The ex-pats all told us we must visit Campeche Mexico if we wanted a true Mexican style staycation. They raved about the rainbow prettiness of Campeche’s Old Town and its colonial era architecture and guaranteed us that any visit to Campeche would have us wanting to move there.
Since we already lived near Merida a drive down the Yucatan Peninsula was an easy trip.
They were right Campeche is an absolutely stunning UNESCO World Heritage site that has surprisingly few tourists, they really don’t know what they are missing. Surrounded by some major Mexico archaeological sites it’s worth spending a few days in the area.
Mexico is full of fascinating sites, fabulous food and history and most people just don’t appreciate all there is to know about Mexico here’s an interesting fact about Mexico – did you know the earliest stone tools in Mexico date back 23,000 years?
We drove down the Ruta Puuc from Merida to Campeche which took around 4 hours. We found Campeche itself to be relatively easy to drive although there are a lot of one-way narrow streets. Campeche is located in the state of Campeche on the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s a really easy drive and if you want to know more about Renting a Car and Driving in Yucatan Kat’s got you covered. Campeche is not only the state but also the state capital which was declared a Unesco world heritage site in 1999.
Campeche centre is Old Town this historic site earned a UNESCO designation because of the old town with its fortifications and outer walls designed to defend against Pirate attacks.
The main wall itself came about a little to late to actually do any good. The fortified baluartes (bastions) have survived though and can be seen around the Old Town area.
Old Town has over 2000 historic protected buildings and a beautiful Malecon along the seaside where the citizens stroll at evening time.
What to see in Campeche
The beautiful streets of Old Town are a fabulous pastel coloured sorbet. The old cobblestones and simply perfect little shops make for wandering and lusting after cool stuff a must-do.
Take a peek into some of these colonial beauties and marvel at the amazingly detailed plaster ceilings and stunning staircases.
1 Independence Plaza
Although the exact date of when the Plaza de la Independencia was built is not known, it was likely to have been late in 1540 or early in 1541, with the founding of the town. This is a beautiful square with lots of activities taking place.
When we visited there was a political protest and costumed actors taking a stroll around the Plaza and entertaining the visitors and people of Campeche. It was a lovely chance to walk around in the cooler part of the evening and just enjoy the atmosphere.
2. The Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción
The Cathedral hides a very austere interior with an outstanding baroque façade.
A beautiful limestone building it stands quite tall and on the inside are some remarkable statues of sacred art, highlighting a monument called “The Holy Burial” that represents a coffin with the figure of Christ.
3. Museo de la Arquitectura Maya
The museum concentrates on areas around the state of Campeche and the various Mayan sites and styles of the region. Four of the architectural regions of the Mayan culture, include Peten Norte, Rio Bec, Chenes and Puuc. There are thousands of Mayan treasures here with graphic representations and inscriptions in English. There are grave goods from Calakmul and a stunning Mask of the god K’Wiil from Villamar.
4. Casa 6 Historic Museum
Right across the street from the Cathedral sits Casa 6 a small museum that was an upper-class house before the revolution. There are 5 rooms but 2 of which are a gift shop and library. Not exactly the most edifying of museums but entry is only a couple of bucks.
5. Museo de la Ciudad
This is a free museum right on the main square and it showcases the city’s history from the Mayans through to Campeche role in the fight for Mexican Independence. There is a pretty cool exhibit that showcases a room on a pirate ship, a great exhibit of period clothes and weapons. All the signs are in Spanish and in English.
6. A stroll around the City Walls
Campeche’s huge defensive walls reach 26 ft high and the surround the entire city centre. There are 8 bastions which are basically lookout points with several views and four massive doorways. Construction took 18 years and was finally completed (albeit too late) by 1704.
The Earth Door or Puerta de Tierra makes for a stunning entrance gate to the City. It is located on the southwestern wall and has some elaborate doors and beside the gate sits a small museum. The Museum is called the Sitio en Baluarte. Inside there is a replica pirate ship and there is a light and sound show hosted on Saturday nights at a cost of around $2.50 US.
You can buy a ticket for the walls for around $5.00US and walk around almost all of the walls surrounding the city.
7. Centro Cultural “El Palacio” & Museo de Fortificaciones, Comercio y Navegación
This is true maritime education, with the Cultural Centre, which is on the northern side of the main plaza. The museum details the seagoing culture of Campeche. From the fortifications to shipping, and ocean navigation The Cultural Center is on the northern side of the main plaza and is well worth visiting. Many rooms throughout the wide structure combine to create an educational museum. Information about the fortifications, commerce, and ocean navigation are all within. There are really good guided tours and if you have a sailor in the family as I do, the ship replicas could keep them entranced for hours.
8 Jardin Botanico Xmuch’haltun
A tiny little gem of a botanic garden this is found on the northeast corner of the walls. Entry is only the equivalent of $2.50 US and the garden features native plant species and a tiny little fish pond. By Ralf Roletschek – Own work, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43317314
9. Traditional Food of Campeche
So while there are lots of choices when it comes to dining in Campeche we tried some of those recommended by Trip Advisor and a few others.
Many of the restaurants and cafes can be found on Calle 59. It is a pedestrian area and the little cafes and restaurants set out tables in the road and serve a variety of food and drink. A great place to people watch there is plenty of choices. I would not say however that Campeche is a foodie paradise, it isn’t.
This place came highly recommended by Lonely Planet but we were very disappointed. It gets lots of bus tours and is always crowded. Supposedly the place for seafood in Campeche the fish we had was pretty tasteless and unappetizing looking, the shrimp cocktail was swimming in water and it just wasn’t a great meal and the price was really overinflated.
This was a stop we made for lunch it’s where they say the locals go for inexpensive traditional Yucatan foods. We decided we were going to try the Campeche specials of Pan de Cazón which is not shark as you would think but a fish known as the Dog Fish. It is layers of tortillas with the cooked fish, black beans that are refried and a sauce of tomato over the entire stack. Can’t say it smelled very appetizing and the taste was even worse.
I had Queso Relleno which is the star dish of Yucatan Cuisine. Merging the Dutch culture with Mexican it takes a hollowed out Edam cheese rind which is filled with spiced pork mince. This is then coated with a sort of Bechamel sauce and finally, the whole dish is drenched with tomato sauce. The white sauce is known in the Yucatan as Kol or K’ool. It is made by boiling the meat and using the water left after the meat is removed. The sauce is rather tasteless but some add a Yucatan chile to the sauce as xcatik which is often used in Tamal making.
My favourite dish though was Camarones al Coco which is basically coconut shrimp where the shrimp is coated in shredded coconut and bread crumbs. It is served with a dipping salsa which was incredibly hot but delicious.
Interested in learning more about the food of the Yucatan? Yucatecan cuisine is very different from the rest of Mexico and street food here is not just your average taco why not try some marquesitas or elotes. Drinks here are known as refrescos and bebidas and there is a great deal to choose from so learn your horchata from your tequila with this guide to Mexican drinks.
Where to stay in Campeche
Casa Don Gustavo
A lovely boutique hotel the restaurant serves a nice selection of regional dishes. I adored the Sopa de Lima and the panuchos and hubs had his favourite tamales and panuchos. If you want to learn to cook authentic Yucatan tamales you can find a recipe and full instructions in this article How to Make the Best authentic Yucatan Tamales.
In Campeche, the restaurants automatically add in a 15% gratuity/propina. So check your bill before you leave a tip.
Hotel Francis Drake is a mid-priced, centrally situated 24-room hotel with large, air-conditioned rooms and a restaurant.
The popular, 40-bed Monkey Hostel, located on the western edge of Plaza Principal, has balconies overlooking the street and a fun rooftop bar with unbeatable views over the square and the cathedral.
The historic, 24-room Hotel Castelmar, painted a striking sky-blue, has a swimming pool with deck, a shady terrace and modern conveniences like wifi.
If you are into Luxury then you may want to stay at a true colonial hacienda the best two in Campeche are Uayamón and Puerta Campeche, part of Luxury Collection) are waiting for you in Campeche. Its facilities, decoration and location are awesome.
We loved the Hotel Boutique Casa Don Gustavo and would recommend it not only for the rooms but also the restaurant and it has a pool.
Truth is there is not a lot in Campeche for tourists but it is a lovely peaceful city to visit if a bit overpriced. The streets in the central old town are really pretty with all their candy colours and the citizens of Campeche are truly a friendly bunch and as helpful as can be.
Have you visited Campeche yet?