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.
Lying 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) (ICAO: MMCM) 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 Cancun 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 Cancun 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.
Taking a Collectivo/Kombi from Tulum should cost you about 40 MXN per person. The ride is short and easy, you will be brought to Chetumal's Downtown, unless you agree with the driver to drop you off somewhere else.
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. The bus fare from Chetumal to Corozal is BZD6 (as of Jan 2015). Bus driver will collect it after passing both the Mexico & Belize Immigrations.
Regarding exit tax at the Mexican border - if you reached Mexico via a commercial flight, you do not have to pay for the USD 25 (332 pesos as of Jan 2015).
By boat from BelizeEdit
There are two companies who will sell you tickets to Chetumal from the Belize Cayes. San Pedro Belize Express  and Belize Express Water Taxi's  both supposedly run a daily boat leaving Caye Caulker at 7am & San Pedro, Ambergris Caye at 8:00am. Tickets cost US$50 one way from San Pedro, US$55 from Caye Caulker. The return trip from Chetumal departs at 3pm. The terminals are located on the pier in front of Wahoo's Bar and Grill in San Pedro, in front of the basketball court in Caye Caulker, and arrive at the Municipal Pier in Chetumal (GPS 18.491682,-88.299204). Tickets can be purchased online at their websites - although there's probably no point booking ahead as in reality only one boat will run as there won't be enough customers. If you book with the "wrong" company you have the option to pay an extra US$10 to take other company's boat. Beware that these companies do not allow pets on the international runs to Chetumal. You'll have to go by land if you're travelling with pets (not clear on their website).
This trip will require you to pass through two sets of immigration. One to exit Belize and one to enter Mexico. If you travel with Belize Express Water Taxi from San Pedro the procedure is as follows.
If you're starting at Caye Caulker you will first take the boat to San Pedro where you will disembark. At San Pedro you will formally exit Belize. To do so you must pay 40 BZD (30BZD exit fee then two other port fees which make up the remaining 10BZD), this can be paid in MXN or USD ($20) but the notes must be in good condition. If you don't have this money with you, there is a cash machine in San Pedro not far from the port.
You will then re-board the boat and leave for Chetumal. On arrival at the Mexican border you will have to complete arrival cards and pass through Mexican border control (this involves a very keen sniffer dog being present who is shown all luggage and passengers - don't risk it). Entry to Mexico will cost 390 pesos. This can be paid in USD ($25) or in pesos. It can not be paid in BZD.
There are a number of things that can help make this trip easier. Firstly, have the money ready before you leave Caye Caulker. If you have no USD or Mexican Pesos to pay your entry fee to Mexico, a staff member from the water taxi company will change your BZD in to Mexican Pesos or USD on the boat. If push really comes to shove, when you get to the Mexican border explain at the window that you have no cash and need to visit the ATM. They will hold your passport and luggage and allow you to exit the port and use the ATM which is at the bottom of the street (cross the road and there are two ATMs in an official looking building to the left).
If you are going on to Tulum, Playa or Cancun from here, the water taxi company will reserve you seats on shuttles which run straight from the port. Expect to pay $25 USD for Tulum and $30 USD for Playa. You can do this on the boat, then when you clear customs there is a small desk on the right where you pay your money. The vans will depart when everyone has cleared customs and they're sure there are no more customers!
These shuttles do not run on Sunday, so the procedure was as follows (April 2016): the shuttle company charges 504 Pesos each (to Cancun) and organizes you into groups, depending on where you are going. A total of 4 taxis, all packed full of people and baggage, drove together down the road, until some turned off for Tulum, Playa del Carmen, etc. The taxi took 5 hours to Cancun, including a stop for food/toilets. They waited until everyone had cleared customs before organizing the cars and getting as many passengers as possible.
A taxi stand for Chetumal is located down the street just behind the gate of Maritime terminal.
- 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. edit
- 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. edit
- 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. edit
- Calderitas, (6 km north of Chetumal). This fishing village has a lot to offer, plenty of restaurants (mostly seafood) all on the shore, accomodations if you wish to relax and enjoy the ocean and be outside of the city. A taxi ride is 40 pesos. If feeling adventurous, get in the crowded communal ride that leaves from the plaza near the Mayan culture museum. edit
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, (13 km north of Chetumal). A maya city which includes small temples, palaces, plazas etc. about a kilometer from the bay line. edit
- Kohunlich, (65 km west of Chetumal, take colectivo to Francisco Villa from the terminal on the corner of Migueld Hidalgo and Av. Primo de Verdad, than walk 9 km to the entrance). 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. edit
- Dzibanché, (75 km west 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. edit
- 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. edit
- Chacchoben, (60 km north of Chetumal). Largest Mayan settlement belonging to the region of the lakes. edit
Cenote Azul and the Laguna de Bacalar are a 20 minute bus trip from the second class bus station. Tickets cost ~ 60 pesos although you may be able to pay less in a colectivo and just get dropped off at the spot along the highway. Entry to the cenote costs ~ 10 pesos. There is a restaurant and free wifi.
The public access point for swimming at Laguna de Bacalar is a long walk (>45 mins) from the cenote. There is a private property with stromatolites that charges a fee of 25 pesos for access to the water which is not far at all from the cenote, if you would like to swim in the lagoon without walking a long way, paying the fee at the private property would be strongly recommended.
To get back to Chetumal, return to the highway and hail down any one of the numerous colectivos returning to the city (25-35 pesos).
- 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. edit
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. edit
If you're coming from Belize it's best to change your Belizean dollars to US dollars before you cross the border, this will give you a better rate and more places to exchange money. You can exchange USD to MXN in almost any bank at a good rate (Santander e.g.). If you happen to forget or just have a little left, here's a few places that can exchange Belizean Dollar to Mexican Peso. Keep in mind that this will not be the best exchange rate ever and they might only accept bills:
- Terminal Maritima de Chetumal (El Muelle fiscal), (At the south end of Av. Benito Juarez). 11:00 to 17:00. Located at the end of the peer is a souvenir shop. Here they exchange BZD and USD to MXN. You're also able to buy ferry tickets in BZD. Exchange rate is about 0,9 peso less per BZD compared to official rate. edit
- Nuevo Mercado Bus Station, (Intersection of Calz Veracruz & Segundo Circuito Perif.). By the base of the water tower is a small exchange window. Exchange rate is about 1,15 peso less per BZD compared to official rate. edit
If you're going to Belize, you can just take USD. No need to exchange to BZD.
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.
Try some of the tasty fish tacos at Marisquería El Taco Loco, an easy fifteen minute walk from the Mayan culture museum. Closes at 6 p.m.
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 8:00 P.M. to 2:00 A.M.,Tuesday to Sunday. •The coffee beverage (cold or hot) that you prefer, prepared according ato 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. edit
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. But if you have a booking somewhere, or you know where you want to sleep, it’s preferable to write down the correct address and give it to taxi driver to avoid confusion.
- Pause Hostel Chetumal, Oaxaca 20, 77960 Calderitas, Q.R., Mexico (10 min taxi ride), ([email protected]), . checkin: 12:00 -21:00 pm; checkout: 10:00 A.M.. All rooms have ocean view. Sea access, shared kitchen and common areas, free breakfast and coffee, Wifi and AC. All profits go to animal rescue, spay/neuter, and adoption programs in Chetumal and a cat rescue sanctuary on Caye Caulker, Belize. They have another non-profit hostel in Caye Caulker. From 100MXN ($5) for a bed in a dorm. edit
- La Posada Chetumal Hostel, Av. Venustiano Carranza 481 (5 minutes from airport, 10 minutes from ADO and 10 minutes from Muelle Fiscal), ☎ (983) 12 06 111 ([email protected]), . checkout: 12:00 P.M. Family business. Staff speaks English and French. Safe, Clean and Comfortable Hostel with Breakfast Included, and Free Wi-Fi Access. Female Dorm with private bath and fan 170 pesos by pax, Male Dorm and Mix Dorm with bath ensuite and fan 170 pesos by pax, Private Room with bath ensuite and fan 185 pesos by pax. edit
- Hotel Ucum, Av. Mahatma Gandhi 167 (100 meters east of Museo de la Cultura Maya, cross over to ADO bus terminal), ☎ (983) 832 0711. Clean and well located budget hotel. Double room with private bath and fan and without a tv 240 pesos. edit
- Hostel Paakal, Av. Juárez 364 A (10 min from ADO bus terminal), ☎ (983) 833 3715 ([email protected]), . checkout: 12:00 P.M.. Refurbished villa with well equiped big kitchen, a garden, computer and a small swimming pool. Room 6 is huge with 2 double beds. They also serve a nice breakfast including fruits, juice, coffee, yogurt, cereals and eggs or quesadillas for 40 pesos. They don't respond to email, call for a reservation or just show up. Prices on booking sites are double the normal rate Double room with private shower, airconditioning, fan and tv. 300 pesos per room. edit
- Fiesta Inn Chetumal, Av Álvaro Obregón 229, ☎ (983) 267 3200. From USD 75. edit
- Los Cocos, Avenida Héroes 134, ☎ (983) 835 0430. From USD 55. edit
- Tourist Security (Seguridad al Turista), ☎ 01 800 903 9200. edit
- Quintana Roo Police (Policia Estatal), ☎ (983) 832 9600. edit
- Emergency (Emergencias), ☎ 066. edit
- General Hospital, ☎ (983) 832 1932. edit
- Chetumal Tourism (Turismo Municipal), ☎ (983) 833 2465. edit
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 ticket office, less than 1km north of city center (to find it, from the main square on town or zocalo, walk in the opposite direction from the sea, about 15 minutes, till you reach the main road. Then turn right and walk for another 3 or 6 minutes -depending on which street you used to reach the office). Choose mayan lines for a cheaper ticket. If you are a foreigner, you will have to ask for "ticket de segunda clase" -second class ticket- as they never offer it to foreigners.
At the same main road you can also get a combi (mini van) to Mahahual (75 pesos each way may 2015, 1.15 min.), to Chetumal, and some other destinations around. It's not difficul to figure out where every combi is going, as they write down the destination at the drivers glass, and / or at the vehicle side.
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. Look at your airline ticket, which will show all required Mexico fees that have been paid and show this to the individuals at the border crossing. If they demand payment, tell them you will walk across the road to the big immigration building to notify someone in charge and they will usually hand back your passport and FMM papers and allow you to proceed across the the border.
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 at least San Pedro from where you can continue to Caye Caulker or to Belize City. There are two water taxis, which both leave Chetumal at 3 pm, operated by San Pedro Water Taxi and San Pedro Belize Express.
A trip from Chetumal to San Pedro is US$47.50 on Belize Express Water Taxi  or San Pedro Water Taxi . Including preparation to depart, the trip should take around 2 hours (don't forget that Belize is an hour back from Mexico). August 2014 experience - booked online with Belize Express Water Taxi, but when I arrived at the office to check in I was told that they weren't running that day. San Pedro Water Taxi partially honoured my ticket after I paid an extra US$10. Arrived in Caye Caulker just after 6pm Belize time after going through customs in San Pedro and switching to a smaller boat.
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