Beginning where the Mayan Riviera ends, Costa Maya stretches along the coastline down to Belize. Not much development has occurred here as the Riviera, and there are miles of unexploited coast. Highway 307 veers away from the coast and by the time it gets to Felipe Carrillo Puerto you are more than 50 km away from the coast. Driving along dirt roads one can cruise the coastline, however, the roads are not well maintained and a 4-wheel drive vehicle is recommended.
Costa Maya is the last remaining section of coastal properties yet to be exploited and there are acres of coastal land with absolutely no development. The odd fishing village spots the landscape but not much beyond that. Flying along the coastline you encounter numerous cenotes and you can still see the outlines and impressions of villages that were there centuries ago.
Chetumal is the capital City of the State of Quintana Roo. It is situated in the most southwestern part of mainland Mexico, 382 km from Cancun on highway 307 or 414 km from Merida via highway 184.
Chetumal was home to a number of coastal living Indians who traded marine assets with the mainlanders. Natural tributaries as well as man made causeways created the mode of transportation linking settlements as far away as Kohunlich. By the time the conquistadors arrived the splendor of the region was long gone and only sporadic fishing settlements remained. With the ever increasing number of British appearing to the south the Mexican government acted and in 1898 the “Spencer-Mariscal” treaty was signed acknowledging the border between Mexico and British Honduras [now Belize]. A garrison was established at Payo Obispo and troops stationed in an effort to curtail the illegal flow of arms and hardwoods. After the Caste War people migrated to the small village which then changed its name to Chetumal. In 1915 the regional government was moved from Chan Santa Cruz to Chetumal which then became the capital.
Today Chetumal has a population of over 120,000 people and all the amenities of any large city. It is also a major trading center between Belize and the rest of Mexico.
The city center is quite manageable on foot. Once you find the main intersection of Avenida de los Heroes and Avenida Alvaro Obregon you’re within a short walk of several inexpensive hotels. The best hotels Chetumal has to offer are within five blocks of this intersection. You are also a short taxi ride away from the beaches.
Chetumal has an excellent Mayan museum well worth the visit. It is located downtown quite close to a large market for shopping.
Driving along the Costa Maya on highway 307 you do not encounter much except butterflies until you reach the city of Felipe Carrillo Puerto which is located 226 km from Cancun. Unlike Playa del Carmen and Cancun, Carrillo Puerto is a Mayan city and considered the most cosmopolitan Mayan city in the Peninsula. Rich with history Carrillo Puerto successfully blends traditional Mayan life with the advancements of modern technologies.
What you will notice in Carrillo Puerto is that the residents are extremely proud and dignified. You will not find the same kind of atmosphere here as you do in Cancun or Cozumel. What you do find is a stronger cultural ambiance. In fact if you are a “gringo” the locals will pay you no-mind what so ever. Even elder Mayans here are friendly if not completely ambivalent towards tourists. With no beaches near, this city is not a major tourist destination and you can go a full day here without seeing another tourist. This can be an interesting experience as just when you thought you had found a place void of absolutely every other “gringo” one walks around a corner and surprises you. The look of astonishment is usually mutual.
The Story of the Talking Cross
In 1847 after years of suffering, yet another Mayan village was destroyed at the hands of the invaders. Tepich laid waste and its people massacred. This intensified the Mayans resolve to fight back and reclaim their ancestral lands and gain autonomy for themselves. The Caste War escalated and it was during this period that a miracle occurred to a group of Mayans camping at a cenote in Kampocolche. A small cross miraculously spoke to the people. The “small sacred cross” became “Chan Santa Cruz” and its notoriety quickly spread amongst the people. A Temple, the Balam Na, was constructed in its honor and soon living quarters and barracks were built around the Temple. Here lived the Mayan High Elders as well as the “Tata Polin”, the interpreter of the Talking Cross. By 1901 federal troops had occupied the town and the Maya Rebels had withdrawn deep into the jungle. The Temple was destroyed and its rocks used to build a Catholic Church. Today the cenote where the cross first appeared and a small monument built to commemorate the event can still be seen in Carrillo Puerto at calle 69 and58. The Talking Cross was never captured by the federals and its whereabouts remains a secret to this very day.
Just south of the small village of Limones on highway 307 is the exit for Majahual, which is located about an hour’s drive east on the coast. Some people call it Mahahual with an “h”.
Majahual town is a small fishing village that is gearing up to be the next Playa del Carmen. Much of the town has been purchased by speculators that hope the boom will eventually get down that way as it did in Playa. In fact many of the new residents are from Cancun or elsewhere.
In 2000 they finally completed their dock, which was certified to accept cruise ships, unfortunately the first ship that docked crashed into the new dock. Work to rebuild the dock was completed and cruise ships are presently docking there.
There is a new airport close to the coast however when we last visited, the power lines had not been strung all the way thus there was no power and the airport was dormant. We have not heard of any flights going to this airport yet, so we assume it is still not completed.
There is a road that runs along the coast however it is no longer under federal control and has become a pot-holed half road half sand path trail. It is a slow bumpy ride however if you avoid Majahual town and stay at Maya Ha then there is a brand new paved road that takes you almost all the way there. The remaining dirt road is a minor inconvenience and well worth the drive.
Majahual is best known for its diving with the world famous Chinchorro Reefs off the coast. The beaches are totally secluded and mostly natural. Real estate is moving in this neck of the woods and small cabanas are popping up in ever-increasing numbers. This does not however transcribe into more people, as many of the landowners do not live on the property. This area attracts a lot of divers as well as bohemians who find the rustic lifestyle appealing. There are also numerous American expatriates living in the area which makes for lively conversation and socializing.
Xcalak is a small fishing village on the tip of the peninsula. It is the most southeastern point of Mexico. This is an excellent place for divers and fisherman. Marlin, dorado, and sailfish abound in offshore waters and tarpon and shad in the coastal lagoons.
Just east of highway 307, 125 km from Felipe Carrillo Puerto is the beautiful Laguna Bacalar. With crystal clear freshwater and gleaming white sands it is a rare jewel in the jungle.
The lake, known as the “Laguna de Siete Colores” [lake of seven colours] is linked to the Bahia de Chetumal [Chetumal Bay]. It gets its name from the seven different colours of water that appear throughout the lake. In some parts of the lake you can actually walk across and never get your hair wet. Along the coastline there are numerous rock formations that jut out like stone mushrooms that one can relax on and kick your feet in the warm water. There is the odd small island that abounds with birds.
In 1544 after the local residents either fled or were captured for slaves the village of Salamanca de Bacalar was founded. Over the years the village changed hands between the Mayans and the Spanish until marauding pirates forced the Spanish Monarchy to build a fort to protect the inhabitants. In 1859 the Mayans captured the fort and reclaimed the village only to surrender it in 1901 to federal troops. Today the fort remains as a museum exhibiting colonial armaments and uniforms from the 17th and 18th centuries.
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