Celestun is a small beach town in Mexico’s Yucatan province where you can relax on the beach, explore the Ria Celestun mangroves, and potentially see thousands of flamingos all in the same day (an amazing experience that makes our list of the best things to do in Mexico).
In just five minutes, this quick guide to Celestun will give you all the information you need to make the most of your trip!
I’ll first go over all the awesome things to do in Celestun, from visiting Celestun beach, to taking a boat tour of the Ria Celestun Biosphere (where you can watch flamingos).
I’ll also show you a quick video I made of my first trip to Celestun, so you can get a sense of what it looks like there. Lastly, this guide will cover practicalities like how to get to Celestun, where to stay if you need a Celestun hotel, and when to visit Celestun.
Oh, and before you go be sure to check out these 17 Insanely Useful Mexico Travel Tips!
Let’s manage expectations up front: Yucatan state doesn’t have the most spectacular beaches in Mexico. You won’t find the same blue water and white sand that you would in, say, Tulum (I mean, just check out these aerial photos of the Tulum beaches).
With that said, there are a lot of reasons to visit playa Celestun, which I actually prefer to Progresso, the more popular beach option for those doing a day trip from Merida.
Celestun beach is nice and wide, so there is plenty of space to find your own little patch of sand.
Playa Celestun is also westward facing, which means that you can watch the sun set over the water here (not possible in most other Yucatan beaches).
Moreover, the town is small enough that there are plenty of free parking spaces near the beach. Plus Celestun offers a sizeable but not overwhelming number of beach restaurants and shacks serving up freshly caught seafood.
So, sure, the beach in itself isn’t going to win any awards for the most gorgeous beach in the world, but its a quality and relatively crowd-free option if you’re in the area.
Plus, you can combine a trip to the beach with a tour of Celestun’s biosphere!
[affiliate disclosure: if you book a hotel or tour through the links on my page, you help keep this blog going at no cost to you]
The beach isn’t the only reason to visit Celestun! In fact, the most popular thing to do in Celestun is to visit the excellent Ria Celestun biosphere reserve, where you can explore mangroves, look for crocodiles, and visit enormous concentrations of flamingos!
What can you expect to see on a Celestun tour? I’ll go over that in detail below, but if you’re a visual creature you can instead watch this quick three minutes video that I put together about my first trip there:
Looks like a fun time right?
Here’s how to do it yourself:
Visiting the flamingos of Celestun requires taking a boat out into the mangroves that dot the tidal estuary of the Ria Celestun.
If you prefer to have everything arranged for you, you can sign up for a tour of Celestun from Merida here with Viator.
While touts on the beach sometimes offer boat tours that leave directly from Playa Celestun, the faster option is to drive or catch a taxi back out to the entrance of the town.
The dock where you can catch the boats is located just south of the bridge between the mainland and Celestun, on the town side. You’ll see large signs for the tourist information center. There are bathrooms and a few little shops where you can pick up supplies.
There is also a ticket window where you can arrange for your boat tour.
You have a couple options here:
Though the boats rides are annoyingly expensive by Mexican standards, I do think they are worth it. For more information about visiting the Celestun biosphere, see here.
The top attraction in Celestun is definitely flamingos!
But it’s important to remember that the flamingos that live in the Ria Celestun migrate between here and Rio Lagartos (another popular day trip from Merida, Mexico).
So the best time to see flamingos in Ria Celestun is when they are in season, roughly between November and March, with January and February being the best months.
There are flamingos scattered about the estuary, but your boat driver should know where to find the largest concentrations of them. We were taken to an inlet housing probably close to a thousand flamingos!
Flamingos aren’t the only birds in the biosphere reserve though. You’ll like see egrets, frigates, and array of different avian life. There is even a stop at “Bird Island,” which is filled with hundreds of what I think were either egrets or pelicans (watch the above video to see for yourself!).
While the flamingos are of course the highlight of a boat tour through the Celestun biosphere, the surrounding shallow mangroves are worth exploring in their own right.
Your boat will take you on a brief tour of the mangroves. Pay close attention and you might just spot a crocodile or two!
You will then will likely stop at Ojo de Agua Baldiosera, where you can get out and walk around a short boardwalk fronting a little swimming hole (bring a swimsuit if you want to take a dip).
Pro tip: apply insect repellent before taking the tour, as there are TONS of mosquito in the mangroves!
If you go to Celestun, here’s some quick practical information to make the most of your trip:
There are numerous tours to Celestun on offer from central Merida. Here’s one option for a tour of Celestun that you can book online.
If you prefer to organize your own transport, you can really take some time to soak in Celestun beach and the town.
If you have a car (which can usually be rented for about $40 USD for the day from Merida), it’s a straight shot along a decent highway to drive to Celestun. Plus, there is plenty of parking both near the beach and at the entrance to the preserve.
Or if you prefer public transportation, you can take a public bus from the corner of Calle 67 and Calle 50 in Merida (leaving on the hour from 6 am to 4 pm). The cost is 70 pesos each way and the trip will take 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
The best time to view the flamingos is between November and March (especially January and February).
But Celestun playa can be visited year round, and the beach can make for a good break from the hot summer Yucatan sun!
If you have an extra night or two, you can stay on the beach to watch the sunset, then overnight in town.
There are a number of gorgeous homes that you can rent quite affordably in Celestun via Airbnb. And if it’s your first time using Airbnb, you can get $40 off your first booking with this link!
If you prefer a hotel, here are a couple options:
Castilito Kin Nah – One of the better reviewed hotels in the town itself (rooms from $75 US/night).
Hotel San Julio – A budget option just one minute by foot from Celestun beach (from $25/night).
You can use the below search box to search for hotels in Celestun for your preferred dates:
Note that Celestun doesn’t have much in the way of hostels, so if that’s your scene I suggest staying in Merida at the excellent Nomadas Hostel.
And as long as you are in Merida, I highly suggest taking a trip to check out the wonderful colonial city of Vallalodid, Mexico!
That’s it for this quick guide to Celestun! I hope you enjoy the beaches and get to see lots of flamingos. If you have any questions, or just want to share your experience in Celestun, Mexico, then scroll down and please leave a comment!
And if you are headed to Mexico, be sure to check out my article on whether you really need travel insurance for Mexico.
Oh, and if you’re on Pinterest, you can pin this here:
Nate Hake has traveled to 65+ countries across six continents around the world and blogs about his travels at TravelLemming.com. He is from Denver, Colorado, and recently concluded a six month stint living in Mexico.