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Flamingos at Ría Lagartos

Río Lagartos is a coastal town in the northeast of Yucatan. It is a relaxing, quiet town that aside from its beaches and seafood restaurants, is world famous for its population of tens of thousands of pink flamingos who breed in the adjacent Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve (which surrounds the town with mangrove swamps, marshes, and rainforest wetlands). Ría Lagartos is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Just west of town begins another large natural wetland area, the San Felipe Biosphere Reserve. The area is also a popular tourist destination for visitors coming to see Las Coloradas, bright pink lagoons just begging for Instagram-worthy selfies to be taken.



First, let's clear the air about spelling: is it "Ría" or "Río"? Both, depending on context. Ría refers to the lagoon and the name of the biosphere reserve. Río refers to the town. There is not a river here. Feel free to use either ría or río in any situation.

The town was named by Francisco Hernandez, one of the Spanish explorers surveying New Spain back in 1517. When Hernandez cruised into the lagoon, he spotted crocodiles everywhere he looked, so he called the place "Lagartos" (the word for alligators).

The town isn't much more than a village, and it exists only to serve tourism. There are several hotels and restaurants here and plenty of tour guides who will take you on a boat to see the swamps, flamingos, or the colorful pools of Las Colorados. The main draw though is the huge biosphere reserve.

Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve

Everybody looking for flamingos forgets there's over 300 other bird species in the reserve

The Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve covers an area of more than 227,000 hectares. The terrain includes several mangrove swamps, small estuaries, coastal lagoons, marshes and savannah that are home to a variety of species. It is home to more than 300 bird species and serves as nesting sites for some of them (especially the famous pink flamingos who feed on brine shrimp in the shallow salt marshes). The reserve's beaches are critical nesting areas for the hawksbill turtle and the green sea turtle. Dozens of species of snake live in the wetlands as do crocodiles, frequently seen sunning themselves along the shoreline.

Las Coloradas

Las Coloradas

On a strip of barrier sand in the Ría Lagartos is an area of shallow pools colored an otherworldly bright pink. These pools are created as a by-product of a nearby sea salt production facility. They are not naturally occurring. They are magnetic to shutterbugs and many tourists take day trips by bus from Cancun to come see them.

From Río Lagartos, the pools of Las Coloradas are about 5 miles by boat or 10-15 miles by car. Boats can be hired at the docks in Rio Lagartos starting at about M$3000 for a couple hours (the price is per boat, not per passenger, but be sure to agree ahead of time on precisely what you want to see, how much time it will take, and how many people are going. A tip at the end of the trip is always appreciated).

Get in

Map of Rio Lagartos

The nearest airport with commercial service is Cancún International Airport, about 3 hours away by car.

By bus


From Valladolid take an ADO bus north to Tzimin, where you will need to change buses to continue north on an Autobuses Noreste Yucatan bus to Río Lagartos. Tzimin is about halfway between Valladolid and Rio Lagartos and each bus takes about 1 hour.

  • 1 Estacion de Autobuses (Bus station), Calle 19 No. 89. Small waiting area for Autobuses Noreste de Yucatan, the second-class bus line that serves the town. Buses go to Tzimun, where you can transfer to onward destinations.

By car


From Valladolid, drive north on federal highway MEX-295. It is 100 km to Rio Lagartos on a good highway and the trip will take about 90 minutes. If you need gas or a rest stop, Tzimin is the halfway point and has places selling food and drinks.

Get around


The town is tiny: just a few streets, arranged in a cone. Nothing is more than a few blocks, and walking is the best way to get around. Bikes work too... until you want to get out in the natural areas, where you'll want a boat or a jeep.


Sunset in Rio Lagartos


  • Birdwatching
  • Beach combing
  • Canoe or kayak
  • Fishing


Bullfight during festival in Rio Lagartos
  • Fiesta de Santiago Apostol - annual festival held around July 25 to honor the town's patron saint. Festivities include regional song and dance, bullfights, a carnival midway, and regional food and drink.


  • 1 Mercado Municipal, Calle 9 No. 62A. Daily 06:00 - 17:00. Small traditional marketplace with about 10 vendors. Fruit and vegetables, the butcher sells mainly pork, several stands selling prepared regional dishes.


  • 1 El Manglar, Calle 20 No. 46, +52 999 746 9534. Daily 10:00 - 19:00. Comfortable, friendly seafood restaurant next to the water. Large portions and very fresh. Big shrimp cocktails and tasty coconut shrimp platters. They also arrange boat tours into the swamps.
  • 2 Los Negritos, Calle 21 and Calle 10, +52 986 862 0022. Daily 06:00 - 22:00. Large palapa restaurant, popular with tour buses. Many fish dishes including cazon (dogfish), shrimp and ceviche.
  • 3 El Salbutito, Calle 6ta 112. M-F 06:30 - 11:00. Super casual, super affordable , family-run breakfast place. Mostly empanadas and tortas, but the specialty (as the name of the place promises) is salbutes — small, crisp tortillas topped with shredded turkey, avocado, pickled onions and hot sauce. Salbutes are a common street food throughout the Yucatán region of Mexico and are often found in mercados. M$20.



Every restaurant in town serves beer and soft drinks. Most serve cocktails. Hotels often have bars as well. There are convenience stores selling bottled drinks to go.


  • 1 Hotel Río Lagartos, Calle 14, +52 986 862 0077. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. Comfortable, clean, well-equipped modern hotel. Great sunset views from the rooftop terrace. Bar on-site. Swimming pool. Restaurant serves a good breakfast. M$2000.
  • 2 Hotel Posada Mercy, Calle 13 No. 92, +52 986 100 7852. Check-in: 13:30, check-out: 11:30. Clean, comfortable, well-equipped rooms at reasonable prices. Swimming pool with poolside bar. On-site restaurant serves breakfast daily. Staff can recommend tour guides or arrange transportation.
  • 3 Casa Delfines, Calle 9 No. 19, +52 565 334 1571. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. Small hotel with spacious, clean rooms. Good air conditioning. Parking is on the street. M$1200.
  • 4 Hotel Punta Ponto, Calle 9 No. 140, +529861001695. Check-in: 14:30, check-out: 11:00. Comfortable homey atmosphere with clean rooms and good service. Staff can provide suggestions for tour guides and can arrange transportation. M$800.
  • 5 Hotel Tabasco Rio, Calle 12 No. 115, +52 986 862 0116. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. Basic hotel with somewhat dated decor but rooms are large and rates affordable. M$800.
  • 6 Villa de Pescadores, Calle 14 No. 95, +52 986 862 0020. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. Great location on the very tip of the point: tour boats are right outside the hotel, restaurants within a block, convenience store with cold beer about a block away. Rooms are a bit small and so are the beds. Breakfast is included in the rate (coffee, yogurt, fresh fruit, toast). M$1800.
  • 7 Yuum Ha Hotel, Calle 9 por 12 y 14, +52 986 862 0508. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. Modern, upscale boutique hotel with well equipped comfortable rooms. On-site restaurant, Maleconcito is bright and airy with fresh seafood dishes and waterfront vistas. M$1500 (Dec 2023).



There are campsites at Camping Chiquila at the end of Calle 9.



Cell reception was sometimes flaky, occasionally 4G but slipped to 3G with no signal at all out in the nature preserves. WiFi was usually available in restaurants and hotels but would also be flaky with occasional dropped connections.

Go next

This city travel guide to Rio Lagartos is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.