Chetumal is the capital of Quintana Roo, Mexico and is located in the jungle of southeastern Mexico at the end of the Mayan Riviera. It wasn’t until after 1970 that Chetumal began to get noticed as a tourist destination. Prior to that, it had been recognized only as the very important trading center and border crossing with Belize. Chetumal also represents the starting point of the undeveloped Costa Maya strip, which picks up where the Mayan Riviera leaves off and ranges the entire strip of shoreline between Chetumal at the northern end and Belize City at the south end.
While the city is rich in Mayan history, visitors to Chetumal will not find the abundance of old-world streets or quaint wooden structures reflecting a Mayan village so often found in other parts of Mexico. Chetumal’s location, on a huge bay off the Caribbean coastline, leaves the city wide open to raging tropical storms and hurricanes. Chetumal has been subjected to at least four powerful hurricanes – 2 of which leveled the town in the 1940’s. Then Hurricane Janet, a Category 5 tropical storm, packed its punch in 1955 and devastated the town for a third time. The town’s leaders began to rebuild using the more stable concrete blocks (in the town proper, anyway) rather than in the style of the wooden structures that had easily tumbled in the powerful storm. When Hurricane Dean, another Category 5 tropical storm, came through Chetumal in 2007, its impact on the town was not as great due to the new building material. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, highways were built linking Chetumal to the rest of Mexico. The population in 1950 was about 5,000 people, today it has reached nearly 150,000 residents.
Today, even as Chetumal is surrounded by jungle, it has all the amenities of any large city. A large city that still reflects the culture and history of the Mayan people. It’s also still an important port for the region, serving as the northern gateway to Belize and Central America and as a major trading center between Belize and the rest of Mexico. Goods are transported via a road connecting Chetumal with Belize to the south, also via coastal merchant ships.
Museum of the Mayan Culture (Museo de la Cultura Maya)
Considered the largest and most comprehensive museum in the state dedicated to the Mayan culture, this museum displays a collection of authentic Mayan relics, and visitors can explore the development of Mayan culture, its origins, and aspects of their daily life.
Bacalar Lagoon (25 mi. north of Chetumal in Bacalar)
Bacalar lagoon, known as the "lagoon of the seven colors” is a huge clear, freshwater lagoon known for its beautiful, changing shades of blue. Water activities are plentiful and include a virtual paradise of windsurfing, sailing, waterskiing, sailing, and fishing. Milagros, Xul-Ha, and Guerrero are other lagoons worth visiting in southern Quintana Roo.
Cenote Azul (also in Bacalar)
Surrounded by the jungle, Cenote Azul is thought to be the deepest sinkhole in the world. This cenote is more than 295 feet deep, and filled to the top with cold, fresh water! Swimming is allowed, but for obvious reasons, life-jackets are advised, and absolutely keep children away from the water's edge. Changing rooms are available. It’s a festive place, with parrots, toucans, agoutis, spider monkeys, and other native wildlife on display beside the steps leading to the cenote. Restaurants in the area serve regional cuisine.
Hotels and Restaurants
Chetumal is quiet, tropical, and far removed from the built up tourist areas of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Yet, the city has hotels and restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets, running from quaint little inns to 5-star luxury hotels. Dining has the same sort of range, and visitors will find everything from the typical Mexican fare, to fresh seafood, to menus influenced by Chetumal’s Belizean neighbor.
Flying in to Chetumal International Airport is an easy option. Another nearby airport is Cozumel Airport. From there visitors would take the Cozumel Ferry to Playa del Carmen, where they could either board a bus at Playa del Carmen’s bus station, or rent a car to take them the rest of the way to Chetumal.
As a tourist destination, Chetumal, has grown over the last few years and continues to grow. Tourists may find Chetumal as the perfect base for visiting Mexico’s incredible beaches, lagoons, cenotes, and archaeological sites.