The Pink lagoons are called Las Coloradas, which means 'red' in Spanish. It’s actually the name of a tiny Mexican fishing village. On arrival at the village, there are a few pink lakes that are truly unique. The first one is the pinkest of them all.
There are only a few known pink lakes in the world, for example in Senegal and Australia. They are rare natural wonders and they are mesmerising. Apparently, the pink colour is stronger in the summer months but I have not been able to test it as I always came here in the winter months. The first lake on arrival at the village is the best, pinker than others, with calm waters and the reflection of the sky in the pink waters is pretty sensual. It is a great place for a photo session.
The vibrant pink colour of these lakes is due to red algae, plankton, and brine shrimp that thrive in the salty environment. As the water evaporates, these organisms become more concentrated. The lakes are very shallow and you can't swim in them. They are protected, because the village is extracting salt here. There is a man on a bike who patrols the lakes to make sure you don't go in. He watched us closely. Most people come here for photography reasons rather than swimming and he won't allow you to put your feet in.
Getting here requires a 3-hour drive from Cancún or Playa del Carmen and two hours from Valladolid. However, if you are visiting Ek'Balam, it is an hour north of there. The beach in the village of Las Coloradas and outside it is tranquil. You can walk along and collect large shells; plenty abound and this is truly unique on the coasts here. This is where the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean waters meet and mix. At times it can get seaweed and it is not cleaned much by the locals. This is an eco-approach as the seaweed turns eventually into sand.
You will be able to get a meal in the village restaurant but do take cash with you, as there are no ATM machines here. You really feel like you are in Mexico, among the locals, not surrounded by the crowds of tourists. On my recent visit in 2016 we saw two foreigners.
If you really want to have a swim, you will need to take a boat trip from the nearby village of Río Lagartos. You will have to ask the captain to take you to the pink lagoon as they don't specifically stop there. He will take you to the one lagoon where it is still allowed to go in. You will be able to float only, not swim, due to the high concentration of salt.
The region is part of the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, protected wetlands and home to animals like flamingos, crocodiles, sea turtles, jaguars, and all kinds of sea birds. If you are here by car, you can drive around the lakes (well, nobody stopped us), to see the pink flamingos. They are pink too, because they eat the pink brine shrimp. We did not manage the best photo of the flamingo colony, but they are out there! The boat trip from here is a real bird-watching treat. As the boat will not take you to the main pink lagoon at the village of Las Coloradas, it is still best to go there first and then go to the village of Río Lagartos (it is only 10 km away).
Salt has been extracted here for centuries. Chichén Itzá controlled the saltworks of the north coast between 700-1200 AD and much of the wealth of the Itzá capital was obtained through the salt trade. The salt was then extracted in the locations of Las Coloradas, El Cuyo and Chikinchel.
Río Lagartos is also a good place for lunch (if you don't have it at Las Coloradas, you can try one of their seafood restaurants. The nearby village of El Cuyo is also charming. This place is best for biking, the beach, fishing trips, kite surfing or kayaking. However, I do recommend checking with a local hotel before going, if the beach is clean (a storm or rain can bring a lot of seaweed overnight). Last time we went to El Cuyo with my husband for the weekend, in September 2017, the beach was full of seaweed and very smelly; we were not able to enjoy the beach at all.
How to get there:
There is a local bus from Cancún to Río Lagartos, but because of different stops, it can take 7 hours. A bus from Mérida can take up to 5 hours.
By car from Playa del Carmen, Cancún or Mérida, head towards Valladolid by toll road ('cuota'). Go north from Valladolid through Tizimín (and past Ek' Balam). It's about a 1,5 hour drive from Valladolid to Río Lagartos. For Los Coloradas, turn right (east) before reaching Río Lagartos. It's another hour to Los Coloradas. El Cuyo is only about 10km east of Los Coloradas as the crow flies, but by car you have to loop back to the road between Río Lagartos and Valladolid, turn east south of Loché towards Dzonot Carretero, and then turn left (north) at the T-junction onto the road between Colonia Yucatán and El Cuyo. This takes you on a causeway over the lagoon. That's another 1.5hr drive; you'll wish you were a crow!