Highway 307 from Tulum  to Chetumal  passes through Carrillo Puerto, a small city that holds little of interest to most travelers except an opportunity to fill up on gas. Historically, however, it played a central role in the formation of Quintana Roo and the entire peninsula.
The Santuario de la Cruz Parlante (Calle 69 at Calle 60, irregular hours) is a sacred place where the Talking Cross and two smaller ones were originally housed (they now reside in the nearby town of Tixacal). Today, there are several crosses in their place, all dressed in huipiles, which is customary in the Yucatán. Shoes and hats must be removed before entering. Be sure to ask permission before snapping any photographs.
Like some places of worship in the region, Carrillo Puerto’s main church, the Iglesia de Balam Nah (facing the central plaza), was built by white slaves—mostly Spaniards and light-skinned Mexicans—who were captured during the Caste War. It was constructed in 1858 to house the Talking Cross and its two companion crosses because the original sanctuary had become too small to accommodate its worshippers. Unfortunately, at the end of the Caste War, federal troops used the church as an army storeroom, desecrating it in the eyes of many Maya; this led to the transfer of the Talking Cross to the town of Tixacal.
Despite outward appearances, Maya nationalism is still very much alive and aware of the sometimes invasive effects of mass tourism. Don’t miss the beautifully painted Central Plaza Mural, next to the Casa de Cultura, that reads: La zona Maya no es un museo etnográfico, es un pueblo en marcha (The Maya region is not an ethnographic museum, it is a people on the move).
Owned and operated by one of the founding families of the city, Hotel Esquivel (Calle 63 btwn Calles 66 and 68, tel. 983/834-0344, US$35 d with fan, US$42/46 d/t with a/c, US$55 suite with a/c and kitchenette) offers 37 rooms in four buildings, each with private bathroom and cable TV. The main building has by far the best rooms—gleaming tile floors, simple furnishings, decent beds, and even some with balconies overlooking a pleasant park. The suite is in the large house across the street—once the family home, it’s now dark and dilapidated, and desirable only for having a kitchen.
Parrilla Galerías (Calle 65 s/n, tel. 983/834-0313, 5:30 p.m.–midnight daily, US$3–10) opens right onto the central plaza and offers traditional (and tasty) Mexican fare, with a focus on grilled meats. Come here for the tacos and the parrillada, a platter piled high with an assortment of meats, grilled onions, and tortillas.
El Faisán y el Venado (Av. Benito Juárez at Calle 67, tel. 983/834-0043, 6 a.m.–10 p.m. daily, US$5–8) is Carrillo Puerto’s best-known restaurant, as much for its location and longevity than for any particular noteworthiness of its food. The menu is filled with reliable Yucatecan standards, including 8–10 variations each of fish, chicken, and beef, plus soup and other sides.
If traveling by car, fill your gas tank in Carrillo Puerto, especially if you’re headed to Mahahual, Xcalak , Xpujil, or Ticul. There are other roadside gas stations ahead (and in Chetumal), but they get less and less reliable—having either no gas or no electricity to pump it—as the stretches of empty highway grow longer and longer.