Campeche, otherwise known as San Francisco Campeche, is situated on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. Campeche is a colonial city with a small, but colourful historic centre. The city is often overlooked by tourists who bypass it on the way to Merida or Cancun. However, although there aren’t a huge amount of attractions, it’s a charming place and is well worthy of a visit. Founded in 1540 by the Spanish, it was an important port during the colonial period when gold and silver were exported.
We spent a few days there after a long, long bus journey from Mexico City. It was lovely to take a walk along the Malecon, enjoy the sea breeze and watch pelicans swooping for fish. The city also makes a great base for day trips, including the Edzna ruins about an hour away. Without further ado, here are ten reasons to visit Campeche:
1) Indulge in Delicious Regional Cuisine
Campeche is home to an range of good restaurants, together with bars and cafes. Many of them are situated on Calle 59. When we arrived in town, we ate at Lux de Luna. We were treated to tasty burritos, not to mention the complimentary green and red tortilla chips. The restaurant was colourfully decorated and had seating in the centre of the pedestrianised street. It was a great place to not only enjoy some good food, but watch the world go by. Another favourite was Marganzo, a traditional restaurant with a regional menu. We had breakfast there a couple of times there and loved the lively atmosphere and food.
2) Explore the Colourful Streets
Mexico has an abundance of colourful colonial towns and cities, which is probably why Campeche is often overlooked. The majority of buildings in the historical centre of Campeche are attractively painted in pastel colours. The highest intensity of colourful buildings are situated between the main plaza and Iglesia de San Juan. It’s fun to explore the picturesque streets and take in the architecture – photo opportunities abound. Additionally, there are also a variety of interesting statues scattered throughout the city.
3) Stroll along the Malecon
Campeche’s Malecon is 3.5 km long and is a great place for a stroll. It’s a popular spot for walkers, joggers and cyclists. There are also plenty of seats to take a break and enjoy a view of the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, a couple of playgrounds keep the children entertained. Sea food restaurants with outdoor seating serve up catch of the day and a variety of other fresh fish dishes. La Palapa del Tio Fito is one of the most popular restaurants and bookings are advised at weekends.
4) Check out the Forts
Back in 1792, expecting the English army to attack, Campeche built two forts on either side of the city. The forts, San Jose and San Miguel, were built to defend the city. However, despite the English having taken Florida and Belize, the attack on Campeche never happened. Built on Buena Vista Hill, San Miguel offers panoramic views over the ocean. The fort has a drawbridge which crosses an empty moat and impressive stone walls.
5) Step back in time at Casa 6 Historic Museum
This house was once one of the city’s most prestigious addresses and offers a peek at high society in pre-revolutionary Mexico. Located on the plaza, across from Campeche Cathedral, the house has been preserved in the same manner as it was back in the day. There’s an attractive courtyard and a small bookshop which stocks books about Campeche and its history. At only a couple of dollars entrance fee, it’s worth dipping into this historical house for a glimpse back in time.
6) Soak up the atmosphere on the Plaza
Plaza de las Armas, also known as Plaza de la Independcia, is at the heart of Campeche. It’s the scene of events, demonstrations and festivals. Not only is it surrounded by significant buildings such as the Palacio del Gobierno and Campeche Cathedral, but also several restaurants. A few of them have terraces, providing a perfect spot to take in all the activity below. On Saturday nights, locals gather to enjoy live music and dancing.
7) Visit Central Market
The bustling central market is where the locals come to shop. It doesn’t cater to tourists and consequently has an authentic vibe, not always found in more tourist-orientated cities. Not only can you shop for everything from fruit and vegetables to flowers, but it’s the ideal place to sample some regional street food. Vendors sell a wide variety of tasty snacks from tortas to tamales at great prices. Consequently, it’s a good option if you are travelling on a budget.
8) Walk along the City Walls
In days gone by, Campeche was one of the largest trading ports in the New World. Consequently, the city was regularly attacked by pirates. In the 16th century when the Spanish became rulers, the city was fortified. Some of the walls that protected the city back in the day, still stand. There are several gates that connect the city with the sea and it’s possible to take a stroll along the walls, from which there are great views of both Campeche and the ocean.
9) Dip into the Museum of Architecture
This small, but interesting museum is actually situated in part of the original city wall. The museum is home to a large range of exhibits which were discovered at the many Mayan archaeological sites in the area. The five halls contain well displayed artefacts with signage in both Spanish and English. One of the highlights of the museum is the intricate mask of the God K’wiil. The museum opened in 1958 but has undergone improvements over the years. The entrance fee is a bargain at a mere thirty pesos.
10) Take in Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico
Due to its position, Campeche is known for its beautiful sunsets and there are a variety of spots in the city where they can be viewed. Many locals head to the Malecon, but other popular spots include the city walls or the forts. Watching the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico is the perfect end to a day in this colourful city.