Hurricane Dean virtually razed the coastal town of Mahahual, but it is slowly recovering. We passed by just weeks after the hurricane, and the town was still in recovery stage. Rather than eliminate Mahahual from the book entirely, which would only cause further economic hardship for the town’s residents, we decided to get a local expert, Kevin Graham, to update the material for us closer to press time.
Now that Mahahual no longer has a cruise ship port – though plans are in place to rebuild it – it may be a bit more welcoming to independent-minded travelers, as it has great beaches, excellent diving nearby, and a fairly laid-back Caribbean appeal. More significantly, Mahahual offers access to Banco Chinchorro, the largest coral atoll in the Northern Hemisphere. Chinchorro is some 45km long and up to 14km wide, with its western edge lying about 30km off the coast, and dozens of ships have fallen victim to its barely submerged ring of coral. According to early reports, the Banco Chinchorro may have sustained some serious damage at the hands of Dean. While the reports are splotchy at best – and we were unable to verify the information independently – the mangroves of the above-water portion of the atoll were destroyed, with only the ranger hut left standing.
The atoll and its surrounding waters were made a biosphere reserve (the Reserva de la Biosfera Banco Chinchorro) to protect them from depradation. But the reserve lacks the personnel and equipment needed to patrol such a large area, and many abuses go undetected.
There is a ban on wreck dives as many are too shallow (or too looted) for good diving. But there are plenty of other things to see around the bank: coral walls and canyons, rays, turtles, giant sponges, grouper, tangs, eels and, in some spots, reef, tiger and hammerhead sharks. There’s good snorkeling as well, including 40 Cannons, a wooden ship in 5m to 6m of water. Looters have taken all but about 25 of the cannons, and it can be visited only in ideal conditions. The prohibition on wreck dives doesn’t apply to snorkelers.
Dreamtime Dive Center (983-834-58-23; www.dreamtimediving.com; Malecón, 2.7km south of Mahahual) runs trips to stretches of the barrier reef and offers PADI courses.
Last updated: Oct 20, 2009
Bags feeling light?
Coffee table looking bare?
Get your guidebooks, travel goods, even individual chapters, right here.
(3 star Hotel)
From US$70.17 per night