Quintana Roo, Mexico
The village of Buena Vista on the banks of the Bacalar Lagoon is rural and sleepy but it has a great rustic spa centre. You can enjoy the lake here away from the crowds of Bacalar village.
The village sits north of Bacalar village, off the highway between Cancún and Chetumal. Lake Bacalar is very long (50km) so this village is pretty isolated from the rest of the lake's resorts.
Buena Vista in Spanish means Nice view. And indeed, once you reach the coast of Lake Bacalar at the end of the village road, you can enjoy beautiful landscapes, where the vegetation and varied hues of blue in the lagoon's waters provide a view that is really worth admiring. No wonder they call Bacalar the Lake of Seven Colours. As for its geomorphological formation, it is worth mentioning that it was originated by a plate tectonic crack that occurred in the upper Miocene (some million years ago) that produced several fracture zones in the Yucatán Peninsula.
The water is crystal clear and inviting for a swim. Here you will have two options. You can swim from the 'wild' spot, like the villagers do. Or you can go to Buena Vista Balneario (spa resort). This Balneario is an Ecotourism Centre and provides access to the water from the pier. There are a few wooden steps to get in. There is a large slide to enjoy at the spa as well.
The services include a restaurant-bar and a traditional menu with seafood. There are also bathrooms, green areas for camping, an area for relaxing on lounge chairs, palapa huts (with roofs made of dried palm leaves), a volleyball court, family cabins, kayaks for rent and parking. You can bring your own hammock and hang it up here. When I came here in April 2019 with my friends Laura and Michelle, they did not have many guests and the cook had just left. We were hungry as that morning we had been to the uninhabited island of Tamalcab (opposite the Chetumal village of Calderitas) and our visit included a search of the Maya ruins on the island, a physical activity. The staff of the Balneario tried to serve us something, despite the missing cook, and offered us a plate of tuna and guacamole. We could not have asked for more. Very friendly staff indeed. They charge an entry fee (15 pesos) to use all their services but we were not asked to pay, perhaps because we consumed at the restaurant. We had a swim after our meal and fully refreshed, we continued our journey.
The village itself is small. The main economic activity is small-scale agriculture (corn, pineapples, papayas, beans, squash, bananas, mangoes). Apart from the Balneario centre, the rest of the houses are residential. Buena Vista is a village with a long coastline (nearly 10km). While today there is only one spa centre here, one suspects that the 'face' of the village could change soon, with tourism rapidly expanding on Lake Bacalar. Some residential houses are painted very vibrant colours, making the village attractive; others are a bit dilapidated, making it look rather 'authentic'. Overall, it is not special, just a typical rural Maya village. A few small houses are for sale, so if you ever wanted to own a little weekend house or cottage by the lake, this could be an option for you. It would require some work, of course, but you can tailor it to your own taste and the prices here should be more reasonable than anywhere else on this popular lake. Apparently, there are no building restrictions in this specific location. However, apply due diligence when buying, as these are communal lands (ejido), owned collectively, and buying from one individual within that community can be tricky. The best way is to be represented by experienced real estate professionals and a licensed real estate attorney.
The village has a school and a church, near the lake shore, and a few small grocery shops called abarrotes, selling mainly drinks, crisps and snacks. In front of the tortillería is a grocery store that sells kitchen items, food, beer and alcohol. This is rare in small villages and it shows that they are 'ready' for tourists. Surprisingly, there are no souvenir shops (yet); the atmosphere is still strictly residential. The village has two roads. On the main entrance road, next to the grocery store is a stand that sells ready-to-eat-Mexican BBQ chicken. Down the highway south, two more minutes from Buena Vista, is the Restaurant Aries, open 24 hours.
Another advantage of this village is that there are many attractions nearby. You can visit the village of Bacalar, its San Felipe fortress museum, its zócalo (main square) and restaurants from here, as it is only a 15-minute drive. Here you can take a boat tour, around the lake and its cenotes. South of Buena Vista is another tourist attraction, Bio Maya Zipline.
How to get there:
You will find the village in the municipality of Othon P. Blanco, in the state of Quintana Roo. From Cancún or Playa del Carmen take federal highway 307 to km 57 in the direction of Chetumal. From the city of Chetumal, take federal highway 186 to the junction with highway 307 towards the city of Cancún; it takes about 45 minutes.
Mix & Match:
Plenty to do and visit nearby here. If you love history, you can visit Chacchoben ruins (22-minute drive) or Kohunlich with the amazing masks of the Sun God (1.5 hours away). Then there is the town of Chetumal, about a 45-minute drive, to see the Museum of Maya Culture. To the north of Chetumal, from the village of Calderitas, you can take a boat to the uninhabited island of Tamalcab and visit the ancient ruins of Oxtankah.