Shopping in Chetumal, Mexico and the “Free Zone”: Super Fun or Super Frenzy?

I am not a great shopper.  Perhaps my attention span is too short.  But I know people that travel from San Pedro to Chetumal, Mexico with huge empty suitcases and return packed to the gills with groceries and merchandise after a marathon day of shopping all over town.  I can usually last about one hour tops.I know things are cheaper but what are they buying?  How do they bring it all back?  Do they get charged duty?  Where exactly are they going?Time to find out.  A group of ladies I know had a trip planned.  I’m in.

There are two basic ways to get to Chetumal from San Pedro.  You can hop on the water taxi which takes about an hour and a half (longer if the water is choppy…which it generally is on the way back).  Pretty easy and reasonably priced…I do this one quite a bit. (Here is my last trip about a month ago.)

Or you can fly from San Pedro to Corozal.  More expensive, great views and faster.  AND in October, Tropic Air is offering a special on the flight.  Only $49bzd each way (with fees it actually works out to about $62bzd).  A deal.  Let’s do it.

The flight takes about 20 minutes and the views are pretty cool to me.  A few minutes over the sea, you see Cayo Espanto and Blackadore Caye, the island owned by Leonardo DiCaprio and crew.  And then you fly over the mainland, most of which is hardly land at all…more very pretty marshland.

Again you are reminded that Belize is a very sparsely  populated country.

We touched down at the miniscule Corozal air strip.

And we had a taxi service set up.  (A good one is run by Mr. Menzies if you want to pre-arrange someone to pick you up.)  There are also lots of local taxi drivers that can take you to the border.

10 minutes and you are on the Belize border and you go through Immigration.  There are fees if you are not a resident or citizen of Belize.  The prices are in BZD dollars.

The taxi service brought us to the Mexico side (you cross a small bridge over the River Hondo), through the quick Immigration process and off to the hotel, the Hotel Noor.

A very boutique-y little place with a pool and a great restaurant right on the water front.  But $900 pesos a night?  Seriously?  $75USD to stay in Chetumal, Mexico in October (the slow rainy season)?  Too much I think.   Way too much.

The restaurant does serve a DELICIOUS steak.  We ate there that night.

We took our taxi first to Walmart.

We were given one hour…but 15 minutes in, I start to fade.  The food, fruit and veg there is great, they have some very cute Halloween displays and I could buy cheeses all day.  But I started small- some olive oil ($3USD for a good sized bottle) and a few toiletries and I went to grab a seat outside and wait for the power shoppers.

Off next to my favorite part of Chetumal…the mall and Chedraui.  But first, lunch with a long lost friend.

This mall is a teenagers’ paradise.  A proper movie theater (about half the movies are in English with Spanish subtitles), arcades, fun clothing, shoe and jewelry shops…

a giant food court.  I am New Jersey born and bred and I could browse around a mall for hours.

They even have a decent sized casino hidden in the back where you can play slot machines or just have a nice cold $1.25USD Corona.  No pictures allowed!

No time for dallying.  We are off to the next spot.  Quick stop so Krista of Crazy Canuck’s could pose with the mall clown.  Good make-up.

To the border…actually between the two borders to the “Corozal Free Zone”.  No one I’ve asked in Belize seems to know the real rules around this area.   Here is what I found online from a local website:   “businesses locate there and can import goods duty free…for resale”.  “Retail sales are NOT allowed to Belizeans or local gringos”.   It is really meant for Mexican shoppers.

I didn’t meet one Mexican shopper in there.  Why would they shop here when Walmart and Sam’s is in Chetumal?  I only ran into Belizeans in the zone and my Belizean friends seem to have no problem getting in. Mysterious.

My overall impression?  The free zone is a grim industrial park with knock-off, junky everything.

From perfume, computer equipment, purses to sneakers, I wouldn’t trust one thing to be real in this place.  (Maybe I was just shopped out…I was NOT feeling the “free zone” AT ALL.)

Here is the phony Target we entered.

Most of the merchandise seemed to have been shipped in on the reject barge from some cheap Chinese manufacturer.   Or maybe it was the stuff that just couldn’t sell at US $1 Stores.   Everything just looks…well…slightly off.

I could have taken pictures all day in this store (you should see some of this stuff!) but I snapped this one and was told “no pictures allowed in the free zone”.  Interesting.

Even the kiddy rides outside were problematic.

Eek.  That’s just weird.

The clothes are very cheap; these prices are in pesos.  Tiny clothes, tiny, TINY clothes.  All the same material and tightness as a pair of panty hose.

On a more positive note, the beer was insanely cheap, the little stands make great $1USD Micheladas (and their food looked good),

the liquor prices are very cheap and the cute little tuk-tuks were a fun way to GET ME OUT OF THERE!

I am going on and on again.  I will need to continue this tomorrow with Sam’s Club (I’d never been to one before), the Casinos on the border, almost making it to the male strip club, Bananas, the exit back to Belize & through Customs and our  trip back to San Pedro.

For those interested in our close Mexican neighbors, see:

Other trips I’ve taken to Chetumal:  Christmas Trip Part One & Part Two or Driving Across the Border at Chetumal and Taking the Thunderbolt Boat from Corozal to San Pedro.

And as always, for more pictures and information about San Pedro, Belize become a fan of on Facebook.

  • Raechelle Thomas

    Is there a part 2 to this article?
    I’m very curious about the procedure coming back to Belize from Chetumal with purchased goods. Was there a duty to pay?

  • Belize Blog

    There is a part two and it’s all very random. We brought back a TON of stuff and were charged nothing. It seems to be up to the customs guy that day…