The Best Things To Do In Campeche, Mexico

Known as Mexico’s Rainbow City, Campeche is one of the prettiest cities in the Yucatan Peninsula, located pretty much on the opposite side to more famous places such as Cancun and Tulum. Often overlooked by travelers, those who visit don’t take long to realize that there are many more things to do in Campeche, Mexico, than they had anticipated.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Campeche is a series of beautiful colonial buildings, forts and walls – and it is incredibly well preserved. What’s more, the city is not nearly as crowded with tourists as many others in the state – which means it is significantly more authentic, and prices are lower compared to other more popular Mexico destinations.

If you are thinking of including Campeche in your Mexico itinerary, continue reading! Here I will share the best things to do in Campeche: the ones you should not miss!

Bastion of San Francisco Campeche
One of Campeche Bastions

25 Unmissable Things To Do In Campeche, Mexico

Discover the old bastions of Campeche

Known as baluarte, the old bastions of Campeche are one of the main reasons why the city has been awarded its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Construction on this complex of strongholds linked by ramparts began in 1704 in order to protect the city from pirate invasions. Seven out of eight original baluarte remain, and they are very well preserved.

These include the Soledad Bastion, which features the Museum of Maya Architecture; the Santiago Bastion (a replica built in the 1950s); and the San Pedro Bastion, which was built in the late 17th century.

Walk along Campeche City Walls

You will often hear pirates mentioned when listening to stories about Campeche. One of the largest trading ports in the New World, Campeche faced various attacks from pirates – the worse in 1663 and was so massive that it became known as the Sacking of Campeche.

As a consequence, the King of Spain called for the constriction of protective walls around the city. It took around 18 years – from 1686 until 1704 – to complete the 2.5 km (1.5 miles) long walls – which were 8 meters (26.2 feet) tall.

Two sections of the walls along with 7 bastions (mentioned above) made it to today. The bastions house some of the most interesting attractions in Campeche.

Spend time at the Xmuch’haltun Botanical Garden

Uniquely situated inside the old city walls, inside the Santiago Bastion, is the Xmuch’haltun Botanical Garden. Meaning “Water that springs from the earth” in the Mayan language, the garden plays host to a lush variety of tropical plant life, as well as many plants used in traditional Mayan herbal medicine.

Multiple signs throughout inform visitors of the plants’ uses, from dyeing fabrics to thatching homes. At the heart of the garden is a fountain, which feeds into canals that irrigate the plants. It’s pretty cool to see a botanic garden like this in a fort; a really unique repurposing of this kind of building.

Xmuch’haltun Botanical Garden IS open daily, from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. Admission is MXN10 ($0.50 USD).

Campeche

Learn all about Mayan architecture

Away from the modern day architecture, there are places in Campeche where you can instead get educated on the architecture of the ancient Maya civilization. Situated inside one of Campeche’s old bastions—the Soledad Bastion, to be precise—the Museo de Arquitectura Maya offers a glimpse into the various architectural styles that can be found throughout Campeche state.

Four exhibition halls showcase stelae, among other artifacts, with surprisingly detailed signage in English.

The Museo de Architectura Maya is open every day from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is MXN45 ($2.20 USD).

Campeche cathedral
The beautiful Cathedral of Campeche

Pay a visit to Campeche Cathedral

Officially known as Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, this large Catholic place of worship can be found inside the historic walls of the city. Built between 1540 and 1760, this huge Baroque style cathedral boasts two bell towers and is an impressive sight—not only for its size (it’s one the largest buildings around), but its understatedly elegant interiors, too. Come at night time when the whole building is atmospherically illuminated.

Visit the Museo de la Ciudad De Campeche

One of the best things to do in Campeche, Mexico, to learn more about its past is to visit the Museo de la Ciudad. The exhibit will walk you through the city’s past from Mayan times to the conquest, the Spanish colonization, the city’s rivalry with Merida, the attacks by pirates and more. You will see period clothes, antique weapons and more.

The museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 4:00 to 8:00 pm. Admission is MXN25 (little over $1 USD).

things to do in Campeche
Bernard DUPONT, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Get a blast from the past at Fuerte de San Miguel

The Fuerte de San Miguel is the largest colonial-era fort in Campeche. Looking out across the Gulf of Mexico, this fort is located around 2.5 miles away from the city; it’s easy to get there by bus or minibus from the market in town.

Made up of a dry moat, a drawbridge (still working!), and circled by 20 cannons, the fort is a striking site. It’s here that you’ll also find the Campeche Archaeological Museum, one of the most important Mayan museums.

Palacio de Campeche
El Palacio

Discover yet more history at the Museo El Palacio

For more history, head to the Museo El Palacio. It’s set in a palatial style building in the historic center of Campeche, and is a lovely place to visit as you walk around the core of the city.

It’s free to enter and learn about the logging and salt-trading heritage, but don’t let that subject put you off. It’s actually really interesting; there’s even a simulation room that is designed to make it seem as though you’re in the hull of a ship, as well as other multimedia exhibits.

The museum is open every day (except for Mondays), from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm.

Iglesia de San Juan
The well kept Iglesia de San Juan

Take a moment of calm at the Iglesia de San Juan

From the outside, Iglesia de San Juan seems like a fairly simple church: a white-washed structure with a red door. It’s the simple surroundings that make it a particularly charming spot to spend some time, with palm trees lining the plaza in front of the church.

It’s also very historic. The church dates back to 1675, making it one of the oldest in the city. You’ll find it along Calle 51, situated behind one of the old gates of the city.

Puerta de Tierra
Josuerne, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Go to Puerta de Tierra for their weekend illuminations

The Puerta de Tierra is one of the oldest gates to the formerly fortified town of Campeche. It’s an interesting historic sight in itself during week days, when you can climb up the old walls for MXN15 (that’s $0.75 USD) for a great view of the city center. But in the evenings on weekends, it comes alive with illuminations, fireworks and a pirate-themed show.

Enjoy nature at Parque de Moch Couoh

Contrasting with the Xmuch’haltun Botanical Garden, which is set in a historic structure, the Parque de Moch Couoh is all about the modern day. This green space is a marvel of contemporary architecture, with curving paths and walkways of concrete sculpted around tropical plants and lawns.

Covering an area of over 320,000 square feet, it was designed to bring to life the old park which once stood on this site. Today there are sculptures, children’s play areas and benches to sit and people-watch. An eye-catching spot that’s a must for design-lovers.

Centro Casa Cultural n. 6
martijnmunneke, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

See how people used to live at Centro Cultural Casa No. 6

If you’re interested in seeing how the upper classes of the Campeche of yesteryear once lived, this is the place to come. This early 19th-century mansion was once home to a wealthy family, and is today open to the public to visit.

Stepping inside is like stepping back through time; in the living room are Cuban-style furnishings, the courtyard is peaceful, and there’s even a bookshop on-site.

The Centro Cultural Casa N. 6 is open Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm. Admission is MXN20 ($1 USD).

Malecon Campeche
A walk along the Malecón is one of the best things to do in Campeche, Mexico

Stroll along the Malecón de Campeche

If you don’t feel like strolling around in the middle of nature, then how about a stroll along the Malecón? This particularly picturesque promenade runs along Campeche’s waterfront for around four miles.

As you stroll, you’ll see locals out enjoying this charming public space: riding bikes, jogging, out on dates. As well as cooling down with a nice breeze, you’ll get to see interesting landmarks along the way, including a series of monuments to mark prominent Campeche residents and events.

Take a selfie at the Campeche sign

Located along the Malecón you’ll find the colorful Campeche sign. What better way to let people know where you are in the world than to get a photo in front of it? There’s the sea and a palm tree in the background, making it a particularly pretty spot for a picture. And if you come at sunset, the letters of the sign get illuminated, making it a pretty scenic spot to take a photo.

See a show at Teatro de la Ciudad Francisco de Paula Toro

The actual building of the Campeche Theater is impressive enough, with its columns and archways. Built in the 1830s, the interiors are much as they were when built, and the ornate decorations reflect the wealth of the city at that time.

To really soak up the elegance of the interior you can actually catch a show at the theatre; you can opt for seats in a box, or on the balcony. It’s one of the most unique things to do in Campeche, for sure!

Campeche

Taste some delicious food at the Mercado

If you’re hungry in Campeche, you should definitely make a beeline for the Mercado. Situated close to the Baluarte de San Pedro, this large indoor market is home to an array of stalls. You can pick up all manner of snacks and drinks, from the particularly delicious regional tamales (come in the morning for utmost freshness), or you could opt for a tranca—a baguette filled with slices of roast pork. For something more refreshing, try an agua de lima.

Go for a coffee at Cafe Sotavento

If you’re exploring Campeche and you need a caffeine pick-me-up, then Cafe Sotavento is calling. However, this place isn’t just about grabbing a cup of coffee, even if the filter coffee is really good here.

Set within the old city walls, it’s actually situated in a historic building, with quirky and colorful interiors featuring art and curios around the place. Come for breakfast (it comes recommended). Tip: they’ve got free Wi-Fi, and it’s open daily, from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm.

Indulge in some seafood at La Palapa del Tio Fito

Being by the coast, sampling seafood is one of the unmissable things to do in Campeche. Possibly the best place in town to do this is at La Palapa del Tio Fito. This highly rated restaurant is practically an institution, and is a must for foodies in Campeche. Their octopus is particularly renowned, but the flavors, the prices, and the coastal location all make a visit here well worth it.

Mexico City food

Sample some traditional cuisine at Marganzo Restaurante

You don’t have to go to the market and eat food from vendors and food stalls to sample traditional, local cuisine in Campeche. Many restaurants in the city serve up some amazing food, and none more renowned than Marganzo Restaurante.

Situated in the historic center of the city, this authentic restaurant is popular with locals (and visitors) who come to sample seafood, and homespun Mexican favorites. The setting is the bonus, with interiors that are charming and historic, with wooden furniture on black and white tiled floors.

Marganzo is open daily, from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm.

Campeche

Shop for souvenirs at Ex-Templo de San José

Dating between 1716 and 1767, this church is no longer in use as a church, it’s actually a market. But it’s possibly prettier than Campeche Cathedral; it’s a Jesuit-built structure boasting a tiled facade, as well as Mayan-style roof finials on its bell towers, making it feel particularly unique.

Today, it’s not a place of worship, but a place of commerce and culture. Ex-Templo de San José is home to an artisanal market, where you can pick up a variety of locally made crafts at good prices. It also hosts local art exhibitions.

Lose yourself along the pastel-colored Calle 59

Campeche is definitely an Insta-worthy sort of city, and nowhere is this more evident than in Calle 59. This pedestrianized street features two-storey historic houses—some of the finest in the city—where wealthy locals would have lived.

Today the facades have been painted in a rainbow of colors and house cafes, restaurants, and other stores. The street comes to life at night with outdoor seating, when locals and tourists alike come out to play.

Watch the sunset at Novia del Mar

For another Instagram spot in Campeche, make your way to the enigmatic Novia del Mar. Located just past the Centro de Convenciones Campeche, this statue depicts a seated woman gazing out to sea atop a pile of rocks.

There’s more to this statue than meets the eye, however. It’s actually an illustration of a local legend about a girl who fell in love with a foreign pirate, and awaited his return for many years.

Soak up some sun, sea, and sand at Playa Bonita

You can’t visit a coastal city like Campeche without visiting the beach, and the best place to do this is at Playa Bonita. This is the closest “real” beach to Campeche, situated eight miles south of downtown near the village Lerma.

There are plenty of places to sit in the shade and enjoy a drink, or some nice food. It’s best visited on weekdays when crowds are at their thinnest.

Make sure to read my post The Best Beaches In Mexico.

Rio Lagartos

Take a day trip to the sprawling Parque Natural Petenes-Ría Celestún

Away from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the city itself, is another UNESCO-recognized area: the Parque Natural Petenes-Ría Celestún. This biosphere reserve is a network of complex habitats strewn across small islands, reflecting the subtropical coastal environment of the Yucatan Peninsula.

This wetland features mudflats, mangrove swamps, and even stretches of rainforests. The diversity here makes for a fascinating day trip and a nice natural breather from the urban jungle.

Edzna
Edzna Ruins

Visit the ruins of Edzna

Among the most impressive Mayan ruins in Mexico, Edzna is a perfect place for a day trip from Campeche. The site was inhabited from 400 BC all the way to its abandonment in 1500, and it is completely surrounded by the jungle. The name of the site means “House of the Itzaes,” or possibly “House of the Echo,” which is a reference to the echo that can be heard in several places in the site.

For a day trip to Edzna and Campeche departing from Merida, click here.

Further Readings

Make sure to read my other posts about Mexico:

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Discover what to see and do in Campeche, Mexico - via @clautavani

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