16/3/17. Well sort of. We have spent two nights there, at least.
And we had our expectations shot out of the water. Again. Just as we have had across Central America right from the beginning.
We had been expecting a dusty, scruffy border town with not much going for it. Instead, Chetumal is spacious, clean and smart! We passed through far worse towns in the US and it puts parts of New Orleans to shame! (Not the French Quarter – obviously – but we did see a couple of decidedly dodgy ‘hoods.) The traffic was not oppressive and (to confound another of our prejudices) almost 100% observant of pedestrian crossing laws.
The walk along the Malecon (waterfront) was very pleasant and we didn’t feel even slightly uncomfortable or unsafe even when we headed away from it back to the town centre and the very impressive museum of Mayan culture.
All of this was in contrast to the marginally unnerving greeting as the boat from Belize docked in Chetumal. We had been hoping for a journey with good views of the mangrove swamps and beaches but were disappointed to find that the enclosed cabin only had small windows up high so the sights were limited. In addition the boat was speedy (60+ kph) so bounced from one small wave to the next (it was beautifully calm, thankfully) which made for deafening crashes even if the motion was not bad enough to induce seasickness in a “pilled-up” Christine.
As we slowed to pull alongside the pier in Chetumal, the bow dropped and we could see 4 or 5 sub-machinegun armed soldiers standing watching the boat. We disembarked, were told to put all our hand luggage in a row and stood to watch two dogs being walked up and down sniffings the bags, all under the stern gaze of the soldiers.
Then it was off to passport control to pay the $30 entry tax in return for a stamp in the passport (this followed the $20 exit tax to get out of Belize) before watching the same dogs sniffing the line of checked in luggage.
But don’t let this put you off! The slightly unnerving first hour was soon forgotten.