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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Looking for somewhere to stay? Book into one of the best hotels in Campeche, or, for somewhere further afield, book yourself a room at one of the best hotels in Mérida. There are many reasons why you should visit Campeche – inspire your Yucatán itinerary with these unmissable Mayan sites. And don’t miss the best restaurants in Mérida either.
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