La Costa Maya, Lake Bacalar and nearby Mayan ruins South Quintana Roo Mexico
The Yucatan peninsula has been described as a green thumb jutting upward, separating the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean. At its base along its Caribbean coastline lies "La Costa Maya". Nearby are southern Quintana Roo's less visited archaeological sites, and a different world from the Riviera Maya.
The flavor of old Mexico
The farther south you drive from Tulum the more it sinks in. You are no longer in Kansas Dorothy. You may see Maya women in hupiles holding up strange looking splayed cooked meat, or furniture makers selling their wares along the highway. Local Maya at the topes (speed bumps) will extend bags of peeled fruit, tamales and banana chips. Welcome to southern Quintana Roo; over the rainbow land for extranjeros from the north.
Felipe Carrillo Puerto
90+ kilometers south of Tulum, about an hour drive, is Felipe Carrillo Puerto, a town to remember for its size and non-touristy feel. The Chetumal/ Escarcega highway approximately 150 kilometers farther south and QR's gateway to Central America. Continuing down highway 307, before the Chetumal/ Escarcega highway and just on the other side of the village of Limones is the highway to Mahahual and Xcalak, two evolving sea side towns that specialize in off-the-beaten-path adventure vacations. Lots of fishing, snorkeling and diving going on down there in lesser known but spactacular locations.
Not on the coast but farther down highway 307 is Laguna Bacalar, also called Lake of the seven colors by the ancient Maya. From the air Laguna Bacalar looks like a turquoise ribbon winding through the jungle. There is a fishing tournament every August. Windsurfing, canoeing, rowing, sailing and bird watching are among the most popular activities on the laguna. The state capital city of Chetumal, founded in 1898, is also the home of the Museo de la Cultura Maya (the Mayan Cultural Museum) and an alternate access point for Laguna Bacalar.
San Felipe Bacalar
The pueblo of Bacalar is next to the lagoon and sees few tourists. In 1545 Gaspar Pacheco founded the town as Salamanca de Bacalar, derived from the Mayan works Bak Halal, Place surrounded by reeds. The Fortress de San Felipe Bacalar was built in 1729 to protect the pueblo from pirates. During the War of the Caste it was used as a point of defense against Maya who besieged the village, massacred the local population and left the fort in ruins. Since then it has been restored and now has a museum.
Seldom seen Maya ruins
The Maya archaeological zones of Chacchoben, Dzibanche, Kohunlich, Becan and Chicanna are quite impressive and worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood. It is posible to see these while staying on the Riviera Maya or Costa Maya, but a night over in south QR would be less taxing on your driver. If you are planning a trip to Calakmul and/or Palenque ruins (much farther west in Chiapas), probably the best way is to plan for more than a week vacation and give yourself ample time to enjoy the Riviera Maya and/or Costa Maya beaches and activities; then head west to see the aforementioned Mayan ruins.