Thinking of visiting Las Coloradas pink lakes in Mexico? Learn everything you need to know about this pink lagoon – how to get there, if it’s worth it, etc (updated in 2021).
If you’re reading this post, chances are you found out about the pink lakes of Las Coloradas on Instagram. Las Coloradas is indeed one of the most Instagram- famous destinations in all of Mexico, together with the cenotes.
The man-made pink lakes of Las Coloradas, Yucatan, are definitely unique, but not too easy to reach. They are located about 10 miles away from a small fishing town, Rio Lagartos, which is part of a natural reserve called Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve. This protected area is home to many animal species, including crocodiles and flamingos… which i’m sure you’re dying to see at the pink lakes!
As you’ll read in this post, an excursion to Las Coloradas will take some planning. The closest city is Valladolid, which is 65 miles away, but it’s much further from Cancun or Tulum.
So, is this place really worth visiting? What else can you see and do in Las Coloradas aside from visiting the pink lakes? Should you go on your own or with a tour? Keep reading and you’ll find all these answers!
Table of Contents
HOW TO GET TO LAS COLORADAS, YUCATAN
How to get from Valladolid to Las Coloradas
Valladolid is the closest city to the pink lakes of Las Coloradas, but that doesn’t mean it’s close by! Expect your trip to Las Coloradas pink lake to take a full day (or more).
➤ It is possible to take public transportation from Valladolid to Las Coloradas. I’ve done it and can confirm it. However, do I recommend it? Probably not, because transportation is not very straightforward and you’ll easily get lost (speaking Spanish really helped when I couldn’t find the bus stop in Tizimin!), plus it will take so much longer.
First, you need to make your way to Tizimin from Valladolid. You can do so by taking the ADO bus from the Valladolid bus station. There is one bus per hour, so this part is very easy (you can check the schedule here, but it’s only in Spanish). I recommend going to the Valladolid bus station one day early and ask about the bus schedule. Instead of the bus, you can also take a colectivo (shared taxi) to Tizimin, but I do not recommend this option unless you can communicate well in Spanish.
From Tizimin, you have two options. You can take a direct bus from Tizimin to Las Coloradas (operated from Central de Autobuses Noreste), but at the moment there seems to be only two buses a day: at 10.30 AM and at 12.50 PM. Make sure to do your research before traveling as times might change.
You might find a few more buses going to/from Rio Lagartos, in which case you’ll need to get then a taxi for the last stretch from Rio Lagartos to Las Coloradas (or from Las Coloradas to Rio Lagartos).
Another option is to get a colectivo from Tizimin to Las Coloradas, subject to availability, or to Rio Lagartos and from there take a taxi to Las Coloradas.
But repeat after me: check the time of the last bus back to Tizimin, check the time of the last bus… yeah, I didn’t. My friend and I stayed way too long at the pink lakes because aheam I wanted to take about a million pictures and videos, and when we walked to the bus stop people told us there were no more buses. Luckily a sporting team was going to Valladolid, so they gave us a ride! At the time of writing, the last bus is at 3 pm.
➤ One other option to get to Las Coloradas from Valladolid is to hire a taxi, an expensive option as the round-trip ride could cost you around 900 Pesos. But if budget is not an issue and you want convenience, then it’s worth it. There’s also the option to get to Tizimin by public transport, and take a taxi from there.
It’s important to consider that if you’re coming via public transport you won’t be able to see both Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas, unless you decide to spend the night in Rio Lagartos and go back the next day. At the end of this post you’ll find a few hotel recommendations in the area.
How to get to Las Coloradas from Cancun or Anywhere Else
If you’re coming from anywhere other than Valladolid, keep in mind that it’s going to be a very long day.
➤ Coming to Las Coloradas by public transportation from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum for one day is impossible due to the distance. You would have to take a bus to Valladolid or Tizimin, spend the night there, and the next morning head to Las Coloradas. If you decide for this option, I’ve previously written a post on how to get from Cancun to Valladolid.
➤ If you want to make it a day trip, your only option to visit on your own is to rent a car and head out early in the morning (so you’d probably have to rent a car the afternoon/night before).
The drive to Las Coloradas will take:
From Cancun to Las Coloradas: 3 hours 40 minutes
From Playa del Carmen to Las Coloradas: 3 hours 30 minutes
From Tulum to Las Coloradas: 3 hours 25 minutes
From Merida to Las Coloradas: 3 hours 10 minutes
From Holbox to Las Coloradas: 3 hours 45 minutes (ferry + car)
I generally use Rentalcars.com that compares the prices from all the major rental companies. You can rent a car for as little as 10-15 USD a day. The rental prices will vary depending on the type of vehicle you choose (such as a sedan or SUV). You can search how much it would cost for you to rent a car down here, without even leaving this page.
➤ Your last option is to join a guided tour, which in my opinion might be the best option for most people unless you are already in Valladolid or you really want to drive yourself. Once you calculate the cost of the rental car, gas, tolls, and the guide once you get to Los Coloradas (which is mandatory), it might even be cheaper to join a Las Coloradas (Yucatan) tour and save yourself the hassle. Here below you’ll find the best options.
LAS COLORADAS TOURS | THE BEST OPTIONS
Tours of Las Coloradas from Merida
➤ Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas Day Tour from Merida is one of the best options from Merida. This tour covers both Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas. You’ll get the chance to go on a boat ride and see the famous flamingos, and you’ll partake in an ancient Mayan mud bath ritual, before heading to the beautiful pink lakes. BOOK IT HERE
Tour of Las Coloradas from Cancun / Playa del Carmen / Tulum
➤ Coming all the way from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya or Tulum? Then this tour is for you as it makes the most of your day! You’ll go on a boat ride in Rio Lagartos, marvel at the pink lakes of Las Coloradas, hopefully see the flamingos in the wild, even experience a Mayan mud bath. It’s a long day, but 100% worth it, and it’s by far the most affordable option I’ve found on the internet for a Las Coloradas tour from Cancun or Playa del Carmen. BOOK IT HERE
➤ If you prefer a more intimate experience, this private Las Coloradas tour from Playa del Carmen is highly recommended. It’s of course a more expensive option, but you’ll get to explore both Las Coloradas pink lakes and go on a boat tour through the Rio Lagartos reserve with a private guide. Lunch is included. BOOK IT HERE
LAS COLORADAS, MEXICO: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
Why is Las Coloradas pink?
The pink lakes of Las Coloradas get their color from the high salinity level of the water. I had no idea, but since the time of the ancient Mayans, the main industry of the region has been salt production. The locals who live in this area have continued this traditional industry generation after generation.
The area that encompasses Las Coloradas pink lake is owned by a large company, which is the second largest salt producer in Mexico, and it’s used for large scale salt production. These massive salt evaporation ponds are used for sea salt extraction, and the pink color comes from the presence of certain microorganisms that are responsible for making these lakes so insta-worthy. These microorganisms include red- and pink-colored algae which are only able to survive in salty waters. When the water starts to evaporate, they become highly concentrated creating that intense pink color.
The salt water from the ocean floods the dry plains, and this process generates this large yet shallow lake. The sun helps to naturally evaporate the water so that the salt is left behind. The process of extracting the salt is generally natural but these lakes are actually man-made to facilitate the collection of salt from the ocean.
On other sites you’ll find articles referring to Las Coloradas as the “pink beach in Mexico” or “Las Coloradas beach”, but I want to stress that here you will NOT find a pink beach or any real beach at all. The color of the sand is a regular color, only the water of the lakes is actually pink.
Can you swim in the pink lakes in Mexico?
NO, swimming is not allowed in the pink lakes of Las Coloradas. In February 2017 swimming has been prohibited at the lakes to the point that you’re not even allowed to dip your toe into the lake. This restriction was placed because of the possibility of chemicals from the human body affecting the water composition at the lake. As such, prohibiting tourists from swimming in the lake can actually help in their preservation for future generations to see.
⚠️ It’s extremely important that you follow the rules to not swim in the lakes or touch the water. If you do, your guide could be fined for your action so please be a responsible tourist!
Do you need a guide?
YES. It’s mandatory to hire a guide to be able to visit the pink lake in Mexico because the site is fenced and there’s no way for you to enter without one. This is a source of confusion for a lot of tourists who visit the site because in the past it was open to anyone who wished to visit, and many websites have not been updated with the new rules.
The lakes are privately owned by the salt factory and company. Making these restrictions is their way of regulating guests into the site since it quickly gained popularity and so many tourists started arriving. As a matter of fact, the salt company wanted to limit the amount of tourists who visit the site in order to preserve the biological makeup of the water. Instead of managing the tourist visits on their own, they have instead handed over the responsibility of regulating guests to the local guides.
I was one of the lucky ones who visited before Los Colorados, Mexico, became super touristy. When I went there were probably two other tourists. This is why in this article you can find photos of me so close to the water, I was not breaking any rules at the time. It’s a bummer that the rules changed, but I honestly understand why people need to go with a guide… unfortunately not everyone is responsible and follows the rules!
➤ The cost for hiring a guide in 2019 was 50 MXN (approximately 2 USD) so know that guides should charge you around that amount.
It’s worth mentioning that the guides are not trained or experts, so the depth of their knowledge on the site will vary from one to another. Also relevant to bear in mind, every visit to the site is limited to no more than 30 minutes. If you want to take a cool Instagram photo, make sure you know how you want to take it so it can be a quick deal!
⚠️ Another thing to keep in mind: you can’t use cameras anymore, and drones are forbidden as well. Just bring your smartphone, you’ll still be able to take great pictures.
Best Time to Visit Las Coloradas Pink Lake
One of the questions I got on Instagram when I uploaded a photo from the pink lakes of Las Coloroadas was: are the lakes always pink?
Sort of, but the shade of pink can vary a lot based on the weather and the level of the water. On cloudy days, the lakes look generally less pink, so you should try and visit on a clear day with a beautiful blue sky.
I learnt it for myself as the first time I visited the pink lagoon in Mexico, I went away very disappointed. The water was just sliiiightly pinkish, but more like a yellow shade – NOTHING like I had seen on the internet. I went back a couple of days later on a clear day and it was beautiful!
I’ve also heard that the water will be at its pinkest in March and July-August, but I haven’t visited at this time personally so I can’t tell you if it’s true or not.
How To Spot Las Coloradas Flamingos
You might be able to spot flamingos at Las Coloradas and Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, but you probably already knew. What I bet you don’t know though, is that flamingos are pink because they eat the pink algae that also make the water pink. Their feathers would be naturally white!
The best season to spot flamingos is between May and June during their breeding season. When I visited in November (one of the best months for a Yucatan itinerary), there were very few flamingos, so if it’s important to you plan accordingly.
So, Is It Worth Visiting Las Coloradas?
While there are certain destinations in Yucatan that you should definitely check out (the Chichen Itza pyramids, the Coba Ruins, and Isla Holbox are a must!), I’m not 100% sure that visiting Las Coloradas is still worth it for everyone nowadays. When I first visited 3 years ago, not many people knew about this place and the experience was still very intimate.
Now, I’ve heard that the places has become very commercialized, and it’s just not the same thing anymore. However, there are only a few places in the world where you can see some pink lakes like these, so it might be still worth it. You need to decide what are your priorities, and how important it is it to you, and if it’s worth the long drive for you.
▶ I recommend planning a multi-day itinerary around Yucatan that also includes the town of Valladolid, visiting Chichen Itza, and the cenotes around Valladolid rather than a very long day trip all the way from Cancun or Tulum. I also wrote a post about the best cenote tours from Valladolid to make your life easier.
VISITING THE RIO LAGARTOS BIOSPHERE RESERVE
If you have time, you should definitely check out the Rio Lagartos Biophere Reserve as well when visiting Las Coloradas.
The territory of the Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve include wetlands, mangrove forests, beaches and the biggest estuary in Yucatan, and is home to a large number of animal species. It reminded me of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, another reserve near Tulum you absolutely shouldn’t miss.
The town of Rio Lagartos is located about 35 minutes by car from Las Coloradas. If you head to the docks, you’ll be able to either hire a private boat, or join a boat tour around the reserve. Otherwise you can head to the office of Rio Lagartos Adventures and arrange a tour with them.
Hiring a private boat is pretty expensive at around $100-140 per boat, so if you can find a few friends to join you it will be a lot cheaper. If you’re alone or a couple, it might be way cheaper to look for a group tour or ask other tourists if they want to join you on a private boat tour.
During your tour, you’ll be able to spot flamingos, crocodiles, horseshoe crabs, cormorants and all kinds of birds. Some tours will also bring you to the beach, known for being a nesting area for marine turtles. Others will let you take a mudbath – mud is great for the skin!
Remember that most Rio Lagartos tours will NOT go to Las Coloradas, so you should head to the pink lakes on your own before or after the tour.
HOTELS NEAR LAS COLORADAS
Would you like to explore beyond the pink lakes of Las Coloradas, and see what else the Rio Lagartos protected area has to offer? Book your accommodation by using the map below ⬇
LUXURY / BOUTIQUE: Hotel Rio Lagartos – This 5-star hotel is the best choice in Rio Lagartos, but still comes with an affordable price tag. The rooms are simple, but the best things about this hotel are its pool (and poolside bar), the dock, and the incredible views of the sunset over the lagoon.
MID-RANGE: Yuum Ha Boutique Hotel – A 4-star boutique hotel located just opposite the Rio Lagartos River. It comes with tropical style furnishings and a pool, but its main selling point are the incredible views over the river and the lagoon.
ON A BUDGET: Hotel Tabasco Rio – Simple but nice 3-star structure right at the heart of the Rio Lagartos village. It’s also only 100 meters away from the seashore and from the area where the tours depart.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Las Coloradas pink lakes are located in Yucatan, Mexico. The closest city is Valladolid (65 miles away), while the closest airports are in Merida (165 miles away) and Cancun (179 miles away).
It depends on where you are coming from. If you’re coming from Valladolid, you can reach Las Coloradas pink lakes by public transportation. If you’re coming from Merida, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Riviera Maya, or somewhere else, you can either rent a car or you can join a guided tour. You’ll find more information in the “How to get to Las Coloradas” section.
This is it, hopefully here you’ve found all the information you need to plan the perfect trip to the pink lakes of Las Coloradas.
WAIT! DON’T LEAVE YET!
If you’re going to be around the area for a while, check out some of my most popular articles about the Yucatan region!
The Perfect Yucatan Road Trip Itinerary
Visit Holbox Island: A Full Guide to the Best-Kept Secret in Yucatan
The Ultimate Guide to Cancun
11 Cenotes in Valladolid You Can’t Miss
30 Best Things To Do in Tulum