The Best Things to Do in the City of Campeche, Mexico

Art aficionados will love the statues by Leonora Carrington in Campeche, Mexico
Art aficionados will love the statues by Leonora Carrington in Campeche, Mexico | © Barna Tanko / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Leon Beckenham
21 September 2021

March along the malecón boardwalk, delve into Mayan history, and head off to hush-hush islands from this Unesco-listed Yucatán hub.

With a fascinating maritime past, a Unesco-listed center and easy access to many of the fascinating attractions on the Yucatán peninsula, it’s a wonder indeed why Campeche remains one of the most under-the-radar destinations in Mexico. All the better, though, for those visitors who do schedule a visit to this richly historic port. Whether it’s exploring the colorful colonial streets or day-tripping to nearby sights, there’s more than enough things to do to warrant a trip to Campeche. Read on for the best.

Travel back to the time of the ancient Maya

Archaeological site, Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark
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Visitors in front of the Edificio de los Cinco Pisos building at Gran Acropolis in Edzna Mayan Archeological site, Campeche State, Mexico, Central
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While the archaeological site of Edzná doesn’t get the same attention as some, it remains one of the most important examples of late classic Maya architecture anywhere in the Americas. It’s an impressive collection of buildings, which culminates in the spectacular Piramide de Los Cinco Pisos (Five-Level Pyramid). The site’s lesser-known status means fewer, if any, crowds, and a serenity that really adds to the magic of these ancient ruins. Plus, it’s all less than a one-hour drive from Campeche center.

Spend the day on the beach at Playa Bonita

Natural Feature
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Campeche certainly can’t compete with its Caribbean cousins when it comes to a scenic sandy coastline, but it can still more than hold its own. Around a 20-minute drive from Downtown Campeche, Playa Bonita is the closest proper beach to the port and ticks all the boxes for a day by the sea. There’s a small entrance fee, though plenty of free cabañas, shingly sand and a shoreline that gently slopes into usually calm waters.

Hang out with the locals in Independence Square

Architectural Landmark
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Trolley buse in the plaza (square) in San Francisco de Campeche, Mexico, South America
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Whiling away time with friends and family in the zócalo (main central square) is one of Mexico’s most popular pastimes. Originally built in the 16th century, Plaza de la Independencia in Campeche is a particularly lovely example. Colonnaded stone arcades overlook the leafy central space, enclosed by elegant wrought ironwork and tall gates. The square is dotted with sculptures, too, and, at the center of it all, a bandstand provides the stage for evening entertainment.

Take a sunset stroll along the Malecón de Campeche

Architectural Landmark
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Denkmal "Mundo Maya" von Jorge Marin, Uferpromenade El Malecon, Campeche, Mexiko
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Almost as much as sitting in the zócalo, locals love a leisurely stroll along the malecón. In Campeche, it’s a lovely long waterfront promenade that runs for miles along the shores of Bay of Campeche, which is part of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the perfect spot for some early-morning exercise, such as jogging, skating or cycling along its length, which takes you past palm trees, the occasional antique cannon and a huge Mexican flag fluttering from a tall pole. Arrive around dusk for spectacular sunsets.

Give praise at the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción

Church, Cathedral, Architectural Landmark
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Campeche, Mexico. Independence Plaza in Old Town of San Francisco de Campeche, Yucatan heritage.
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With its two soaring towers overlooking the main square in the city, Campeche Cathedral (or Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception) is a quintessentially colonial-style church and well worth a visit. The architecture is a fusion of baroque and neoclassical influences, while elegantly understated interiors are beautifully illuminated during the evening. Entry is free, though there’s a small fee for entry to a museum annex, housing a collection of sacred artworks and precious religious objects.

Wander the streets of the Centro Histórico

Architectural Landmark
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Colonial Spanish houses, Calle 59 pedestrian area in Campeche, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
© Witold Skrypczak / Alamy Stock Photo
A Unesco-listed heritage site, the whole of Campeche city center is a wonderfully preserved slice of colonial history dating back as far as the 16th century. Take some time to walk around the fortified city walls, built to help ward off the regular pirate assaults and a rare example of surviving colonial military architecture. Inside these walls, a grid system of streets is lined with wonderful examples of colonial mansions, built by families made wealthy by New World trading.

Take in spectacular coastal views from the San Miguel Fort

Architectural Landmark
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Fort San Miguel, overlooking Campeche from the south, houses the Campeche Regional Museum displaying prehispanic antiquities.
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Perched high up on a hill on the western outskirts of Campeche, the San Miguel Fort is one of two such defensive positions flanking the city. You’re free to explore most of this impressive early-19th-century fortress and take in spectacular coastal panoramas from the top. There’s also an excellent museum housed within its walls, exploring the ancient Mayan civilization that once occupied the region, including an extensive collection of stone carvings, jewelry and ceremonial objects.

Day trip to a sleepy coastal island for a wealth of wildlife

Natural Feature
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Isla Aguada, Campeche, Mexico
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The dramatic coastal geography just south of Campeche includes a huge lagoon, a long peninsula and Isla Aguada – a small fishing port with a wonderfully uncrowded stretch of sandy beach. It’s a couple of hours’ drive from Campeche, with superb seascape views along the whole journey. Sunset boat tours are the best way to witness the extraordinary abundance of wildlife here, from a large heron population to dolphins.
These recommendations were updated on September 21, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh. This article is an updated version of a story created by Leon Beckenham

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