What to Do in Campeche

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Is Campeche Worth Visiting?

…this is what Google asked me snidely as I began to research just ‘what to do in Campeche’, in preparation for our stopover in the sleepy seaside state capital. Well, Google, I’m not sure if it’s worth it, but I’d like to find out.

The yellow church displaying the colours of Campeche's Baroque architecture
The colours of Campeche’s Baroque architecture

It is hard to pin down exactly what is so attractive about this old world port city.

Campeche has a beautifully preserved and historic old town, a culinary pedigree that stretches back hundreds of years and it is located close to white-sand beaches and impressive ancient ruins. So, it’s difficult to say why the harbor town doesn’t enjoy the reputation of some of the cities further along the Yucatan Peninsula such as Merida, Cancun or Tulum. But the deserted feeling within the old town, without tourists or the things that might lure them here, suggest that perhaps Campeche doesn’t really want that reputation. And that’s understandable.

Perhaps part of the attraction of sleepy Campeche is precisely its uncharted status and the reduced number of tourists here.

The Walled City of Campeche

A modern sculpture lies outside the old city walls, the spires of the cathedral can be seen behind the walls.
A modern sculpture lies outside the old city walls, the spires of the cathedral can be seen behind the walls.

Campeche is a picturesque colonial sea-port city. The UNESCO listed old town lies behind walls, fortifications and stone gates, remnants of a colourful history of colonials, Mayans, pirates, and marauders. The historic city spreads out from a pretty town square organised around the ornate San Francisco de Campeche Cathedral. The narrow cobblestone streets of the historic city are lined with pastel colonial buildings.

Campeche's central church the Iglesia de San Roque y San Francisquito
Campeche’s central church the Iglesia de San Roque y San Francisquito

But, where boutiques, bars, coffee shops, and galleries should be spilling out into the street from the brightly coloured buildings, doors are closed and streets are deserted. The main walking street behind the sea gate being the exception where a couple of restaurants open in the mid-morning and a few bars later in the afternoon and evening. Except on Sundays, when most things stay shut.

Outside the city walls, cultural colonisation has seeped into the unprotected parts of the city. Just outside the old town, you can find Walmart, a Burger King, and Texas chicken chain, Church’s. A mall with an H&M, Zara, and a Liverpool store are a little further up the road.

By the still, aqua blue sea, a long malecon stretches the length of the city. The pretty, breezy park offers a lovely stroll along the sea but is disappointingly bordered on its landward side by a six-lane highway.

Beaches of Campeche

Walking to the Beach from Campsite with Van in the Background

The city itself has no beaches to speak of with a long seawall that runs the length of the city’s rocky shore. You’ll need to leave the city to find beaches, but luckily they’re not far away.

To the north of Campeche, the coastline is occupied by the mangroves and estuarine environments of the Petenes Biosphere Reserve. However, to the south of the city, the stretch of coast between Campeche and Ciudad del Carmen offers countless beaches with warm, tranquil, blue waters and white sand beaches.

These are not the touristic beaches of the rest of the Yucatan, with their all-inclusive hotels, expensive beach bars, and serviced beach clubs. These beaches are authentic, wild and natural, you’ll find fishing villages and basic beach restaurants made of simple palm palapas and plastic furniture. Some beaches (especially the named ones) might have caretakers, varying levels of ‘services’ like bathrooms and trash cans and may charge a fee. Some, you won’t need to share with a single soul.

Van parked by beach

The coast is great to explore with your own vehicle if you are on a Yucatan road trip or overlanding with a camper or van. Here are some of the named beaches to get you started.

Playa Bonita

This “beach” is the closest to Campeche but also not really a beach. The private Playa Bonita complex is more a beach simulation with restaurants, playgrounds, toilets, and showers. It has a volleyball pit, palapas and music. The ‘beach’ itself is particularly underwhelming. Shallow water, often murky is filled with seaweed that covers a stony beach floor. It is also behind a short sea wall.

There is an entry fee for this beach and it’s on a serious sliding scale depending where you come from. For locals, it’s $2 MXN, for nationals $10 MXN and $40 MXN for foreigners (this doesn’t cover car parking which carries an additional $10 MXN charge). Unless you’re desperate we recommend missing this ‘beach’ and continuing south.

Seybaplaya

Thirty kilometres south of Campeche the fishing village of Seybaplaya offers an authentic Campeche beach experience with stony shore, palapas and the familiar turquoise waters of the area.

Playa Sabancuy

Two hours south of Campeche just before Ciudad del Carmen, the small town of Sabancuy this clean and beautiful beach is relaxing and tranquil. There are a handful of restaurants, some palapas to relax under in the heat of the day.

Attractions in Campeche City

The Malecon

Xmuch Haltun Botanical Garden

This tiny botanical garden is home to 200 species of endemic subtropical plants.

  • Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday 9 am – 4 pm and Sunday 9 am – 4 pm
  • Price: $15 MXN

Maya Architecture Museum, Baluarte de la Soledad

This small museum provides a fascinating background on the Mayan ruins which can be found throughout Campeche. It is especially worthwhile if you have or plan to visit the historical ruins of Southern Mexico (and you should).

  • Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 8 am – 5 pm
  • Price: $45 MXN

Explore the Art Galleries in Campeche

Local Mexican artists portraying everyday life at Galeria Artefacto 21
Galería Artefacto 21

Campeche is home to a number of small galleries that shine a light on the culture of the region. Discover Campiche through the eyes of local artists who share their home through a variety of mediums.

Casa San Pablo

A gallery showing temporary exhibitions from local artists.

Central Sureste

A curative space where exhibitions are held during the week and cinema nights are held on the weekends.

Galería Artefacto 21

A small gallery showcasing up and coming local artists.

Attractions Outside Campeche City

Flamingos wading in the water
The flamingos of the Yucatan

Petenes Biosphere Reserve

The Petenes Biosphere Reserve offers the opportunity to explore a unique estuarine environment comprised of lowland jungle, wetlands, salt pans, natural pools, and springs. Here you can spot flamingos, spider monkeys, and even jaguar.

There are a variety of ways you can experience the reserve, from boat tours to diving expeditions, hikes to kayaking excursions. Find a list of the different tour operators available below!

To continue exploring the unique estuarine environments of the Yucatan Peninsula, read Kelli’s article on Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Flamingos in Mexico.

Calakmul Campeche

ruins-of-calakmul
The ruins of Calakmul are enveloped by jungle. Image courtesy of Jorge Rodriguez

Hidden in the jungles of Campeche, close to the Guatemalan border, these ruins are some of the most impressive in the region, for their size, condition and the jungle that envelopes them.

This ancient city, one of the most powerful in the region during the Mayan period, has a fascinating history.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 8 am – 5 pm
  • Price: Entry fees are applied three times as you begin driving along the road, as you enter the reserve and to enter the archeological zone. Total price is $200 MXN. A local tour guide should cost approximately $1,000 MXN.

Getting to Calakmul

Calakmul is five hours from the city. Reaching these ruins is a journey to be sure, but there are a few options.

Tour

A variety of tour options are available from day trips to multi-day all inclusive packages. You can find a list of operators here.

Private Vehicle

You can reach Calakmul yourself by taking the 180 to Champoton, and then the 186 to Conhuas. This leg of the journey takes around three and half hours. From here it is possible to carry on by private vehicle, however, the road from Conhaus to Calakmul is in poor condition and obstructed by low vegetation. It recommended to catch a colectivo from here. The final 60km is slow going and takes another two hours.

It is not possible to camp overnight in the Calakmul reserve but it is possible to camp in Conhuas.

Public Transport

To reach Clakmul by public transport first you must travel to Xpujil. Bus line ADO travels to the town of Xpujil daily. See schedules and prices here.

This service gets in after 6 pm after the ruins have close so you will need to stay over night here. Find accommodation here.

From Xpujil it is easy to organise public collectivo, private driver or guided service into the ruins.

Edzna

Closer to the city than Calakmul, the ruins of Edzna are no less worthy of visiting and far less strenuous to reach.

Only hour inland from the city of Campeche these impressive Mayan ruins are a unique and beautiful representation of Mayan architecture. The history of the local people is rich and fascinating.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 8 am – 5 pm
  • Price: Entry is $60 MXN per person. Local guides are available for 600 MXN from the reception center.

Getting to Edzna

Just one hour from Campeche city, these ruins make for an easy day or half-day trip.

Tour

A variety of tour options are available through Campeche tour agency Kankabi’ tours.

Private Vehicle

You can reach Edzna easily yourself with private vehicle from Campeche. The roads are in good condition and the drive should take less than one hour.

It is possible to camp overnight by the entrance to Edzna for free.

Public Transport

To reach Edzna by public transport from Campeche, the easiest and cheapest way is to take a colectivo from the corner of Calle Nicaragua and Calle Chihuahua. Colectivos leave approximately every 30 minutes.

Restaurants in Campeche

Braised beef tacos with bone marrow at La María Cocina Peninsular
Braised beef tacos with bone marrow at La María Cocina Peninsular

The cuisine of Campeche has a history that predates the centuries-old city. The local flavours have been influenced by the original Mayan inhabitants, the Spanish settlers, the sub-tropical crops of the region, and of course, its proximity to the sea.

While Campeche may not be an international foodie destination right now, there are a number of restaurants that are delivering the true tastes of the Yucatan, of Campeche as well as modern and international flavours.

Café Sotavento

This cute and colourful café in the heart of the old town has great coffee and great breakfast fare.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 7am – 11pm
  • Prices: $50 – $100 MXN

Restaurant Los Abuelos

Homemade local food. A delicious breakfast menu between 8am and 12pm and typical local fare until 5pm.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 8am – 5pm
  • Prices: 50 – 100 MXN

La Olla de la Pagoda

This no-frills, super authentic local cocina serves up generous helpings of real local staples. Portions are large, prices are low and the dishes are hearty. Enjoy the unique flavour of the Yucatan as the locals do.

  • Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday 12pm – 5pm
  • Price: $50 – $150 MXN

La María Cocina Peninsular

This modest and reasonably priced restaurant has a short menu of local dishes and house specialties. Try Yucatan cuisine like coconut shrimp or the house braised beef and bone marrow tacos. Skip the flavourless shrimp soup and local starters tasting platter which is heavy on grease and light on flavour.

  • Opening Hours: Wednesday to Monday 2pm – 9pm
  • Price: $100 – $300 MXN

La Pigua

A white table cloth affair, La Pigua focuses on modern and classic seafood dishes, attentive service, and a classy dining environment. They do well in each category.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 1pm – 6pm
  • Price: $200 – $400 MXN

Cafes in Campeche

Cup of Coffee

Café Sotavento

This cute and colourful café in the heart of the old town offers great coffee and great breakfast fare.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 7am – 11pm
  • Coffee Prices: $25 – $50 MXN

Altagracia Café

Another option contesting the claim of best coffee in Campeche. Here you can enjoy your morning coffee in a cosy atmosphere.

  • Opening Hours: Daily from 8am
  • Coffee Prices: $25 – $50 MXN

Bars and Nightlife in Campeche

The 'tourist strip' within the old town with its colorful buildings and bikes
The ‘tourist strip’ within the old town is home to a handful of restaurants and bars that open late morning or in the evening but are often closed Sunday or mid-week

I can’t in all good conscience recommend coming to Campeche to party. But if you feel like a beer in the evening after exploring the city or the many tourist attractions nearby there are a couple of serviceable options.

Piano Bar La Burbuja

This bar, two kilometres from the old town, offers the opportunity to escape the tourist bars in the town centre. It has all-day live music and free snacks served up with your drinks. Come here to experience a real locals bar.

  • Opening Hours: 1pm – 7pm Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Homero Taberna

With a handful of artisanal cervezas on the menu, this bar has slightly more to offer than the other bars on this main tourist street.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 6pm – 2pm

El Habenero

Another opportunity in the main district to try some craft beers. El Habenero also has a small bar, rooftop terrace, and pool table.

  • Opening Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 6pm – 2am

Accommodation in Campeche

AMBAR Rooms & Coffee

Basic but comfortable rooms at a great price. These apartments are just on the edge of the historic Old Town.

Prices start from $375 MXN.

Casa Mazejuwi

This charming bed and breakfast in the heart of Campeche’s old town is well-appointed and comfortable. The included breakfast is delicious. The real selling point for Casa Mazejuwi, however, is the attention and care of the management and staff who go the extra mile to look after their guests.

Book in early as this is one of the more popular bed and breakfasts in town.

Prices start from $1,000 MXN.

The Luxurious Hacienda Puerta Campeche

The Luxurious Hacienda Puerta Campeche has found its home in a restored 17th-century mansion. The hotel is located within walking distance to the old town. Rooms are thoughtfully appointed with everything you could need. The hotel features an on-site spa, pool, terrace bar and restaurant.

Prices start from $6,500 MXN.

Van Life in Campeche

If you are traveling and camping with your own vehicle Campeche is very welcoming. The roads are in good condition. Moreover, Campeche is a safe city especially close to the old town with local police dedicated to making the town welcoming and safe for tourists. You can stealth camp by the malecon or in the parking lot of the Sam’s Club.

Tap water here has a funny taste even after filtering, so if possible fill up before you visit.

There is 4G throughout the city.

Getting to Campeche

Merida to Campeche

By Private Vehicle

If you are traveling by private vehicle the 180 which links Merida and Campeche is straightforward and the road in good condition. The 180 has tolls but they can easily be avoided. Of greater concern is the State Checkpoints at the outskirts of both cities. Corrupt police officers (a problem in Campeche and the Yucatan) have been known to hassle foreigners.

Our method of dealing with this problem is to first play dumb. Play up the language barrier and pretend we know zero Spanish except when it’s convenient. This makes things difficult for the police who are less likely to bother. Secondly, if police try threatening us with impounding our car or huge fines, for some invented offense, we insist on a real ticket, ask for their names and advise them we will be going to the police station to appeal the ticket and complain about out treatment immediately.

The checkpoint at the border of Campeche and Merida is operated by the military and does not appear to have the same corruption problem.

By Public Transport

The simplest way to get to Campeche from Merida is by bus. The bus takes two and a half hours and will take you from Merida central bus station to Campeche bus station. ADO and OCC run a number of services daily as do other local companies. You can find timetables and fares here.

Prices: $100 MXN to $600 MXN

Ciudad del Carmen to Campeche

By Private Vehicle

If you are traveling by private vehicle the trip down up the 180 takes two hours and forty-five minutes using toll roads (approximately $70 MXN). The tolls can be avoided but it will take an additional thirty minutes

By Public Transport

Campeche is reachable from Ciudad del Carmen by bus. The bus takes three and a half hours and will take you from Ciudad del Carmen central bus station to Campeche bus station. ADO runs a number of services daily. You can find timetables and fares here.

Prices: $250 MXN to $700 MXN

Palenque to Campeche

By Private Vehicle

If you are traveling by private vehicle the trip down up the 186 takes five hours along toll roads which cannot be avoided without adding an extra two hours to your trip.

By Public Transport

Campeche is reachable from Palenque by bus. The bus takes five and a half hours and will take you from Palenque central bus station to Campeche bus station. ADO runs a number of services daily. You can find timetables and fares here.

Prices: $400 MXN to $1,000 MXN

…So, is Campeche worth visiting? We reckon so. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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