Getting from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar: A traveler review

If Playa del Carmen’s non-stop party scene leaves you wanting to get back in touch with nature, Bacalar is an excellent getaway. However, one look at a map might have you scratching your head about how to arrive there.

There’s no doubt about it—a trip to Bacalar requires planning. Unlike traveling to Playa’s nearby destinations like Tulum and Cancun, taking a minivan from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar isn’t as easy, and bus departures are less frequent. Nevertheless, this trip is doable and worth it. So, I’ll show you how to get from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar based on my experience.

Where exactly is Bacalar?

Bacalar is a small town that sits on beautiful Lake Bacalar, near the Belize border. The distance from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar is about 280 kilometers.

Locals lovingly refer to Bacalar as the “Lagoon of Seven Colors” because of its many shades of blue, ranging from midnight blue to turquoise. The brightness of the blue colors varies depending on environmental factors, but I can attest that even in cloudy weather, the lake is utterly alluring. 

Transportation options to Bacalar

You have three main options for getting from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar. They include:

  • Taking a car from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar
  • Taking a minivan from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar
  • Taking an ADO bus from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar

Traveling to Bacalar by car or minivan is advantageous because it’ll get you there in as little as three hours if you don’t hit traffic. They also offer 24/7 departures since they’re private transfers. On the other hand, the ADO bus is a great fit for budget travelers, and it’s about a four-hour journey.

My experience taking the ADO bus

If you’re a budget traveler, the first question on your mind is likely: Is there a bus from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar?

There is, but make sure you head to the ADO Playa del Carmen Alterna bus station, not the ADO Playa del Carmen Turistica bus station. Otherwise, unless you left enough time to take a taxi between the two stations, you’ll miss your bus and will need to buy another ticket. Ouch!

The ADO bus schedule from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar is another factor to consider since there are only a few bus departures per day. I decided to spend two nights at the lake. So, when I was looking at how to travel from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar, I chose a morning departure to make the most of my first day there.

ADO bus amenities

Unlike taking a minivan to Bacalar, the ADO bus offers larger seats with more legroom. You’ll also have access to an onboard restroom, a personal standard outlet and USB charging port, and extra-large windows for enjoying the views.

Speaking of the views, it’s unlikely you’ll find any Playa del Carmen to Bacalar bus reviews raving about the scenery. However, the highway transforms from an overly developed area to lush tropical foliage the further you drive away from Playa.

Getting your timing right: The ADO Bacalar bus schedule

There are only four ADO bus departures per day. Therefore, it’s best to book your bus tickets to Bacalar in advance since seats can sell out, especially for the morning departures.

The Playa del Carmen to Bacalar bus schedule is as follows:

Departure from Playa del Carmen Arrival in Bacalar

Your bus will make a quick stop in Tulum to drop off passengers and let new ones on (so, no, you’re not in the clear to move from your assigned seat once you depart Playa).

Vendors will walk down the aisle selling snacks and soda. However, if you’d like to purchase something else or use a real restroom, you can hop off the bus—just make it quick and let your driver know so they don’t leave without you!

Playa del Carmen to Bacalar bus prices

The ADO bus ticket from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar costs about $30 per person for the one-way ride. I recommend booking a round trip ticket if you’ll be returning to Playa since you’ll receive a discount.

Preparing for your bus arrival in Bacalar

How long is it from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar by bus, you ask? ADO says it takes 4 hours, 10 minutes, and this was about spot-on with my experience. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the drop-off location.

Since you’ll be taking the bus from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar from a large bus station complete with labeled parking spaces for the buses, it felt a bit jarring to be let off on the side of a busy highway in Bacalar. Be prepared with sunscreen or an umbrella—there’s no cover from the elements unless you run inside the nearby ADO waiting area.

Nevertheless, ADO’s bus “station” in Bacalar is a short walk from the center and lakeshore; within ten minutes, you’ll get your first glimpse of the beautiful blue colors that Bacalar is so famous for.

Taking a day trip from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar

You understandably want to see as much as possible during your time in the Yucatan, so you might be wondering— how long is the drive from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar, and is it possible to visit Bacalar in a day?

The best way to get from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar for a day trip is by private car or minivan, which will take you around 3 – 3.5 hours each way. Needless to say, it makes for a long day on the road. However, Bacalar is small, and its main tourist attraction is taking a 2-hour boat tour on the lake, so it’s technically feasible to visit it in one day.

Renting a car in Playa del Carmen is another great option, and there are many car rental facilities around 5th Avenue. Unlike in Playa, taking a car to Bacalar is easier since it offers more parking.

Regardless of how you decide to travel to Bacalar, it’s a stunning destination that deserves a spot on your Mexico itinerary.

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