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Mexico’s new frontier is south of Tulum

What's up in Bacalar, Mahahual and Chetumal

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Sunrise at a pier on Bacalar Lagoon. Photo: Getty

The decision to develop Cancun as a Mexico tourism beach destination was famously determined by computer in the late 1960s.

Cancun’s success inspired further development south along Mexico’s Caribbean coast.

First, there was the Riviera Maya, which was conceived as a nature-based destination to complement the glitz and gloss of Cancun. Further south was the stunning archaeological site of Tulum, which eventually developed into an overnight destination in its own right, with shops, restaurants, and eco-chic hotels.

The next step continue south, all the way to the country’s border with Belize.

The main highway south of Cancun is Route 307. It’s a well-maintained road with excellent signage. Stick to the main highway as you motor south and you’ll find it easy to stay on course.

Even if you’re based in Cancun, Riviera Maya or Tulum, day trips here are feasible.

The three main tourism destinations south of Tulum are the small towns of Bacalar and Mahahual, and the larger city of Chetumal, which is near the Belize border.


At first glance Bacalar looks like a beach destination, although it’s actually 16 miles inland on the shores of the Lagoon of Seven Colors. Bacalar attractions include the 18th-century Fort of San Felipe, which contains a pirate museum complete with ship models, weapons of the day, and an unearthed pirate skeleton. Another notable sight in town is the colonial-era San Joaquín Parish Church, beautiful in its unadorned simplicity.

Overnight travelers in Bacalar looking for an upscale experience should opt for a stay in the Mía Bacalar Luxury Resort & Spa. The resort’s Je’ex Suites have such luxe amenities as Jacuzzis, and the Saasil Rooms feature private rooftop terraces with impressive views of the colorful lagoon.

The Hotel Aires Bacalar is more rustic than Mía Bacalar, and more whimsical in its design. Hotel Aires Bacalar is located within town a block from the lagoon, and also provides water views from its rooftop terrace and select rooms.

Directly south of Bacalar is Cenote Azul. Grab a meal at the palapa-roofed restaurant on the edge of the cenote.


The beachfront village of Mahahual is smaller than Bacalar. The town has a malecón, or beachfront promenade, a large coral reef with great conditions for divers and snorkelers, and a laidback ambiance.

A popular choice for lodging is the Blue Kay Beach Club, which offers affordable beach cabins.


Chetumal is a border port city that thrives on business rather than tourism. For some travelers, that makes Chetumal more authentic. See the Museum of Mayan Culture, the city’s waterfront boulevard, the Manatee Sanctuary, and the nearby Mayan archeological sites of Dzibanché, Kinichná and Kohunlich. Hotels in Chetumal are four-star and below; a hip choice among them is the centrally located Urban 101 Hotel.

Wherever you go, don’t miss the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. This is a protected area of 1,080 square miles of wetlands, coastal areas, mangroves, savannahs and tropical forests. Birders will be especially intrigued, since the reserve is home to 300 species of birds.

The Maya archaeological site of Muyil is situated on the western edge of the reserve, adding a cultural component to a visit.

A vacation on the Costa Maya is going to be a more serene experience than points north.

Source: USA Today

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