It happens. You plan to stay in a city for a few days and end up staying for a week. See why we extended our stay in slyly charming Campeche, a UNESCO World Heritage site and beautifully restored formerly fortified colonial city, in our Campeche travel guide.
What to do in Campeche, Mexico
One of the best things to do in Campeche is wander the streets taking in the color and charm of the colonial buildings and the city’s seven churches.
Recently, federal and local governments have pumped millions of pesos into a beautification project designed to restore and maintain most of the downtown area of Campeche. Hundreds of colonial-era buildings have been brought back to life and they’re spruced up regularly with subsidized painting programs.
When we were in Campeche citizens were in the midst of another painting frenzy and most downtown streets looked like long strings of Easter eggs or trails of Jordan almonds as each building in the block tried to out-pastel its neighbor. Campeche was even in the process of burying its power lines below ground, creating an even more beautiful city.
Touring Campeche’s forts
Old Campeche is surrounded by a wall studded with seven imposing forts. Most of the forts are now open for tours and a few of them also house museums.
The most impressive of the fort-based museums is the Museo Arqueologico de Campeche in the San Miguel Fort. Every rambling room contained treasures from the Yucatan Peninsula including masks, steles, ornate bowls, jewelry, whole burial chambers, hieroglyphics, and more. Our visit to this museum enriched our subsequent visits to the Mayan archaeological sites like Edzna and Calakmul where many of the pieces where discovered.
Baseball and bingo (sort of) in Campeche
Basically, Campechanos like to have fun. Baseball is big here and the local team is (fittingly) called the Campeche Pirates. Even fund-raising events are fun in Campeche as we learned one Saturday evening when we stumbled into the weekly public loteria game organized by the city library.
Loteria is a children’s board game that’s played like bingo but instead of trying to fill your card with boring calls like “B-4” you fill it with matches that correspond to Mexican vocabulary words. Get the right combination of El Borracho (the drunk), La Pera (the pear) and other calls and you win half the pot that the library ladies collect each round.
We love loteria and find it very useful at building vocabulary. The library ladies looking over our shoulder to make sure we didn’t miss a match were helpful too and we felt a bit better once we saw that they were hovering over the Mexican players too.
Early in the sitting Karen actually won a round (not sure who was more surprised: us or the locals) and won 25 pesos (about US$2). Later in the evening, when more than 50 locals of all ages had joined in the game, Eric won another round and pocketed twice that much.
We’d soon blown our winnings on the scrumptious snacks being cooked up at carts set up around the plaza. Among other great bites, we enjoyed one of the best bowls of pozole (a rich and spicy soup thick with hominy and fresh meat) that we had in all of Mexico.
Where to eat and drink in Campeche, Mexico
Campechenos enjoy their city day and night and one of the best nightspots is an old-school bar called Salon Rincon Colonial. Scenes from the movie Original Sin, starring Antonio Banderras, were shot here but we found the pleasing mustiness, cold beer, mariachi band and welcoming regulars to be the real draw.
Hey, anyplace where the bartender drinks with the customers and sings with the band is okay with us. See for yourself, in our video, below.
Campeche is not only surrounded by a wall, it’s also surrounded by the sea and that means seafood. A string of casual restaurants line the shore serving up all kinds of just-caught goodness. We chose a place called La Palapa. The food was superb if not the cheapest in town (about 115 pesos, or about US$9, for a big meal of fish cooked in garlic, rice, salad and tortillas).
Sleeping in Campeche, Mexico
For all of the charming reasons we’ve laid out in this post we sensibly decided to stay in Campeche for much longer than we’d planned and we jumped at a basic but very clean room at Hotel Reforma right off the square where we got Wi-Fi and A/C for 200 pesos (about US$16) a night. Plus we got Jorge, the owner, who looked out for us in a paternal way that was kind, not creepy.
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