Living Fossils in the Water
Floating along, we got a close look at the stromatolites poking out of the water. Believed to be the oldest organisms on Earth, these rock-like formations look more like coral than stone and were formed over 3.5 billion years by lime-secreting cyanobacteria. When I travel, I often let my mind wander to how I imagine things used to be, pondering what life looked like in a town or a city a few hundred or thousand years ago.
The stromatolite colonies are fragile, so tourists are cautioned against stepping on them or knocking them with a kayak. Also, sunscreen is prohibited here to protect the lagoon from the chemicals and minerals, so you need a hat and a T-shirt to avoid sunburn. We found that strap-on sandals or water shoes help you venture farther upstream more easily so you can enjoy a longer float back to the start.
When a storm flooded the Bacalar Lagoon in 2020, the water ran muddy for months, drained of all the colors that had dazzled visitors for generations. Tour boat operators packed up shop, swimmers stayed home and residents worried about the health of the lagoon. By early in 2022, the lagoon was mesmerizing once more, beckoning visitors again, though we were asked to tread lightly to preserve it for a few millennia more.
The town of Bacalar deserves the government's pueblo mágico designation. At its center is a charming, understated square lined with boutiques and restaurants. El Manatí, a restaurant that doubles as an art exhibit space, offers a shaded garden where we shared breakfasts topped with fresh avocado. In the evening, we walked to La Playita, a waterside restaurant, where we ordered a colorful tuna bowl, vegetarian coconut ceviche, taco after taco and a flatbread topped with fresh avocado — and we inhaled it all. Then we strolled down the restaurant’s dock to gaze out at the lagoon in the darkness. In the stillness of the evening, the glassy surface reflected a sky filled with stars.