An exciting dose of culture shock is an easy 15 miles from Corozal. Chetumal, capital of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, is a relatively modern, midsize city of more than 200,000—nearly as many people as in the entire country of Belize! If you don’t come for the culture (wonderful museums, a few parks, a zoo, and a delicious seafront), then you must be here to shop in the new American-style mall or see a first-run film in Chet’s brand-new air-conditioned Cineplex, located in the Plaza de las Américas mall.
Chetumal can be visited as a day trip from Corozal or used as a base from which to visit the many Yucatecan archaeological sites—including Tulum, just up the coast. It’s also a gateway to Mexico’s well-known Caribbean resort areas: Cancún, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, and Akumal. Chetumal presents the businesslike atmosphere of a growing metropolis without the bikini-clad tourist crowds of the north. A 10-minute walk takes you to the waterfront from the marketplace and most of the hotels. Modern, sculpted monuments stand along a breezy promenade that skirts the broad crescent of the bay. Explore the backstreets, where worn, wooden buildings still have a Central American-Caribbean look. The largest building in town—white, three stories, close to the waterfront—houses most of the government offices. Wide tree-lined avenues and sidewalks front dozens of small variety shops.
Do not miss the Museo de la Cultura Maya (9am-7pm Tues.-Thurs. and Sun., 9am-8pm Fri.-Sat., US$5), located at the new market; it is an impressive and creative experience by any standard. The Museo de la Ciudad (Av. de los Héroes 108, no phone, 9am-6pm Tues.-Sat., 9am-2pm Sun., US$12) is excellent as well, with a great deal of contemporary Mexican art.
On Avenida Héroes, five miles north of the city, is Calderitas Bay, a breezy area for picnicking, dining, camping, and RVing. Tiny Isla Tamalcas, 1.5 miles off the shore of Calderitas, is the home of the primitive capybara, the largest of all rodents. Twenty-one miles north of Chetumal on Highway 307 is Cenote Azul, a circular cenote over 200 feet deep and 600 feet across and filled with brilliant blue water. This is a spectacular place to stop for a swim, lunch at the outdoor restaurant, or just to have a cold drink.
Getting There and Around
Corozal-based Belize VIP Transfer Services (tel. 501/422-2725) and George & Esther Moralez Travel Service (tel. 501/422-2485) will arrange Chetumal transfers (and other Mexican attractions) and trips to local ruins.
Buses from Belize City to Corozal and Chetumal travel throughout the day all the way through the border (you’ll need to get off twice to pass through immigration controls and pay a US$19 exit fee) to the Nuevo Mercado Lazaro Cardenas in Chetumal. A local Chetumal bus from Corozal costs US$1.25; a taxi to the border costs US$10. If it’s running, the express bus to Chetumal from Belize City takes about four hours and costs US$11. Also check with the various kiosks and travel agents in and near the Water Taxi Terminal by the Swing Bridge in Belize City for direct bus service to Chetumal.
If you’re traveling by bus from Belize, you will pass the main ADO bus terminal on Avenida Insurgentes; ask the driver to stop at the Pemex gas station on the corner of Avenidas Insurgentes and Héroes. Bus travel is a versatile and inexpensive way to travel the Quintana Roo coast—there are frequent trips to Playa del Carmen and Cancún, and a new fleet of luxury express buses is a treat after Belize’s school bus system. Chetumal is part of the loop between Campeche, Cancún, and Mérida. Fares and schedules change regularly; currently the fare to Cancún is about US$30. It’s about a 22-hour bus ride from Chetumal to Mexico City.
Chetumal can also be reached by water taxi on the San Pedro Belize Express (tel. 501/226-3535, US$45 one-way from San Pedro), which departs for Chetumal at 7:30am daily (or 7am from Caye Caulker) and returns at 3pm. San Pedro Water Jets Express (tel. 501/226- 2194, US$60 one-way) leaves San Pedro at 8am daily and returns from Chetumal at 3pm.
A good paved road connects Chetumal with Mérida, Campeche, Villahermosa, and Francisco Escárcega. Highway 307 links all of Quintana Roo’s coastal cities. Expect little traffic, and you’ll find that gas stations are well spaced if you top off at each one. Car rentals are scarce in Chetumal; go to the Hotel Los Cocos for Avis (Av. Héroes, tel. 52/983-835-0430, 9am-5pm daily). Chetumal is an economical place to rent a car (if one is available), since the tax is only 6 percent. If you’re driving, watch out for “No Left Turn” signs in Chetumal.