Chetumal

Quintana Roo, Mexico


In all honesty, I don't know anybody who goes to Chetumal for anything else but a trip to Belize. An old city of the Maya (meaning 'Place of the Red Wood') is now the capital of Quintana Roo state. It is an important port and you basically go there because they have a ferry service to Belize (a new bus service is just being agreed).


The Chetumal ferry terminal is modern, like the rest of the city

The Chetumal ferry terminal is modern, like the rest of the city

The current port was established in 1898. Because of its location on the Caribbean coastline, it is vulnerable to cyclones and the last two in 1955 and 2007 damaged the city, so the current town is at first sight pretty young and not historic.

The seafront boulevard.

The seafront boulevard.

In reality, one can see another original Maya town of Oxtankah but it is situated 16 km north of the current city. Even in ancient times it was a sea trading town.

Oxtankah ruins.

Oxtankah ruins.

During the 1840s revolt of the Maya against Mexican rule, known as the Caste War, many Hispanic people from this region left and settled in British Honduras (modern Belize) so the town's link with Belize is historic.

I came here in March 2017 with my friend Eva from the Estrella Caribe Czech travel agency, taking some clients to the ferry from Playa del Carmen.

Outside the ferry terminal the sign welcomes you to Mexico.

Outside the ferry terminal the sign welcomes you to Mexico.

It takes four hours to get to Chetumal from Playa but one can break the journey. We stopped twice. The first stop was in a small village where on the road the locals had stalls with fresh pineapple juice (also chunks ready to eat).

On the way to Chetumal, stopping by a village stall for fresh coconut water and pineapple juice

On the way to Chetumal, stopping by a village stall for fresh coconut water and pineapple juice

For lunch we stopped at Bacalar village. There are plenty of restaurants in Bacalar and we chose to eat in Baluartes on the lake shore, to get the lake view.

The lake view from the restaurant Baluartes.

The lake view from the restaurant Baluartes.

The fortress itself is fun so this gives the long journey an element of adventure and breaks the monotonous ride across the jungle. It was built to protect the village from pirates in the 17th century.

The Museum of Maya Culture, on my return visit for the clients. It was Monday and the museum was closed.

The Museum of Maya Culture, on my return visit for the clients. It was Monday and the museum was closed.

We left Playa del Carmen at 7am and we had enough time to see the fortress and have lunch there and still manage the ferry to Caye Caulker leaving at 3.30.

On the entry to town, along the highway, we saw straightaway the statue of its local hero Gonzalo Guerrero. He was shipwrecked in 1511 on the Yucatán Peninsula and was taken as a slave by the local Maya. Earning his freedom, Guerrero became a respected warrior under the local Maya Lord Nachan Can and married his daughter Zazil Há. He fathered the Americas' first mestizo children. He refused to help Hernán Cortés a few years later in his conquest of Mexico and died defending the Mayan town.

Gonzalo Guerrero, his wife Zazil Há. and the first mestizo children

Gonzalo Guerrero, his wife Zazil Há. and the first mestizo children

Arriving in town, we could not see any signs for the ferry so we were heading for the city centre. The town looked pretty crisp and clean as we passed the Museum of Mayan Culture.

The Museum of Maya Culture, on my return visit for the clients. It was Monday and the museum was closed.

The Museum of Maya Culture, on my return visit for the clients. It was Monday and the museum was closed.

It is said to be an excellent museum and one day I want to return here just for that visit. To do this, it is best to stay overnight.

Outside the Museum of Maya Culture. Opposite the museum is the town's market.

Outside the Museum of Maya Culture. Opposite the museum is the town's market.

The stone sculpture outside the museum. Here we can also spot Gonzalo Guerrero (on the right).

The stone sculpture outside the museum. Here we can also spot Gonzalo Guerrero (on the right).

We then had to turn back to the ferry terminal. I was impressed by the bay's spacious esplanade.

The town's esplanade, one of the icons.

The town's esplanade, one of the icons.

Another icon on the waterfront tells us: 'Here begins Mexico'. Well, it is true.

Mexico indeed begins here if you are coming from Belize.

Mexico indeed begins here if you are coming from Belize.

The sea colour by the terminal is pretty turquoise, almost kitsch

The sea colour by the terminal is pretty turquoise, almost kitsch

If you are travelling by ferry, you will need to allow about one hour for the check-in process. The journey takes an hour and a half but the ferry stops at San Pedro for an hour where they process the entry visas so in essence you will arrive three hours later.

The return ticket to Caye Caulker was 120 USD (2017 prices). They do not accept any card payments so prepare to pay in cash (either in US or Belize dollars or pesos). There are also other fees involved, such as 500 pesos both on entry and exit and 20 US dollars when leaving Belize. It is not clear what these are for. Tax, visa?

There are two companies running the service: Belize Water taxi and Water Jets International. They alternate every second day so in essence you can catch a ferry any day of the week and neither is better than the other.

Belize Express was closed when we arrived as it operates every second day.

Belize Express was closed when we arrived as it operates every second day.

The marine soldiers with dogs will see you off (and welcome you back), a rather scary sight but nothing to worry about if you don't have drugs on you.

The soldiers use a trained dog for sniffing drugs in people's luggage.

The soldiers use a trained dog for sniffing drugs in people's luggage.

The ferry to Belize.

The ferry to Belize.

My clients did not have their tickets reserved and there was no problem in getting on board, but if you are a larger party, you may not be lucky, as the ferry is really small, it takes only about 30 people. There is only one ferry per day at 3.30 (going back it will leave Caye Caulker at 7am).

I recommend coming at least one hour before departure to get your tickets. You can then relax and have a cup of coffee at the terminal café upstairs (which is rather stylish).

The terminal café upstairs has nice views of the bay. It is open only in the afternoons. On our visit in the morning when collecting the clients arriving from Belize, it remained closed.

The terminal café upstairs has nice views of the bay. It is open only in the afternoons. On our visit in the morning when collecting the clients arriving from Belize, it remained closed.

Mix & Match:

You will have to come to Chetumal if you want to travel from Mexico to Belize. Otherwise it is best to combine with a stay at Mahahual beach or Bacalar lake.

Sources:

1. Oxtankah Mayan city

2. Gonzalo Guerrero