Visiting the Flamingos in the Yucatan Peninsula at Celestun and Rio Largatos
What is it about flamingos that make people fawn and gawk over them incessantly? Is it their rosy-colored complexion? Or their unique, but odd shape? Or the fact that some flamingos in resting position stand on just one leg? Whatever your reason, and we all have them, everyone loves this gangly, pink, upside-down eating bird. Lucky for you, in Mexico you are able to see the fabulous flamingos in the Yucatan, Mexico at not one but TWO different locations on the peninsula.
Flamingos in the Yucatan can be found on the western coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, in Celestun and the northern coast in Rio Lagartos (or Las Coloradas). The best time of the year to visit in each location is different as the flamingos in the Yucatan are not migratory birds, but rather live here on the Yucatan Peninsula full time. So whether you are in Mexico in June on school holidays or over Christmas break, you can always see the flamingos in the Yucatan, Mexico you just need to know where to go, when to go and how to get there.
Here is our guide on everything you need to know about visiting the flamingos in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.
Flamingos in Celestun
Flamingos can be found in the town of Celestun on the western coast of the peninsula. The town of Celestun leaves a lot to be desired. Despite being the jumping-off point for tours to see flamingos, the town has not been bolstered by the local tourist attraction. It is evident that while the flamingos are the drawcard, tourists are stopping off at Celestun as a day trip as opposed to a destination within its own right.
How to get to Celestun
Merida to Celestun
By Car: It is easy to reach Celestun with your own wheels. The roads are in quality conditions with sparse topes (trust me, this is HUGE if you have spent any significant amount of time driving through Mexico). From Merida take the Mexico 281 W until you end in the town of Celestun. The drive is approximately one-and-a-half hours depending on your location in Merida.
If you do not have your own vehicle, we recommend renting one from one of the rental agencies in town. There are several car rental places scattered throughout town with most located at the international airport.
By Bus: Buses run to Celestun from the Terminal Noreste located at the intersection of Calle 67 & Calle 50. Buses depart regularly and cost approximately $60 pesos per person for a one-way ticket. Return tickets are purchased in Celestun.
By Colectivo: Colectivos are the primary means of travel by locals throughout Mexico. Colectivos to Celestun can be found between Calle 69 and Calle 50 and cost $35 pesos per person.
Campeche to Celestun
By Car: Take Mexico 180 E from Campeche towards Cancun. In Maxcanu exit the highway and take the narrow, but paved Calle 15 through small towns and villages until the road meets back up with Mexico 281. Take a left on Mexico 281 until you reach the town of Celestun. The drive is approximately two-and-a-half hours from Campeche.
Driving Notice: Beware of corrupt Mexican police on Mexico 180 E just outside of Campeche. A police roadblock is known for harassing tourists without a front license plate, searching vehicles extensively and asking for bribes. We passed with only a few questions asked, but be alert on this drive.
By Bus: There is no bus service from Campeche to Celestun. If you need to take a bus, you will have to catch a bus to Merida and then switch to Celestun making the trip double the time that it would normally take.
By Colectivo: We were unable to obtain any information on reaching Celestun by colectivo. Inevitably it will require multiple changes to reach your final destination.
How to See the Flamingos in Celestun
Now that you have arrived in Celestun, you need to know where to see the flamingos. To see the flamingos in Celestun, a trip must be arranged from the marina located just before you enter the town proper. Prices are negotiated by the boat meaning the more people involved the cheaper the price per person. Prices generally start between $1,500 – $1,600 Mexican pesos for the full boat and can be negotiated depending on your skillset.
Additionally, there are many tour operators who organize a tour between Merida and Celestun. The tours will arrange for you to be picked up at your hotel, organize transportation, provide an English-speaking guide, and will arrange your boat tour in Celestun. This is the easiest way to see the flamingos, but it comes at a cost…your freedom.
The Best Time to Visit the Flamingos in Celestun
The best time to visit is between December and February which is the nesting season, but you can find flamingos here as early as November.
Where to Stay in Celestun
The best place to overland in Celestun is in the parking area by the pier. While it is not the overlanding dream spot, it is an ok location to spend the night. Locals spend the afternoon and early evening enjoying the water, eating seafood and drinking, but once night falls the noise dies down quite a bit.
There are no hotels to speak of in Celestun. Your best bet is to stay in Merida and make a day trip out of it.
While the maps at nperf.com indicate 4G on Telcel, the service is patchy at best. If you need service to work, we recommend visiting on the weekend.
Flamingos in Rio Lagartos and the Pink Lakes of Las Coloradas
While most blog posts and information indicate that flamingos are in Rio Lagartos, this is not actually 100% true. You can see the flamingos NEAR Rio Lagartos in the nearby Natural Park of Ria Lagartos just beyond the small town of Las Coloradas.
The name Las Coloradas also might ring a bell as this place is established in its own right on the tourism circuit namely for the rosy pink color of the lakes. If you are interested in seeing both then a trip to Rio Lagartos and Las Colorados is your best bet. Here is how to do it!
How to Get to Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas
Merida to Rio Lagartos (and Las Coloradas)
By Car: To get to the flamingos in Rio Lagartos, it is a three-and-a-half-hour drive on the Mexico 176 E towards Tizimin before taking a left on Mexico 295. Two kilometers before reaching the town of Rio Lagartos, you will come to a crossroad. Take a right to head towards Las Coloradas and the Natural Park of Ria Lagartos.
By Bus: Getting to where the flamingos are in the Natural Park of Ria Lagartas is not easy. From Merida, you first must catch a bus to Tizimin before heading onward to Rio Lagartos or more aptly Las Coloradas. Buses leave from Noreste Terminal at Calle 50 and 67 at 6:45, 9:00, 12:00, 14:00 and 17:30 (direct to Rio Lagartos). In Tizimin, grab a second bus to further your destination to Rio Lagartos or to Las Colorados. Buses run more regularly to Rio Lagartos (every hour or two) but only three buses from Tizimin to Las Coloradas. The times are 10:30, 12:50 and 19:50.
Cancun to Rio Lagartos (and Las Coloradas)
By Car: From Cancun, the drive to visit the flamingos is also a three-and-a-half-hour drive on the Mexican 180D (toll road). In Valladolid, take a right onto the Mexico 295 until you reach Rio Lagartos. Two kilometers before reaching the town of Rio Lagartos, you will come to a crossroad. Take a right to head towards Las Coloradas and the Natural Park of Ria Lagartos.
By Bus: An ADO bus runs from Cancun to Tizimin every day from the main terminal. Buses leave twice daily at 9:30 and 18:35. For the most up-to-date time table refer to ADO’s website here. Secondary buses operate from the bus station, but they do not publish their time tables online. We recommend visiting the station in advance to plan your travel.
Valladolid to Rio Lagartos (and Las Coloradas)
By Car: From Valladolid, take the Mexico 295 until you reach Rio Lagartos. Two kilometers before reaching the town of Rio Lagartos, you will come to a crossroad. Take a right to head towards Las Coloradas and the Natural Park of Ria Lagartos.
By Bus: Buses run regularly from the main bus station to Tizimin from Valladolid. The scheduled times are 5:30, 6:45, 7:30, 8:00, 9:15, 10:00, 10:30, 11:15, 11:45, 13:00, 13:45, 14:15, 15:30, 16:45, 18:00, 19:00 and 20:00. Once in Tizimin, follow the directions included above as all travel to Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas pass through Tizimin.
By Colectivo: Once in Tizimin, colectivos to Rio Lagartos can be found at Super Willy’s a grocery store one block from the bus station.
Best Time to Visit the Flamingos in Rio Lagartos
The best time to see the flamingos in Rio Lagartos is during the mating season which runs between March and June. These flamingos, however, are not migratory and therefore reside on the Yucatan Peninsula year-round. This means that even if you plan to visit outside of the mating season, it is likely that you will see flamingos.
We visited in January and had no difficulty seeing flamingos in the Natural Park of Ria Lagartos.
How to See the Flamingos in Rio Lagartos and Visit the Pink Lakes
While visiting the flamingos is free of charge, there are warning signs requesting tourists to stay off the property where the flamingos flock. Avoid walking in the off-limit areas to get the most Instagramable shots. Instead, respect the request of the owner and view the flamingos from a distance. Make sure to bring your binoculars and your long-range lens for the best photos.
Visiting the pink lakes is a different story. Prior to entering the town of Las Coloradas, you can see a hue of pink glistening in the distance. The pink lakes are separated from the road by a large mote blocking most access to the lakes themselves. The town instead has capitalized on its unique offering and built a jetty out into one of the lakes, the downside… an entrance fee. The entrance fee is $100 pesos per person which is a bit steep but allows you access on the jetty for those photos you have been waning over on Instagram or Pinterest.
Are the Pink Lakes Worth It?
To be honest, I was skeptical at first. Lakes are supposed to be blue, brown maybe a shade of turquoise, but a vibrant pink color. The lake gets its pink coloring from organisms such as algae, plankton, and brine shrimp that make their home in salty waters. The evaporation of water leaves these organisms huddled close together thus giving off the appearance of a pink lake.
To be warned, while the color of the water is spectacular, the surrounding area is a different story. The luster of the pink lake is a bit lost by the large salt mine flanked on one side and a wind farm on the other. The Instagram pictures and stories do not truly depict the area. I would not recommend venturing out this far just to see the pink lakes as the transportation options without your own vehicle are limited. If you are in the area or here to visit the flamingos, then it is worth a stop if only to see the glimmering pink hue of the lake from a distance.
Where to Stay in Rio Lagartos
Overlanding in this area is easier and more remote than most other places in the Yucatan. The best spot we found while exploring is HERE. The location is essentially a large pull out area from the side of the road, but this road is rarely used. During our few days only a handful of cars or motorbikes passed throughout the day and the night. The sand dunes block the view of the ocean, but the beach is yours all to yourself. We did not see a single other person during our stay here.
The downside…the mosquitos. Just as night falls, mosquitos come out in the thousands. Ok, maybe not thousands, but the swarms of mosquitos might be one of the largest I have seen throughout Mexico and South America. Make sure to protect your camping area prior to nightfall or you might be sorry even despite the constant wind.
Connectivity in Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas
In Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas, 4G service from Telcel is available, but do not expect the same level of service you would find in Merida or Cancun. The 4G signal drops in and out but will work in a pinch. In the overlanding location, H+ is available and reliable enough in some instances for voice-only calls. Check out the website nperf.com for up to date coverage.
Looking for More Mexico Travel Destinations?
If you are enjoying your time visiting the flamingos in the Yucatan and the Yucatan’s coastline? Check out El Cuyo. El Cuyo is a small fishing village slowly making a name for itself on the tourism circuit. While the beach here may not be quite as picturesque as those between Playa del Carmen and Tulum and the wind can be unrelenting at times (El Cuyo is a popular kitesurfing spot), the beauty is made up by the lack of tourists and beach chairs.
Have you visited the Flamingos in the Yucatan? What did you think? Let us know below?
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