Travel destinations are like (potential) lovers: Sometimes you’ve been flirting forever, while others just appear out of nowhere. Some need to grow on you, for others you fall hard right away… love truly is a mysterious thing!

During a quite spontaneous and wonderful trip through Quintana Roo and Yucatan, Mexico it happened – I spotted sparkly, turquoise water and a stranger’s smile through the bus’s dusty windows and just knew it: this one would win my heart, inspire my soul. Bacalar, El Pueblo Mágico – what a suitable name for such a color – a joyful little town, nestled into the lagunas of Bacalar, around half an hour away from the coast. A place full of gorgeous nature, art and history, a pirate ship and the friendliest folks.

The lagunas look like a child got overly excited about its new set of paints and wanted to make sure to use every possible shade of blue. Surreally puffy clouds dance around in the skies above the water and all kinds of bushes, flowers and trees add green, red, pink and white splashes to the picture-perfect scenario. It‘s not hard to spend a happy day here.

Or more.

We move into a small Airbnb not too far away from the lake. The garden is full of coconut palm trees, the best view to wake up to with a cup of coffee and a fresh papaya the size of my head (huge). I feel very grateful.

We rent bikes, my favorite way to get around. Mine is mint and matches my dress and the pastel-colored houses around us. We‘re riding up and down the soft hills along the shore. The smell of fried onions mixes in with wet leaves, warm asphalt and mosquito repellent. I soak it all in, want to remember well. Eventually I have to stop the bike, because of a big turkey crossing the street. A young brownish dog gets scared, starts to whine. The plumed creature makes quite an impression. A group of school boys are giggling. The turkey stays unimpressed, continues his journey.

We stop for breakfast at Manatis, a colorful art space and cafe in the heart of the town. I feel at home right away, admire some local artists’ beautiful works, the big tropical garden and tasty menu. Turns out I got a new favourite dish: Sikil Pak, a traditional Mayan dip, made out of roasted pumpkin seeds, onions and tomatoes. The friendly waiter proudly explains how to recreate it at home. I will.

We continue our discovery tour, ride all the way to Los Rapidos, the streams that feed the lagoons. I did not know the water could get even more turquoise. I have a swim and a margarita (vacation mood on!), watch big shoals of silvery fish. They look so joyful.

It starts to rain. Friends and families gather under giant umbrellas, share drinks and smiles. After ten minutes the rain stops and a rainbow appears. El Pueblo Mágico indeed. The peaceful warmth inside makes up for the damp clothes on our way back to the center.

Despite being a small town, Bacalar knows how to impress culinarily: Mango Y Chile, the next stop, is loved by locals as well as tourists and perfectly merges the love for traditional Mexican and Mayan food culture with a modern approach. The food is all veggie and the hot sauce selection gives me goosebumps. There’s no way to not try the Mayan salad and burger, it’s hearty, earthy and very tasty. I fall for the pickles. The view down from the patio onto the laguna is priceless. Kids and dogs are playing at the lush green slope, while the skies slowly turn pink.

I walk down to the water for another swim and to admire the pastel gradients above the water. The sun slowly sets, while the moon rises and a dozen stars start to pop up. Oh mama earth!

I drink on her health. La Playita is right at the shore, a bunch of colorful chairs and hammocks are nestled into a tropical garden on a plank. The wine is chilled, like the vibes – the perfect place to end this beautiful day. I spot a vegan coconut ceviche on the menu and get excited for my return (spoiler alert: quite rightly!)

We‘re strolling back home, stopping on the big plaza in the center of the village. I always loved those nightly gatherings in Southern regions when the heat has disappeared and the towns re-awaken. There‘s a cultural festival happening, dressed up locals are gathering around a little stage, little kids are clapping their hands in excitement. The host is announcing a local dance group and a bunch of women in gorgeous, folkloric dresses appears. My obsolete Spanish skills help me understand that the next dance is called “the witches”: Las Brujas. It‘s very dramatic, emotional and insanely gorgeous…

I go to bed, count my blessings. And new freckles. I’m falling asleep with a big smile on my face.

All images Tabea Mathern