By Terrye Godown
Beyond Mérida and Progreso lies a true diamond in the rough – a small fishing village west of Progreso called Chelem (pop. 5200). Here you can really immerse yourself in the Mexican culture. Chelem is a treasure chest to uncover, resting peacefully among coconut palms, seagrape trees bordered by the turquoise hues of the Gulf. You can get there by rental car or public transportation.
Tempt your palate by sampling the fare from the many small family “restaurantes” that offer fresh seafood, cold refrescos or cerveza, and relax among the locals. Pepe Luis’ Restaurante is one such place. We highly recommend trying their “Mero al mojo de ajo” (grouper with garlic). For pizza lovers there is the “Pizzeria La Playa”. The owner here, by the way, speaks English and worked in the restaurant business in California. The many varieties here are delicious, but they are only open certain evenings. The “Bull Pen” on the main square, owned by two Americans, Patrick and Robert, is a favorite among the ex-pats living or renting in the area. Elsewhere in Chelem you’ll find several small “Panaderias” where you can get fresh pastries in the morning and “Tortillerías” that make fresh tortillas daily. Check out the market in the town square where you’ll find fresh vegetables and fruit to fill them with! There are no large supermarkets available in Chelem, the closest one (Wal-Mart) is a short trip away in Progreso. You can get there via a new bridge that was completed recently, which makes the trip to and from Progreso and Yuculpeten much more convenient.
There is a growing population of ex-pats living and vacationing in Chelem. Many arrive in early spring and the little village starts teeming with activity. Drive along the sandy coastal “calle” down to the next village of Chuburna and take in the sights; quaint, brightly painted beach casas, palapa roofs and charming Spanish gateways. Along the way you’ll discover some incredible views of the gulf for photography buffs.
For those who like to keep in touch with home, there is a small Internet cafe on the plaza square, called “Super Alex”. Alejandro speaks English and has 5 computer stations and a hookup for laptops. He is open in the morning and usually closes in the early afternoon for siesta but reopens around 3 PM. We found this a convenient place to stop if we had questions about anything we could not understand!
Don’t spend precious vacation time worrying about getting your laundry clean – There is a Lavandería off the main plaza where you can drop off your clothes. Also, some locals here will do laundry and save you the trouble. We found a nice lady by the name of Marisela, (her husband is Freddy) who lives in Chuburna. She charges by the kilo and her prices are better than the first option; just drop off and pick up your fresh smelling, neatly folded items at the designated time! You’ll get spoiled in no time and miss this convenience when you get back home! You can email <[email protected]> to find out how to contact Marisela.
While visiting Chelem take time to take in the wildlife. Lots of beautiful flamingoes can be seen in the Ría de Chelem located south of Chelem’s main plaza. They start arriving in the area in June. Most are here by November but they begin to leave between January and March. The white colored ones are young flamingos. There were as many as 600 there back in November of 2008! It is quite a majestic sight! You will also see turtles, a man-made cenote, trees & lots of birds and pelicans! Tour guides will give you more information on the tour! Trips can be arranged by the fishermen at ‘Ecoturismo Ría De Chelem’. Ask for Julian. To get here go around the Main Square, take a left at the first street where the Government office is. At the next street make a left at the stop sign, then a right on the next street. Go straight and you’ll be there.
If you are looking for an authentic Mexican experience in a clean, peacefully quaint fishing village, then Chelem is for you.