Río Nizuc

Quintana Roo, Mexico

In Yucatán wild swimming happens at cenotes, lagoons, underground rivers and jungle waterfalls. But rivers? There are no other surface rivers in Yucatán because the land is basically limestone.


It’s strange that the term wild swimming even exists. It is an old activity of mankind, but I suppose these days not many people do so. When I was a child, that is all we did. I think wild swimming connects us to the landscape that surrounds us, to the 'mother earth'. It can't be compared in any way to swimming in a man-made pool. And if you do decide to swim here, you will be with the locals (not the tourists), as it is one of their favourite spots.


Río Nizuc is a short river that comes out of Nichupté lagoon, which separates downtown Cancún (where the local people live) from the hotel area (Zona hotelera), a 30km strip, which also separates the lagoon from the sea. The river joins the Caribbean at the Nizuc bridge point (at km 21). While you can't swim in Nichupté lagoon because of the presence of crocodiles (Morelet's Crocodile, an endangered species), you can swim in the river.


The river view from the bridge.

Lagoon Nichupté, view fro the hotel zone road.

Lagoon Nichupté, view fro the hotel zone road.


I have lived in Playa del Carmen for nearly 5 years by now but 'discovered' the idea of a swim here only now. Sometimes we just can't see under our own noses and are often attracted by the unknown places afar. However, at times a simple swim in a river can bring more joy than distant travel.


This river is a paradise for bird-watchers and biologists. Here the sweet water mixes with the salt water from the sea, offering a protective environment for many species of fish to grow, before going back to the sea. The river enters the sea just after the Nizuc bridge and is often referred to as Nizuc channel.

Nichupté Lagoon is naturally formed, while sandbanks have been man-made alongside to house Cancún's hotels. The lagoon is actually the collective name for eight lagoons, all interlocking to form one large one. Individually, they are: Laguna Bojórquez, North Basin, Central Basin, South River, Río Inglés, Del Amor, Lagoon and the Mediterranean.


Nichupté is also known as the lagoon of love. A local legend says that whoever bathes in its waters becomes a mermaid during their dreams, to summon the eternal love of the person they desire. Well, as you can't swim in the lagoon, I am sure the same legend applies if you swim in the river coming out of the lagoon; just try it! I would love to hear if it worked for you.

The water is turquoise and transparent, because of the white sandy bottom. Locals paddle here, play volleyball, and fish. There are picnic tables along the river, a great place to spend a day. If you are a nature lover, try to spot iguanas, frogs and turtles. The water is so clear that you will also see different types of fish. Mangroves surround the river (and the beach of Punta Nizuc, for that matter); try to spot the black and white mangroves (I have not see the red mangroves here although they should be present).


It is also a great place for boat-spotting as speedboats and WaveRunners pass you by on their way from the lagoon to the open sea. They go for a ride, or snorkelling. This is also the route for boats with a glass bottom (Aquaworld), on their way to see the underwater sculptures at Punta Nizuc, which encourage coral growth to preserve the Palancar Reef System. Sculptures made by international artists are fixed to the seabed, made of special material, which promotes coral life to turn the area into an artificial reef.


If you want a fancier option for lunch (and access to the toilets), there is a restaurant here called Río Nizuc, run by a local fishermen's co-operative, with fresh seafood and great sea views. The restaurant is just by the point where the river joins the sea.

The picnic area.

The picnic area.

The restaurant by the river's estuary.

The restaurant by the river's estuary.


How to get there:

The river access is at Km 22 in the hotel zone. If driving from the direction of Playa del Carmen, turn right just before the bridge: drive down a small hill directly to the car park. Just follow a small white road sign: Río Nizuc. There is also a car park at the Río Nizuc restaurant after about 100m (open from 12am).

Getting there by bus: Blue Line Stop #4, Green Line Stop #3.

The turning point just before the bridge will lead you to the car park.

The turning point just before the bridge will lead you to the car park.


Mix & Match:

You can combine it with a visit to Cancún Mayan Museum or the ancientMaya ruins of El Rey.