Campeche (“Kam-Peh-Che”) has been one of the country’s best kept colonial secrets for many years. The city is one of the most picturesque colonial centers in Mexico, but it is still remains largely undiscovered by foreign tourists.
An old Mayan trading port, Campeche is the capital city of the state which bears its name. Although the Spaniards first discovered this place in 1517, the opposition they were greeted with kept them from settling here until 1540, when Francisco de Montejo (who founded nearby Merida) gained sufficient control to establish a settlement in the area. With its exports to Europe of local timber, silver, and gold, the port prospered and became the primary trading port of the Yucatan.
The success did not arrive unnoticed, and pirates, eager to capitalize on the wealth being created here, often attacked this port. Following a particularly gruesome massacre, when rival pirate groups co-operated in a coordinated attack on the city, the Spanish took action to secure the facilities at Campeche, building huge bulwarks, each one over 10 feet thick. By 1668, eighteen years after they began building them, the fortress-like structures were in place. The walls between them have either decayed or been demolished; however, most of the bulwarks are still standing.
Wealthy merchants and traders built stunningly beautiful houses and haciendas here. Today hundreds of these have been carefully restored to their former glory and repainted with the original soft pastel orginally used in the construction. In 1999 UNESCO declared Campeche a World Heritage Site.
Campeche’s appeal is enhanced by the long and broad waterfront it has stretching along the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a popular place in the evenings for people who want to watch the sunsets and also an extraordinary stage from which to experience thunderstorms roll in off the Gulf.
This old walled city with its narrow streets, pastel colored houses and an old-world, colonial feel is one of Mexico’s best kept secrets, although as travelers begin to venture further south from Merida and the Mayan ruins nearby, they are beginning to discover and experience this true gem. Next time you find yourself in Mexico’s Yucatan region, be sure to visit this colonial wonder—your time spent here will be well rewarded.
The city’s Cathedral, Catedral de la Concepcion Inmaculada, stands just off the main Zocalo (Parque Principal); it was completed early in the 18th century.
The Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace) is an ultra modern building, built on reclaimed land, northwest of the Parque Principal just off the Plaza de la Republica.
Fuerte de San Miguel (St Michael’s Fort) on the southwest side of the city is host to a fine archaeological museum, housing Mayan artifacts from the archaeological ruins at Edzna and Jaina.
The city’s narrow streets and pastel-colored houses are a major attraction. In the famous neighborhood of San Roman, you can visit the church where the Black Christ is hosted; a six feet ebony statue brought to Mexico from Italy in 1575. The Tram can take you here (see Trams, below).
The Bulwarks (“Baluartes”)
The city’s Bulwarks (7 of the original 8 still stand) can be toured on foot, along Avenida Circuito Baluartes (Baluartes is Spanish for bulwarks); some of them now house visitor attractions.
Baluarte de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad is host to the Museo de Estelas Maya; offering a collection of Mayan artifacts.
Baluarte de Santiago hosts the miniature Jardin Botanico Xmuch Haltun, a collection of tropical plants and fountains.
Baluarte de San Pedro, situated in the middle of an intersection is a local crafts exhibition and sales center.
Baluarte de San Carlos has the Museo de la Ciudad (city museum) which includes a scale model of the old city. There are sea views from the roof.
Baluarte de San Francisco, Baluarte de San Juan and Baluarte de Santa Rosa are the last three of the Bulwarks which can be visited.
Campeche is a coastal city, and although the beaches immediately adjacent to it are not ideal for beach-goers, there is a small fishing village a few kilometers away called Lerma near where you’ll find some beaches to relax on at Playa Bonita (“Pretty Beach”).
Campeche’s Trams (“Tranvias“)
One of the best ways to see the delights of the city is to take a ride on one of the Tranvias (Trams) which offer bi-lingual commentary (English and Spanish). The Tranvia de la Ciudad passes by most of the main attractions and picturesque colonial neighborhoods in Campeche including San Roman; while El Guapo (“The Handsome One”) takes a route along the seafront to the Fuerte de San Miguel (see above). Both trams start the Zocalo (Parque Principal).
Campeche by Night
To enjoy a wonderful walking experience around Campeche’s narrow colonial streets, wait until the sun goes down. As the temperature cools, the lights come on and illuminate the pastel-colored houses, streets and courtyards. Evening walks are a popular pastime with locals and visitors alike.
Getting There & Around
By Air – You can get to Campeche by plane from Mexico City, and Cancun. The airport is just a couple of miles away from the city. You can either hire a private taxi, or a Collectivo Taxi (a minibus that drops each of the passengers at their required destination in geographical order) from the airport to town. The latter is considerably less expensive. For detailed information about flights and flying, see the Mexperience guide to Air Travel in Mexico.
By Bus – Regular long distance buses make the journey from Mexico City to Campeche daily; the journey takes 18 hours, sometimes stopping at Villahermosa en route. Regional buses travel daily and frequently from Merida and Cancun and Villahermosa. For detailed information about bus transportation read the Mexperience guide to Bus Travel in Mexico.
By Car – There are now fast roads connecting this region to Merida, Cancun, Oaxaca, Mexico City. The drive is a long one from Mexico City, but you’ll be rewarded by some stunning scenery. Most people tend to fly to the region and rent a car locally (see Getting Around, below). See additional information about Driving in Mexico and Mexico’s Toll Roads on Mexperience.
Car Rental – To explore Mexico’s colonial towns and cities, consider renting a car for your visit. Having your own car will give you more flexibility than using public transport options and, in some cases, offer you access to places which are otherwise difficult to visit without the use of a car. Read our guide to Car Rental in Mexico to learn what you need to know about car rental in Mexico and connect to the Mexperience Travel Center to reserve your Rental Car.
Local Buses – Local buses are available to take you around town and are very inexpensive.
Taxis – Local taxis are widely available and have set rates posted on an official label inside. Even so, it may be a good idea to agree your price before you get in, or insist that the official rates are adhered to. Taxi travel is very affordable in Mexico, in comparison to the USA, Canada and Europe, and so provides a viable means of public transportation in Mexico. Your hotel can arrange taxis for you; some post their rates on a board in the lobby; taxi hotel rates are usually higher than cabs you hail off the street. If you speak Spanish, you will have a distinct advantage and be able to negotiate a price with the driver. For detailed information, read the Mexperience guide to Taxi Travel in Mexico.
The Tram – Campeche’s Tram System is an effective way to get around and there are also tourist trams which offer bi-lingual commentary and excursions around the key attractions of the city (see Key Attractions, above, for more details).
Telephone: Connect to the guide about Communications in Mexico on Mexperience for detailed information about keeping in touch and the latest table of national dialing codes.
Exchanging Currency: Banks with ATM machines can be found in the downtown area of Campeche. During business hours, they and the Casas de Cambio will buy traveler’s cheques and cash from you as well. For detailed information about exchanging and managing your money, read the Mexperience guide to Money in Mexico.
Travel Insurance: We recommend that you are adequately covered with travel medical insurance and/or travel assistance insurance when you are visiting Mexico. Read the Mexperience guide to Travel Insurance in Mexico for full details and links to specialist insurance suppliers.
Internet Access: Internet cafes can be easily found in towns and cities across Mexico and WiFi is increasingly commonplace–from cafes, shops, hotels, and some cities even offer free WiFi in some defined public spaces.
Drenching, hot, humid, sticky… this is jungle weather. Wear light and breathe-able clothing, avoid synthetic materials (e.g. polyester) in favor of natural ones (e.g. cotton), wear a hat and sunscreen to protect your head and face from the intensely hot sun (and protect young children’s skin especially). Carry plenty of water and keep yourself hydrated, especially when you are out and about exploring this magnificent city.
Weather & Climates in Mexico
Learn more about the weather and climates through the seasons and regions by connecting to the Mexperience guide about Weather and Climates in Mexico
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