Full disclosure: this post is not full of pink flamingoes. But that doesn’t mean it’s not full of beautiful pictures, and a couple of flamingoes.
We’ve left Yucatán after spending an incredible week exploring some of its many beautiful places and spending a fantastic last day in Campeche (in the neighbouring state) and a great New Year’s Eve. Even though we’re gone from Yucatán, I still have a lot of stories and pictures to share about the many places we visited, and that hopefully, you’ll get to visit one day too. One of those places was the coastal town of Celestún.
The reason why there’s not so many flamingoes as I wish there were is because of the time of the year, but Celestún is a lot more than its flamingo-full biosphere reserve.
Celestún is a fishing town located in northwestern Yucatán, notorious for the yearly flamboyance (I love that word) of flamingoes that invades the ría’s shallow waters. It is also a hotspot for octopus fishing and for photographers from all over the world, showing off its beautiful lighthouses and its historic Hacienda, as well as its tropical and colourful streets.
So what do you do for a day in Celestún? Take a short walk around the coast’s streets. You are guaranteed to find a curiosity or two, and lots of beautiful, colourful pictures. The sun is always shining and the heat can be overwhelming, but a quick dip in the ocean’s water should do!
On the beach, which is very beautiful, the water is still and mirror-like, and you can find pretty little beach carts with souvenirs.
For lunch, we ate at a place called La Palapa which is a very distinctive orange building right on the beach. There are two palapa’s, the other one is called Los Pampanos, both very recommended and we actually separated into two groups and divided ourselves between the two restaurants. I ate at the former one, which is more tourist-y and air-conditioned, and the food was delicious although I wouldn’t have minded a table by the beach. If you eat at La Palapa I personally recommend trying the crab claws and the octopus in its ink!
And for the most important part of spending the day in Celestún: go on a boat tour to the reserve! You can do this in one of two ways: the first is to go on the official government-sponsored tours, or get a boat ride from the beach. We chose the latter out of recommendation because the tour is a little bit longer and you get to see some places that the official tour does not take you to.
Even when it’s not the prime of flamingo season, the boat ride is a lot of fun. Make sure to take the tour in the morning or at the earliest hour possible so you get to see the birds and have guaranteed entry to the marshes before the tide rises.
The boat ride is a lot of fun, but perhaps most stunning of all is the amount of birds you get to see. Several different species (we were told up to 200 different species) gather on the beaches, as well as in the shallows of the water and on sticks that pop out of it. The water is so shallow that the boats can’t slow down or they get stuck in the sand.
I wasn’t able to take lots of pictures of the birds because we were moving really fast and I’m still working on my camera skills since I’ve never owned a camera before, but there were some truly beautiful sights, like on our way back when there was a flock of cute grey birds standing on about two dozen sticks that popped out of the water in a circle, as though they’d been arranged by someone. Also, at one point when we weren’t going really, really fast, I was busy getting bird poo off me. I can now say that I have been pooped on by a bird, and that it was really gross but also really funny.
The best part of the boat tour for me was when I thought we were going to die. Now, don’t get scared off, we weren’t even near close to dying but here’s what happened: take me, a spectacled, 5’3 girl and put me in the back of a boat with a bunch of tall people in front of me. I was looking out the side of the boat because,
- I could not see in front of me for obvious reasons.
- All the action was at the sides.
So with my view blocked by the people in front of me and the boat going at high speed, I see we are approaching a wall of plants and trees and I immediately start going into overdrive: Aren’t we going too fast? He’s not going to have time to make the boat turn, we’re gonna crash into this tree. And just when I’m waiting for the loud thud, the wall opens into a beautiful marsh and we are navigating in Celestún’s wetlands.
It was breathtaking, going from what felt like a really cool high-speed boat chase, to this calm and quiet drifting between the trees and the giant marsh roots.
We got to make a quick stop to see the two ojos de aqua in the reserve, which are natural fresh water springs that emerge from the underground and that visitors can swim in. The rest of the water is not dirty, as you may think from the red tones but that’s actually due to the heavy rains affecting the algae that inhabits the ría. After the stop at the springs, you take another boat ride back to the beach.
And what better way to end a beautiful nature-filled day than with a beautiful sunset at the beach?