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Costa Maya > Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Located just north of the Belizean border, Chetumal (pop. 208,000) is the capital of Quintana Roo. Quintana Roo didn't become a state until 1974. Mayan Beach Garden is in the state of Q. Roo, as are Cancun and the island of Cozumel. Chetumal overlooks the huge and shallow Bay of Chetumal. Chetumal has a few nice hotels, and activities including the Museum of Mayan culture, the City Museum, the Market, the Mayan Ruin of Oxtankah, and the bay front boulevard. When the Spaniards arrived, Chetumal was known as Chactamal or Chactemal "the place where the red cedar is plentiful" and was one of the numerous principalities into which the Yucatan peninsula was then divided. After several attempts, the Spaniards abandoned the area of Chetumal. They were never able to subjugate the fiercely independent natives.

Chetumal Bay is surrounded by the bay front boulevard. An isolated section of the bay was recently named a Manatee sanctuary to protect 100-120 manatees left in the area.

Chetumal as we know it today was founded in 1898 and called Payo Obispo by Lt. Othon P. Blanco who'd been sent to subdue the rebels of the Caste War and stop the arms trade the natives had going with Belize. In 1936, the prosperous bay side city was renamed Chetumal, its original Mayan name.

If you like to experience a traditional Mexican market, Chetumal is an ideal place. Open most days of the week, there are two open air markets. One is located adjacent to the Cultural Museum so you can visit both in one stop.

The downtown area around Avenue Heroes features lots of small stores or "tiendas", especially Zapaterias, or shoe stores which can be found on almost every block. Unlike Cancun, Chetumal is a city that honors its siesta. It is not unusual to find two-thirds of the city closed from 1:00-5:00. The best time to shop is in the early morning or early evening when the town comes back to life.

Chetumal is a perfectly safe place to venture off the main thoroughfare. If you do, you will find local Mayan farmers selling their produce.

A visit to Chetumal isn't complete without a visit to the Museum of Mayan Culture. If you don't know much about Mayan Culture, this museum is an excellent starting point. This is a modern museum that would fit nicely in any US city with interactive exhibits, models of most Yucatan sites and decorated around a jungle theme. Don't confuse this museum with the Chetumal City museum, just a few blocks away on the same street. While the City Museum is interesting, it is small and focuses on Chetumal.

The Museum has many models of Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan. If you have been to these ruins it is especially interesting. The one at the right is of Xpuhil, located in the Rio Bec area of the Yucatan and 2.5 hours from Mayan Beach Garden.

Hours: Tues-Thurs 9am-7pm; Fri-Sun 9am-8pm, closed Mondays
: $3 adults; $1 children; Sundays Free for Mexican citizens

A tropical rain storm knocked out the power in the Market on the day this picture was taken - a common occurrence in Chetumal and residents take it in stride. Inside the shops are lit by candles and business continues as usual.
Chetumal is a city that is a mixture of Mayan, Mexican and Caribbean influence. Brightly colored homes are common place. These homes are Mexican style, but you'll find many wooden homes that are leftovers of Caribbean influence and built before 1955 when hurricane Janet destroyed a good portion of the city.
Just north of Chetumal lies the Mayan ruin of Oxtankah. Spanish missionaries built a church in the middle of the Mayan center of Oxtankah, so you can see a combination of Mayan and Catholic religion in one site. In the city of Chetumal certified guides can be found who offer their services. Even without a guide, it is nice to include this ruin on your visit to Chetumal.

Chetumal has a big modern shopping mall that has just been built on the outskirts of the city, complete with Internet Cafe, a large grocery store and theaters. But the picture on the right epitomizes Chetumal. In the heart of town, around the corner from the bank you can find a feed store selling chickens right next to a shop selling formals. This is its charm and we think that everyone should take a day and visit Chetumal.

NOTE: Trying to find your way around may be a frustrating experience. If you need to make several stops - park and take a taxi. Taxi's are inexpensive and the drivers know their way around. Most places in the city can be reached for under 12 pesos.