After spending a few days in the beautiful walled city of Campeche, it was onward to the sleepy beach town of Celestún. Soon after arriving we scored a very nice, yet inexpensive, ocean-view room. Which was surprising because our January visit supposedly high season. Yet the small beach town of Celestun was rather empty.
We had the beautiful beach entirely to ourselves!
At about $30 a night, we couldn’t believe what a bargain it was. Our room even had a balcony with an ocean view! Celestun’s little hotels maybe some of the least expensive beachside hotels in the world.
The particular hotel we stayed at no longer exists in Celestun. But the deals are still around! Check prices and availability at beachfront Hotel San Julio.
Anyhow, we came to Celestún not to chill on the beach, but because it is where you’re supposed to be able to see flocks of wild flamingos. We had read conflicting reports on the Internet and guidebooks of what the best time of year is to be able to see the flamingos in Celestun. We thought our mid-January trip could turn out to be a botched excursion.
Update: November to March tends to be the best time of year to see flamingos in Celestun in high numbers. But there are flamingos in Celestun year round.
So after a late lunch of locally caught grilled fish and a quick stroll on Celestun beach, we ventured out in hopes that we’d still at least see a few lingering flamingos.
After arriving to the boat docks of an inland lagoon, the guides said they would take us out for $1,500 pesos for a 1.5 to 2-hour flamingo boat tour. It seemed like quite a high price for the Celestun flamingo tour. But we soon learned the price would be $1,500 pesos total for the entire boat which fits seven people.
So we decided to wait around in order to share the cost. Unfortunately, no one else came. The town was quite empty of visitors. Nearly all the restaurants were closed.
The boat guide guaranteed us that we would see flamingos. But with a nearly vacant town, we were skeptical. As it was starting to get late, we decided to try again first thing in the morning when flamingos tend to be more active.
It was a good night sleep at our little beachfront hotel, with the subtle sounds of the ocean lulling us to sleep. We were dreaming of flamingos. And the next day, our dreams would come true!
Shortly after returning to the docks on the next morning, we quickly found a few other travelers looking to split the cost of hiring a boat for the Celestun flamingo tour. Perfecto! And so we were off!
After only a few minutes riding into the lagoon, blurs of pink began to come into focus.
It was flocks of flamingos in the water. There were hundreds of them! The flamingos were all feeding on the marine life in the shallow waters below, not more than a foot or two deep at most.
Our guide lifted the motor and was able to maneuver pretty close to these beautiful birds.
Surely you’ve seen flamingos in zoos before, but it was entirely different seeing them out here in the wild.
Then out of nowhere another flock of hundreds of flamingos came soaring from the distance right over our heads. It was a magical sight! Their black-tipped wings spread out wide and their long necks were stretched out front, as they all flew so uniformly together following one another.
Their flight pattern was like water flowing down a stream.
That’s when it hit me what a unique sight this was.
All of the flamingos we had ever seen before in zoos and in captivity, all had clipped wings.
Not here in Celestun. It was flamingos in flight!
We proceeded deeper into the lagoon. Pretty soon the hundreds of flamingos were in the thousands.
Then the flamingos seemed to multiply. There was no way to count them all, but we’d estimate there could have been tens of thousands. So many flamingos!
There were flocks of flamingo everywhere and more continued to fly in from the South. Perhaps we got lucky, but our first-hand experience during January was nothing short of fantastic. The plethora of flamingos we continued seeing everywhere far surpassed any expectations we had.
Our boat continued out of the lagoon and into a mangrove forest tunnel.
Then we came upon a natural spring amongst the mangrove forest in which we got out of the boat for a few-minute walk on a boardwalk to view the spring and take a dip if we wanted.
Those mangroves and the natural spring were interesting.
But it was Celestún’s flamingos that completely stole the show.
If You Go: Celestun Flamingo Boat Tour
💲Cost: The 2-hour Celestun flamingo boat tour costs $1,500 pesos per boat. But you can split that cost with up to 6 other people since the boats fit 7 passengers total. You’ll have a chance of paying as little as $215 pesos per person if there happens to be the perfect amount of other people to join you on the boat. But this is not a popular tour. So there is a real possibility that you may arrive at the boat docks and find no one else there to split the costs.
📅 Best time of year to go: The winter months, December through March, generally tend to best time of year to encounter flamingos in large numbers. Yet flamingos can be found around Celestun year-round, so don’t hesitate to go during other time periods. Visitors regularly report seeing over a hundred flamingos, even during the summer months. That all said, this is nature. So migration patterns can change.
📍 Where to go: The docks for the boat tour are well sign-posted, on the left, about 1.5 km before you reach Celestun’s beaches. Here is the exact location of where you can catch the boats for the Celestun flamingo tour: on Google Maps.
How to Get to Celestun Mexico
🚗 Self-drive from Merida to Celestun: For those who are comfortable driving, it’s possible to rent a car from Merida and drive to Celestun. From Merida, it’s about a 90-minute car ride westbound on Highway 281.
🚌 Bus from Merida to Celestun: You can take a bus to Celestun from Merida’s Noreste bus terminal on Calle 50 at 67. The bus departs hourly from 5:00 am to 8:00 pm. The cost is $56 pesos each way. If visiting only for the boat tour at the Reserva de la Biosfera Ría Celestun, ask the bus driver if he can drop you off there. Otherwise, you’ll be dropped off near the beach and will need to backtrack by walking (or take a taxi) 1.5 km to the boat docks at the Reserve.
🚐 Celestun Day Tour from Merida: There are many Celestun tours you can book that will pick you up directly from your hotel, including an English speaking guide, take you to the beach, and of course the boat ride through the Celestun River Biosphere Reserve to see the flamingos. This Celestun Flamingo Tour on Viator ($72 USD) currently provides the best value we’ve seen from Merida, as this is one of the few tours in the $70 range that includes the boat tour and lunch. For perspective, here are some other Celestun tours from Merida, although we find them to be overpriced:
- also on Viator ($79 USD, meal not included)
- on GetYourGuide ($79 USD, meal not included)
- Wayak Tours ($99 USD, meal not included).
Where to Stay in Celestun, Mexico
If you want to stay overnight in Celestun, we recommend the beachfront Hotel San Julio. This budget-friendly motel has spacious rooms, is right on the beach near the center of town, and has prices starting at only $30 per night – incredible value! Search Hotel San Julio for availability on your travel dates.
More Yucatan Adventures
To see more of what we found to be the best eco-adventures, ruins, and beaches throughout the Yucatan, be sure to check out our big detailed travel guide: The Best 15 Day Trips from Merida Mexico.
Continue reading here: Best Yucatan Adventures