Celestun Mexico: Your 2023 Insiders Travel Guide

Celestun Mexico is a charming fishing village situated on the Yucatan peninsula’s west coast. Its pristine white-sand beaches, crystal-clear aquamarine waters, and quaint seafront eateries capture the hearts of all those that visit. 

But the real piece de resistance, and most people’s raison d’etre for visiting Celestun Mexico is the breathtaking Ría Celestún biosphere reserve. The reserve sits just 1.5km outside of Celestun town.

Opting to visit the nature reserve comes with the opportunity to sail through the mangroves, and get up close and personal with several majestic species of animals in their natural habitat. Most notable of all, are the famous Celestun flamingos.

Things to do in Celestun Mexico 

Celestun sits 107km east of the Yucatan capital of Merida. It is possible to visit the area on a day trip to see the Celestun flamingos and relax on the paradisiacal beaches, or you can opt to stay overnight and explore the area at a more relaxed pace. 

Visit the Ría Celestún biosphere reserve

Celestun Mexico
Celestun Mexico

Approximately 35,000 flamingos call Celestun Mexico home during the winter. They stay here from November to April during the mating season before heading east. 

If you decide to visit the Ría Celestún biosphere reserve, you can witness them in their natural habitat, along with some of the 1,150 species of birds and mammals that reside in this region. Crocodiles, herons, turtles, and hundreds of varieties of endangered birds are among what you can see when you visit.

The Ría Celestún biosphere reserve is a UNESCO world heritage site and it was inscribed as such in 2004. Even if you don’t consider yourself a bird-watching aficionado, there is just something special about coming here. 

Celestun Mexico combines it all – birdwatching, beaches, nature, and cenotes. It is one of the must-see sites of the Yucatan. When you arrive at the biosphere reserve entrance (marked as Parador Turístico Celestún on the map), you will need to hire a boat to sail you out into the marshes and mangroves. 

Hiring a boat at Celestun 

Celestun Mexico
Celestun Mexico

There are a lot of tour companies and hawkers at the Celestun reserve entrance and some charge exorbitant rates. Make a beeline directly to the boat rental ticket office and hire your boat from there. 

It is important to note that the boats accommodate 8-9 people and the cost is calculated per boat, not per person. It is 1800 pesos per boat and the same amount will be charged whether there are 3 of you or whether there are 7 of you.

HOWEVER! You will often find a lot of groups of tourists loitering around the kiosk also hoping to rent a boat. The best thing to do is to speak to other travelers and get a ragtag group of people together until you have enough to fill the boat (i.e. 8/9 people max). 

That way, the cost works out much more economical. 1800 pesos divided by eight of you works out at just 225 pesos a head. 

As you queue, you will likely get approached by toots and tour guides trying to sell you their services. They will explain the biosphere reserve, its ecosystem, and the characteristics of the animals that you see, in more detail.

But you need to be careful here. Some guides charge extortionate rates so you will need to liaise with the tour guide until you come to a price that both parties are happy with

If you are concerned about animal welfare when participating in experiences, you can feel assured that Ría Celestún is a nature reserve. Protecting the animals and their habitat is a priority for the staff here. 

The boats take you out across the water to see the famous Celestun flamingos. However, they maintain a respectful distance and do not scare, approach, or disturb the birds in any way.

Explore the abandoned Hacienda Real de Salinas

The eerie and abandoned Hacienda Real de Salinas sits at the end of an unnamed road, some 5km south of Celestun Mexico. It is located just over the Campeche state border and is only really accessible by car. 

Once upon a time, a locally known and respected family from Campeche used the Hacienda Real de Salinas as their summer home. Like many haciendas, Real de Salinas was used for production. 

The site used to produce dyewood and salt. The hacienda lies in ruin, its roofs and ceilings long gone and only its pastel-colored outer shells remaining. 

Perhaps most somber of all is the roofless chapel which still contains some of its original azulejos (tiles) and frescoes. If you are renting a car in Mexico and have access to a vehicle, it is easy enough to find the hacienda by putting its location in Google Maps. Keep in mind that the final portion of the route leads you along a dirt road. 

Learn the ghost stories behind Hacienda Real de Salinas

If you inquire about Hacienda Real de Salinas around Celestun town, locals will tell you some spooky stories around its demise. Apparently, its residents were ousted from society – to the extent that those in Celestun town would not even serve them at stores.

There is much debate about the events that led to the haciendas’ downfall. However, in the end, an elderly couple were the only remaining residents. 

The man passed away and it would be a few years until his wife followed suit in 1975. Apparently, men from Celestun traveled to the hacienda, couldn’t find her, and eventually found her on the floor, deceased, with an expression of horror on her face. 

Thus, started the stories that something in the house had caused her passing. Local legend has it that if you pass through the quiet woods close to the house, you can still hear her screaming, unable to move on to the next plane of existence… 

Enjoy traditional Yucatecan cuisine in the town center 

A quick lunch at restaurant Nicte Ha
A quick lunch at restaurant Nicte Ha

There are plenty of great places to grab a quick bite to eat while you’re in Celestun Mexico. You will find something here for every budget and culinary palate. 

While in the Yucatan state, you should absolutely consider ordering up some Yucatan food delicacies to try. Restaurant Nicte Ha (C. 10 108, Centro), right on the main square, is a good choice for typical Mexican and Yucatecan food. 

They are open all day so you can stop by in the morning for your huevos rancheros or in the early afternoon for some quesadillas with fresh avocados. The establishment and its menu offer non-pretentious, affordable good food. 

La Palapa (12 105, Benito Juárez) is a seafront eatery that is widely regarded as being one of the best in town – at least where fresh seafood is concerned. Your go-to dish should be the coconut-coated shrimp served in a coconut shell. 

Some of the tables here are set right on the beach and perched in the sand. This is a wonderful place to watch the sunset or enjoy an afternoon stroll along the beach while you wait for your food to be cooked. 

La Playita (Calle 12 No 99) is a casual seafood restaurant. At first glimpse, this place looks like nothing to write home about. 

La Playita appears as just another beachfront eatery with plastic tables and chairs laid out haphazardly by the Malecon. However, some of the freshest and best quality seafood in town can be found here. 

Here you have the assurance that anything you order has been caught fresh in local waters that same day. The ceviche is arguably La Playitas’s signature dish. Wash it all down with an ice-cold Mexican beer. 

Watch a a majestic sunset over the Gulf of Mexico 

Celestun Mexico is arguably one of the best places to watch the sunset in the Yucatan. The beaches here are not quite like those on the Caribbean side of Mexico but they certainly have their charm and beauty. 

Get to Playa Norte or Playa Sur Celestun in the late afternoon to capture incredible photos during golden hour and sunset. Sit and watch as the sky above turns from blue to orange to pink. 

Both beaches are also nice places to relax during the day. Several beachfront businesses let you rent a sunbed and a thatched beach umbrella for the day for just a few pesos or a minimum spend at their restaurant.

Alternatively, you can pack a beach towel and lie upon the sand. Vendors stroll up and down the waterfront selling chicharron and ice-cold coconuts – perfect for when you need a refreshment. 

Getting to Celestun Mexico 

Celestun beach
Celestun beach

It is relatively easy to get to Celestun Mexico from the Yucatan capital of Merida. Arguably the cheapest and most convenient option is to take the bus or take a day tour. 

Take the bus from Merida to Celestun

Celestun flamingo tours are offered by a number of reputable travel companies that operate within the Yucatan area. They include pickup and drop-off from your hotel/accommodation and can take a lot of the stress out of working out the logistics of your trip. 

Get Your Guide offers a Ria Celestun biosphere reserve tour. The tour includes all transport, boat rides, and admission. 

You will swim at Celestun beaches within the nature reserve and get up close and personal with the wintering pink flamingos.

You will have an expert guide on hand to answer any questions you may have and the tour is available in both Spanish and English. Click here for more information.

Driving from Merida to Celestun

Car rentals in Mexico are available from around $30-$40 a day. It should take around an hour and a half to drive from Merida to Celestun. 

Take the bus from Merida to Celestun

Autobuses Oriente operates a direct bus that takes you straight from Merida to Celestun. It departs almost hourly from Mérida Noreste station (Calle 67 x 50 y 52 # 531 Colonia Centro CP 97000 Merida).

The current timetable is as per the below. However, keep in mind that this may be subject to change. 

  • 05.00 am

  • 06.00 am

  • 08.00 am

  • 09.00 am

  • 10.00 am

  • 11.00 am

  • 12.00 pm

  • 13.00 pm

  • 14.00 pm

  • 15.30 pm

  • 16.30 pm

  • 17.30 pm

  • 18.30 pm

  • 20.00 pm 

You can purchase your ticket from the ticket office inside the small station. You can’t miss it – lookout for the small kiosk labeled TAQUILLAS. 

The cost is $56 pesos each way. You can also purchase a ticket directly from the driver on board.

Officially, the bus should take two hours from Merida to Celestun. However, it does make a lot of stops to pick people up before departing Merida and then stops at several villages en route to Celestun.

So, you might find that the journey takes anywhere between 2 and 3 hours. If you are only visiting Celestun Mexico for the day, try to leave Merida as early as possible. 

The return bus from Celestun to Merida runs at equally frequent intervals. It departs 

Take a cab from Merida to Celestun

If you prefer the comfort of taking a cab from Merida to Celestun, a one-way journey should cost you between 700 and 1,000 pesos. You may be able to agree on a rate with a local driver for them to give you a tour or to wait for you and then take you back to Merida in the evening. 

If you decide to do so, it is always polite to tip and/or purchase your driver’s lunch while they wait for you. If you want to take a local cab, have your hotel concierge/Airbnb host organize it for you. 

That way, you minimize your risk of being ripped off. If you try to hail a cab on the street or from taxi ranks, they may try to charge you exorbitant rates because they assume that as a tourist you do not know the correct prices that things should cost. 

Another alternative is to use an app like Uber or Didi. Didi is the Mexican version of Uber and the prices here are slightly more competitive. 

Keep in mind that prices offered on these apps fluctuate depending on the demand for a taxi at that point in time. Some drivers may not want to head all the way out to Celestun and so it may take you a while to find a ride. You usually cannot find drivers in the Celestun Mexico area so you will need to make alternative arrangements for your return to Merida. 

Parting Words 

Celestun Mexico
Celestun Mexico

Have any questions about visiting Celestun Mexico, seeing the Celestun flamingos, or planning a Yucatan itinerary in general? Feel free to reach out via the comments below. 

You may also want to consider visiting the UNESCO-protected biosphere reserve at Rio Lagartos in the Northern Yucatan. Rio Lagartos similarly offers boat tours through mangroves and ample birdwatching opportunities.

I will do my best to get back to you ASAP. Safe travels! Hasta luego! Melissa xo 

Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer based in Merida, Mexico. She has produced written content for several high-profile publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, the Huffington Post, Rough Guides, and Matador Network.