Chetumal is a fabulous city to visit if you are looking to experience a little of authentic Mexico. Chetumal is not a beach town, meaning: it is not located directly on a gorgeous sandy beach. It is, however, the capital of the state Quintana Roo (pronounced “row”), which is the state that Cancun, Riviera Maya and Tulum are in. It is a pretty big city and is located only twelve kilometres from the border of Belize. Not a lot of tourists visit here which make it an even better place to travel to (but keep in mind, this also means that few people here speak English!).
To get here on this trip, we booked a cheap flight through WestJet (hello $330 taxes in!) and flew to Cancun. From the airport we picked up our rental car (a cute Volkswagen Pointer) and drove the 4 1/2 hours South to Chetumal. The drive is easy – it is literally straight down the (only) highway and the road pretty much ends in Chetumal. Just watch for the topes when driving through villages. They can be deadly on your car! Also, there is always a police road stop just outside of Chetumal. It is run by the State Police. You may be asked to pull over so they can look through your car. They are looking for drugs and guns, don’t be scared (and remember to leave those things at home before flying…). 😉
There are a number of hotel options when staying in Chetumal. When I was there last January, I stayed at the Los Cocos. It was a great hotel, very modern and beautiful but also a little pricey for us this time around. We ended up randomly finding Hotel Agres which turned out to be a great place for our stay in the city. While it was not the fanciest hotel, and yes, the piscina was not actually open – it did have hot water (love!), free wireless internet (to feed our twitter addictions!) and the price was right at only 500 pesos a night (roughly $41/night Canadian). The location was also great as the hotel was only a half block from the main street of the downtown core which is called Avenida Héroes.
Every town in Mexico has it’s specialty when it comes to shopping and for Chetumal it seems to be clothing. Good cheap clothing and shoes can be bought every in the Centre. There is also a good market, great restaurants and the lovely Mayan Cultural Museum. When we visited the museum, there was a youth choir and band performing. Loved that. Just across the Belizean border there is a Duty Free zone for shopping. To get there, you can take a taxi to the Belize border and from there, take a shuttle to the shopping zone. If you are not interested in buying clothing, though, I do not recommend going.
One of my favourite things about Chetumal is the waterfront, particularly the food that you can eat there. Every town and city in Mexico is usually built around a square. This is where everyone goes socialise in the evenings. For Chetumal, their “square” is actually down at the harbourfront at the end of Avenida Héroes. Here, you can eat marquesitas. I sometimes dream in marquesitas. They are a delicious treat that you can only find in this area of Mexico so you must indulge when you go. They are basically a crispy crepe filled with Edam cheese. You can also get things like cajata and Nutella put in them. For me, I prefer them straight up with only queso. If you walk East along the waterfront you will run into a bunch of great restaurants and bars. I recommend pretty much all of them. Hello margaritas! 🙂
There are Mayan ruins located a few kilometres from Chetumal near the town Calderitas. The ruins are called Oxtankah (pronounced “osch-tank-ah”). When we went, we were the only people there, besides the person working at the visitor centre. Most of the signs are only in Spanish and the cost to see the ruins is about 30 pesos. It is hot there and you will get sweaty from walking around so don’t forget your (bottled) water! The cool thing about visiting Oxtankah is that you have free range to walk about, this means: you can climb the pyramids (take that Tulum!). Of course, you must remember:
Less than a half hour drive from Chetumal is Bacalar. Tell any Mexican that you are going to Chetumal and they will tell you that you must visit Bacalar. It is known as Laguna de los Siete Colores – the lake of seven colours. And it is true. If you do not have a car to drive here, there are cheap taxis available. There is a taxi stand located in Chetumal for taxis that just drive to Bacalar so ask for it. The lake looks like the ocean but it’s a fresh water lake. It is seriously gorgeous. Here you can eat and swim and kayak. There is a good flow of people walking around selling snacks throughout the day – I love the banana chips and mangos. I recommend going to what I consider the main gate in Bacalar (I believe it is at the end of the street number 28) and hanging out there. There is a great restaurant with the best garlic shrimp plus there are tables and umbrellas. You will be asked to pay for the use of a table (about 50 pesos) and when you enter through the gate, a man will come out to collect money. I believe that it was about 50 pesos for the two of us plus the car. Totally worth it for a relaxing day in the sun.
There is another lake that is even closer to Chetumal than Bacalar and that is Laguna Milagro. On this trip we went there specifically to kayak around the islands and it was awesome. Laguna Milagro is smaller than Bacalar so the paddling is easier; well at least I think it is. 🙂 The cost for the use of the kayak was 50 pesos for an hour. When you go to Laguna Milagro, look for the Gringo Dave’s sign and drive on in. It is a great place and the owner is super friendly. He rents out cabins there for only 350 pesos a night (or 450 pesos for the deluxe ones that have a walk out to the lake).
I found this video that shows Gringo Dave’s:
P.S. Some photo credit for the images in this post goes to Mr. Brad Ferguson.