In September, 2012, I visited the city of Campeche. The city of Campeche is the capital of the state of Campeche, located on the southwest side of the Yucatan peninsula. Campeche isn’t so easy to get to — it has a small airport, but flying in from the USA would be expensive. We came on bus via Merida, which is about two and a half hours away.
Campeche was officially founded in 1540, by Don Francisco de Montejo. In typical Conquistador style, the city was founded on top of an indigenous Mayan settlement, named Ah Kim Pech. Campeche quickly became an important part of the Spanish empire. Its natural harbor was extremely useful to the Spaniards, who used the port as a stopover for heavily laden treasure galleons hauling loot out of the interior of Mexico.
The city suffered from many pirate attacks. Eventually, walls and forts were built to protect the city. Many of these exist in some fashion today and can be enjoyed. I’ve covered my trip to Fuerte San Miguel in its own post.
Campeche has a beautiful Cathedral. It was constructed over hundreds of years and is dedicated to to the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. The Cathedral faces the main square, or zocalo. The square has a park in the middle, where people like to sit and watch the world go by. They also play loteria here on some nights (a game like bingo), as well as have performances and markets.
Campeche is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is known for its beautiful preserved colonial buildings, many of which are painted in bright shades of blue, pink, yellow, and green. Walking around the city is a feast for the eyes.
The city center also has many other historic buildings. Streets are cobblestones, and heavy traffic like buses are not allowed on many streets in the Centro area. This makes the area more tranquil and enjoyable. It is very walking-friendly.
The city is located on the Gulf of Mexico, however, there are no beaches in the city. The city has a wide multi-use path called the Malecon which runs along the waterfront. The Malecon is decorated in places with old cannons, statues, etc. This is an ideal place to watch a sunset, or to get some exercise. The path is busy with runners and walkers early in the morning and later at night. The weather in Campeche tends to be quite hot, so everyone gets their exercise done early or late.
To protect it from pirates, the city was surrounded with walls and bastions. There were two entry gates — one sea gate (Puerta de Mar), and one land gate (Puerta de Tierra). At one point, the Puerta de Mar was right up against the sea. Today, it’s several blocks inland as shallow water has been filled to claim more land. Some walls still exist, others were torn down to make room for a road around the city.
The Puerta de Tierra has a nice little museum, and once atop the wall, you can walk for quite a ways. The photo above shows the view from atop the walls, walking to another bastion further along. Some of the bastions have also been made into museums — one with Mayan artifacts. Another is a city museum, and yet another has a botanical garden inside.
We stayed at the Hotel Castelmar, which is near the Puerta de Mar. It’s a beautiful old army barracks which has been converted into a hotel. Campeche is not a very touristy place — we saw few other tourists during our trip. This means that accommodations are not terribly expensive. There are a wide range of places to stay, from cheap hostels on up to luxury hotels. We enjoyed the Castelmar — it was a nice blend of old Mexican charm, great location, and friendly staff.
Not far from Campeche are the Mayan ruins of Edzna. Edzna is fantastic and is certainly worth a day trip.
Here are some more photos of Campeche. Please click them for larger images.