Up-and-coming hot spot Bacalar Lagoon in Mexico’s Quintana Roo state is one of the underappreciated beauties of the Yucatan peninsula. Known for years to Europeans and decades to national tourists, this tiny, lakeside town is just starting to take off in a truly international way. This means that new hotels and tourism infrastructure (tours, excursions, transportation) are burgeoning in this tiny corner of the world, and yet, the area remains isolated enough that it’s still reasonably priced and not completely overrun with tourists like its neighbor to the north, Cancun.
One of those newcomers is the Vlandre Hotel in downtown Bacalar, opened last year by Mexico City native Andrea Arroyo and her partner Vladimir Azpiroz. “Downtown” might give a larger impression of Bacalar than what it is. This tiny town’s dusty roads snake through little brightly colored houses and seem to converge on the single principal thoroughfare that runs along the edge of the lake with lodging, eating, and swimming options on either side.
Vlandre has the luck of sitting on the far side of that road, across from the town’s nature preserve that buffers the edge of the lake from the town by a few hundred meters. The hotel’s view will never be threatened by a skyscraping hotel that pops up in front of it. Instead, you can lay in a hammock on the rooftop bar and peer out at the leafy jungle green that surrounds it, with the water’s edge a hint of blue beyond.
Eight rooms are clustered around a central patio in the back of the building, each with a queen or two full-size beds. They are moderate-sized rooms with TVs, air conditioning, and a decorative motif that recalls the surrounding nature – sinks cut out of yellow onyx, bamboo sink spouts, lots of wood and natural coloring. While rooms are nice, you don’t come to Bacalar to sit inside. More than likely you will find yourself either on the lake, hanging out in a hammock in the backyard of Vlandre, or taking a local tour.
Arroyo and her partner offer paddleboard tours of the stunningly blue and pristine Laguna de Bacalar where you can get a sense of the local ecosystem, see some cenotes (sinkholes) and even get close to some of the world’s oldest organisms, the stromatolites, which are colonies of bacteria growing in the lake that look like rock mushrooms sitting just below the surface. They also give kayak tours and can recommend some other eco-friendly activities for enjoying the lake. Because Bacalar’s Lagoon is such a fragile ecosystem, woke hotel owners are trying their best to keep the lake and its inhabitants as safe as possible from us destructive humans.
To that end Vlandre urges its guests not to go into the water with commercial sunscreen or other creams or perfumes on. They offer biodegradable shampoo and soup from dispensers to reduce single plastic waste and they have a rainwater catchment system, solar water heaters, and source much of their produce for the hotel’s restaurant from a local organic garden.
Vlandre also has an attached smoothie and sandwich bar next door called Papaya Maya, with a cool hangout spot on the second floor (more hammocks of course) that doubles as a yoga studio several days a week so guests can Zen-out on vacation.
Even though the hotel’s Wi-fi is free and available, internet service throughout Bacalar can be spotty. Get prepared for digital detox and lots of real conversations with friends and family. By this time next year Vlandre is planning to have Bacalar’s first-ever specialty coffee bar up and running right on site – a sorely needed addition to the town’s delightful culinary offerings. There are a handful of great little spots to eat including the extremely popular Enamora Bacalar, the food truck Mi Burrito, and one of Arroyo’s favorites, Mr. Taco. There are even a few local breweries (one just down the street from Vlandre) that sit right on the water’s edge – a better view with a brew you couldn’t ask for.
Upcoming for Vlandre are three, two-bedroom luxury cabins with kitchenettes under construction as we speak, as well as a small swimming pool. Rooms currently on offer are $65-118usd a night (includes taxes and breakfast) depending on the season, reserving directly with them will give you a small break on the price.
This hotel has a great location in one of Mexico’s most undiscovered, yet beautiful locations. If you haven’t been to Bacalar, now is the time go.