A wonderfully preserved 16th century Spanish colonial city, Campeche is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, buzzing with music and markets and a wonderful waterfront promenade, perfect for a sunset stroll before margaritas and salsa amid the twinkling lights of this cultural gem.
Once under regular attack from plundering pirates, Campeche was the main seaport of the Yucatán Peninsula during the 16th century. Orders from the Spanish Crown to fortify the area saw the construction of a seawall to protect the city against such attacks and it was thanks to this defence system that it continued as a thriving port, still maintaining a successful fishing industry today. Visitors can still see remnants of the wall, as well as some of the ramparts and old city gates, although most have been absorbed into museums, or serve as a backdrop to the city’s dramatic pirate show. Of the eight original bulwarks, seven have survived and most now house visitor attractions, including the Museo de la Arquitectura Maya which provides an overview of nearby archaeological sites at Edzna and Jaina and the Museo Fuerte San Jose del Alto, which focuses on the port’s maritime history.
The town is brimming with majestic colonial mansions, authentic markets and pastel-coloured buildings that line narrow cobblestone streets. The impressive Baroque cathedral stands tall in Plaza Principal, the main square and the surrounding area is alive with interesting street art and live music. The waterfront malecón, or promenade, has some wonderful viewpoints and you can also visit the historic Fuerte de San Miguel (St Michael’s Fort). It’s a lovely spot for an evening stroll, particularly as sunsets here seem to last forever. But we think it’s when the sun goes down that Campeche really comes alive, when the cathedral and churches are illuminated, and the twinkling lights of the restaurants and bars bathe the city in a magical glow.
The colourful streets of Campeche are wonderful to explore on foot and if you get the chance to stay in a restored hacienda, do take it, as it will enrich your historical and cultural appreciation of the city. Further afield, we would also recommend a trip to the magnificent ancient Mayan site of Edzna to see the various ancient temples, including the Pyramid of the Five Floors, located 55-kilometres south of the city. For beach lovers, we’d recommend the sands around the small fishing village of Lerma, a few kilometres away.
While the enchanting historic centre makes many visitors feel they are walking around in a real-life fairy tale, Campeche has so far managed to avoid mass tourism. Full of laidback charm and Hispanic verve, we love this beguiling city and think it’s only a matter of time before the crowds descend and so we suggest you visit sooner rather than later.