Visit Rio Lagartos
The small fishing village of Rio Lagartos (River of Alligators) can be found on the north coast of the state of Yucatan, a resource-rich area of mangroves and shallow backwaters.
With an abundance of wildlife this unique spot is home to crocodiles below the waterline and stunning pink flocks of flamingos above it.
As a matter of fact this part of Mexico is home to the largest concentration of flamingos in the country, populations can swell to 40,000 at the peak.
The area surrounding Rio Lagartos has been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which means it is of “unusual scientific and natural interest.” This gateway to the biosphere is a bird watcher’s paradise, with dozens of species making their home here.
Driving into Rio Lagartos you will often see young men standing along the roadway encouraging you to stop and talk to them. They are in good faith selling boat tours to view the flamingos located about 40 minutes through the mangroves. They will hand you an informational flyer and may even offer to guide you to the harbour and ensure you get aboard the correct boat that he represents.
There are dozens of small guide boats. Some are operated by certified guides wearing special shirts with identifying patches. Others are local fishermen whose families (for many generations) have grown up in this area and are well-qualified to provide tours.
Providing these tours is an important part of the local economy as these individual operators rely on them for income. Very few, however, will speak even minimal English.
While the flamingos are a big draw for the small tour boats, of nearly equal interest are the bright pink waters of nearby Las Coloradas, another small town just a few miles away. Tour boats will often ask if you want to see them.
Here, shallow man-made salt ponds, shimmering in bright shades of pink, are used for the commercial production of sea salt. Salt production in this region dates back more than 1,000 years. The Mayas used it for flavouring and food preservation as well as a valuable trading commodity.
Large commercial production of salt from this region has resulted in large rectangular portions of flat land, near the shore. Sea water is now flooded onto these flat, shallow tables (only about a foot deep) and left to evaporate, leaving behind pink sea salt.
Since 2016 the public is not allowed to access these commercial ponds but the guides from Rio Lagartos can take you to several natural areas where smaller versions of these ponds still exist.
The pink colour comes from algae growth as well as the presence of tiny, bright-pink brine shrimp that thrive in this super-saline environment. It is the ingestion of these tiny, pink shrimp by the flamingos that give the birds their pink coloration.
The appeal of Rio Lagartos does not come from the village itself but rather from the access it provides to the biosphere. The town has a malecon that runs along the small boat harbour, lined with various of restaurants, all offering the freshest of seafood, it is a great spot for lunch.
While you are in Rio Lagartos try to make time to visit the nearby picturesque San Felipe. This small town is unique among Mexican small towns in that the houses are made primarily of wood…hardwood like cedar. Most are small cottage-like structures painted in the brightest of colours. Some are available to rent if you fancy staying in the area.
Rio Lagartos does offer a number of modest hotels and fishing charters for those wishing to spend a night or three in the area.
Getting to Rio Lagartos is very easy. It is a three-hour drive from Cancun and approximately two hours from the colonial city of Valladolid.