Exploring the Bacalar Wonders and the Great Mayan Coast

Discover the beauty of the Mayan culture, nature, and dreamlike landscapes on this 250km route. Explore the Mayan vestiges in the south, the Bacalar area and its lagoon, and the Caribbean coast between Mahahual and Xcalak. Enjoy excellent hotels and restaurants along the way.

Exploring the Bacalar Wonders and the Great Mayan Coast
Come and enjoy Mahahual, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Credit: Visita Mahahual

This route is a one-of-a-kind chance to learn about the rich culture and natural beauty of the Mayan people. Spanning almost 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Dzibanché to Xcalak, the route takes you through the majestic Mayan vestiges in the south of the state, the Bacalar area with its wonders, including the lagoon of the same name, and the Caribbean coast between Mahahual and Xcalak, recently referred to as the "Great Mayan Coast", a little-known but rapidly developing tourist destination. Along the route, there are many ways to learn about culture, nature, and dreamlike landscapes, as well as a great choice of places to stay and eat. This route follows a horseshoe-shaped path around the bay of Chetumal and is entirely paved with mostly straight roads, making it easy to navigate.

The first part of this route follows federal highway 186, which connects Escárcega in Campeche to Chetumal. Next, you'll need to take federal highway 307 heading north, which leads to the archaeological zone of Chacchoben and then to the coast at Mahahual. From there, the route turns south and runs parallel to the coast towards Xcalak. Buses are available on most parts of this route, but they don't run frequently to the archaeological zones of Kohunlich and Dzibanché. For more flexibility, it's best to use your vehicle.


Kohunlich, an ancient Mayan city, is a must-see destination for history and archaeology enthusiasts. The city, which was born as a village around 200 B.C., saw its great buildings erected around 500 A.D. and reached its peak a little later. From the tenth century on, the city went into decline and was eventually abandoned.

Today, visitors can explore the impressive architectural ensembles of this amazing archaeological zone. The Acropolis, which is a plaza surrounded by houses, and the Plaza de las Estelas are two of them. The Templo del Rey (Temple of the King) and the enormous Conjunto de los 27 Escalones (27 Steps), upon which a great pyramid rises, also stand out.

The most emblematic structure of Kohunlich is the building or pyramid of the masks. On the sides of the main staircase of this pyramidal base are several 2-meter-tall masks that are thought to represent the sun god Kinich Ahau. The stucco and red paint that covered these beautiful pictures over a thousand years ago can still be seen on them.

Although its existence was known for many years, it was not until 1992 that excavations and rescue work began at this archaeological zone, which was opened to the public in 1994. The site is 8 kilometers west of Chetumal, on Highway 186, heading toward Escárcega, Campeche. It is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Many people think the name Kohunlich is Mayan, but it derives from the English terms cohoon and ridge. A visit to this ancient city will transport you back in time and give you a glimpse into the rich history of the Mayan civilization.

             Thomas Gann gave the site the name Dzibanché when he visited in 1927.
Thomas Gann, an English military doctor and amateur archaeologist gave the site the name Dzibanché when he visited in 1927. Credit: INAH


About 20 kilometers northeast of Kohunlich is the impressive archaeological site of Dzibanché. This site gives visitors a look into the rich history of the Mayan people. Around 200 B.C., the city is thought to have started as a small settlement. During the Mesoamerican Classic period, it began to grow as a city and as a place to live. From the 11th century on, the city was abandoned.

Today, people can see the heart of the ancient Maya city, which was built on a small plateau and had the main residential and ceremonial centers. This core features several plazas flanked by pyramids or other structures built on long stone platforms.

Among the most important buildings at the site is Temple I, a large pyramid with rounded corners in the style of the Mayan pyramids of Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean. Very close to it rises the so-called Temple II, another tall pyramid containing several burial chambers, where the remains of a great character of the Late Classic period were found, a possible "king" of the city called by researchers the "Lord of Dzibanché".

To reach Dzibanché from Kohunlich, first, return to Federal Highway 186 and then turn east towards Chetumal. Two kilometers later, take the branch road that starts on the left (north), and 14 kilometers further, pass through Morocoy. Two kilometers ahead of this town, turn right, and five kilometers later you will reach the visitor registration booth of this archaeological site. The site is open to the public daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Around Dzibanché, there are ruins of other ancient Maya cities, apart from Kinichná and Lamay, but they are not open to the public. Researchers emphasize the importance of this area within the Classic Maya world, and some say that this region in the south of Quintana Roo was home to a million inhabitants, many more than those who live there today. A visit to Dzibanché is a must for any traveler interested in the rich history of the Mayan civilization.


Xul-Ha is a cute town on the way to Cancun, 36 kilometers east of Dzibanché and Kinichná, on federal highway 307. It is the most southern point where you can get to the beautiful Bacalar Lagoon, which is a must-see for anyone who loves nature. The town offers visitors the opportunity to take boat rides on the lagoon, also known as the "Laguna de los Siete Colores" (Lagoon of the Seven Colors), due to the spectacular range of colors it displays, from white sand to deep blue.

From south to north, the lagoon gets narrower until it is less than 10 meters wide in the south. This area is called "Los Rápidos" (The Rapids) because the water flows faster here. It is a beautiful stretch that canoeing fans should not miss. People who go to Xul-Ha can enjoy the beauty of the Bacalar Lagoon in a calm and peaceful setting.

Blue Cenote

The Blue Cenote is a natural wonder that is just 12 kilometers north of Xul-Ha, in the city of Bacalar. It is a circular body of water with a diameter of about 100 meters and thick vegetation all around it. The cenote is a source of water for the Bacalar Lagoon, which is located just 15 meters further on, on its eastern side.

The Blue Cenote gets its name from its dark blue color and its great depth, which exceeds 90 meters. The site is a popular spot for diving enthusiasts, and it also offers swimming and canoeing opportunities. Visitors can also enjoy a meal at the on-site restaurant, which is famous for its seafood and wild animal meats. The restaurant is open daily from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and until 8:00 p.m. during high season.

Central Park and its surroundings in Bacalar.
Central Park and its surroundings in Bacalar. Credit: Mi Mexico Late


Bacalar is a charming city that is 114 kilometers south of Felipe Carrillo Puerto and 38 kilometers northwest of Chetumal. The main attraction of Bacalar is the beautiful lagoon of the same name. The 42-kilometer-long and 2-kilometer-wide lagoon is mostly fresh water that tends to be salty because it is connected to the sea through a series of canals and smaller lagoons. Visitors can find multiple hotels and restaurants in the city and the coastal avenue where they can rent boats, aqua motos, sailboats, or kayaks.

Despite being a small and young town, Bacalar has a rich history. The city was founded in 435 A.D. as the Mayan village of Siyan Can Bakhalal. After a bloody conquest in the Yucatan Peninsula, the city was refounded as the village of Salamanca de Bacalar in 1544. The city was repopulated again in 1902 after facing harassment from English pirates and Mayan rebels.

In Bacalar, one place worth seeing is the Church of San Joaquin, which was built in the middle of the 1600s and is known for its miraculous patron saint. Another must-see is the famous Fort of San Felipe, built by the order of Yucatan's Captain General Antonio de Figueroa y Silva in 1733. The Quintana Roo Culture Institute now runs a small but very nice Museum of Piracy in the fort. Visitors can also learn about the palo de tinte, which was the object of the English's greed and the reason why they carefully guarded the pirate base in Belize.


Chacchoben is an ancient Mayan city located just north of Bacalar. This city began as a small village around 200 B.C. and experienced a construction boom throughout the first millennium A.D. Around 700 AD, the city was left empty, but some people moved back in during the years before the Conquest. The city's ruins cover 70 hectares and include Temple 24 and the Group of the Ways, among other buildings. Visitors can also enjoy the natural beauty of the surrounding forest area with a variety of trees such as chicozapotes, mahogany, and cedars. The site is open to the public daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and offers a unique cultural and natural experience for visitors.


Mahahual is a coastal paradise located 58 kilometers from the turnoff on Federal Highway 307. This charming town offers visitors a variety of services, including hotels and restaurants, as well as a new pier that has been visited by large cruise ships in recent years. As the most important city of the Great Mayan Coast, Mahahual boasts beautiful beaches and easy access to the Mesoamerican Reef, a popular spot for scuba diving enthusiasts. In addition to its natural beauty, Mahahual is a gateway to several nearby fishing villages and famous beaches, such as Puerto Bravo, Rio Indio, and Punta Herrero, which offer rustic services and amazing views.


Nestled on the coast of Mexico, Xcalak is a tranquil fishing village that offers a glimpse into a simpler way of life. Founded as a military outpost in 1900, the town has a rich history that has shaped its present. Even though Hurricane Janet almost wiped out Xcalak in 1955, it has since become a popular place for tourists looking for a quiet place to stay.

Xcalak is 60 kilometers south of Mahahual, and the way to get there is just as beautiful as the place itself. The dirt road that runs along the sea and the paved road that runs parallel to it are both dotted with dreamy spots, some with hotels, others with cabins, and still others with nothing at all.

The town's main attraction is its natural beauty, with delicious beaches and good fishing spots. But Xcalak's fame comes mostly from the fact that it is known as a diving and snorkeling paradise. With clear waters, lush coral reefs, and an abundance of marine life, it's no wonder that Xcalak is a favorite among divers and snorkelers.

In Xcalak, the pace of life is slow, and the atmosphere is relaxed. It's the perfect place to relax and get away from the busyness of daily life. Come experience the beauty and tranquility of Xcalak and discover why this small village has become a beloved destination for many.

Visit Xcalak, Quintana Roo, Mexico, and have a good time.
Visit Xcalak, Quintana Roo, Mexico, and have a good time. Credit: Turismo en Mexico

In the end, this route is a unique and immersive way to learn about the rich culture and beautiful natural surroundings of the Mayan civilization. From the majestic Mayan vestiges in the south of the state to the Bacalar area with its wonders, including the lagoon of the same name and the Caribbean coast between Mahahual and Xcalak, recently referred to as the "Great Mayan Coast", this route has something for everyone.

The route is well connected, with buses running to almost all points along the way, but for a more flexible experience, it is best to travel by car. The road is well-paved and easy to get around. There are many places to see culture, nature, and dreamlike landscapes, as well as a great choice of hotels and restaurants. So, pack your bags and embark on this journey to discover the hidden gems of Mayan civilization.