Campeche: quintessentially colonial Mexico
Meagan Drillinger posted this Campeche travelogue on Travel Weekly recently.
If you close your eyes and think of colonial Mexico, what you are likely picturing, perhaps without even realizing it, is Campeche. Brightly colored buildings flank cobblestone streets within a walled city center, which leads directly out to a long malecon overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. A majestic white cathedral overlooks a small zocalo, and an evening sunset bathes the cathedral in a pink glow. It’s a sleepy city packed with history.
Campeche City is the capital of Campeche state, which touches the Yucatan and Quintana Roo. About 40% of the state is shrouded in jungle, and is home to Mexico’s largest biosphere reserve, Calakmul. Campeche City is a port town with a pirate past, decked in Baroque Spanish architecture, and was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1999.
Upwards of 1,000 buildings retain historic status, including mansions with arched doorways and decorative balconies. Walking around the city is like being in an outdoor museum, but if you are looking for specific things to do, here is what we suggest.
Where to stay
Undoubtedly the most elegant hotel in Campeche is the Luxury Collection’s Hacienda Puerta Campeche. This restored hacienda is one of five that the Luxury Collection has in the Yucatan area. The hotel is built into a restored 17th-century mansion, with a gorgeous design inside with an indoor/outdoor pool and spa. The onsite restaurant, La Guardia, serves an included breakfast daily with eggs, fresh fruit or other Mexican breakfast favorites. The hotel is just a few short blocks from the historic center’s main plaza.
Where to eat
For a local, cheap meal, visit Cafe La Parroquia. This expansive dining room is popular with both tourists and locals and has a menu of regional favorites. The signature dish of Campeche is pan de cazon, which is salted shark meat tucked inside a tortilla and bathed in salsa. If you aren’t quite up to that adventure, the restaurant has other, tamer regional specialties like the panuchos de pavo, which are tortillas topped with shredded turkey and avocado.
For amazing seafood and sunset views, visit La Palapa del Tio Fito. This predominantly locals-only seafood spot sits right on the Gulf and is a prime location for the sunset. The seafood-heavy menu has everything from shrimp empanadas and ceviche, to grilled fish, octopus tacos and more. It’s a great spot to brush up on your Spanish, as well, as English is not readily spoken. The waitstaff, however, is more than willing to help you practice. And the food is worth it.
For a nightcap, consider a visit to Casa Vieja. While the food leaves something to be desired, the beverages are good and reasonably priced. But the real reason you’re here is for a seat on the terrace, which overlooks the cathedral. At night it makes for Instagram-worthy views.
What to do
Campeche is a very sleepy town, which is typically in bed by 11pm. You aren’t coming to Campeche for a rowdy scene or nightlife, but it makes a great two-night stay, or even a day-trip from Merida, as it’s only about two hours away. While in town, take a stroll along the malecon that runs along the Gulf of Mexico.
The one museum not to miss in Campeche is the Museo de Arquitectura Maya. This gives an in-depth overview of the Mayan sites in Campeche. If there’s time, consider a stop at the Museo Arqueologico de Campeche, which has findings from the nearby Calakmul and Edzna sites.
A day-trip to Calakmul is also a must-do. Campeche has 1.8 million acres of jungle, and hiding within is Calakmul. Discovered in 1931, only a small part of the space has been uncovered and restored. It served as the main rival to the Tikal city in neighboring Guatemala. What has been discovered are burial crypts, along with 120 carved stelae. An additional 6,000 buildings have been located, but only a few have been uncovered.