Bacalar and Beyond

We just took a quick weekend away and went down to the southern part of Quintana Roo and visited Bacalar, Chetumal and Calderitas. To get to Bacalar from Cancun took 4 hours of driving, and that was with heavy rain at times. But we didn’t do the whole drive straight through, instead we stopped at the Mayan ruins of Muyil, which are just south of Tulum, and walked around for an hour.

Muyil is a small site, but it was a perfect break for us. We had Sam (the wonder dog) with us, and he needed to get out and run around. Husbandito, being the eternal cheapskate, talked his way into the ruin without paying AND the guy let us bring our dog in AND the guy loaned us his very cute puppy for Sam to play with while we were romping about the ruin. (It was something akin to a miracle that I didn’t steal that puppy…it was damn cute.)

Once we got to Bacalar we had to find a place to stay, with the dog, and it was dark already, and we wanted to be on the lake (even though we couldn’t see it in the dark). I always feel like an idiot when I’m stuck looking for lodging after dark, it’s a great way to set yourself up to fail. On the other hand I hate to make a reservation ahead of time and then hate the room…

We found a place that had one room left, and a kind-hearted, dog-loving manager, it’s called Amigo’s Bed & Breakfast. Our room faced the lake, and the room smelled (and was) clean. The decor was on the trite to tacky side, and they didn’t have cable (just a few fuzzy channels on the tv), but all-in-all the room was great. I doubt if they normally take dogs, I think we kind of talked them into it. Fortunately Sam almost never barks, so he’s a good guest.

Bacalar, Mexico
This is a view of the the lake at Bacalar, it’s a freshwater lake that is more than 25 miles long. Beautiful.

The next day we asked if we could stay another night, but guess what, bad planning caught up to us and our room was reserved for the night. So we had to leave and find another place to stay. But at least it was daylight. The first place we tried was willing to take us (it had been recommended by the folks at Amigo’s). So the second night we stayed at Casita Carolina, which is also right on the lake. We stayed in the round palapa room, which is charmingly decorated. Casita Carolina was lovely but we didn’t feel as comfortable as we had at Amigo’s, I think this was because their rules about taking dogs were more rigid and less welcoming. But I thought the decor was really lovely.

Bacalar, Mexico
Here’s another view of the lake. The lake’s name is Las Lagunas de Siete Colores (Lagoons of Seven Colors).

Once we had found a place to stay we went off on our mission for the day which was to visit an area just north of Chetumal called Calderitas. We had been told to “have fish and beer” in Calderitas.

To get to Calderitas we had to drive through Chetumal. Chetumal is the capital of the state of Quintana Roo. It’s also right near the border with Belize. As we were driving there I found several radio stations broadcasting from Belize in English, which was a trip. It was especially fun because sometimes the Belize accent is difficult for me to understand. So as we drove to Chetumal I tried to repeat everything the announcer said, I was understanding only about 50% of it (I understand more than that when I listen to the radio in Spanish).

Chetumal has a bad reputation. I’m not sure what it’s reputation is but it’s bad. Some have told me that Chetumal is full of 12 year old prostitutes. Others have said it’s boring. What I saw supported the latter theory. The streets were wide, well-planned and had little traffic. I saw almost no garbage. I saw no 12 year old hookers, or any hookers, or any 12 year olds for that matter. In fact we saw almost no one. Chetumal has a malecon, which is a waterfront walkway. It runs along the shore for most of the city, and goes past the important government buildings. We found the malecon to be lovely and walked on it for about half an hour. We passed 2 whole live people in that half an hour. Chetumaleños don’t seem to hang out on their malecon and they don’t seem to hang out anywhere we saw.

I’m sure that Chetumal must have somewhere that you can get a good cup of coffee and watch people walk by. We didn’t find it. But we were only in the city for about 45 minutes.

We left Chetumal, driving on the road by the water and made our way up to Calderitas. Calderitas seems to be nothing but a few fish places all lined up. We picked the one that was most full of people, it was called El Rincon de las Tortugas. And we ordered fish and beer. Both were good. Our table overlooked the beach, and several vendors walked by selling goods. My daughter will be getting some earrings and a bracelet bought from those vendors. One funny thing about Calderitas was that on the beach were a gaggle of 12 or 13 year old boys who were playing soccer. It was hot out, maybe 90° F, but not one of them was wearing shorts, all were in long pants. I find that very weird. So we stuck out like the foreigners we were, wearing our shorts.

Once the beer and fish mission was accomplished we headed a bit further north to a Mayan ruin called Oxtankah (osh-tan-kah). Again husbandito played the “it’s late and we’re broke and aren’t we nice?” thing and got us in to the ruin paying just one entrance fee (do not try this at home, he’s got 46 years of experience). And again we were able to bring the happy dog into the ruin, and again there were other doggies for him to play with.

Bacalar, Mexico
This is one of the pyramids at Oxtankah.

Bacalar, Mexico
And this appears to be a Spanish-built church, which probably used stones cannibalized from sacred Mayan structures. I’m guessing at that, we couldn’t find an explanatory plaque associated with this structure, but that behavior was common for the Spanish here.

I have to say that the area north of Chetumal, in Calderitas feels pristine. Walking through the woods around the ruin we heard a few cows in the distance. We saw myriad flowers and butterflies. We heard birds and saw all kinds of flora. Hurricane Dean passed over that area last September and we saw some evidence of trees having lost leaves, but in general it was a vibrant forest. One cool thing was that we saw a line of leaf-cutter ants, carrying cut leaves on their backs. The line of ants must have been a quarter of a mile long! I do not understand for the life of me why they couldn’t find leaves they wanted that were closer to the home nest. But there they were, we found where they were cutting the leaves (they were papaya leaves from a downed tree), and we followed their line (trying not to step on them).

After our Oxtankah excursion we headed to the grocery store in Chetumal to buy a wine and cheese (and bread and carrots and ham) dinner to take to our lovely room. Then we headed back to Casita Carolina where we played dominoes for hours.

In the morning we took a long walk with the dog and then vacated our room. Then we headed to the famous Bacalar Fort. This fort has a long history involving pirates and everything. If you are a Caste War buff or a pirate buff it’s worth a visit.

Bacalar, Mexico
This is a view from the top of the look out tower. The bridge over the moat used to be wood, so that it could be removed when enemies showed up. Now it’s stone.

The fort has a nice museum with plaques in both Spanish and (decent) English. We learned a lot. We read everything and it took about an hour to get through the museum.

Bacalar, Mexico
And this is a view of the lake from the fort. The lake looks like the Caribbean Sea, but it’s a freshwater lake, amazing.

Outside the fort we met a lovely gentleman who uses a wheelchair. He was selling jewelry and carved wooded figures. He used to live in Cancun, but had a diving accident years ago which landed him in his wheelchair. We enjoyed his company immensely and bought more (nice) things we don’t need from him.

Bacalar, Mexico
And finally I just thought this was a good photo, looking at the lake from inside the fort.

I must say that my only real gripe with Bacalar is the lack of coffee. There is a cafe there which supposedly sells REAL coffee, it’s right on the corner of the main square. But the owner has a family member who is sick right now, so it was closed. I wish that person a speedy recovery. And I hope they open back up soon because Bacalar without good coffee, well, I don’t need to do that again.

Next time I return to that area I think I will camp in Calderitas at the Yax-Ha Resort. And from there I will day trip to the Mayan ruins of Kohunlich and maybe to Belize and we will definitely visit the Museo de la Cultura Maya in Chetumal. And next time we will absolutely without question go out on a boat, either on the lake near Bacalar or on the Bahía Chetumal (which feeds into the ocean). And we will also be sure to bring our own coffee, just in case.

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3 Responses to “Bacalar and Beyond”

  1. Scott Bulger Photography
    March 14th, 2008 07:13

    This is just he type of thing I like to do while in Mexico. I’m bookmarking this post for my next trip down.

  2. RiverGirl
    March 14th, 2008 09:08

    I like to do this kind of stuff too, just bang around and see what’s what. I was really surprised at how beautiful the Bacalar and Chetumal areas are given that they are so unpopular with tourists.

  3. Cdn Cat
    March 15th, 2008 07:18

    Wow I’ll have to see if I find the time to do this in a few weeks while I’m so close. We have plans to go to Xpu-Ha for a couple of days so maybe we should keep heading south and check it out. It looks absolutely beautiful!

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