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Chetumal Quintana Roo

Chetumal, Quintana Roo

It was 20-plus years ago that I first blew off Chetumal. My friend and I had been running at high speed for days, reporting on the resorts and tourist attractions of Quintana Roo. Finally coming to rest on a sugar-sand beach at a heavenly, high-end campsite, we decided it was crazy to zoom off to QR’s capital city, where sensible tourists rarely ventured. So we shirked our duty and stayed on the beach, with never a moment’s regret.

But a recent trip finally took me to the state capital in Mexico’s southeast corner, near the border with Belize. And although I can think of several positive things to say about this small, sweltering state capital, there are few reasons for travelers to visit. I think we did the right thing by blowing it off so many years ago.

On the positive side, Chetumal’s grid-like streets are wide, traffic is light, and drivers are casual and cooperative. Several plazas and government buildings face the cement “boardwalk,” or malecón, which runs more than 20 km (12 mi) along the massive, Caribbean-facing Chetumal Bay. The water is clear but laps right up to the seawalk, with no beach to speak of along most of its length. We saw an alligator swimming in the water, and there are big lumpy manatees, some of which end up at Chetumal’s rescue and rehab center.

Near Chetumal’s market, the Museo de la Cultura Maya is a repository of information about Maya culture. A pleasant, air-conditioned, and well-designed museum, it has few artifacts, however. Mostly the two-story space has replicas of stelae, dioramas, and mock-ups of reconstructed pyramids. All explications are in English and Spanish.

Some activities suggested by the tourism board include a visit to the zoo, where animals reside in reasonably natural enclosures, and boat rides on el Río Hondo or Chetumal Bay. The Hondo River, a 150-km waterway, offers boating and fishing and kayaking, but we didn’t have a chance to see it. Visitors can also rent bikes or roller blades near the city pier and cruise the cement seawalk. At the far end, in an area of private homes interspersed with some dilapidated and abandoned lots, there’s a small, relatively unimpressive beach and adjacent cabanas selling seafood and snacks. The area is called Calderitas.

But Chetumal’s appeal for travelers lies primarily in area attractions. There are several Maya ruins nearby: Kohunlich, Kinichná, Oxtankah, and Dzibanché. Chetumal is a jumping-off point for Belize and a pit stop en route to the beautiful beaches of Majahual and Xcalak (with snorkeling and diving at Chinchorro Banks, 30 kilometers offshore), to lovely Laguna chetumal, and, farther north, to the Biosphere Reserve at Sian Ka’an.

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