Though not as popular a tourism destination as Mérida or Valladolid, the city of Campeche has a wide range of attractions to keep even the most jaded visitor interested. In recent years, the city has also become home to a growing community of expats looking to settle down in this beautiful colonial city on the banks of the Gulf of Mexico.
Officially named San Francisco de Campeche, the city is the capital of the state of the same name on the Western Yucatán Peninsula. Campeche is well known for its beautiful architecture and the impressive state of preservation of its city walls built in the 17th century to fight off invaders and pirates.
Established in 1540 by Francisco de Montejo and León “El Mozo,” son of the elder Francisco de Montejo, Campeche was founded two years before Mérida — making it the first major Spanish settlement on the Peninsula.
Before the arrival of Europeans on the Peninsula, the area covering modern Campeche was under the control of the Mayan city-state of Edzná, 38 miles west.
Aside from Edzná, the city of Campeche is a popular point for day trips to several other archaeological sites such as Hochob, El Tabasqueño, and Dzibilnocac. Day trips are also offered to sites further afield including Calakmul and Becán, but if you intend to visit these faraway sites you really are better off staying at least a couple of nights at a more nearby location such as Xpujil or Chicanná.
The name Campeche is said to be a derivation of the Yucatec-Mayan name given to the village of Can Pech, meaning “Snake Flea.” Though at the time Can Pech was relatively small, Spanish soldiers were chased out of the community by Mayan warriors.
But the Spanish would return in larger numbers and make Campeche a regional capital and port city. The city’s location on the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico made it both an important logistical hub for trade with other colonies in the region and in the Caribbean, as well as a target for pirates. As a result, Spanish authorities soon developed a large network of fortifications and defense towers equipped with powerful cannons.
Today the City of Campeche is home to several hotels as well as great restaurants tailored to just about any budget.
Like Yucatán, Jarana is the traditional dance of Campeche, though variations in its steps, rhythms, and regional costumes make it appear quite different.
The city has also done a particularly good job of restoring its historic downtown area, which is large — although not as big as Mérida’s.
During the evenings the city’s boardwalk is perfect for long walks or jogs as it stretches for nearly four miles from end to end.
Campeche’s boardwalk is also home to several parks, including areas for skating and a series of lit fountains synchronized to the rhythm of classical music.
The sculpture known as La Novia del Mar, or the Ocean’s Bride, is one of Campeche’s most well-known landmarks, sitting on the boardwalk facing the ocean. The aesthetic of the sculpture is believed to have been inspired by The Little Mermaid, in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Visiting Campeche from Mérida is quite easy as the federal highway connecting these two cities is quite good and has plenty of signage. What is even better is that there are no tolls and the trip can be made in under two hours.
So if you have never visited Campeche, or even if you have, consider it for a weekend getaway.