It’s easy to see why the vibrant pink lakes of Las Coloradas are one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s most alluring attractions. The cotton-candy shades of pink contrasted against the marine blue hues of the sky are guaranteed to take your breath away from the second you arrive.
It may be a surprise to learn that these shallow pools are privately-owned industrialized salt flats. In this region, salt mining is one of the biggest industries. However, it’s becoming more popular with tourists thanks to natural attractions like Las Coloradas Pink Lakes and the Ria Lagartos biosphere reserve. Travelers come from around the world just to take a peek at the lakes, whose vibrant pink waters are the ideal backdrop for Instagram photos.
Since Las Coloradas is not a designated tourist attraction, it can be challenging to reach on a whim. Due to its remote location, you’ll need to set aside a full day to make the most of your trip. However, you’ll be better off spending two or more days in the area to see what Las Coloradas and Rio Lagartos offer.
That’s why we put together this guide. We’re here to tell you everything you want to know about Las Coloradas and help plan an itinerary for your trip. Whether you’re interested in joining a group tour or eager to explore Las Coloradas on your own, we’ve got you covered.
Where are the Pink Lakes in Mexico?
The Pink Lakes are located in Las Coloradas on the northern shores of the Yucatan Peninsula. These lagoons occupy a small stretch of land that separates the Gulf of Mexico from the biosphere reserve of Ria Lagartos.
Although Las Coloradas is relatively difficult to reach, its off-the-beaten-path location is worth the long and complicated journey. Not only will you get to admire the sparkling lakes, but you’ll also be smack dab in the middle of 150,000 acres of protected wetlands. The Ria Lagartos biosphere reserve is home to a variety of wildlife, including 400 types of birds and 59 species of mammals.
The closest town to the lakes is Rio Lagartos. To clarify, Rio Lagartos is the town, and Ria Lagartos (with an ‘a’) is the nature reserve. From Las Coloradas, Ria Lagartos is approximately 30 minutes away by car. If you’re planning to spend a few days in the area, it’s recommended that you base yourself in this town. There are a few hotels and restaurants to keep you entertained during your stay.
Not only will you be able to explore the landscape and wildlife in Rio Lagartos, but you’ll also be close to a few other big attractions in the Yucatan Peninsula. Between Rio Lagartos and Valladolid are the archeological ruins of Ek’ Balam. Here, you’ll find ancient Mayan structures as well as the tomb of the infamous Ukit Kan Lek Tok’s ruler.
Next to the ruins is the Xcanche cenote. This natural sinkhole is surrounded by lush forests and makes for a refreshing escape away from the heat of the sun.
Why is the water pink in Las Coloradas?
The water has a pink color from a combination of red algae and tiny shrimp. The pools are filled with seawater as part of the process of salt harvesting, and through evaporation, the salt, algae, and tiny shrimp become more and more concentrated.
As you visit the pink lake, you may notice different colored lakes. This is because they are all at different parts of the evaporation process. Another fun fact is that flamingos are pink because they eat many of the same tiny creatures found in these lakes. However, don’t come to Las Coloradas pink lakes to see flamingos. You probably aren’t going to find them here – you need to go to Rio Laguartos.
History and Facts about Las Coloradas
Although the quaint town of Las Coloradas is primarily a fishing village, it’s also known for its salt production. Salt production dates back thousands of years to the ancient Mayan civilization, when inhabitants would trek across current-day Mexico looking to extract salt from the lagoons. The Mayas used salt for various purposes, including food preservation and cooking.
After harvesting the salt, the Mayas would ship off the grains to multiple towns and villages throughout Central America. The salt would be loaded on canoes and sent to places like Chichén Itzá, Tikal, and even the Caribbean Islands.
Nowadays, all the lakes are privately owned and used for industrial purposes. However, they are still the same lakes used by the Mayas over 2,000 years ago.
The method of extracting salt from the lake is fascinating. These lagoons contain water from the ocean, which has an incredibly high salt content. As the sun heats the lake, the water evaporates, leaving nothing but coarse grains of salt.
While some salt lakes have naturally colored water, others, like Las Coloradas, are bright pink. This is due to the algae, plankton, and brine shrimp that are found in the water. As the sun slowly evaporates the water, the concentration of salt and living organisms becomes smaller, therefore creating a more condensed shade of pink.
The best time to see the pink lakes is around noon when the sun is directly above them. This is when you can see the most vibrant and intense shades of pink. When the sun is lower towards the horizon, the water is duller.
Tours that visit Las Coloradas
Most tours that go to the Las Coloradas lakes also stop at Rio Lagartos. Although the majority of time will be spent cursing around the biosphere, these combination tours are a great way to see two of northern Yucatan’s most stunning natural attractions. You might also find a tour that stops at the Ek’ Balam ruins or the Xcanche cenote.
If you’re booking a tour from Cancun or another city along the Riviera Maya, you should expect to be gone for most of the day (10 to 12 hours). Transportation to Las Coloradas alone will take three hours in each direction. Most tours should also provide snacks, drinks, and lunch during the journey. Click here to see all available Las Coloradas tours. Oh, you’ll also notice that the Viator tour operators stole our photos and used them to help sell their tours…if you’re staying in Playa del Carmen, you’ll also see our photos on tour boards. It’s really annoying they steal your photos, and there is nothing we can do about it…
Las Coloradas Cancun y Riviera
This all-inclusive tour is great for travelers interested in visiting Las Coloradas and Rio Lagartos. After your guide picks you up at your hotel in Cancun, you’ll start the day with a continental breakfast at a local 16th-century hacienda. Then you’ll drive to Las Coloradas, where you’ll have about an hour to soak in the views of the pink lakes.
From there, you’ll travel to Ria Lagartos, where you’ll board a boat to tour the wetlands in the nature reserve. As you weave through the dense mangrove forests, you’ll see crocodiles, flamingos, and other wetland birds. For the last stop on tour, you’ll have lunch at the local El Perico Marinero – Marisquería, a seafood restaurant with unbeatable views of the fantastic Ria Lagartos reserve.
The entire tour lasts approximately 11 hours from pick up to drop off. The price includes transportation, a guide, breakfast, lunch, and drinks. Click here to see all available Las Coloradas tours.
Chichen-Itza, Cenote Ik-Kil, Rio Lagartos, Las Coloradas Private Tour
Interested in seeing the best of what the Yucatan Peninsula has to offer? Then look no further than this all-inclusive tour of the region’s four best attractions. On one action-packed day, you’ll explore ancient ruins, cobalt blue cenotes, marshy wetlands, and stunning pink lakes.
This private tour picks you up at your hotel or accommodation anywhere along the Riveria Maya at 6:30 in the morning. Together, you’ll head straight to Chichen Itza, the largest archeological site dating back to pre-Columbian times. You’ll have two hours to explore the stone columns, temples, and pyramids while learning about the history of one of the most significant Maya civilizations.
After the ruins, you’ll drive to Cenote Ik Kil, where you’ll have two hours to relax and swim in the cobalt blue cenote. Surrounded by long vines and lush foliage, Ik Kil is easily one of Mexico’s most beautiful swimming holes.
Now that you’re nice and relaxed, you’ll head to your next stop – Las Coloradas. You’ll be able to take photos of these sparkling pink lakes while learning more about salt production from your local guide. Then you’ll head to Ria Lagartos, where you’ll embark on a boat tour of the wetlands. From flamingos to crocodiles, you’ll be able to get up close and personal with these wild creatures on your private boat tour.
This tour includes hotel pick up and drop off in Cancun, transportation, admission to each attraction, as well as water, beer, and snacks. Most tours would take multiple days to see everything on this list, but you’ll be able to check them all off your itinerary in just one day!
Visiting Las Coloradas on a Self-Guided Tour in 2023
Things have changed over the years. The first time we visited the Pink Lakes, we drove our rental car right up to the stunning pink pools, took our photos – and didn’t see a single other person, tourist or local.
This is in stark contrast tour our last visit, where we found the lake basically impossible to take photos of or get close to without a “tour guide.” Hoards of guides surrounded us, telling us we basically couldn’t do or see anything without hiring them. So, if you want to do this at least semi-independently – you will need one of these “guides” – annoying, but the lakes are still pretty cool.
Self-driving to the Pink Lakes
If you’re planning to visit Las Coloradas on your own, there are a few important things to keep in mind. While the lakes are now a popular tourist attraction, they aren’t necessarily located near any big city. The Pink Lakes of Mexico are about 3.5 hours away from Cancun, 3.5 hours to Playa del Carmen, and Tulum is 3 hours. However, if you are already in the Yucatan, the closest city to the Las Coloradas lakes is Valladolid, which is 1.5 to 2 hours away by car.
Renting a car is the most efficient way to visit Las Coloradas. You’ll be able to travel at your own pace while stopping at some of the cool attractions along the way. If you have time, you can visit the Ek’ Balam ruins, the Xcanche cenote, and the biosphere reserve of Ria Lagartos.
If you’re coming from the eastern coast of the Riviera Maya, it’s possible to visit Las Coloradas for the day. However, you should expect to spend over 10 to 12 hours if you’re factoring in the long drive and some stops.
Public Transport to Las Coloradas
Using public transportation to visit Las Coloradas from Cancun is also possible, but the journey can be very long and time-consuming. There are no direct routes, which means you’ll have to transfer in the town of Tizimin. Including the driving and transfer times, you could be on the road for up to seven hours. You should only opt for the public transportation route if you’re looking to save money on travel costs.
From Rio Laguartos
If you’re staying in the neighboring town of Rio Lagartos, it’s relatively easy to make your way to the pink lakes. If you have a rental car, it’s an easy 30-minute drive from the center of town. However, there are other options to visit Las Coloradas if you arrive by public transportation.
Near the main port in Rio Lagartos, you’ll find local boat owners offering to take you on a tour of the Ria Lagartos nature reserve. While these tours will get you up close to flamingos and crocodiles, they won’t necessarily take you directly to the pink lakes. If you want to see the lakes, you’ll need to add a trip to Las Coloradas in addition to the Rio Lagartos boat tour.
Some tours might also make pit stops at the El Baño Maya mud bath. The thick, white mud contains high levels of sulfur and algae and is believed to have healing properties to make your skin extra soft.
Another option is to hire a taxi from Rio Lagartos. It’s recommended that you have the taxi wait for you, as it’s practically impossible to find another taxi in the area to take you back. Altogether, the entire ride could cost around $50.
Hire a Local Guide in Las Coloradas to see the Pink Lakes
Besides the transportation cost, it’s free to visit Las Coloradas. You’ll be able to stand on the road and view the pink lakes (from a distance). However, you have to pay 50 pesos for a short tour conducted by a local guide. This tour is a great option to learn about the history of the salt production plants, and you’ll also get to see the mesmerizing lakes up close.
It’s important to remember that the lakes are privately owned and are now fenced or moats built around them. Although you may have seen photos on Instagram of people swimming and splashing around in the lakes, measures have been taken to protect the lakes because they are part of salt production. Over the last few years, the salt company has prohibited swimming and, in some places, photography.
During your visit, you’ll see plenty of “security guards” on motorcycles patrolling the area to make sure no one breaks the rules. However, if your local guide is good, he might be able to organize something to get you closer and some good pictures (additional money may be involved).
Pink Lake Las Coloradas FAQ:
Q: Is Las Coloradas worth visiting?
A: Yes, there are very few places in the world where you can see pink lakes like you will find at Las Coloradas. However, you need to take the locally offered tours. If not, you are not going to see the best pools and sights.
Q: Is it safe to drive from Cancun to Las Coloradas?
Q: Is it safe to drive from Tulum to Las Coloradas?
A: Yes, in general, driving in this region is safe. Traffic is light, and the road is in good condition and well marked. We have driven all over the Yucatan Peninsula with at least 20 different rental cars. We have driven with our small children in the car and will do it again on our next visit.
Q: Can you swim in Las Coloradas Yucatan?
A: No, in the past, you may have seen videos or photos of people swimming in the pink lakes but were never allowed, but now there are more people enforcing the rules. If you choose to try and go swimming anyway, you will likely be found, and the guys running the security and not very friendly.
Q: Is there a pink beach in Cancun?
A: No, the only pink lakes in Mexico are in Las Coloradas.
Q: How far is pink Lake from Cancun?
Q: Where is the pink water beach?
A: The Pink Lakes are in the far north of the Yucatan Peninsula. While it is not a beach – it does have the appearance of a beach.