Chetumal is the capital of Quintana Roo in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. It is located on the Bay of Chetumal, a sheltered inlet of the Caribbean Sea at the mouth of the Rio Hondo. This bay, together with the Rio Hondo, forms the border between Mexico and Belize.
Laying by the border of Belize, Chetumal is much more than a mere travel hub between Belize and Mexico. It offers many, but greatly and fortunately unattended tourist attractions. Recently, efforts have succeeded in making the city more appealing to tourists. English is farily generalized, whereas Spanish happily coexists with Maya, Criole, Lebanese Arabic and an impressive set of the growing multinational population of the City. There is a bit more than 260,000 Chetumaleños. The City of Chetumal is, both, the capital of the Free and Sovereign State of Quintana Roo, and the capital of the Municipio (County) of Othón P. Blanco. Othón P.Blanco is the only Municipio of México, that has land borders with two nations (Belize and Guatemala), thus sharing this characteristic with the state of Quintana Roo.
The city is officially founded by the military, in 1898, who had the mission of protecting the borders finally (after more than 50 years of disagreements) accorded by the governments of Mexico and Great Britain. A lot earlier, it had been a Mayan realm governed by Nachan Ka án. He was given two Spanish slaves, one of whom was Gonzalo Guerrero. Guerrero assimilated to his new society, learned the language and taught new war tactics to Nachan Ka án's warriors. With this knowledge, the warriors defeated incoming Spanish conquistadors and Nachan Ka án became a great leader. He made Guerrero a captain and gave him one of his daughters, Zazil Há. Guerrero and Zazil Há had many children who are known to be the first mestizos in America by matrimony. For this reason Chetumal is called Cuna del Mestizaje (cradle of the Mestizo).
Chetumal Airport (IATA: CTM) offers a limited selection of flights to major cities in Mexico. It is also possible to fly into airports across the border, in Belize, and cross by land into Chetumal. Another option is to fly into Cancún or Merida and take a bus from the airport.
Mexico's Federal Route 186 traverses the sparsely populated southern half of the Yucatán between Escárcega and Chetumal. After Ucum, the only municipality with services such as gas and lodging between Escárcega and Chetumal is Xpujil. Federal Route 307 branches off Route 186 to the north towards Cancun, from a point about 30 km west of Chetumal.
Several bus companies offer routes across the Peninsula to Escárcega, or north to Cancún and other cities on the Mayan Riviera. The main bus terminal, i.e. ADO terminal, where most buses arrive to is located about two kilometers north of the city center (in the crossing of Av. Insurgentes and Av. Belice). There's an official taxi stand right outside the terminal, and a taxi to the center costs about 20 pesos.
If you're arriving from Belize, your bus might arrive to the New Market (Nueva Mercado). New Market is located about two kilometers northeast of the center, in the corner of 2do. Circuito Periférico and C. Veracruz.
San Pedro Belize Express has air conditioned boats leaving Caye Caulker at 7AM & San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, Belize to Chetumal daily at 7:30AM Tickets cost $30US, one way and $55 US, round trip. The boat returns from Chetumal at 3:30PM The terminal is located on the pier infront of Wahoo's Bar and Grill in San Pedro, in front of the basketball court in Caye Caulker, and from the Municipal Pier in Chetumal. Tickets can be purchased online at their website. For reservations or further information kindly email them at email@example.com
- The Museum of Mayan Culture (Museo de la Cultura Maya), Av. Héroes, in the corner of Mahatma Gandhi. Tu-Th, Su 9-19, F-Sa 9-20. Get to know the importance of the Yucatan peninsula's Mayan civilization, see many sculptures and scaled down versions of temples and palaces. Learn about the Mayan principal economic activities and how they are carried out while discovering the Mayan numerical system. You can also learn and use the Mayan calendar.
- The Fine Arts Cultural Center (Centro Cultural de las Bellas Artes), Av. Héroes, in the corner of Chapultepec. Tu-Su 9-19. Located within the walls of the antique Belisario Dominguez school. Inside you'll find an open air theater, an art walk and the Chetumal museum. There's also a dance school, music school and the institute of culture.
- Boulevard Bahía (By the sea shore). About a 3 km long walk by the sea. Many restaurants and bars, the governal palace and park, and many sculptures. The board walk ends at the sculpture of the manatees but the road continues to village of Calderitas
- Calderitas (6 km north of Chetumal). A fishing village with many seafood restaurants. If feeling adventurous, get in by the cheap and crowded communal ride that leaves next to the Mayan culture museum.
There are many archeological sites near Chetumal and they're relatively close to each other. The ones below are open 8-17 daily, admission only until 16:20. Bring a lot of water and some snacks with you as many of the sight stores are not always open. A mosquito repellent doesn't hurt either.
- Oxtankah (7 km north of Calderitas). A maya city which includes small temples, palaces, plazas etc. about a kilometer from the bay line.
- Kohunlich (65 km east of Chetumal). Famous for its grand stone carved masks and exotic species of flora and fauna. The temple of the masks was built on the 6th century and is one of the most noticed amongst the Mayan culture.
- Dzibanché (75 km east of Chetumal). Mayan city ruins. The temple VI was built around 200 BC, and about five hundred years later Dzibanché developed into a greater city.
- Kinichná (Two kilometers from Dzibanché). Partly well preserved town. It was originally lesser in hierarchy than Dzibanché. Principal pyramid consists of three levels with a wide stairway that leads to two other temples.
- Chacchoben (60 km north of Chetumal). Largest Mayan settlement belonging to the region of the lakes.
- Bulebuzz (Leaves by the Mayan culture museum). Ride the Bulebuzz and see the city. Bulebuzz is a small bus that runs down the Avenida Héroes to Boulevard Bahía, which it covers fully.
- Reef diving and snorkeling. The city itself does not offer diving but you can go to e.g. Mahahual to dive and snorkel with access to Mesoamerican Barrier Reef
Chetumal is more and more becoming the Mesoamerican center of environmental friendly technologies. Efforts by individuals belonging to the private sector, in this direction, have begun to show signs of success.
Finding other than Mexican products from Chetumal is not easy. As there are not much tourists, most of the stores actually sell stuff to the locals.
- Belize Free Zone (Zona Libre de Belice) (11km from the city off the Chetumal-Belize highway). Located by the border Belize Free Zone houses over three hundred stores. You can shop at many of the duty free stores for clothing, perfumes, liquors, and electronics. You can try your luck at any of the three casinos or eat in one of the many restaurants. No documents or passports should be needed as you will not go through Belize immigration, but take them with you anyways just be safe. Entrance fee about 1USD.
Typical local joints can be found here and there around the city, but there are basically no places on the main street Avenida Héroes between the Mayan culture museum and the sea. For fancier places go to Boulevard Bahía. The fishing village Calderitas' main economy is restaurant industry and you can find a lot of good seafood restaurants there.
Also the bar scene of Chetumal is quite thin. Boulevard Bahía has some bars.
- El Horno Creativo: Biergarten Café (El Horno: Biergarten, café &Snacks), 17 Zaragoza Ave, Col Barrio Bravo,Chetumal, Quintana Roo CP 77098 (Corner with Isla Contoy Street (15 meters from Bahía Blvd)), ☎ +52 983 2853135. 8PM - 2AM. From 8PM to 2AM,Tuesday to Sunday.
•The coffee beverage (cold or hot) that you prefer, prepared according to quality standards of Cafetería La Barra, Mexico City.
•The best and genuine barrel beer: from our chopper to your jar at 2°C, as in the famous German beer gardens (biergartens)
•Snacks, with original recipes of El Horno Creativo (Buffalo chicken wings, roasted ribs, Tacos al pastor) Print and present this add upon arrival: 10% discount off your personal bill.
There are at least 20 places to sleep in at Chetumal. Get a copy of a guide magazine from the Mayan culture museum or ask a taxi driver if you don't know where you're going.
- Hotel Ucum, Av. Mahatma Gandhi 167 (100 meters east of Museo de la Cultura Maya), ☎ +52 983 832 0711. Clean and well located budget hotel. Double room with private bath and fan and without a tv 220 pesos.
- Holiday Inn Chetumal, Avenida Héroes 171-A, ☎ +52 983 835 9491.
- Los Cocos, Avenida Héroes 134, ☎ +52 983 835 0430.
- Tourist Security (Seguridad al Turista), ☎ +52 1 800 903 9200.
- Quintana Roo Police (Policia Estatal), ☎ +52 983 832 9600.
- Emergency (Emergencias). Dial 066.
- General Hospital, ☎ +52 983 832 1932.
- Chetumal Tourism (Turismo Municipal), ☎ +52 983 833 2465.
Chetumal is quite safe. Since there are not a lot of tourists, you can easily get through a week without anyone trying to fool you. Taxi drivers don't usually try to drive you into places more expensive than what you are looking for.
It's good to notice that English is not commonly spoken.
- Costa Maya - Get anywhere on Costa Maya by taking a bus from the ADO bus terminal, 2km north of city center.
There no departure tax when leaving Mexico, although charging a 200 pesos tax unfortunately is quite common. Look on the web for Mexican Belize Exit Fee Scam.
Get on the Chetumal-Belize highway and drive to Belize.
To get a bus to Belize, you can either go to ADO terminal or New Market (Nueva Mercado), the latter being probably the better choice. Taxi drives usually know where New Market is, and nowadays also from where the buses leave. Bus from New Market to Belize City costs 90 pesos and runs farely often via Orange Walk where a break of 15 minutes is usually scheduled. These buses are older and have no A/C, and they stop often. Once you arrive to New Market, someone will approach you and tell about the schedules. These guys are working for the bus company and not just there to rip you off.
ADO terminal also has a service to Belize but it's less frequent and more expensive.
You can also get a boat from Chetumal to San Pedro, from where you can continue to Caye Caulker or to Belize City. As of January 2015, a one-way trip from Chetumal to San Pedro is $45 USD on Belize Express Water Taxi and $50 USD on San Pedro Water Taxi . Including preparation to depart, the latter took around 2 hours.