There Actually are Fun Things to do in Chetumal, Mexico
After an amazing week in Bacalar, Wes and I made our way over to the city of Chetumal, Quintana Roo. It seemed that whenever we told people we were headed to the capital city, they were pretty surprised.
"You’re staying in Chetumal for 3 nights?" Well, yeah… Three nights is the minimum time we usually spend in a city.
"Is it because you’re on your way to Belize?" No… We’re filming for our 99 days in Mexico series so we can’t leave now.
"Chetumal? Well, it’s nothing special." Oh… ok.
You can see why we started questioning our decision to go at all. We even joked that maybe Chetumal is the equivalent of Poland’s Katowice (another city many warned us not to bother with). Well, I hate to prove so many people wrong but we found quite a few things to do in Chetumal, Mexico and we had a great time filming our adventures in the city. Our first impressions of the capital of Quintana Roo? Though quieter than other cities we've visited, the people were friendly, the streets were clean, we felt safe and had a lot of fun together. We found the city to be more affordable than the Playa del Carmen's of Mexico and scored quite the bargain for a private room at Casa Anaya Hostel. It seems it would be hard to persuade travellers to stay in the city for the afternoon, let alone spend the night but hopefully you'll be pleasantly surprised with these 6+ things to do in Chetumal, Mexico.
Visit the Ruins of Oxtankah
For those who would rather experience ancient ruins all to themselves instead of waiting in long lines, head just 15 kms north of Chetumal and explore the ruins of Oxtankah. Entrance is $55 pesos (March 2018) and we only saw one other couple there as we were leaving. To get there, we hired a taxi for a couple of hours and he charged us $150 pesos per hour. Our driver Luis took us to see the ruins, waited for us to tour the grounds and then dropped us off at Calderitas. The archaeological zone is small and our taxi tour came out to $300 for a total of two hours. I think it was a fair deal and was cheaper than the tours we saw advertised in town. For those who don’t have access to a vehicle, consider asking a taxi to wait for you at the ruins as the area around Oxtankah is pretty remote. I have our driver's number in case anyone wants to hit him up for a ride! Definitely bring bug spray to Oxtankah.
Spend the Afternoon in Calderitas
Among our favourite things to do in Chetumal was the time we spent in the nearby village of Calderitas. If you’re looking for fresh fish with a view, this is where you ought to come for lunch. Look on menus for the pescado al pil pil to try the local specialty and enjoy some good food right by the water. We ate at Miramar but there are several restaurants on a deck along the water's edge with beach huts.
A bit further up the coast from the restaurants is where you’ll find the colourful Calderitas sign as well as the Yax-ha Trailer Park & Cabanas for anyone wanting to spend the night. The water in Calderitas was a lot clearer and bluer than in Chetumal when we went but there's not much of an actual beach here. Instead, we noticed families setting up their own umbrellas in the sand and hanging hammocks in the trees by the shore.
We caught our colectivo back to Chetumal on Av. Yucatan, right by the Calderitas sign. Colectivos from Chetumal to Calderitas operate regularly from the station behind the Museum of Mayan Culture at Calle Cristobal Colon and Av. Belice. They usually leave the station once they fill up but you may or may not get a seat. We paid $5 pesos per person for a colectivo from Calderitas to Chetumal and the ride is about 30 minutes depending on traffic.
Enjoy the Evening Atmosphere at Boulevard Bahia
A walk along the Boulevard Bahia in Chetumal will be enjoyable during the day but be sure to come back at night to see the action around the clock tower. Known locally as 'el bule', things along the boulevard start to pick up around 6pm when the sun is setting and the vendors are setting up. There are tons of food stands, carnival rides for kids and games for the young at heart. We visited over a weekend but the guys at our taco stand said there’s something going on every night of the week. I would recommend trying a marquesita for dessert since you can’t find these in all parts of Mexico! This is also where you'll see the Bule Buzz, a double-decker party bus. It's similar to the one we saw in Bacalar and takes you out for a drive around town. You can bring some beers with you, enjoy the blaring music and take a tour through the streets of Chetumal on a bus for less than the price of your morning coffee.
Eat at the Best Restaurant in Chetumal
At the time of writing, TripAdvisor has El Taco Loco listed at #1 in Chetumal and we were happy to see that not only was the restaurant in our budget but it was also right up the street from where we were staying. It’s not often that Wes and I get to eat at the best-rated restaurant in any city so this was a pleasant surprise and a delicious lunch. I tried shrimp and fish tacos and Wes had the breaded chicken cutlet. We would have gone again for dinner but they’re only open during the day.
Marisquería El Taco Loco
Calle José María Morelos 87
Open daily from 8am to 6pm
Check out their menu here
Visit the Corozal Free Trade Zone in Belize
Or at least try to? Unfortunately, we didn’t quite make it across the border. While locals can cross the border and enter this duty-free shopping zone without a passport, foreign visitors cannot (or at least not in our experience). We had our Canadian passports with us but I completely forgot to bring our FMT “tourist” card. I figured since we only wanted to visit the free trade zone for a couple of hours and had no plan to formally exit Mexico, our passports would suffice. Long story short, the immigration offer wouldn’t allow us to pass through for the day with only a passport. He claimed that we could either purchase a day pass for $100 pesos each or come back with our FMT card, cross into Belize and after THREE DAYS we could enter back into Mexico. My skepticism about the officer’s facts was confirmed once a local mentioned, 'he probably just wants a piece of the pie'. In the end, we let it go deciding it didn’t make sense to pay for a day pass only to access an area where we would likely end up buying things we don’t need. It would have been cool to at least see but if you’re travelling from Chetumal to Belize you can check it out on the way. We took a bus in town marked Santa Elena and got off at the last stop which is right at the border near Santa Elena, Belize.
Take a Day Trip to Bacalar’s Lagoon of Seven Colours
If you’re in Chetumal already, it’s highly likely that you’re either coming from Bacalar or planning to go there afterwards. If for some reason that’s not the case, I highly suggest at least a day trip to what I’m convinced is the most beautiful lagoon in all of Mexico. There is frequent bus service between Chetumal and Bacalar and it’s less than an hour each way which gives you just enough time to enjoy some good food and a sailing trip on the lagoon. Of all the places we’ve been to so far on this 99 Days in Mexico journey, Bacalar is definitely my favourite.
More Things to do in Chetumal, Mexico
Watch the sunset from Blvd. Bahia
Shop at the stores along Av. de los Heroes
Visit the Museum of Mayan Culture and the Museum of the City of Chetumal
Eat some authentic Mexican food at the Mercado de Chetumal
In case you’re still on the fence about whether or not there are things to do in Chetumal, have a look at our YouTube video and hopefully that will help you decide!