Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Rio Lagartos is a picturesque coastal fishing village on Yucatan’s Gulf Coast 95 kilometers north of Valladolid, 46 km from Tizimín, and 230 km from Mérida, Yucatan.  The name, Rio Lagartos, implies river of alligators, but there are no rivers in Yucatan. This is a bay or ciénaga protected by a barrier island. There are, however, lots of alligators and crocodiles.

Rio Lagartos is situated within the 60,000 hectare Reserva de La Biosfera Ria Lagartos (Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve).  The topography is low coastal scrub, mangrove salt marshes, expansive lagoons, sand spit barrier islands, sandy beaches, and fresh water springs
In Rio Lagartos the scenic bay front boulevard takes you east to a large fresh water spring known as an ojo de aqua, and a rustic picnic park.  
Most travelers come here for the guided boat tours that include; lagoon excursions, bird watching, seasonal migrating birds, sea turtle observations, Mayan curative mud baths and fishing expeditions. Most guides speak English.  Ask at Hotel Villa de Pescadores about guided tours…if you arrive by bus more than likely a guide will approach you at the terminal.
There is frequent taxi and bus service from Rio Lagartos  to Tizimín with connections to Mérida,Valladolid, Cancun, and Tulum. There is also bus service to the  nearby fishing village of San Felipe and to Los Coloradas, a sea salt production town established countless centuries ago in ancient Mayan times. 

To avoid crowds and competition for facilities, off season is best and also happens to coincide with the finest weather. September to mid-December is your time. Holidays, Easter and Christmas, plus July and August should be avoided unless you want very high prices and limited availability
A shallow ciénega or bay extends from east to west along Rio Lagartos waterfront and continues around the entire peninsula.  The faro or lighthouse is a prominent landmark situated on the northernmost point of the waterfront boulevard (Malecón) that extends along the entire length of the village.
Rio Lagartos is situated on the northernmost point of the Yucatan peninsula and their light house, with its distinctive group “three” flashing, is in the most northerly part of town.
A navigable marked channel traverses the shallow bay out to the Gulf of Mexico inlet.
Here is an example of Rio Lagartos most appealing accommodations at Hotel Villa de Pescadores.. From the bed you have a panoramic view of the entire bay, lighthouse, inlet, and fresh natural air flow that is worth more than the trip all by itself. An all day procession of aquatic birds silently gliding past on the gentle sea breezes adds a priceless touch of nature to this special place.    A spacious private balcony, hammock ready and peaceful tranquility is hard to find in this day and time.  The management, Felipe Gonzales and his lovely wife Elena, treat you like long lost friends, not just paying clients. 
Hotel Villa de Pescadores is as waterfront as you can get and surrounded by expansive wildlife reserves along the Gulf of Mexico. 
The fall season has the local fishing fleet outfitted for pulpo or octopus fishing. Most of this costly delicacy is made into ceviche that is pickled in lime juice. In the way of seafood fine dining pulpo ceviche is perhaps among the worlds finest…but it must be handled properly and served fresh from the fisherman. We anxiously await the fall season.
A special treat for us while visiting the sea shore is to prepare our own ceviche.
We carry a small cutting board and a sharp knife, spoons and forks…all that is needed. At the local market we buy limes, an onion, tomato and chili pepper – serrano, jalapeño or habanero. In the afternoon we purchase a fish fresh from the fishermen, fillet cut it in very thin slices, place it in a plastic bag or bowl along with chopped tomato, diced onion, and chili pepper (cilantro is a good addition to ceviche but hard to sanitize on the road).Liberally squeeze lime juice over this mixture. It is ready when the fish flesh turns white and is delicious. Eat on soda crackers or with tortilla chips.
This delicious meal is convenient, requires no cooking and can be prepared with limited equipment.
This recipe works equally well with almost all seafood…just make sure it is fresh!    
Sunrises and sunsets on the northern coast of Yucatan are distinctively enhanced by occurring over the Gulf of Mexico waters.

White pelicans find their way to Rio Lagartos every year. These white pelicans are silent giants equal in size to the great California condor. They are graceful and powerful flyers with a nine foot wing span and among the world’s largest aquatic birds. They migrate each fall from as far north as the Hudson Bay of northern Canada all the way here to Yucatan. Unlike their brown pelican relatives, these huge birds do not dive for their fish, but wade in shallow waters using their large bill as a fishing scoop.
Northern Yucatan’s tidal estuaries are home to thousands of pink flamingos that fish the shallow salt flats for shrimp and other mariscos. Their distinctive pink color is a result of a diet rich in these salt flat marine creatures that impart the pink pigment directly to the birds. They appear larger than they are because of gangly legs and an extremely long neck. Adults have a 60 inch wing span and are 46 inches long.

Seldom seen alone, flamingos fish together and fly in flocks long distances along the coast, often offshore, especially early morning and at dusk. They are not noisy but do occasionally honk similar to geese.
The coast of Yucatan has bird watching at its finest. Sea birds, shore birds, salt flat birds, fresh water birds, and jungle birds abound here. Be sure to bring your camera and take lots of photos…it is a great sport.

Where to Stay:
Malecón and Calle 14
Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Links to places to visit near Rio Lagartos:
This coastal region of northern Yucatan is home to two expansive wildlife reserves, Reserva Ecológica Bocas de Dzilám – Ecological Reserve (mouth of rivers of Dzilám), and Reserva de la Biosfera Ria Lagartos – Biosphere Reserve of alligator lagoons.   
Being sparsely populated and with good quiet roads and several interesting places to visit it makes for very nice bicycle adventures. You can do it by car, bus or taxi, but cycling is by far the most rewarding especially with the wind on your back. Remember that this is the land of take it easy and afternoons in Yucatan were designed especially for hammocks and siestas.
On the infrequently traveled road from Rio Lagartos to Las Coloradas between kilometer 8 and 9 there is a culvert and nearby a small, difficult to see sign denoting 50 meters to the entrance. If you are looking for the perfect unspoiled jungle getaway with no tour buses or trinket shops this is for you.

In spite of the modern road you see here that links Rio Lagartos to San Felipe the traffic is nearly nonexistent. It makes a particularly nice bicycle ride especially in early mornings with the sun and wind at your back. Read more; San Felipe

Two hour express bus service to Mérida and less then half an hour to Valladolid make the out of the tourist loop town of Tizimín an ideal staging place for several seldom visited delightful side trips.

Nearly all the above side trips can be made by bus/bike and/or car.  Read more: Tizimín