by Lydia Linton Pontius (Feb. 2011)
Photos by Alexandra Bradley and Hotel Laguna Bacalar's archives
South of the Riviera Maya and inland from the Costa Maya is a huge lake known for its seven colors of blue. This lake, with a series of small rivers and smaller lakes, connects to Chetumal Bay which borders Belize. It is a gorgeous lake and if you have never been there it is well worth the trip.
There are a number of stores, shops and restaurants to visit in the town of Bacalar, as well as an old Spanish fort. Just south of the lake, and near the Hotel Laguna Bacalar, is Cenote Azul.
I first visited Hotel Laguna Bacalar (watch video) 10 years ago when we stopped for lunch. The décor and feel of the place have intrigued me ever since. I have been back to Bacalar with ViDAS for their first clinic there but never got back to the hotel. It was a must for this trip.
How does one describe this place? It is expansive, built in tiers coming up from the lake, with a number of winding paths and stairways, making several rooms more isolated than they would be in a regular hotel. There are docks and a diving board into the laguna as well as a nice pool. There were once three different bars: one on the roof of the hotel, one on the water, and the largest next to the pool and restaurant.
The building is painted white so it really stands out against the green of the grass and trees and the varied blues of Laguna Bacalar. In the restaurant the ceiling is completely plastered with seashells. All along the walls you will find colorful, quaint tiles with Spanish quips and quotes. There are amazing details everywhere you look.
We checked in and were given one of the smaller rooms in the main hotel. It was extremely basic but very clean, with no air conditioning but lots of windows, a fan and its own private balcony. We saw some of the other rooms closer to the water and several had air conditioning. All of the rooms have views of Laguna Bacalar. The hotel is built so that every seat in the restaurant and every room takes in the beauty which surrounds it.
The manager was busy when we arrived, but arranged to meet us in the morning to tell us the story of this unique property. We settled in, walked around, took some photos and videos, relaxed on our balcony and, after a gorgeous sunset, decided to try the restaurant for dinner. With a view like this we saw no reason to venture any farther. The food was fine. We do think this place could reclaim some of its past glory if they worked on it, but this evening it appeared that mostly hotel guests were dining there.
The next morning we met the manager, Ana Laura Peña San Roman, and had a lovely time hearing the history of Hotel Laguna Bacalar. It was as fascinating as we had imagined. At one time it was a fabulous destination resort, full of important, beautiful people, sipping cocktails from the three lively bars, attending barbecues, and dancing the night away, with music and laughter filling the air. It's almost as if you can still hear faint echoes from those fun-filled days. From the first time I visited, I had this image of a throw-back to days in Cuba, with Hemingway frequenting the bars, or the Rat Pack sipping martinis by the pool.
The true story is that Don Carlos Gutiérrez of Mérida built this place as a private retreat in 1972, about the same time Cancún was in its infant planning stages. Don Carlos would arrive by private seaplane and oversee construction. As the years went on, he expanded the property as it became more and more of a popular place for his friends and associates to come. People came from all over Mexico, including foreign dignitaries and businessmen.
The parties were known for being impressive, with great music, the finest tequila, Cuban cigars, beautiful women sunbathing during the day while the men went fishing or on hunting expeditions, and, in the evening, guests dressed to the nines. Most arrived through Chetumal by plane or boat, while others landed by private planes which tied up at the dock.
This was Don Carlos' pride and joy and, when he got older and found it was time to retire and find a new person to care for his beloved Hotel Laguna Bacalar, he took his time and interviewed many people. It was important to him that the property be maintained and upgraded but never lose its original appeal. He found the person in the owner/manager of Papaya Playa in Tulúm. Plans are underway to start some renovations; we wish them the very best and look forward to future visits.
We recommend this resort for an alternative to the beach. There is so much to see and do in the area; there are even local tours with overnight kayak/camping trips. The location is spectacular and it would be the perfect resort for a romantic getaway or a large function. If money were no object I would rent it out, throw a party to overshadow the ones of old, with folks flying in and landing at the dock! I fell asleep dreaming of those days and what they must have been like.
Don Carlos Gutiérrez