Kayaking Laguna Bacalar and Eating the Best Pineapple in Mexico
Few countries in the world are as naturally and culturally diverse as Mexico. From the architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids to Jurassic Park rain forests, 18,000 ft mountains to colonial Spanish towns, vast stretches of desert to colorful festivals celebrating the dead, it’s hard to find a place with more variety.
I’ll admit, apart from visiting popular tourist attractions like Chichen Itza and lazing on gorgeous beaches during previous trips, I’ve only seen a tiny fraction of what Mexico has to offer. So on my most recent visit, I was eager to get off the well-trodden gringo path, and explore some of Mexico’s natural attractions. So splendid was the experience – one of the best day trips I’ve had, with peaceful nature, deliciously flavorful food, and an itinerary that had both my parents and I enthralled – that I’m already making plans to return.
Setting out from Mahahual
We arrived in the tranquil little fishing village of Mahahual, where we were met by Kimberley and Victor, the husband and wife team behind Mahahual Ecotours, an independent tour company that focuses on creating bespoke experiences with an emphasis on Mexico’s abundant nature, rich history and culture, and of course, providing said tours in a sustainable and eco-friendly way.
From Mahahual we set off on a one-hour drive inland that carried us through a densely woven flatland comprised of thick mangrove tree clusters, the staple vegetation in the Yucatan. Along the way, Victor enthusiastically shared Mayan tales and legends with us about notable figures from the ancient empire. After turning off from the highway we bumped along a single lane gravel road, with nothing but dense jungle on either side, which brought us directly to the northern banks of Laguna Bacalar. Here, a tiny village – tiny in the truest sense of the word – consisting of a few colorful buildings was awakening. We were met by locals, who had already set up some kayaks for us on the water’s edge. After each of us had grabbed a bottle of fresh pineapple juice, we were ready to head out onto the lake.
Over 40 km long, Laguna Bacalar is renowned for its striking blue color and water clarity, partly due to its white limestone bottom. Like most bodies of water in the Yucatan peninsula, underground rivers and cenotes feed the lake. This lake is especially interesting for bird watching enthusiasts as many different species live in the area. We spotted egrets sitting silently in the mangroves, but the lake is also home to hawks, snakes, herons, and shy crocodiles. If you keep your eyes peeled, there is plenty of wildlife to be seen.
When we set out on the lake, we were fortunate to have slightly overcast skies (perfect for kayaking) and a breeze, although this meant that the beautiful turquoise color that Laguna Bacalar is known for was a little less apparent. However, once in a while when the sun shone through the clouds, the water lit up in brilliant shades of blue.
Leading the way, Victor brought us to the northern end of Laguna Bacalar, where we veered off into one of the meandering channels. In the sheltered little coves at the outskirts of the lake, the wind came to a standstill and the water was as smooth as glass. I let my kayak drift among the water lilies, careful not to get my paddle tangled in the vines, taking in the hush and tranquility of this peaceful little paradise.
Once the sun decided to peak out from behind the clouds, the water became crystal clear and it was easy to see the sandy white bottom, little fish and a couple of lazy snails. When Victor mentioned he could spend hours drifting among the mangroves and lilies, losing sense of time, and simply being at peace with the world, I could see why it would be all too easy to do so here – we basically had Laguna Bacalar completely to ourselves.
The Pineapple Town
Once we had returned the kayaks, we set off for the nearby community of Pedro Santos, also known as the pineapple town, famous for its locally grown fruits. Along the main street, you’ll find countless stalls of friendly vendors selling ripe pineapples, mangoes, limes, and papayas to name a few, as well as freshly squeezed pineapple, coconut, orange, and watermelon juice.
I couldn’t help but feel a connection with Pedro Santos. The fruit stands reminded me of where I grew up as a child, the Okanagan Valley, Canada’s own fruit growing region, where each summer my parents would routinely stop at roadside fruit stands to pick up fresh peaches, cherries, and berries.
the best pineapple
We spent the remainder of the day at a nearby pineapple plantation, where Victor gave us a tour through the lush fields and we gained a new found appreciation for the fruit. Over the course of 18 months, we learned that a single plant produces one pineapple and then dies - so next time you’re enjoying this tropical fruit, appreciate it for all its worth!
After enjoying a few pieces of juicy pineapple, Victor surprised us all by adding a scoop of chili powder onto his wedges - something quite common in Mexico. At first it was hard to believe that this could possibly taste any good, but the unexpected combination of sweet and spicy actually worked.
After the tour, we gathered at a table in the open air restaurant of the plantation, where we feasted on a delicious lunch of marinated chicken with pineapple and vegetables in a mix of fragrant spices and herbs (the presentation was equally as appealing and creative as the flavor itself), matched with a refreshing pineapple juice, and finished off with pineapple sorbet. Pleasantly exhausted and certainly more than full, it was the perfect way to end an unforgettable day.