Monday, October 15, 2018

Weekend Getaway: Bacalar, Quintana Roo

My partner Nick is fond of saying that we don't take vacations, we travel. The 'vacate' part seems to suggest a mindless state of comfort at odds with our usual treks through the nitty gritty back streets of places like Dhaka and Calcutta.
But recently he surprised me with a brief birthday trip to Bacalar in the state of Quintana Roo. And guess what? We loved it.
I'll admit I was not overly impressed at first. We flew from Mexico City to Chetumal, the capital of the state of Quintana Roo, and spent one night there. A modern town with no colonial past, the place is hot, humid and dull. A few old wooden houses remain (reminding me of New Orleans), but most of that charm was long ago swept away by hurricanes, and what remains is an homage to the concrete block. It's very clean, and not unpleasant--and I'm always glad to fill in the blanks of my mental map of the world--but one night was enough. Ready to vacate.
Bacalar is only 40 minutes away. The drive takes you through the ususal flat landscape of the Yucatan through largely unpopulated areas.
The small town (pop. 11.084) is a Pueblo Magico, but the magic is hard to find. It's a scrappy, dishevelled place with a smattering of hotels and restaurants with a hippie-ish vibe, a large but empty central plaza, an old stone fort, and more potholes than pavement.

Our hotel, Casa Lamat, was a few kilometers past the town, down a bumpy dirt road. It's a rustic style, eco-friendly place, with palapa-roofed cabins in a lovely tropical garden setting. You walk down to a private dock for swimming, relaxing in a hammock, or renting a kayak or sailboat for an excursion around the lagoon. There is no A/C, but the 3 fans in our room kept us mostly comfortable, and I enjoyed connecting with the true climate--and the lagoon is only a minute away.

The lagoon was one of the peak aquatic experiences of my life. The water is the perfect temperaure--warm enough not to shock, cool enough to refresh. The various shades of blue, green and turquoise are reflections of the different kinds of sand at the bottom. Rarely is color so enthralling.
Nick invented a new use for the life vests on hand that became our favorite pastime. Instead of putting it over our heads, we sat on them, stradding the two halves, like a giant floating diaper. This allowed us to stand upright in the water, hands and legs free, and float effortlessly for hours. It's the closest sensation to weightlessness I've ever experienced--pure bliss.

The food at the hotel was good, better than we found in the restaurants in town--although I doubt anyone travels to Quintana Roo for the cuisine (one exception was machacada, a drink made from crushed fresh fruit, condensed milk, and shaved ice--a cross between a snow cone and a smoothie).

If you want to be a bit more active, you can rent a kayak, take an excursion around the lagoon, or swim in several cenotes. There are some small Mayan ruins in the area, too, but we didn't get to that--next time. Athough I loved our hotel, if I went back I'd try to find a place with a kitchen, which would solve both the 'what to do' and 'what to eat' questions. All in all, it was a lovely experience I can highly recommend. When you immediately dream of returning to a place, you know it's something special.

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