Celestun is a secluded fishing village with a beautiful white sandy beach well known for its vast flamingo population. If you travel to Merida and want to see something different than the Mayan ruins sites, cenotes, or old colonial buildings, a Celestun self-guided day trip from Merida should definitely be on your list.
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Best Time to Visit Celestun
Flamingos and other birds migrate throughout the year, but you will find them in Celestun between November and April. If you travel during those months, a Celstun self-guided day trip should be on your list. By March, the migration starts over and they’ll be soon gone.
How to get to Celestun on a self-guided day trip from Merida
RENTING A CAR. You can get to Celestun by rented car, a common way to visit the Yucatan peninsula. The rental prices are low, and they usually include insurance. The drive takes no more than 1 hour30 minute, and the road is pretty good.
BY BUS. Daily, four buses leave from Noriente terminal in Merida, located at the intersection of Calle 67 & Calle 50. Go early morning, at 6 am, or 8 am, as the drive takes almost 3 hours. Take the bus back to Merida from Calle 13 between Calle 4 & 6 in Celestun. Buy eighter a return ticket, or only a one-way ticket and decide later how to return to Merida.
BY COLECTIVO, our favorite way of traveling in the Yucatan Peninsula. You can find the Colectivo parking area in Celestun, near the bus station, and they usually depart 15 minutes before buses do.
How we did it. We wanted to travel by Colectivo to Celestun, but our information regarding the departure station was not correct. So we went by bus to Celestun and came back via Colectivo. Next time, we’ll make sure to rent a car, since it will give us more free time to enjoy the beauty of this place.
As soon as you recognize the Catholic Church(Iglesia Católoca) in Celestun, you’ll be able to find the bus/Colectivo station as well.
How to plan the Boat Tour
The main attraction in Celestun is the motorboat tour to see the flamingos and the mangrove forest. There are two alternatives to getting the boat:
Going on a boat tour from the bridge
Just before you reach Celestun, the road passes a small bridge. Make a quick turn to the left, and you’ll see the parking lot. From here, you can embark on a motorboat tour to see the flamingos. It’s the authorized boat parking lot, closer to the flamingo area, which makes this tour shorter but surprisingly costly. If you are short on time, choose this option; just make sure to ask the bus/Colectivo driver to stop here; otherwise, you will have to walk back around 1.5 kilometers.
Going on a boat tour from the beach
Once in Celestun, leave the bus station and head to the beach. You will see many motorboats waiting here. The tour takes around two hours and drives you through a beautiful lagoon to the flamingo area. The boatmen do not speak English but don’t you worry; there is no need for translation.
TIP. Usually, the prices are per boat, so for a more cost-effective experience, ask others to join your boat tour or wait for other tourists also interested in a boat ride. We asked some tourists traveling on the same bus with us from Merida to share a boat with us, and we split the bill.
We passed the beautiful coastline, and after 20 minutes, we reached the flamingo area. We were amazed by the number and the beauty of the flamingos. The color of these birds was so vibrant, and they looked so relaxed. The colors appear from the shrimps they consume, but it takes up to two years for the youngsters to turn pink. The boatman slowed the boat down and let us enjoy the silence for another 20 minutes—such a joy to be here and watch them in their natural habitat. Besides flamingos, we witnessed other birdlife, too: herons, egrets, cormorants, pelicans, and spoonbills.
The Mangroves Forest
After observing the flamingos, the boat slowly made its way into the mangrove forest. We were suddenly in a completely different world, so we left the boat and walked on a wooden walkway to get deep inside the thick mangrove forest. After that, we reached a spring pool, but no one from our group was brave enough to swim. We hoped to spot an alligator but had no luck at all. After that, we headed back to the boat station and ended our 2 hours tour.
Explore the Village
After visiting the flamingo area, you still have plenty of time to explore the village. If you are hungry, there are a few nice restaurants with fresh seafood. Though, if you pack your lunch, go on a picnic on the beautiful white sandy beach.
Take some time to see how the locals live and what Celestun village looks like; simply indulge in the atmosphere. Walk around the main square, and you will notice the beautiful Catholic church and some small shops. You can rent a bicycle taxi from the beach to take you through the village, for a small price.
Taste some ice cream from the man selling it on the streets near the beach before heading to the bus or Colectivo station. It will be simply delicious!
Overnight in Celestun on your self-guided day trip
Another option would be to leave Merida around noon and arrive in Celestun late afternoon. Get a boat tour about this time of the day. The sun is lower on the horizon, and you will have more vivid colors of flamingos and water. The only downside is that the chances of sharing the boat with other tourists are limited. There are plenty of B&B’s and hostels to spend the night over; just look for them on booking.com.
What to Bring to Celestun
- bring your binoculars and zoom lenses
- wear a hat or a scarf
- bring a swimsuit if you are brave enough to take a swim in the spring pool
- pack a lunch and go on a picnic on the beach
- bring insect repellent and sunscreen
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