the only draw was its beauty.
We were sold.
We hopped in our rental car with our friends, and made it to the tiny town of Bacalar. It's on a freshwater lake of the same name, and within the lake are cenotes (limestone wells, essentially). We rented a spectacular, custom-built home, with an outdoor shower, gorgeous tile work, woodwork, hammocks in the living room, a suspended bed in one of the rooms, a jacuzzi tub on the roof, and no air conditioning. We could see the lake from the roof. The lake itself has almost no public access - to get to the lake you must eat at a restaurant with a dock, stay at a hotel on the water, or take a boat tour.
Laguna Bacalar is known as the Laguna de Siete Colores - or lake of seven colors. There's three shades of blue, three shades of green, and the cenotes are impossibly, frighteningly deep and black. The lake has lots of areas where it's never more than about four feet deep, and then you'll hit one of the cenotes, and it will drop over the edge of an underwater canyon - from a few feet deep to several hundred feet deep. Snorkeling over the edge is a rush - watching the lake bottom disappear.
The house was just two blocks from the lake, and two blocks from the town square (which would explode with birdsong every night at dusk). We were there in October, and may have been the only tourists in town. We walked to the nearest restaurant, a few blocks from the house, on the lake. We gasped as we were led to a table on the water - the only way to be closer to the lake was to pick up our chairs and sit in the water. We feasted on local fare, from chaya empanadas (chaya is a tree spinach) and sopa de lima, to cochinitas pibil, and ice cold drinks. We watched birds eat snails out of the lake.
After dinner we strolled out on the long dock of the restaurant to the palapa at the end, to see the water, and to plan our next day. When we truly saw how gorgeous the water was, we threw all caution to the wind, and jumped in, in our clothes. And I've never been gladder to have been so impulsive. The water was incredibly warm, as clear as glass, and sunset was heart-stoppingly beautiful.
The next morning we would eat on the square, dishes of chilaquiles and nutella-stuffed pancakes. The fresh-squeezed juice was served in old Absolut bottles. We would spend the day on the lake, on a boat tour, swimming for hours, jumping into the pristine water, snorkeling over the edge of cenotes, and watching the birds. Dinner was at the same restaurant, and after dinner we swam and watched the sun set.
Over our days in Bacalar, we saw storms roll over the lake, watched lightning at night, relaxed, drank and ate like kings, napped in hammocks, and without fail we saw daily rainbows, and took sunset swims. Lizards bobbed their heads at you while you used the outdoor shower, birds were everywhere, and time stood still. And the day we left, we were dragging our feet, moping.
Not a day has gone by that we haven't talked about Laguna Bacalar, and its seven colors. We are already planning our return visit, I have had metal prints made for our home and for the couple we traveled with. I will sleep tonight, dreaming of being in that water again.
I leave you with some photos from Bacalar, some from my Nikon, some from my iPhone - all fall short of showing you the genuine beauty of the lake.