Mexico’s Riviera Maya is the most sought-after vacation spot among American sun-seekers.
Famous for its opulent resort zones, where guests can live it up in world-class five-star properties, gorgeous coast, and Mayan heritage, it attracted over 30 million tourists last year alone.
There is one major downside, though:
Places like Cancun, Tulum, and Playa Del Carmen, three of the Riviera’s busiest beach strips, have fallen victim to their own success, reporting disruptive levels of tourism and ridiculous prices – at times, higher even than those seen North of the border – but not all hope is lost for the crowd-wary visitor.
There is a lesser-known coastal town, just under four hours’ driving from Cancun, yet to fall under the grip of big international brands and developers.
In fact, it is said to be one of the last remaining hidden gems of the Riviera Maya, though it is so gorgeous it might not stay this way for long:
An Under-Visited Natural Oasis
Tizimin is a coastal territory most American tourists never venture into or easily bypass on their way from Cancun to the Northern coast of Quintana Roo.
It may not be as well-known as the increasingly popular province of Merida, nor the car-free islands off the Yucatan coast, but it is home to a stunning small town called Rio Lagartos, yet to be discovered by the Instagram hordes, or ruined by internationalization.
The town is located on the banks of Ria Lagartos (with an a), a tranquil lagoon part of a wider natural park, protected by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve. Unlike the Tik Tok-famous Lake of Seven Colors, in the Peninsula’s far South, however, Ria Lagartos is far more quaint.
You will not find an abundance of tourist boats sailing these waters, as the area is designated a heritage site by authorities, and the natural vistas look a lot more pristine and undisturbed than anywhere you have seen before, probably anywhere in Yucatan.
The leading attraction in Ria Lagartos is the dreamy Las Coloradas, a pink-colored lake in the municipality extending over a wetland region covering 150,000 acres.
A Bubblegum-Pink Lake
The waters are literally bubblegum pink, easily distinguishing them from other ponds in Mexico, which are normally crystal-clear, and the reserve is inhabited by a wide array of animals, including pink flamingos, other colorful, unique-looking birds, crocodiles, and big wild felines, jaguars included, making it an ideal location for wildlife sightings.
In fact, spotting crocodiles is extremely common in Rio Lagartos, so much so that, in English, the town’s name is translated as ‘Crocodile River‘.
The best season to visit is between May and July, also known as the ‘dry season’, while the muddy rainwater has not yet affected the lagoon’s pink hue.
The waters are not open to swimmers, as they are overseen by a salt factory, but tourists can still book seats on guided tours to see them up close and try for a picture.
There are numerous reputable tour companies operating from Rio Lagartos, and even as far Southeast as Cancun.
The town itself is best known for its fishing culture, though it is slowly converting into a tourist destination as a result of fishing bans enforced by the Yucatan State Government.
A World-Class Foodie Destination
It is still very much a fishing village, and some of the best seafood in all of Yucatan can be found here.
From octopuses drenched in exotic spices to lime-sprayed scallops and fried fish, a visit to any of the handful of restaurants lining the main street in Rio Lagartos will be an enriching and delectable experience.
As the main source on all things Mexican Caribbean, the Cancun Sun suggests visitors pay La Mojarrita a visit. Described as a ‘charming’ restaurant, it has amassed over 300 reviews on Google so far, and it’s been rated an average of 4.7 stars out of 5.
Customers are particularly impressed by the tradition that goes into the cooking and the seafood dishes, not to mention the restaurant has an adorable, distinctly-electric blue exterior that adds to the overall tropical ambiance.
There are other incredible attractions in the vicinity, including visiting crocodile farms, where you can safely approach, under supervision and with all safety measures taken, and even feed the reptiles.
River tours are a popular activity as well, as the boat travels along waterways where flamingos are known to migrate to.
You should get your camera ready, as you are likely to see more than a single flamboyance of the gracious pink-plumed beings as they gently trod the shallow banks.
Ancient Mayan Ruins
This is Yucatan, after all, synonymous with ancient heritage and Mayan ruins, and for any History buffs out there who like coupling a nature escape with a cultural immersion, you’ll be glad to know the mystical Ek Balam is only an hour’s drive from Rio Lagartos.
It is one of the oldest and best-preserved Mayan ruins this far North in Yucatan, full of temples built to honor long-forgotten pre-Columbian deities, step pyramids, and the iconic Mayan ball courts.
Mayan cenotes are plentiful, too: these underwater chambers were considered by the defeated civilization a gateway to the underworld, and they held great importance within their culture as a sacrificial altar.
Now, tourists are able to descend into the cenotes, and in some of them, they are even able to swim. That is the case in Xcanche, where you are allowed to go for a dip in the bright-blue waters – a great way to cool down from the overbearing humidity – or zip over the cenote when feeling adventurous enough.
How To Get To Rio Lagartos
The closest airports to Rio Lagartos are Cancun International, where a majority of tourists heading to the Mexican Caribbean will land, and the smaller hub in Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan.
From Cancun, there are numerous tour companies offering day tours or private transfers from the Hotel Zone to Rio Lagartos; more specifically, to the Ria Lagartas reserve and Las Coloradas lagoon.
The total driving distance is 3h26.
From Merida, the journey is shorter at 2h40, though there are no regular buses operating on the route. The best way to get there is either renting a car or joining a group on a guided visit.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com