I love Chetumal … Really!!


I need to get one of those “I heart T-shirts with Chetumal Mexico on it. Really, I love Chetumal! If Mahahual is my home town these days, Chetumal is my home city I suppose. We started off a little rocky, I hated Chetumal for the first several years I lived here, but these days, I love Chetumal. I’ve gotten to know the city more and unlike most cities in that the more you look at it, the less you like it, Chetumal is a city where the more you look at it, the more you actually like it.


Chetumal is the capital city of the state of Quintana Roo, and is located on the Caribbean’s Bay of Chetumal, at the far southern tip of Mexico, next to the Belize border. The city has about 200,000 residents and a fairly diverse economy with the largest employer being the government. As the state capital, it is home to many state and federal offices of various government branches, so much of the city’s population, have government jobs. It is also a trade hub between Mexico and Belize via land and with the recent expansion of the airport, the rest of Central America, via air. That expansion will also allow the city to grow into the air hub for tourist travel into the Costa Maya area, which Chetumal is part of. The result is a higher than average middle class population, and newer, and more modern infrastructure than you often find in many comparable cities.

chetumal airport tower     chetumal airport terminal

Chetumal Airport

Culturally, Chetumal is something of a melting pot. Prior to the creation of the state of Quintana Roo in 1974, the area was part of the Yucatan Territory, an area that today encompasses the states of Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo. The Quintana Roo portion of that was made up mainly of Mayans in what is today Felipe Carrillo Ruerto and a handful of rejects spit from the only large cities, Merida and Campeche, in the remote areas.

douglas barnes photography

Blue Ribbon Fly Fishing In Chetumal Bay

Generally, the jungle areas were not friendly to human habitants, where mosquitoes, poisonous snakes and all sort of wild animals already called it home. Few wanted to live in the area. The coastal area had a small amount of industry, mainly chicle (harvested from tree sap and used to make gum), hardwoods and dyes that were valuable back in Europe and the US, and those industries began in the Bay area that would become Chetumal. Agriculture, mainly sugar cane, became another piece of the economy, and soon Chetumal became the more affluent part of the Yucatan’s shore area. With that money, soon followed influence and political clout, to the point that when Mexico made the area a state, Chetumal was chosen as the state capital over the larger and older Felipe Carrillo Puerto. From that town, began to grow a modern city.

Almost all of what is today geographically Chetumal is less than 30 years old, so the street and infrastructure is modern and gives the city a modern feel. Building architecture is mainly modern, partly because of the young age of the city, and partly because Chetumal’s location made it susceptible to hurricanes. Early versions of the city were made of primitive building materials and techniques, mainly wood construction for example, and were destroyed when the occasional devastating storm would blow through. Today, concrete roads are now engineered to better control water, and buildings are made of concrete and steel, so they the cities physical growth is modern and hopefully, much more lasting.

chetumal ball game

Professional Baseball’s Tigres de Quintana Roo Play in Chetumal

With the budding economy came big super grocery stores, like Chedraui, Soreana, and a modern urban shopping mall, complete with a muti-screen cinema and large department stores. Even large foreign retailers have begun to come into the area, with Wal-Mart, Sam’s, Autozone and an Office Depot, as well as restaurant chains, McDonalds, Burger King and AppleBees all coming into the city the last few years as well. Don’t worry, the town still has its old traditional market as well as a newer one, proving that as the community grows, so to does the number of people who still prefer to shop from the traditional sources.

chetumal market area       chetumal mall

Centro Old Market                               Plaza De Las Americas Mall

Today, Chetumal finds itself not just the capital city of Quintana Roo, but also the future tourism hub for the Costa Maya area. The airport expansion will be the catalyst for the growth, but given the low environmental impact regulations we grow under, that growth will be slow. But that will not be because it is not a great place to vacation. Chetumal has nice hotels, with a new Fiesta Americana just finished in the downtown being one of many, and those hotels are close enough that its guests can do jungle day excursions into the Bacalar lagoon/jungle area, Mahahual, or any of several Mayan ruins by day, and gamble in the Belize free zone casinos the same night. There is daily water taxi service to and from Kay Caulker and San Pedro Belize, as well as a ground entry point that is about an hour and a half from Belize city.

Chetumal port

The city has also many of the typical big city amenities as well. The public and private healthcare facilities are top-notch, as well as a State University and all the diversity it brings, like the Maya Museum in the old city Market, a must if you are in the area. Music and cultural events are ongoing and the University and government both are supporters, so there is always something going on in Chetumal.

So no kidding, it took some time, but I really do love Chetumal! Check it out, you will too I’m sure.

About talesfrommahahual

Stuck in Paradise!
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