Campeche is a state of Mexico on the Yucatán Peninsula. It is on the western side of the peninsula bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Much of Campeche's territory is filled with various archeological sites, almost all of which are Mayan. Its capital is also has one of the least visited colonial cities of Mexico, and the state also has many beaches.
- 1 Campeche — the capital city is immersed in the typically colonial aspect with towers, bastions and walls. The traveler can enjoy all the city’s attractions on board of one of the old time vehicles replicas named "El Guapo" (the handsome one) and the "Tranvía de la Ciudad" (City's Tram).
- 2 Calkini — colonial era town with a number of jungles and Maya sites nearby
- 3 Ciudad del Carmen — a large city sitting on an ecologically important lagoon
- 4 Champotón — half-way between Campeche and Carmen, it is notable for its seafood and beaches
- 5 Escárcega — crossroads of Campeche, on the highway between Chiapas and Yucatan, key connecting point on Tren Maya
- 6 Hecelchakán — scenic colonial town with access to natural areas and Mayan sites
- 7 Isla Aguada — small town on a coastal island of the Gulf of Mexico, home base for pirates in the early 18th century
- 8 Palizada — riverfront town in the wetlands of western Campeche, known for the Maya site, El Cuyo
- 9 Xpujil - closest village to Calakmul, several archaeological sites of the Rio Bec style nearby
Outside of the city of Campeche, the main reason why people come to the state are the Maya ruins. Scattered throughout the state are many dozens of archaeological sites, some that stand out are:
- 1 Edzná – about an hour away from Campeche, these ruins have been meticulously restored and offer a quintessential peek into Maya life during their times. An easy day trip from the city of Campeche.
- 2 Calakmul – deep in the interior of the Mexican jungle near the border with Guatemala, these ruins are still in the process of being restored. Architecturally, they are not extremely interesting, although they are very tall and offer stunning views of the jungle. They are also situated in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and take about an hour to reach after you enter the park. Also keep your eyes open for the local flora and fauna as it is located in the Central American rain forest. Unfortunately, there is no way to enter Guatemala from here. Calakmul has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
- 3 Becan - Unique Mayan site featuring a moat around the core city with large pyramids and other structures.
- 4 Los Petenes Biosphere Reserve - Protected natural area that preserves 800 square kilometers of mangrove swamp and tropical forest, with land in both the states of Campeche and Yucatan. The area is home to more than 300 bird species including flamingo, stork, heron, hawk, and vulture. It is a Ramsar wetland.
- Ruta Rio Bec On the road between Escárcega and Chetumal, Quintana Roo, are Mayan ruins spread across hundreds of kilometers of area. These include the sites Balámku, Becan, Calakmul, Hormiguero, Xpujil, Río Bec, and Chicanná. Some are remote and not well restored, while others are spectacular sites that are among the largest in the Maya world, but are seldom visited because they are in a comparatively remote area. Though less visited, some are historically and culturally important and all have a fascination perceived by different travelers. The sites show how this now sparsely populated area was once dense with Maya cities and towns a thousand years ago. In Campeche, you can see the regionally distinct "Rio Bec" Maya architectural style, with sets of tall steep towers, false doorways, and carved stone facades in the form of fantastic animals. With a car you can visit several of the sites in a day. Serious Maya ruin fans can make it a weeklong adventure; there are several decent places to stay the night around Xpujil. The Maya sites in Campeche are likely to become far more popular starting in late 2023 when the Tren Maya opens, allowing fast, comfortable transportation into once remote areas of Campeche and Chiapas.
Regional or ethnic identity is strong. Referring to the locals as Mexican, rather than Maya (for the Indigenous population) or Campechanos (for the Hispanic population), may risk offending some.
The topography is basically flat with small hills, much like most of the Yucatan peninsula. The northern areas of the state can be classified as dry savannah, and the area is in danger of desertification, surprisingly. The central parts of the state are heavily wooded, and the southern areas are tropical rainforest. All of these areas, sadly, are under pressure from slash and burn agriculture.
Campeche has one of the highest percentages of indigenous language speakers in Mexico and this is especially evident in the countryside. Despite that, Spanish is the lingua franca and is understood almost everywhere. However, since the state has been relatively isolated and untouched by international tourism, English is not widely spoken.
Tourists should not be embarrassed to try their Spanish, even if only reading from phrasebooks. You will stick out, but the locals will appreciate the effort and be more helpful than if no effort is made at all.
There are two airports in the state of Campeche: Campeche and Ciudad del Carmen. Campeche City has daily flights to Mexico City. Ciudad del Carmen has flights to Mexico City as well as to Houston Texas. Neither are cheap. The best bet is to fly into Mérida, Yucatan and bus to Campeche. This can also be done from Cancún, although it may take an extra day just to get to the state.
From the Autobuses del Oriente (ADO) station in Mérida, buses leave almost every hour for the three-hour drive to Campeche, which costs roughly M$300 (pesos) as of February 2024. Since it is a short run, second class buses can also be taken, although this offers only small savings (M$10-20).
From Ciudad del Carmen, buses to Campeche are also very frequent and cost roughly M$80. The trip is about two hours, longer by second class bus.
From Cancun, the trip to Mérida takes 5 hours and costs roughly M$150. From there, it is necessary to take another bus to Campeche.
From Mexico City, Campeche is a lengthy 24-hour drive and this trip costs M$700. A first class bus is recommended.
Mexico's new Tren Maya intercity railway has a station on the Periferico in Campeche, the station is called San Francisco de Campeche in order to confuse travelers. As of December 2023, trains initially go in the direction of Merida and Cancun or towards Palenque. Tickets from Campeche to Cancun cost M$1100 to M$1800 and can be purchased in train stations or online through the official Tren Maya web site.
Buses in Mexico offer excellent service at cheap prices, and this is no exception in Campeche. The ADO station in Campeche City is on the outskirts of the city. It is possible to make the trip on city bus, but it is not recommended as these buses are small, hot and in varying states of disrepair. The city bus costs M$3. Look for one that says "Centro" in the front window. That will take you to the city market.
From this first class station, only a few points within the state can be reached, like Ciudad del Carmen, Champotón and Escárcega. The old bus station on Avenida Gobernadores, near the Chedraui supermarket and roughly a 10-minute walk from the market, offers second-class bus service to other regions of the state. To make it to some of the more remote natural areas and archaeological sites, it may be best to rent a car or hire a tour guide. It is unfortunate that the state's most spectacular sites are often poorly served by public transportation, but this reflects the state's underdeveloped tourist industry.
If you plan to rent a car, it is best to do this in Mérida as there are few, car rental businesses in Campeche.
Mayan ruins are one of the biggest reasons foreign visitors travel to Campeche. Several large Mayan city-states were in Campeche and because the state is considered "off the beaten path" with less developed tourist infrastructure, that's historically meant small crowds and low prices making it an ideal place for adventurous travelers interested in archaeological sites. Follow the Ruta Rio Bec, or build your own itinerary that meets your own schedule and interests.
Mayan archaeological sites in Campeche include:
- Edzna. This large Mayan archaeological site is located approximately one hour from Campeche via colectivo (M$35 one way). INAH entrance fee is M$85.
- Calakmul. Deep in the interior of the Mexican jungle near the border with Guatemala, are the ruins of a once great city-state, now in the process of being restored. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Becan. Unique Mayan site featuring a moat around the core city with large pyramids and other structures.
Stroll the old town of Campeche. Visit Maya ruins. Enjoy fishing and seafood in the coastal communities.
Seaside communities always have the freshest fish and the most innovative seafood dishes. Such is the case in Campeche where fresh seafood dominates the menu throughout the year. You'll find common Mexican seafood dishes, like ceviche and camarones everywhere, but keep your eyes open for the local regional dishes that make travel dining such a memorable pleasure.
The most emblematic signature dish of Campeche is pan de cazon. Cazon is dogfish, which is a small member of the shark family. It's the tasty filling between layers of corn tortillas slathered with refried beans and topped with a thick tomato-based salsa. It looks like a layer cake, or maybe a short stack of pancakes, but it sure doesn't taste like it!
Octopus is big business in both Campeche and neighboring Yucatan where the annual 7-week season starts August 1. From early August through early December, octopus is the "special of the day" at numerous Campeche restaurants. Pulpo might be in ceviche, or more likely, it will be grilled over mesquite, or perhaps served in its own ink.
Chile afficianados will enjoy the food in Campeche where two chiles are favored by local cooks: the infamous habanero with its mouth-scorching hotness, and the less-notorious chile x'catic, a long yellow chile with a milder burn. (Both are also common in the kitchens of neighboring Yucatan).
Beer is the most popular libation in Campeche. While large breweries dominate the sales, several artesanal craft brewers in the capital city of Campeche have started serving a much wider variety of quality beers. As of 2023, the breweries tend to be small brewpubs, brewing for on-premise sales to a local clientele. Most breweries also bottle their beers for off-premise sales and their beers may be sold in bars or restaurants in the region. Some local campechana beers to seek out include:
- 29 Fuertes - they have 3 main beers (all available in bottles), a hefeweizen, a blonde ale, and a golden strong ale (which replaced a brown ale that has been discontinued)
- Cerveceria Carnala - they have 3 main beers, a blonde ale called La Guerita, a brown ale, and a porter called Morena Mia, all are available in bottles
- Cerveceria Baluarte - they have 3 main beers, a golden ale, an American pale ale, and most interesting, a black lager
- Cerveceria Pregonero
- Hacienda Uayamon: Plantation just outside of Campeche on the road to Edzná. During the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz (1876-1911) local Maya workers toiled here as slaves in all but name. Now a very expensive, but fairly quiet resort and luxury hotel; it is meticulously preserved, allowing visitors the chance to take a tour to catch a glimpse of what life was like during the time,
Campeche is perhaps the safest state in all of Mexico. The population is still relatively small, and although there are places of profound poverty in the countryside and the cities, people are friendly and warm. The greatest danger comes from the stray dogs that roam the urban areas in packs, especially in the city of Campeche, although this is also the case in most of Mexico.
Campeche is still a place relatively untouched by tourism and North American culture. Visitors should dress conservatively in long pants and dress shirts, despite the heat. If you are fair skinned, you will stick out anyway, but this can be mitigated by dressing appropriately. Women especially should take this into consideration as it is not uncommon for fair skinned females to be mercilessly harassed.
- The state of Yucatan is to the north.
- The state of Quintana Roo is to the east.
- The state of Tabasco, and beyond it the rest of Mexico, is to the south west.