Celestun Yucatan is a gorgeous coastal town in the northwest part of the Yucatan state, close to the border with Campeche state. Its stunning beaches boast translucent azure waters and soft powdery white sands where you can enjoy some of the most spectacular sunsets on the peninsula. However, the main draw of traveling here is to see the famous Celestun flamingos at the Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve.
Celestun makes for a popular day trip from the Yucatan capital of Merida, especially between November and April when tens of thousands of North American flamingoes flock here to mate. You can experience the highlights of the area in a day, but if your schedule allows, there are plenty of nice hotels here where you can stick around a little longer.
You are in good hands here because I live in the Yucatan capital of Merida and have made the journey out to Celestun several times.
Things to do in Celestun Yucatan
Most people’s raison d’etre for visiting Celestun is for the chance to see the flamingos but there are plenty of other highlights in the area.
Visit the Ría Celestún biosphere reserve
The Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve is one of 12 protected nature reserves in the Yucatan and a place that has been given UNESCO World Heritage status since 2004. It sits just 1.5km outside the center of town, straddling the borders of Celestun and Maxcanu.
These wetlands, mangroves, and rainforests are home to over 1150 species of birds, as well as other wildlife like crocodiles and turtles. Many of the birds found here are endangered or indigenous to this region.
Of course, the Celestun flamingos are the start of the show, and every winter more than 35,000 flamingoes set up home in the warm waters of the reserve before heading eastwards towards El Cuyo and Las Coloradas.
Taking a Celestun boat tour
When you arrive at the Ria Celestun Visitor’s Center, you can board a little wooden boat with a local guide and sail out into the waters to see the flamingoes and other animals and birds in their natural habitats. (Our guide steered the boat alarmingly close to a huge crocodile so that we could take photos right beside it – no thanks!)
The boats generally get close enough to the flamingoes so that you can admire them and take photos while still maintaining a respectful distance. It also makes a couple of other stops around the reserve too – there is a (crocodile-free!) cenote in the mangroves, as well as a wooden boardwalk where you can walk through the rainforest admiring the scenery.
If you book a guided Celestun tour in advance, the boat tour will be organized for you but if not, you can easily just rock up to the port as there are plenty of boats. As of 2024, it costs 1,800 pesos (Circa $106 USD/£83.50) per boat and the boat accommodates up to 8 people.
There are usually plenty of other travelers waiting at the port so even if there are just a few of you, you can easily find other people to split costs and share the boat ride with.
There are also tons of wild yet friendly mapaches (raccoons) that hang out near the visitor’s office.
Watch the sunset from Celestun beaches
From the Ria Celestun reserve, it is a 30-minute walk into town and to the beach which is fine during the winter months but a little much in the summer. If you don’t fancy the walk, there are always plenty of moto-taxis around.
Yucatan state beaches are massively overlooked in favor of beaches along the Caribbean Coast of Mexico and in the Riviera Maya but they are also pretty stunning. In Celestun, you will find two beaches that sit beside each other – Playa Sur and Playa Norte.
The sea is calm and clear and perfect for swimming and snorkeling and while the beach can be busy at weekends when locals are off work, it is usually pretty quiet. Tons of restaurants and bars here let you rent sunbeds and serve all manner of Yucatecan and seafood delicacies beneath charming thatched palapa huts.
The Muelle de Celestún pier is a particularly nice place to watch the sunset as the sky is illuminated in hues of pink and orange.
Explore the abandoned Hacienda Real de Salinas
If you are into the macabre or eerie/alternative things to do, you will enjoy visiting the abandoned Hacienda Real de Salinas which sits at the end of an unnamed road, some 5km south of Celestun Mexico.
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, and the site produced dyewood and salt.
Unfortunately, the hacienda fell into abandonment and locals will tell you many legends and ghost stories about its demise. Apparently, its residents were ousted from society – to the extent that those in Celestun town would not even serve them at stores.
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…
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.
Explore the spectacular ruins of San Joaquin, Campeche state
Just outside Celestun across the border in Campeche state, you will find the ruins of the old, abandoned colonial San Joaquin hacienda. This place is very scenic and almost looks as though it has been designed for Instagram.
It awaits at the end of an unmarked dirt trail and the adjacent beach is gorgeous. There is rarely a soul around, although you may see the occasional flamingo or pelican flying overhead and diving for fish in the nearby waters.
Check out the Pedro Infante Museum
If you are familiar with Mexican culture, you might have heard of Pedro Infante. He was a Mexican actor and singer from Sinaloa who starred in a lot of movies during the “Golden Age” of Mexican cinema and his old movies are still beloved today, even by younger generations of Mexicans.
(My Mexican partner loves him and we often drive around listening to his music). Infante loved the Yucatan state and spent a lot of time here.
Unfortunately, he also passed away here after the light aircraft he was flying crashed in Merida in 1957. The Pedro Infante Museum in Celestun (there is also one in Mexico City) contains many personal effects and items owned by the late singer and tells the story of his life and achievements.
(Note: Do double check it is open before visiting as it was closed for a period due to economic reasons).
Indulge in regional cuisine
Celestun doesnt have the same number and variety of restaurants as places like Progreso or Cancun but there are still a few great options. Head to Restaurant Nicte Ha (C. 10 108, Centro), right on the main square for typical Mexican and Yucatecan food.
This casual eatery is 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. For seafood, head to La Palapa (12 105, Benito Juárez).
The coconut-coated shrimp served in a coconut shell is not to be missed, and the atmosphere here is great as some of the tables here are set right on sand offering fantastic sunset views. La Playita (Calle 12 No 99) is another place for fresh, quality seafood. They are locally known for their cerviche which is pretty good.
How to Get to Celestun Mexico
It is pretty easy to do a Celestun day trip from Merida and to a lesser extent, it isnt too difficult to get here from Campeche. Renting a car during your time in Southeastern Mexico will make your life a lot easier as there are many places around the Yucatan that are tricky to reach without a vehicle.
If you feel uncomfortable driving here for whatever reason, you can opt to take the bus or do a guided tour, though in my experience, the bus ride often takes much longer than scheduled so you need to be prepared for a longer journey. The Tren Maya train is finally up and running along the Cancun to Campeche route and will eventually stop at nearby Maxcanu once the station is completed.
Driving from Merida to Celestun
My partner and I own a car here in the Yucatan and it makes everything a lot easier. I would strongly recommend renting a car in Merida if you are confident enough to do so.
You can rent an economy-sized car here for around $30-$40 a day including full-coverage insurance which doesnt really work out any more expensive than purchasing multiple tour/bus tickets if there are a few of you. I recommend checking out Discover Cars because they allow you to compare and contrast quotes from various different providers.
The roads in the Yucatan are well maintained and generally in excellent condition to the extent that you will probably find that driving here is not that different to driving in the US. It should take around an hour and a half to drive the 104km to Celestun along México 281.
Take an organized Celestun flamingo tour
Numerous reputable tour companies operate in the Yucatan and offer Celestun flamingo tours. Most 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, a visit to the Celestun beaches, and the chance toget 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.
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 – look out for the small kiosk labeled TAQUILLAS.
The cost is $56 pesos each way which is less than $3USD. 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 Hunucma and several villages en route to Celestun so in my experience, it has often taken closer to 3 hours.
Try and leave Merida as early as possible. The 8am bus should get you to Celestun between 10 and 10.30 and allow plenty of time to take a boat tour, visit the beach and grab some lunch.
Hire a private driver to take you from Merida to Celestun
You might be able to agree a rate with a local driver in Merida to have them take you to Celestun but you will need to organize the journey in advance. You can ask for recommendations of local drivers in the Merida expat Facebook groups or have your hotel call a trusted cab for you.
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.
Uber works in Merida, as do other ridesharing apps like Indrive and Didi but in my experience, drivers are not usually interested in doing impromptu long distance journeys and even if you try and pre-arrange an Uber, they have a tendency to cancel.
Where to Stay in Celestun Yucatan
Celestun has changed a lot over the last couple of years and while accommodation in the area was once very limited, many more tasteful, boutique properties are starting to open up in the area.
You can definitely explore the town and its nature reserve in a day but it’s worth staying here overnight if you want to break up the journey back to Merida/the Riviera Maya, or while on your way to Campeche City. The great thing is that a stay here doesnt have to break the bank, with many properties costing just $50 a night for a spacious King/double room.
Villa Gabriela Celestun
Villa Gabriela Celestun is a gorgeous, recently-opened property set just 500m from the beaches of Celestun beach in the heart of the downtown area. Its simple, yet tasteful rooms and suites are set inside a hacienda-style property complete with a courtyard and scenic gardens, and the on-site restaurant serves an excellent menu of American and Mexican classic cuisine.
Guests are welcome to rent free bicycles for exploring the town and its surroundings, and all of the rooms are equipped with air-conditioning, free wifi, complimentary toiletries and flat screen tvs. Click here to review the latest room rates and availability.
Cabañas Cinco Elementos
If you want a unique accommodation experience, you can consider booking a stay at the Cabañas Cinco Elementos – adorable, independent thatched bungalows right beside the beach. The cabanas have been decorated in a bohemian Tulum style and contain all the amenities that you may need.
This property also offers bicycle rentals and the breakfast options are delicious. You can review the latest rates and availability here.
Hotel San Julio
Hotel San Julio offers simple yet cosy accommodation right on the beachfront in Celestun so you can wake up, roll out of bed and head straight to the beach each morning. Double rooms start from around $50 per night.
FAQs about Visiting Celestun Yucatan
Do you have any further questions or concerns about visiting Celestun Yucatan? I have answered a couple of FAQs below that I hope you will find useful but if you still have more questions, feel free to reach out to me.
Is it worth visiting Celestun?
Celestun is worth visiting if you love bird-watching and nature, you have a rental car, or you are passing through the area anyway as part of your wider Yucatan itinerary. However, it is a bit out of the way (in the far west of the Yucatan state), and getting here by public transport takes several hours each way from Merida.
My personal opinion is that if you are basing yourself in Merida, Valladolid, or somewhere else more central in the Yucatan, there are far better day trips that you can take than Celestun. Beach towns like San Bruno, Telchac Puerto, and Chuburna are more scenic, while pueblo magicos like Mani and Tekax over more things to do. It depends on how much you want to see flamingoes.
Can you swim in Celestun?
Yes. You can swim in the water at the beaches of Celestun and the temperatures are pretty good all year round.
The water on the Gulf of Mexico is pretty calm and there is no strong undercurrent or waves or anything like that so even children can safely swim here.
How do you see flamingos in Celestun?
The best way to see flamingos in Celestun is to take a Celestun boat tour at the Ria Biosphere Reserve. That way you can see them in their natural habitat, as well as tons of other cool birds and animals.
Sometimes, you might also see flocks of them just flying randomly overhead toward Sisal which is pretty cool.
Final thoughts on visiting Celestun Yucatan
Celestun is a very popular place to visit in the Yucatan but personally, I think that there are many more much better options unless you specifically have a keen interest in seeing flamingos and birdwatching. I think that the reason it is so popular is largely just because the Yucatan state is a bit of an unknown for a lot of people who are not aware of all of the tons of other interesting things that you can do in the area.
Depending on your planned itinerary, you might also want to check out Rio Lagartos in the northern part of the Yucatan state. It is more off-the-beaten-path but is another great place where you can see flamingos and other birds and take a boat tour and since it sees less tourists, for now it is also much more budget friendly.
Please dont hesitate to connect with me via social media, email or a comment below if you have questions. As I mentioned, I live here in the Yucatan and I am always happy to chat.
Safe travels and enjoy Mexico. Hasta Luego! Melissa xo