Campeche

Picture of unesco_sign Campeche is the capital city of the Mexican state of the same name. It's a pleasant low-key sort of place that sits in a bowl shaped valley which is open towards the Gulf of Mexico. It was once one of the most important cities in North America, as the silver mined in Mexico went through Campeche on its way back to Spain. As a result, the city has a large colonial center which was surrounded by hexagonal walls. The walls are mostly gone leaving a hexagonal perimeter road but the towers that stood at the corners remain.
Picture of zocalo In the center of the old town is of course the zocalo, or town square. It is here (as always) that one finds the city hall, the main cathedral, and the largest number of people trying to sell you whatever it is they're trying to sell. In Campeche, that consists mostly of historic trolley rides.
Picture of calle Campeche is almost certainly the most colorful town we've ever been to. Each building is a different pastel shade. We're not sure but it appears that it's probably a city ordinance because it is kept up on every street in the old town. Many of these pictures were taken on our first day in Campeche, which was Benito Juarez Day (a Mexican national holiday), and thus the streets were unusually empty.
Picture of entrance The city gates facing the water and directly inland still remain. These are the inland gates which are part of a very small redoubt that can be visited. It's sort of dwarfed by the two modern hospitals across the street, but as long as you face towards the older part of the city it looks pretty authentic.
Picture of citygate This is the same city gate seen from inside the city. The city walls were strengthened after a particularly traumatic incident in town history. A collection of different pirate bands formed a temporary alliance, teaming up to sack Campeche. Many of the men were killed, the women were raped, most everything was looted and there was general pirate-like activity until Spain got together enough troops to regain the city. After that, large forts were built on both sides of the city with walls extending out to sea so that a naval attack on Campeche would've required an enormous force.
Picture of hillside_barrio This is a random neighborhood visible on the hills around Campeche. It appears that the alternating pastel paint fetish has spread into the areas around Campeche as well.
Picture of redoubt This is sort of the front door to Campeche. It's the main fortified inland entrance. This picture is taken from the city walls. These can be visited if the guard is feeling charitable apparently. Most everyone was sleeping when we visited in the middle of the day but they let us up to the walls (although we were locked in up there). The bright yellow bit across the street is a park that borders the main bus station. Just beyond that is the main city market.
Picture of ringing Atop the wall is a bell that had assorted important purposes once upon a time. Pirate attacks, important Spanish noblemen visitors and so on. In this case, David is ringing the bell because it's the preferred way to let the guards down below know that you've been up there long enough, almost certainly been sunburned, and are now badly in need of a drink and would like to come back down. It reverberates impressively down the street. We're not sure if this is standard operating procedure or some kind of holiday laissez-faire approach. Either way, if you get the chance, have fun with it.
Picture of city_wall To be honest there's not much to see on Campeche's walls. Mostly, you can see Campeche. There are some sentry towers, a few old cannons lying around for effect and maybe some bird nests. This is also something that should probably be done in the morning or evening rather than the heat of the day when we did it.
Picture of calle2
Picture of campeche_skyline There are two forts on either side of Campeche. The bigger is Fort San Miguel which is where this picture was taken. All the way across the city (behind that radio tower) is the other, Fort San Jose El Alto. San Jose houses a small military museum. San Miguel has a large collection of Mayan artifacts from Campeche state including the jade burial masks. found at Calakmul. It's worth driving up here for the view alone if you happen to have a vehicle. The old town is centered around the cathedral in the right center of this picture. To the left near the gulf are the newer government buildings. There's a splendid seaside walk that stretches the entire length of the city and periodically has fountains, sculpture and little shacks serving ceviche and shrimp cocktail.
Picture of silhouette The top of San Miguel is basically just an open area with some cannons to provide atmosphere and remind you that you're at a fort. It also has what is probably the best view of Campeche and the shoreline.
Picture of sentry_tower By the time the Spanish, and later the Mexican government finished building walls, forts and moats around Campeche, its bay, and the surrounding mountains there wasn't really any threat left to protect it from. A few hundred years later however, the fortifications protected the town during the War of the Castes (a Mayan uprising that spanned the entire second half of the 19th century).
Picture of moat Incidentally, no idea how they kept this moat full on top of a hill during the several months of dry season. At sunset in Campeche the seaside walking path (malecon) fills up with people, most of whom are just out for a stroll. While the city bustles a bit during working hours (on non holidays), it really comes alive just after sunset when all the streets are full of people.
Picture of nighttime Restaurants are plentiful along the waterfront and in the old quarter. Seafood is understandably popular in Campeche and shrimp is probably the featured item. Coconut shrimp is one speciality and it's a far cry from the entrée of the same name in the United States. There is no doubt coconut is involved as well as a particularly fruity sauce. Personally, we were a bit skeptical but it's quite good. Garlic shrimp, and pan de cazon (sort of a shark enchilada) are also popular. There are a ton of restaurants and we don't like to recommend those frequented by tour buses but despite the kitsch and strolling Mariachi, Marganzo in the old quarter is probably the best seafood restaurant we ate at in the Yucatan. Sometimes these places are popular for a reason.
Picture of tower_view Of the six towers that surround the city, none are particularly towering. San Carlos houses the city museum of Campeche which is worth a visit, but won't take more than half an hour, and that's if you study each exhibit in detail.
Picture of government_buildings The government buildings of Campeche are clustered between the old quarter and the waterfront. The flying saucer that landed next to the city museum is apparently the state legislature. We should also mention that there are no beaches directly in the city of Campeche. To the north, there are a few private clubs along the water. To the south towards Champoton there are some fantastic coves with narrow sand strips but brilliant water. We'd not recommend going on Benito Juarez Day.

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