Rainy Days in Chetumal


Chetumal, Mexico: a border town, a capital, and an underrated stop for travelers. It’s a place that many pass by on a bus, or stick around only long enough for a quick meal before moving on. A working class town whose streets are filled with storefront after storefront of shoe stores, leather shops, pharmacies, and restaurant supply shops. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like a place to linger in. But as the saying goes, if you peel an onion there’s lots of layers.

Chetumal is the capital of the state of Quintana Roo, and home to the surprisingly impressive Mayan Cultural Museum. The central square is a small but lively, park-like setting festooned with with a couple of food carts, a few guys in cowboys hats who never seem to go anywhere else, and lively music played by whichever radio, or band, happened to settle there that day. There are tiny family run Al Pastor taco shops on every corner. The hotels are clean, central, and inexpensive. The food is plentiful and authentic. The town is a port city and has nearby hotspots to enjoy the coast. There isn’t much to complain about.


Central to the square is the giant building that houses the Mayan Cultural Museum. If it weren’t for a rainy day we likely would have skipped it, but we both walked away really impressed. The collection is a tribute to the cultural traditions, astrological beliefs, day-to-day living, and artistry of the Mayan ruins scattered throughout Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and El Salvador. The interior is designed in a very modern style– it features a colorful wall of televisions showing still shots of the ruins, a theatrically lit jungle in the center of the building, a timeline explaining historical milestones, and even a basement ‘cave’ setting where they explain traditional beliefs of the afterlife. Large replicas of many Mayan wall carvings from different settlements are on display– each with explanations of the meaning, the carving process, and the significance.


The highlight of the museum for us, was a section analyzing the advances in architectural details of the ruins. It was really effective at explaining how to ‘read’ the ruins as you tour them. For two people with a limited background in anthropology, this was a great way for us to feel better prepared and more knowledgeable. We left feeling excited to visit more of the ruins, and excited that we’ll be able to better appreciate what we’ll be seeing.


Chetumal was our last stop in Mexico before heading south into Belize. We stayed for three days, and despite having some unfortunate weather, we’re really glad we took the time to discover it. We come away feeling like there is still more to it- the city is very genuine and it has a relaxed pace. While it is not a vacationer’s getaway, or a site seers dream destination, Chetumal represents itself well. It’s a stop that offers that ‘slice of life’ experience– another reminder of why we love Mexico, and why we can’t wait to come back.

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