A trip to the Gulf Coast of México is a perfect short getaway whether you have one day or a full weekend to spare. Two and a half hours from Mérida by car and we’re in the mangrove paradise of Río Lagartos.


Río Lagartos

The very first thing we do is meet our tour guide, Manuel from River Flamencos Tours (a Co’ox Mayab cooperative) and pepper him with questions about the day: about what we’ll see, where we’re going, will we see crocodiles, and, most importantly, why are there no alligators in Río Lagartos when “Lagarto” means alligator in Spanish?

Manuel laughs and walks us to a large map of the mangrove and Ría (estuary). He shows us exactly what we’ll be doing, tells us he can’t promise us a crocodile, and explains that when the Spanish arrived in the area they misunderstood everything and named the town Río Lagartos (Alligator River) instead of Ría Cocodrilo (Crocodile Estuary), which would have been more accurate. The Maya name for the village, I learn, is actually Holkoben.

Once that misunderstanding is cleared up we jump on our Lancha (small boat) and head off to explore the mangroves and estuary. In May – June there are thousands of flamingos in the area but when we visit, in late September, there are very few left. That’s ok though, as there are also very few other visitors, which makes our stay incredibly chilled, relaxing, and exactly what we were looking for.

Flamingos and Crocodiles

As my kids demand Manuel take us faster and faster through the mangrove we wind up slowing down to watch the flamingos. We stop again when we spot a crocodile just hanging out at the side of the water – we learn that it’s hard to tell a crocodile’s gender without flipping it to get a good look. Good job, I don’t care about gender as I can’t imagine a crocodile being particularly thrilled by a gender reveal flip!


Salt Lakes

We stop at a viewpoint for the pink salt lakes of Las Coloradas and to smother mud over ourselves (think Dead Sea mud experience). Then, we head back to the boat and zoom back down the Ría and through the mangroves to a stunning little strip of beachy paradise in order to wash off the mud and enjoy the scenery.

After this fabulous tour, we were starving hungry so we headed to Ría Maya for a great big meal paired with an outstanding vista over the water.


San Felipe

Fewer than twenty minutes’ drive away is the even sleepier town of San Felipe from where there is another selection of Ría tours available. In San Felipe, if you’re after a boat tour, you need to head to the Palapa at the end of the town. Here, we had a chat with the cooperative members and figured out exactly what we wanted to do whilst in town. Technically there is a list of tours (Isla Los Cerritos, Ojo de Agua, Playa Bonita, or the flamingo tour). I also know for a fact that you can arrange a fishing expedition or even a night tour of the Ría if you talk to the right people (I’m kidding, just ask!). We had been to Playa Bonita last time we were in town, so we opted to combine the Isla Los Cerritos and Ojo de Agua tours into one extra special, just-for-us tour.


Ojo de Agua

The Ojo de Agua (the source of the water) is emphatically not a swimming hole in San Felipe, in fact, two crocodiles live there, one of whom we met on our walk around the boardwalk. The Ojo de Agua walk was stunningly beautiful but actually, what I adored was the total tranquility of being the first people there that morning (even with two noisy kids). The water looked completely undisturbed and unruffled by even a breath of wind. It was possibly the highlight of more than just the weekend for me.


Isla Los Cerritos

After, we went off to Isla Los Cerritos, a small island I’d long wanted to see for myself. Why? Well, honestly that’s the question my husband had been asking too. He didn’t have any clue what it was that was pulling me to this island.

Isla los Cerritos is a tiny island off the coast of San Felipe. Today it is protected by the biosphere and is home to thousands of birds. It’s well worth visiting just to watch the birds, but there’s more: it’s said that this island is the location from which the Chichén Itzá Maya controlled all the Gulf trade routes. What crazy person wouldn’t want to see this for themselves?

Admittedly, I was a bit sad to discover that all 32 ruins that were discovered on the tiny island were reburied circa 2008 in order to protect them, and to protect the wildlife living on the island. But hey ho, I got to see the island and imagine what it might have looked like in its heyday. My itch was scratched and I was more than thrilled with the trip. Our guide was knowledgeable, chatty, and very keen to show us around.


Playa Bonita

We were offered the chance to stop off at Playa Bonita but opted not to do so as the weather was turning and we’d hung out on the beach there before. It’s beautiful, with shallow, clear water and Palapas for rent.

All in all, a trip to Río Lagartos and San Felipe is a great way to unwind, commune with the natural world, and even flip a crocodile (please don’t flip a crocodile!). It’s a slice of protected nature within easy reach of Mérida.




Rio Lagartos Adventures
Cel. 9861 00 83 90

River Flamenco Tour
Tel. (986) 861 4001

Co’ox Mayab
Tel. (999) 447 8395
FB: Coox mayab
IG: @coox_mayab


Where to Eat in Río Lagartos

Ría Maya – also has a hotel
Calle 19 #134

El Perico Marinero
Calle 9
Tel. (986) 862 0058
FB: El Perico Marinero

Restaurante y Posada Macumba
Calle 11
Tel. (986) 862 0092
FB: Restaurante y Posada Macumba

Where to Stay in Río Lagartos

Hotel Rio Lagartos
Calle 14, Lotes 17 y 19

Yuum Ha Boutique Hotel
Calle 9 x 12 y 14
Tel. (986) 862 0508

Hotel Villa de Pescadores
Calle 14 #95 Malecón Costero
Tel. 986 862 0020

Hotel Posada Mercy
Calle 13 #92
Tel. (986) 862 0076

La Placita Hotel
Calle 10 x 9
Tel. (986) 862 0075

Hotel Tabasco Rio
Calle 12 #115
Tel. (986) 862 0116

Ria Maya
Calle 19 #134 x14
Tel. (986) 862 0045


Where to Stay in San Felipe

Hotel San Felipe de Jesús
FB: Hotel San Felipe De Jesus


Where to Eat in San Felipe

Restaurante Vaselina
Calle 9-A #58
FB: Lo mejor en pescados y mariscos



Editorial by Cassie Pearse
Photography by Cassie Pearse for its use in Yucatán Today

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