Have you ever visited the Yucatán Peninsula? It’s one of the most popular spots in Mexico. It hosts beautiful destinations like Cancún and Mérida. However, some people find them too touristy and try to avoid them altogether. With the increase of international tourism, escaping the crowds is harder than ever. What if I told you there is a place in Mexico with the same attractions but way fewer people? It’s called Campeche! What? Why haven’t I heard about it? What is there to do?
The best things to do in Campeche, Mexico include a walled city, impressive archaeological sites, sunny beaches, colorful handicrafts, and exquisite cuisine. Would you like to learn more about this underrated destination? Keep on reading to learn more.
Campeche City Historic Center
Let’s start with the Historic Center. After all, if you’re flying in, this will be the first place you’ll set foot on. There are two things about Campeche City that stand out: it was once a walled city and the houses are all different colors.
Wait! A wall? Yes, Campeche was the frequent target of pirate attacks, and the Spanish had to fortify the city to protect it. You can still see the remnants of the wall and even walk on it. Due to its historical importance, it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Campeche is one of the most colorful cities I’ve ever visited. Each house is a different color. You will see lots of photo ops throughout town. Take your time to tour the city and admire your surroundings.
The most popular street is Calle 59, where you will find lots of bars, cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Whether you visit by day or night, you will find something going on.
Don’t forget to visit the Cathedral of Campeche, a beautiful whitewashed building, and the main plaza dating back from the 16th century. On weekends, you can watch a video mapping show on the City Hall facade where they explain the history of Campeche. It’s a must-see!
Other popular attractions include a 3.42-mile seawall (malecón) with beautiful monuments; the fortresses of San Miguel and San José; Museo de Arquitectura Maya, a museum with Maya artifacts; Centro Cultural Casa No. 6, where you will learn more about the lifestyle of the locals many years ago; among others.
Maya Archaeological Sites
When people hear about the Maya culture in Mexico, most of them will instantly think of Chichén Itzá or Tulum. But did you know Campeche has many Maya sites as well?
The closest site to the capital is Edzná, but there are several others on the highway between Escárcega and Chetumal. I think the most important Maya site in the area is Calakmul. It is right in the middle of the rainforest. Getting there is quite an adventure as it’s off the beaten path, but it’s certainly doable. The easiest and most convenient way is renting a car.
Calakmul is a natural reserve, so it is also a great place for those interested in ecotourism. You can camp on site, go hiking, visit a bat cave, and admire a wide variety of birds and other endangered species. Just don’t faint if you run into a jaguar lol. I will write more about Calakmul in a future post.
Other nearby archaeological sites include Balamkú, Becán, Chicanná, Xpujil, and Río Bec. You can visit them all on the same day, just make sure you start your day early. In fact, some people make them a day trip from Bacalar, Quintana Roo although I think it’s a little rushed.
The one thing I loved about Campeche’s archaeological sites is that, unlike those in Yucatán and Quintana Roo, they are not crowded. When I visited with my family, we had the whole place to ourselves. Oh, and did I mention it’s still allowed to climb to the top of the pyramids? How awesome is that?
Champotón is an hour away from Campeche City. It is a charming small fishing town. Once you get there, you will be welcomed by the breeze of the sea and the smell of fresh seafood. The locals are laidback, and the atmosphere of the whole place is so peaceful and relaxing.
Book a nice hotel in front of the beach and lay in a hammock. Watch the pelicans fly by while you drink a refreshing cocktail or read your favorite book. A nice way to disconnect from the daily routine.
The town has a small seawall with a pier where you can admire beautiful sunsets. Locals go there to work out or simply take a walk with the family.
You can also ask one of the fishermen to take you on a boat ride. You will need your best negotiation skills here.
Since it is a fishing town, you don’t want to miss out on the fresh seafood, especially the small shrimp. It is one of the best I’ve ever had.
Not too far you can visit Miguel Colorado, a cenote. Activities include swimming, kayaking, hiking, and zip-lining.
Drop by the local market and take your time to buy some souvenirs or just watch. It is also a good option if you’re looking for cheap eats. Don’t forget to visit the main plaza and the church, as they are always bustling with activity. Then head back to your hotel and just relax to get ready for the following day.
Hit the Beach
Although Campeche is not known for its beaches, it has several places worth visiting along its coast. The closest beach to the capital is Playa Bonita. It is barely 20 minutes away from downtown. You can bring your own food and drinks or buy some on site. They also have umbrellas, chairs, tables, and hammocks for rental.
If you continue driving further south, you can find other beautiful beaches. The list includes Seybaplaya, Sabancuy, Playa Caracol, Playa Paraíso, among others. Some beaches are great for swimming, while others are better for water sports. Whatever it is you’re into, there’s something for you.
And yet, you can also visit a turtle camp in Chenkan or admire the bioluminescence in Xpicob. As you can see, the list of beaches and things to do in Campeche is endless!
Visit the Small Towns Nearby
There are several small towns between Campeche City and Mérida. The list includes places like Tenabo, Pomuch, Hecelchakán, Calkiní, and Bécal. On the highway, you will see several shops offering hammocks, guayaberas, sweets, and various handicrafts. Take your time to do some shopping or just see around.
In Pomuch, don’t forget to stop at a bakery to try the “pichones”. It’s a kind of bread with ham, cheese, and jalapeños. Delicious!
Near Hecelchakán, you can visit Hacienda Blanca Flor, where they used to grow henequén, a plant used by the Maya to make clothes.
Bécal is known for its jipijapa hats. Artisans make them inside subterranean caves to preserve humidity. They let you go inside and explain the making process to you.
Each small town has its own charm to it. Get lost in their streets and look at buildings that have been there for centuries. Each one of them has a story to tell. Walk along the streets and get to know the locals. You will learn so much from them. They are very friendly people, always willing to give a hand to whoever needs it.
The only pueblo mágico (magical town) in Campeche is Palizada in the southwestern part of the state. If you have time to go there, do it, but if not, there are several charming towns you can visit and enjoy during your trip.
Mérida is just a 2-hour drive from Campeche City. You can visit it too, but consider it is a large city, and it will take you several days to get to tour it all.
Try the Local Cuisine
Due to their proximity, Campeche and Mérida have similar dishes like panuchos (refried tortillas with beans, pulled chicken/turkey, tomato, pickled onion, avocado, and topped with cabbage) and relleno negro (turkey/pork covered in a sauce of various peppers). Many Campeche dishes are based on chicken, turkey, and pork. Beef is not very popular there.
Two dishes I highly recommend are camarones al coco (breaded shrimp with coconut) and pan de cazón (refried tortillas with beans, cazón, which is a kind of shark, covered in habanero sauce and topped with avocado).
Oh, and don’t forget to try the trancas! It’s a kind of torta with cochinita pibil or pulled pork. And there is nothing more refreshing than agua de chaya, a drink made with a local plant usually mixed with pineapple.
The most popular pepper is the habanero, so you can already tell Campeche’s dishes are hot. Campeche’s cuisine is also characterized by its use of spices, and that’s why its dishes come off as spicy or too strong for many. However, I recommend you try the dishes and then judge for yourself.
A Few Tips
The weather in Campeche is extremely humid most of the year. If you don’t like the heat, then I recommend visiting between November and March, which is when the temperature is cooler. If visiting during the hot months, make sure to bring comfortable clothing.
The hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, with August and September being the most active months. I visited during August, and it only rained once during my stay. I was concerned because the forecast showed probable rains for the whole week I was there. Locals told me it doesn’t rain all day when it rains, so don’t let that discourage you.
Make sure to bring repellent or buy some upon arrival. Mosquitoes are a nuisance, especially in archaeological sites.
Wear tons of sunblock and/or a hat. The sun is no joke there.
Campeche is great for road trips. The roads are in good condition for the most part. If you don’t get a GPS with your rental car, then make sure you download the needed maps to your smartphone for offline use.
Learn some Spanish! Unlike other destinations, I found out not too many people speak English in Campeche. It’s slowly starting to change as tourism starts to pick up, but learning some Spanish doesn’t hurt.
There you have it. The list of the best things to do in Campeche, Mexico is extensive. Campeche is such an underrated destination, but it has the same attractions as its neighbors Quintana Roo and Yucatán. If you don’t like the crowds, but you want the best of both worlds, then I recommend you visit Campeche.
I hope you liked this guide. As always, feel free to leave your questions and comments in the section below, and I will be more than glad to answer them. Bon voyage!
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Book your flight
The first thing you have to do is find cheap flights. But where do you find those? There are many search engines, but the one I highly recommend is Skyscanner. Here you can compare fares from all over the world and pick the one that suits you best.
Book your accommodation
The next thing you have to do is secure your lodging. Whether you prefer a hostel, a guesthouse, a B&B, or a hotel, you can find them all on Booking. You can find lodging of all kinds ranging from cheap to expensive and somewhere in between. Many people have scored good deals using it.
Another popular option is Hostelworld. This website focuses on hostels as opposed to hotels.
Book a tour
In some places, you might want to hire a tour. Not all places are equally accessible to visit by oneself. It helps enormously when you visit with a local guide who can show you around and answer any questions you might have…all in your native language. My to-go place is Viator as they offer tours of all kinds and have a presence all over the world.
Rent a car
Public transportation is usually cheaper than renting a car, but it’s sometimes more complicated and time-consuming. That’s a reality. In some cases, it’s more convenient to rent a car. My recommendation is Rentalcars.com. Here you can compare rates and choose the one that fits you best.
Get travel insurance
Never travel without a travel insurance policy, especially during these days! Travel insurance can literally save your life. My personal recommendations are World Nomads and Insured Nomads. Both companies cover COVID-19 related incidents, which is crucial these days.
Just click on the “Plan your trip” tab at the top of this page, and you will find more resources like getting Mexican insurance for your foreign car, buying travel accessories, and learning Spanish. And, of course, don’t forget to check back often to read about more tips on Mexico travel.