For those who do not know me: I am not a morning person - at all. Waking up anywhere before 7 AM feels just the same as waking up in the middle of the night for me. Generally speaking, I am a grumpy old man (Simone’s words ;-)) who cannot enjoy much in the earliest hours of the day.
But somehow I keep getting tricked into doing sunrise tours. Whether it’s in China, Kenya or here in New Zealand. And… I keep loving it. Unfortunately, there are very few places in the world where the sun rises late. Needless to say, I will never figure out this conundrum with myself.
So, here I was in Bacalar, Mexico, booking yet another sunrise tour, knowing that I would regret my poor choice of decision making the moment I paid the fee. But at the same time, I knew that afterwards, I would probably not stop bragging about how beautiful the tour actually was.
In this blog, you will experience me complaining and then bragging about that perfect sunrise sup on Lake Bacalar.
It was still very dark outside when my alarm went off. Tapping with one hand in the dark, I tried to find my phone and turn off the alarm as quickly as I could so that I would not wake up the others in the dorm. But that ship had long sailed. Someone in the room let out a deep sigh. I replied with a soft whisper: “Sorry”.
Silently, I climbed out of the squeaky top bunk (which is basically impossible, as we all know). I gathered my stuff, slipped on my swimming shorts and went outside. I could hear a symphony of snoring coming from the school bus outside, which was also a dormitory.
A full moon stood high in the sky and it shone so brightly that I didn’t need a torch. Everything outside had an almost magical white glow. I looked at my phone to check the time. 6:15 AM.
I still felt a bit of sleep drunk when I joined the others at the reception. There were about six people joined in the common area, some quietly chatting. The rest was just staring blankly ahead.
There was a small breakfast prepared by the hostel staff, with some fresh tropical fruit and coffee. Which was the perfect meal, as I could probably not stomach anything substantial at this hour of the day.
But we didn’t have much time to enjoy our coffee with a slow breakfast.
It was around 6:30 AM and our hyper-energetic tour-guide Juan showed up. His old pick-up truck rattled loudly as it came down the slope. Loud reggaeton music pumped out of his speakers and he happily beeped his horn twice to greet everyone. I am pretty sure that everyone in this hostel was awake by now.
About six others jumped from the back of his pick-up truck. We quickly introduced ourselves to the others and after a quick welcome-speech by Juan, we quickly headed to the waterside to get our sup-boards ready.
We all sat down next to each other on the dock, with our feet just touching the dark water. I was surprised how cold it actually was outside and the fresh breeze made it feel even cooler. All I remember thinking at this point was not to fall off my paddle-board.
Juan quickly taught us how to attach the board to your ankle (so you wouldn’t lose it if you happened to fall off) and how to keep your balance while standing. Honestly, I thought this would be quite simple. But I guess the lack of sleep and the shivering didn’t make it easier to keep balance.
We all put on our life jackets and a little head torch. And then it was time to go. One after the other hopped on their paddle-boards. First on their knees and then, very carefully, straight up.
Luckily I wasn’t the only inexperienced one. It was a truly hilarious sight, watching the first guys struggle so hard to keep the boards steady. And it didn’t take long before the first one fell off his board. And the big splash right in front of the dock got everyone else soaking wet.
That was the start sign for everyone and before we knew it, everyone was in laughter and either swimming or balancing awkwardly on their board. It took me a good three tries before I managed to keep my paddle-board somewhat balanced while standing up straight.
Eventually, most of the group was ‘officially’ stand up paddling, while some of the others continued on their knees. We took off on the pitch-black lake Bacalar, paddling into the sunrise.
Juan, our tour guide, explained some interesting facts about Lake Bacalar, as we silently drifted over the mirrorlike water. After some minutes the sky slowly started to change colour to a lighter shade of blue. Finally, we could see a bit more of our surroundings.
We paddled along small islets, full of flamingos and other colourful tropical birds. They seemed not bothered by our presence. With each minute passing, the water changed colour as well. First to a deep blue-ish tone and then to the most perfect turquoise blue waters.
Then finally, the sun showed itself above the horizon, creating an explosion of colour like I had never seen before. Everyone in our tour group, including Juan, was mesmerized by the beauty of it. We all silently sat there on our paddleboards, listening to the tropical birds; watching the sun slowly rise.
All of the misery of waking up so early had instantly evaporated when the warm sun warmed up my body.
With the sun up, the temperature instantly rose with several degrees. We slowly continued the tour, stopping every minute or so for a refreshing swim (be it on purpose or by accident).
Juan showed us some amazing places on the lake, such as Cenote Negro. A cenote is what the Mexicans call a sinkhole. Cenote Negro is a massive underwater sinkhole of 150 meters deep in Lake Bacalar, which makes it a spectacular experience to paddle over.
As you float over the hole, the water suddenly changes to a much cooler temperature and the colour goes from light blue to an eerie blue/black tone. We left our paddle-boards for a few minutes and snorkeled around the cenote and the mangroves. It made me feel somewhat uncomfortable to swim here, as you cannot see what lives inside the hole. The water is very clear but you can’t see the bottom.
Our guide told us that the several cenotes across Bacalar are all caused by shards of the same meteor that created the famous Blue Hole in Belize.
After a quick and simple lunch, we continued our tour towards the other side of the lake. Here we paddled to Pirate Island and the Pirates Canal. These places mark the dark history in which Bacalar was raided by pirates, completely destroying the peaceful town. The Spanish had built a fort (San Felipe’s Fort) in 1733 to defend Bacalar from the notorious pirates.
Here we completed this great tour and we relaxed in the shallow waters for another hour or so before returning home. And I have to say, it was truly amazing.
Turns out that waking up early pays off - I am already looking forward to my next sunrise tour.
There are multiple organization to book your sunrise sup tour with, but I can highly recommend the sustainable travel organisation Whats SUP Bacalar.
You do not need to have any experience with stand up paddleboarding. The tour guides are very patient with you and will teach you the know-how. Bring a hat and sunglasses for when the sun’s out!
Lake Bacalar is a beautiful freshwater lake with unique marine wildlife. Please respect the environment: take your rubbish with you and use eco-friendly sun lotion.
Experience one of the most magical neighborhoods in Mexico City, walk around beautiful cobbled streets. Go back in time and feel the charm of the colonial era, a neighborhood full of history, with lovely churches, monasteries and plazas. Between delicious food samples, you’ll visit cultural, religious and historic landmarks.
Meet the faces behind this program and connect with them as they share with you some of the preservation techniques they use. Glide in a kayak between lush vegetation tunnels and immerse yourself in the mangrove wetlands wildlife. Roll your sleeves up and help the new hatchlings make it to their new home.