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Laguna Bacalar boasts bright tropical birds that chatter overhead in coconut palms draped in orchids so exotic that they are reserved for special occasions in most parts of the world. Sailboats glide across the turquoise water, while on the shore sunbathers bake on the white sand beach. Called "Laguna de Siete Colores" or "Lake of Seven Colors," Laguna Bacalar and the surrounding shore offer a kaleidoscope of colors and activities for almost every taste.
Mexico's second largest natural lake, Laguna Bacalar stretches 35 miles down the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo. The Maya gave the lake the name, the Lake of Seven Colors because on most days it is possible to count seven distinct colors of blue, green, and turquoise. The main reason for the difference in color is the depth of the lake. The lake is classified as oligotrophic, and its water is crystal clear. Part of what accounts for the difference in depth, however, are the submarine cenotes that feed Laguna Bacalar. The term cenote comes from the word for "well" - usually a sink hole with rocky edges that fills with ground water. In the case of Laguna Bacalar, the lake is actually fed from the ground water seeping into the cenotes under the lake's surface. There are also cenotes around the lake, some over 600 feet deep. One in particular, known as Cenote Azul, is a beautiful, deep, blue pool on the shore of Laguna Bacalar. It is the largest sinkhole in the Yucatan Peninsula, and it is a favorite for diving, snorkeling, and swimming. In some cases cenotes were consider sacred to the Maya and a gateway to the afterlife. There is evidence that they threw offerings, both material and human, into some cenotes.
Another unique feature of Laguna Bacalar are the stromalites in the lake and around the shore. Forming in shallow water, stromalites are made of sedimentary grains that are trapped and bound by microorganisms. Although they look like insignificant rocks, stromalites provide records of life on earth from ancient time until the present. Scientists travel to Laguna Bacalar to study the stromalites, the unique features of the lake and the lake's delicate ecosystem. In recent years, as Laguna Bacalar has become more popular as a tourist destination, increasing emphasis has been placed on protecting the lake. Several organizations work to promote ecotourism and sustainable tourism.
As this gem of the Yucatan becomes better known, it is certain the tourists will continue to flock to Laguna Bacalar. There is more than enough water to sail, pedal boat, and water ski. For paddlers, there are tours by kayak to nearby Mayan ruins and mangrove forests to explore. Most hotels and resorts have boat rentals, and some of the lakeside vacation rentals provide kayaks.
On the shore of the lake, the village of Bacalar dates back to the 16th century although Mayan settlement extends back far beyond that. It was a very important center for the Mayan people from 250 BC to 1540 AD. Bacalar is an authentic village not built for tourists, but there are more amenities being added all the time. In recent years, San Felipe, the old Spanish fort built in the late 1500's, has been restored and opened as a museum. The museum illustrates the history of the region including the conflict between the Spanish and Maya as well as attacks by marauding 18th century European pirates. After a morning spent learning about the history of Bacalar, visitors can spend the afternoon exploring on a mountain bike or on a guided jungle walk.
Striking a careful balance between protecting the fragile ecosystem of Laguna Bacalar and allowing as many people as possible to share this magnificent lake is the task of locals, conservationists and tourists. With its clear turquoise water, jungles teaming with toucans, spider monkeys, and ocelots and the rich diverse history there will surely be more tourists coming to enjoy this extraordinary lake.
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