This park, which encompasses a long estuary, was developed with ecotourism in mind—although most of the alligators for which it and the village were named have long since been hunted into extinction. The real spectacle these days is the birds. More than 380 species nest and feed in the area, including flocks of flamingos, snowy and red egrets, white ibis, great white herons, cormorants, pelicans, and peregrine falcons. Fishing is good, too, and the protected leatherback,
hawksbill, and green turtles lay their eggs on the beach at night.
You can make the 90-km (56-mi) trip from Valladolid (1½ hours by car or 2 hours by bus) as a day trip (add another hour if you're coming from Mérida, or 3 hours from Cancún). There's a small information center at the entrance to town where Carretera 295 joins the coast road to San Felipe. Unless you're interested exclusively in the birds, it's nice to spend the night in Río Lagartos (the town is called Río Lagartos, the park Ría Lagartos) or nearby San Felipe. There's little to do except take a walk through town or on the beach, and grab a meal. Buses leave Mérida and Valladolid regularly from the second-class terminals to either Río Lagartos or, 10 km (6 mi) west of the park, San Felipe.
The easiest way to book a trip is through Restaurante La Torreja, where you can also eat a delicious dinner of fresh seafood. Call ahead to reserve an English- or Italian-speaking guide through their organization, Ría Lagartos Adventures (986/862–0403, www.riolagartosadventures.com). This boat trip will take you through the mangrove forests to the flamingo feeding grounds (where, as an added bonus, you can paint your face or body with supposedly therapeutic white clay). A 2½-hour tour, which accommodates five or six people, costs $75. The 3½-hour bird watching tour costs $90 (both per boat, not per person). You can take a shorter sunset trip for $50, or 4-hour photography trip for $120. The night tour in search of crocs takes 2½ hours (one to four passengers, $90). You can also hire a boat ($20 for 1 to 10 passengers) to take you to an area beach and pick you up at a designated time.
Be aware that mosquitoes are known to gather at dusk in unpleasantly large groups in May, June, and July. So bringing along some spray to fend them off might be a good idea.