One of the greatest pleasures to be had in Campeche comes from simply wandering the streets or the malecón (Avenida Ruíz Cortines) – especially in the early evening, when the heat lessens and locals also come out to stroll, and on Sundays, when the plaza is closed to cars for a mellow, all-evening party. Churches, mansions and fortresses punctuate each block, though only the archeological museum in the Fuerte de San Miguel can be described as a “must-see”.
As you explore, remember that even-numbered streets run parallel to the sea, starting with Calle 8, just inside the ramparts; odd-numbered streets run inland. The central Plaza de la Independencia, or parque principal, is bordered by calles 8, 10, 55 and 57. Outside the old city wall, the grid system is less strict; the market, just outside the wall by the Puerta de Tierra, is as far as you’re likely to need to venture into the modern city.
Starting on the plaza, the most central landmark is La Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción (daily 6.45am–8pm). Founded in 1540, it’s one of the oldest churches on the peninsula. The bulk of the construction, though, took place much later, and what you see now is a wedding-cake Baroque structure; look in the adjacent museum (11am–5pm; donation) for a seventeenth-century statue of Christ, interred in a dark wood and silver catafalque, among other relics. Across the plaza is the Centro Cultural Casa Seis (daily 9am–9pm; free), which has an elegant permanent display of Baroque interiors. It also hosts art shows and performances, including musical serenatas most Thursdays. On the seaward side of the plaza, the Baluarte de la Soledad, just south of the public library, houses the Museo de Arquitectura Maya (Tues–Sun 9.30am–5.30pm; M$31), a collection of columns, stelae and other stone details arranged by regional style – Chenes, Puuc, etc. Its presentation of a sketch outline of the decoration next to most of the carved stone helps train your eye to see the details. From here, you can head southwest along the line of the wall to the Baluarte de San Carlos, which has cannons on the battlemented roof and, underneath, the beginnings of a network of ancient tunnels that runs under much of the town. Sealed off now, the tunnels provided refuge for the populace during pirate raids, and before that were probably used by the Maya. The baluarte houses Campeche’s Museo de la Ciudad (Tues–Sun 9.30am–5.30pm; M$29), a tiny but rather lovely collection of local memorabilia that includes models of ships, with Spanish commentary.
The other remaining chunk of wall is on the landward side of the old city – hence the name Puerta de Tierra (daily 9am–4pm; M$10 for access to the wall and a small museum). It hosts a perfunctory pirate museum (M$30), but you can also pay just to climb the ramparts (M$10) and walk along the top of the walls in either direction, to the Baluarte de San Juan or the Baluarte de San Francisco. The views are intriguing: from the Baluarte de San Francisco to the north, you can see the busiest parts of the new town and the Alameda Francisco de Paula Toro, the Havana-inspired promenade next to the market; heading south towards the Baluarte de San Juan, you can gaze down over the neatly restored colonial facades in the centre and see how much still lies derelict behind them. An optional audio-guide (M$40) identifies some of the other visible landmarks. Every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, there’s an enjoyable sound-and-light show (8pm; M$50, or M$80 with translation) starting from the Puerta de Tierra and walking along the wall in the company of the “soldiers” guarding it.
Beyond the city wall
Beyond the city wall
On a steep hill on the southwest side of town, about 4km from the centre, the Fuerte de San Miguel houses Campeche’s impressive Museo Arqueológico (Tues–Sun 9.30am–5.30pm; M$37). Plaques are in Spanish only, but the beautiful relics from all over the peninsula speak for themselves. Maya artefacts from Edzná and Jaina make up much of the collection; highlights include delicate Jaina figurines, fine sculpture and pre-Hispanic gold. But the best part is the treasure from the tombs at Calakmul, including the first mummified body to be found in Mesoamerica, unearthed in 1995. The jade death masks are mesmerizing. Enjoy the view over the ramparts, too, which is wonderful at sunset. To get here, you can take a city bus along the coast road (look for “Lerma” or “Playa Bonita”), but that will leave you with a stiff climb up the hill to the fort.
On the north side of the city, about 3.5km from the centre and directly uphill from the paradores de cockteleros, the Fuerte de San José (Tues–Sun 9.30am–5.30pm; M$31) faces down a giant statue of Benito Juárez on the neighbouring hill. It is home to a museum of armaments and a collection of items from the colonial era. It’s at the top of an even steeper hill than the southern fort and takes in a dramatic view; buses to look for are marked “Morelos” or “Bellavista”, starting from in front of Alameda. A taxi to either museum from the centre costs about M$30.
If you’re desperate for beaches, take one of the buses along the waterfront marked “Playa Bonita” or “Lerma”, two seaside destinations just south of Campeche; Playa Bonita is the better of the two, with palapas for shade, but it can still be rather dreary and empty on weekdays.