Campeche - A Hidden Gem
Updated: Jan 28
A relaxing long weekend in a pretty city
Ok, well first off I learned that it’s not pronounced “Cam-peachy” as we say back in Texas. It’s “Cam-pech-ay.”
I must admit that my expectations weren’t too high as we set out on the two hour drive from Merida. I had done a bit of upfront reading and had run across descriptions saying, “many places are shuttered and closed” and “it’s not what it used to be.” Oh wow! I packed a whole bag of food just in case we weren’t able to find suitable places to eat. (Ok, full disclosure, my food bag consisted of chips and candy, but I was willing to live off of that if necessary.)
As we pulled into town I immediately realized that the online rumors of Campeche’s demise had been greatly exaggerated. Personally, I think people were making false claims in order to keep this hidden gem unknown to the rest of the world.
Present-day Campeche got its start back in 1540 when the Mayan city of Ah-Kin-Pech (meaning “land of snakes and ticks”) was conquered by Francisco de Montejo. Note – Just two years later, he took over the Mayan city of Tho and set up Merida in its place. Unfortunately, this conquering pattern was repeated quite often throughout the Yucatan Peninsula.
Because of its strategic location, Campeche soon became an important port. This meant that it attracted the unwanted attention of pirates. In response to frequent attacks, the Spanish built a hexagon-shaped wall that still surrounds most of the historical center. It includes both a Puerta de Tierra (Land Gate) and a Puerta de Mar (Sea Gate).
As I strolled around the historical center, I had a feeling of déjà vu. Then it dawned on me, Campeche is like a mini version of Merida, with pretty pastel houses neatly aligned in well-organized rows. Although, truth be told, I think Campeche is actually a little prettier than its big sister. It’s certainly cleaner; not that Merida is dirty. It's just that with the exception of Singapore, I don’t think I’ve ever visited a tidier city. I constantly saw cleaners sweeping the streets and workers trimming the grass.
Adding to Campeche's charm is its “pedestrian first” policy. We found that anytime we got anywhere near an intersection, cars would instantly stop and then patiently wait for us to cross. How refreshing is that? (It was basically the opposite of when I visited Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam years ago and was literally terrorized by the mere thought of crossing the street.)
Speaking of streets, Campeche has a five-mile “malecon” that runs the length of the bay. It seems like everyone from runners and bikers to couples and families use this wide concrete pathway. For our part, we took leisurely strolls each morning and evening. It was a great way to take in the Gulf breezes.
As we toured around, we found it very easy to get around the city's historical center. The main street is Calle 59. Walking along it, we found all kinds of shops and restaurants. I especially liked Tukulna artisan gallery that was near the corner of Calle 59 and Calle 10. I also really enjoyed visiting the plaza and park area near Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral.
So, now what about the food situation? I’m sure you're wondering if we were forced to live off of chips and candy. No, we weren’t, but somehow it all did seem to get eaten. (I blamed Russell and he blamed housekeeping. Go figure!)
Really, we had some very nice meals during our stay. In particular, I want to call out La Maria. OH MY! It was so unbelievably good. Seriously! I mean, it was so good that we ate there twice, and we never go to the same place twice on a weekend trip. I highly recommend it! If you go, be sure and get a reservation for the back terrace. It's really cute out there.
As for our hotel, we stayed at the Puerta Campeche Hacienda. It has a nice location at the quiet end of Calle 59, a very good location for seeing the city’s primary sights. Plus, it's kind of cool to stay at an old hacienda.
All in all, we had a great weekend getaway. For my part, I'm ready to go back to again sometime soon (and this time I won't say "Cam-peachy).