CAMPECHE, CAMPECHE – You could stay longer in Campeche, but if your time is limited, or you just want to make a quick overnight trip from Mérida if you're on a longer trip to the Yucatan, twenty four hours gives you a great taste of the city and its attractions. The centro historico is a living museum, and well worth wandering around for a couple of hours; the well restored buildings are delightful to the eye and the peaceful cobbled streets are a pleasure to stroll.
If you decide to visit for longer, there are additional attractions; the following are my suggestions for a twenty four hour visit. The evening attraction mentioned operates on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I’m assuming you are visiting by car.
Plan to arrive in Campeche around 2pm, stopping at the ‘Zona Cockteleros’ for lunch, which you will pass as you head into the city. This area, at the north end of the malecón, features a number of seafood restaurants on the bayside, all of which offer views across the normally placid waters of the Bay of Campeche. We chose Restaurante Calakmul 2; the large seafood cocktail was $120 pesos and was solidly packed with shrimp, conch, oysters, octopus and crab. Cocktails can be ordered to taste, featuring any or all of the available ingredients. The ‘potpourri’ shrimp was six giant shrimp, two each of coconut, bacon wrapped, and stuffed with crab. Served with rice and vegetables, we found it fairly priced at $159 pesos.
After lunch, continue along the malecón into the city, and check in to you chosen accommodation. There is a good choice of hotels to suit all budgets; those on the malecón of course feature bay views, while those in the centro historico tend to be more traditional and atmospheric. The Hotel Castelmar is highly rated by many travelers, as is the Hotel Lopez Campeche. On this occasion, we stayed (rather boringly) at the Holiday Inn, thanks to a credit card promotion I received. We found it perfectly adequate, well located, and with a lovely bay view. As with any Holiday Inn however, it lacks any real ‘atmosphere’, and, at ‘rack rate’ could be considered overpriced.
Once you’ve got settled, hop back in your car, and continue along the malecón until you see the signs for the Fort of San Miguel. Located on the top of the hill at the southwest end of the city, the fort was built towards the end of the 18th century. Its construction, along with the Fort of San Jose, gave the city the best defense fortifications in Latin America. Today, it houses the Museum of Mayan Art, and offers great views across the city and bay. Once you come back down the hill, on your way back towards the center, stop and take a walk along the malecón, to enjoy the bay views and, hopefully, a fresh breeze, which often picks up in the late afternoon.
You’ll have time for a shower or quick rest, before making your way to the ‘Puerta de Tierra’ (Land Gate) in time to buy your ticket for the 8pm ‘The Place of the Sun’ tour and show. Performed Thursday – Sunday, the show takes the spectator back to the colonial era, when the local population fought fiercely to defend themselves from pirate attacks. The tour portion involves climbing up to the top of the battlements and a walk along the walls. Following that, a sound and light presentation takes place. The entire event lasts around one hour.
For dinner, attracted by the large local crowd (always a good sign) we enjoyed flavorful tacos at Potros, on the malecón to the south side of the center, followed by drinks at a bay-view terrace bar in the next block. Alternatively, a number of bars, cafés, and restaurants in the centro historico are around the main square, and along Calle 59.
After a well-deserved night’s rest, a great place to start the next day is at Restaurante La Parroquia, on Calle 55, a block from the cathedral. Among other more traditional breakfast foods, they offer an excellent ‘Huevos Motuleños’ – tortillas topped with beans, fried eggs sunny side up, ham, tomato sauce, and green peas, served with fried ripe bananas.
Walk off your breakfast in the centro historico, enjoying the many unique galleries, shops, and cafés, and taking the time to wander down the smaller streets to take in the beautifully restored buildings.
Once you’re ready to leave, head out of the center along the malecón, in the direction from which you entered the previous day. Turn right after the new shopping mall (or make a stop there if you wish) and proceed past it, across the railroad tracks, and up the extremely steep hill to the statue of Benito Juarez at the top. After a brief stop to enjoy the view, continue past the statue to the Fort of San Jose. Completed in 1792, the fort offers more views of the city, bay, and the Petenes Reserve. The internal part of the fort is currently closed for renovation.
Once you head back down the hill, follow the malecón out of town. Fancy some of those crab claws you saw on the menu yesterday but didn’t order? The ‘Zona Cockteleros’ will be on your left. Otherwise, continue up the hill where you will rejoin the highway to Mérida. About 90 minutes later, you’ll be there.