Visiting Celestún, Yucatan Mexico
A visit to sleepy Celestún on the West side of the Yucatan peninsula really has only one reason, Flamingos. The sleepy town is small and secluded because it is in located in a conservation area and State park.
At the end of my grandmother’s visit to the Yucatan we finally made it to the nesting place of the Flamingos. We woke up early, packed the ice box lathered on our sun screen. I suggest taking snacks and lots of water.
If you are vegan I would take a bit of food too, like sandwiches.
There is a restaurant we ate at and got a plate of rice with fried plantains but it’s really not a full meal.
Wear your bathing suit, pack a hat, your sunscreen, a towel and shoes that can get wet.
Some Facts about Flamingos
As a tropical bird, Flamingos are world famous.
They are native to Mexico and the lower United States, as well as Africa, Asia and some parts of Southern Europe.
In Celestún you will find flamingos all year round because the babies don’t migrate their first couple of years.
You will however not see any babies as their nesting ground and their feeding ground are in two separate locations. You will only be able to see where the birds go to eat. One parent always stays with the babies while the other feeds and both parents take turns feeding the babies.
You probably already know flamingos are born white and the older they are the more pink they become.
This is because the little shrimp they eat colors their feathers over time exactly like beta-carotene in our skin except we turn orange instead of pink. It can take up to 2 years for the first pink feathers to form.
There are also 6 different species of flamingos in the world, but the Mexican birds are the most famous because they are the prettiest pink variety.
Flamingos prefer to feed in the shallow water of mudflats and lagoons because predators have a hard time navigating there.
To eat, flamingos dig up the mud or sandy bottom with their feet and eat a gulp of sediment water.
Their beaks are designed to strain out the water, mud and leave only the living animals behind.
Lastly flamingo flocks can be huge, sometimes numbering in the hundreds of birds.
Flamingos are not endangered but you should still respect them and their nests.
Do not get out of the boats or bother flamingos in the wild.
Like the girl scouts say “take only pictures, leave only footprints” we are but visitors.
What to do in Celestún
As a sleepy beach town in a protected natural reserve other than the flamingos there is a small market, local restaurants and a few hotels.
You will surely reconnect with nature here if you stay any time.
This is a place to go to relax and disconnect from the world for a while or as a quick day trip from the Yucatan capital city Mérida.
The Flamingo Tour
This tour leaves all day from 8am-5pm from two spots in town.
You will see the flamingo feeding ground, the island of birds, a swimming hole and bird watching location, as well as mangroves.
Other than flamingos there are a number of Yucatan’s other famous birds, carpenters, hummingbirds, Ibis, herons and many more. Tours in the early morning or end of the day are best for multiple bird watching but if you keep sharp eyes you can see them all day.
Mangroves are shrub trees that grow into the salty coastal flats. The flamingo feeding ground is protected by mangroves on all sides and part of the tour will take you into a mangrove tunnel. Keep quiet as you look around there will be much more than birds to see. Termites, snails, lizards also live in this rich habitat.
Two Places to See the Flamingos.
Option 1. Directly from the Mangrove
Located immediately following the bridge into the town.
This is the most common place to leave for flamingo watching.
Each boat seats 6 people and costs $1500 pesos.
If you are a small group you should try to rent with another small group.
The trip is 1.5 hours
This option is best if you are driving into Celestún, or if you already have your group.
Option 2. From the beachfront
Each boat costs $2000 pesos
The company will fill the boat before leaving and you will share the cost.
The trip is 2.5 hours because of the time on the ocean to get to the mangroves.
This option is best if you are taking the bus into Celestún.
The Best Time of Year?
Flamingos are there all year but the best time to see super pink flamingos is during the nesting season from December-February. By March the migrations start again.
Other than the “Celestún” sign now a common fixture of even Mexico town.
The centro square boasts a hotel, market and traditional church.
Directly in front of the sign is the entrance to the market and you can buy some local handmade goods.
Snacks and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Walking around the square you will see the cute little church and finally on the West side you will see the hotel.
As a beach town the beach front is more busteling than the central square.
There are a number of restaurants to enjoy as you cool off with a cocktail and a swim in the gulf.
The benefit of this beach is that few people make the trip meaning it is cleaner and quieter than most other places in the Yucatan. You can walk for a long way and enjoy the peace of the water.
Getting There and Back
Celestún is 90 km from Mérida and takes about 1.5 hours to reach by car.
The second class ADO TAME bus station (Calle 69 entre 68 y 70 Centro)
has buses that leave every day on the hour 8, 9, 10 am.
with returns every hour as well until 5 pm.