The houses inside the walled city have been renovated extensively, and painted in a variety of pastel colours. Taken together with its cobblestoned streets and cathedral square, a walk through the town has something of a fairytale quality.
Outside the walls, there is a modern city, and an attractive waterfront boulevard (malecon), ideal for a stroll or cycle along the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.
Where to Stay
Casa Don Gustavo
Casa Don Gustavo is an attractive boutique hotel, renovated and opened in 2010 from a large 18th century colonial house on the coastal side of the walled city. It has 10 suites decorated in period style with many antique artworks, ceramics, glassware items and chandeliers, and one bedroom boasts an original 4 poster bed slept in by Queen Carlotta of Spain.
The 1st floor bedrooms in particular are very attractive, and I think it is worth requesting one of those if booking. These were the original living quarters of the owners of the building, while the ground floor bedrooms have been converted from the warehouse that used to occupy this floor.
There is a rooftop swimming pool, and an open-air jacuzzi as well as a small garden. All the rooms open onto a central courtyard where the hotel's restaurant tables are, and where breakfast is served.
Our ground floor bedroom was small but perfectly formed, simply furnished but including air conditioning, flat screen TV and an en-suite bathroom. It was elegantly decorated with walls painted in yellow, contrasting with dark wooden furniture, and colourful original floor tiles.
We had a lovely breakfast at Casa Don Gustavo with good, strong coffee, freshly cut fruit and various Mexican cooked options. Breakfast is taken in the hotel's beautiful courtyard.
In addition to the fine architecture of Casa Don Gustavo, the breakfast and the helpful staff, it is the central location in Campeche that makes it a good place to stay. The hotel is situated on Calle 59, which is the main and most beautiful pedestrianised road of the city, only metres from the main square and the seafront.
Where to Eat
Several people recommended La Pigua as the best restaurant in town, but sadly during our stay the road in front of the restaurant was being resurfaced so the place was closed. So instead, we went to Marganzo, just round the corner from our hotel and also recommended as one of the best dining options in town.
We started with Panuchos campechanos (£3), these were tortillas stuffed with shark meat and black beans, and were crisp and the perfect accompaniments to the very chilled beers we both had. I could have eaten this all evening, and in retrospect, maybe I should have done.
For main course, Dr G and I both had fish - I had mine simply grilled with a mole made from pumpkin flower and shrimps (£9) while Dr G had his stuffed with shrimps and bacon (£8). The fish were good despite the presentation but not outstanding.
Marganzo felt very much aimed at tourists, and if I were ever to return to Campeche, La Pigua would probably be my first port of call.
What to Do
Main Square and Mansion at No.6
Campeche is a compact city, and it is possible to walk or cycle through all the streets of the walled part in a day. The Plaza Principal merits a few hours, including the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepcion.
The mansion at Number 6 in the square is now a cultural centre (renovated by the same architect who restored Casa Don Gustavo), and is furnished with authentic period furniture to give a sense of life as a wealthy Campechano.
Beyond the square, it is good just to wander through the streets and enjoy the beautiful architecture. However, unlike other cities we visited in Mexico, we noted very few bars and cafes in the centre which meant it has limited appeal to visitors once they have walked through the streets in the walled town.
Cycling in the city can be slightly hair-raising, but the Malecon is ideal, having a cycle track along this pedestrianised seaside boulevard. We hired a couple of bikes for the day from a bicycle hire shop right opposite Casa Don Gustavo on Calle 59, for £8 each, and cycled 4km east to sample some seafood at the Parador Gastronomico de Cocteleros. The cycle along the beach front was a great joy but alas the seafood we had at the Cocteleros (a tacky tourist trap) was diabolical, so avoid it at all costs.
Archeological Museum of Campeche
On returning to the centre, we cycled a further 3.5 km west to visit the Archeological Museum of Campeche based inside the impressive 17th century fort of San Miguel (admission £1.50). The fort has a dry moat and working drawbridge, and there are great views from the top. The museum contains vases, jewellery and statues from several Mayan sites in the state of Campeche.
Edzna and Calakmul
We did not have time to visit any Mayan sites, but there are impressive ruins at Edzna, 64km from Campeche which was built and occupied by people known as Itzaes, between 600BC and the arrival of the Spanish. We would love to have visited the UNESCO World Heritage site of Calakmul, a massive 72km2 city mostly still encased in thick tropical jungle, but the 4.5 hour 307km journey each way did not fit with our tight schedule. More detail on the site can be seen here.
Hotel Casa Don Gustavo
Calle 59, Number 4, Centro Historico 24000
Rooms rates vary according to season and availability but start around £150 per night
Calle 8, No 267
Av. Miguel Aleman no. 179A
Visits to Edzna or 2 day trips to Calakmul can be arranged with Xtampak Tours
Calle 57, No 14, Campeche
We took an ADO bus from Merida to Campeche, which took 2.5 hours, and cost £6 each. It is also possible to fly to Campeche airport from Mexico City with Aeromexico