There is probably more reason to disguise the name of the Banco Chinchorro than there is Spearfish, but it’s somewhat harder to find something to rhyme with. We ran across the Chinchorro reef on our travels this past December. I say “travels” because it sounds much better than “on our cruise” which is actually the truth. There is no reason at all to sully a post about something so close to perfect with a defense of cruising, but I will note that the cruise did open up a whole area of the world to us that we’d probably have not located otherwise. It was worthy for that alone, but the food was really not so bad either. And we were on a boat for 10 days. That’s obviously good.
Our first stop was in Costa Maya which can refer to, you’ll discover if you decide to look into it, two things: an artificially made town (as opposed to those organically grown ones) and a name for a region of the west coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula which lies just to the north of Belize. So more accurately, we stopped in the psuedo-town of Costa Maya, but Allison and I quickly found our way outside the cruise ship compound and into the nearby town of Mahahual. (1)
This was hardly an unspoiled village, and we were not the only cruisers who figured out that even an overrun fishing town was bound to be more fun than the duty-free compound, but those few hours in Mahahual were enough to have me thinking about it months later. Despite the tourists, though, the town wasn’t touristy. There were a few miles of what appeared to be failed subdivisions: as if the jungle was cut back to sell property in advance of the new cruise ship dock which would bring massive prosperity to the area. Somehow the money never arrived and the jungle was well on its way to reclaiming the buildings. We munched cactus and chorizzo tacos sold at a little hut on the side of the road while looking at half finished cinderblock structures mostly overrun by the undergrowth. That was, I’ve realized while writing this, the first place I’d ever eaten which was was genuinely outside of the United States (border towns don’t count).
When you’re standing on the white powdery beach in Mahahual, the ocean in front of you sort of looks like a lagoon because the waves break on a reef about 100 yards offshore. That reef is called the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS). It’s second only to the Great Barrier Reef in terms of size and according to marine biologists, it’s second to none in terms of reef health. 18 or so miles further directly offshore is Chinchorro, an atoll reef that is loosely part of the MBRS. If you look at it on a map, it’ll come as no surprise that the windward side of the atoll has some of the densest concentrations of shipwrecks anywhere. You can imagine a captain having just crossed the Caribbean sea, seeing the coast and easily missing the miles of submerged reef surrounding the few uninhabited islands which are Chinchorro’s only land.
“Land ho! Drinks in charming Mahahual with the cruise ship folks!” CRASH. Down the ship goes.
Not at all surprisingly, Chinchorro is a dream if you dive. I actually learned of it’s existence reading a marque set up outside the lone dive shop in Mahahual that promised pristine diving and, because so much of the reef is in shallow water, snorkeling. So theoretically, the place offers the holy grail of diving: a really nice location which can engage both divers and non-divers on the same boat. It sounds pretty ideal, so I’ve done some investigation into visiting. Apparently the late summer is the best time to go, as the journey from the mainland is not as likely to be stymied by bad weather or high seas. This means that shore conditions are likely to be hot and mosquito-y, but I suppose you can’t have it all right? Getting there sounds like an adventure too: you fly into Cancun, rent a vehicle, and drive down the coast for five hours with lots of interesting things along the way. You can stay in Mahahual or, if you want a more remote spot, the village of Xcalak 3o miles or so further down the coast.
1. I should note that I finally completed a long-standing quest to try Cuban rum before leaving — Bacardi Supper Club. Well worth the wait.