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.
Campeche state is divided into 11 municipalities: Calkiní, Campeche, Carmen, Champotón, Hecelchakán, Hopelchén, Palizada, Tenabo, Escárcega, Calakmul, and Candelaria. As Campeche is one of the smallest states in Mexico by population (928,000 people in 2020), many of these municipalities are sparsely populated. The largest are Campeche, where the state capital of the same name is located and Carmen, home of Ciudad del Carmen, the capital of Mexico's Gulf Coast petroleum industry. These two districts account for two thirds of the state's population.
As can easily discerned from the municipio names, the state has a large indigenous population which is scattered through the interior of the state, mostly in the north along the Yucatan border and the centre-south areas. Unlike states like Chiapas, however, this population is not very large, although given the state's small population, indigenous peoples make up a significant proportion of the overall population.
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.
- 1 Campeche – the capital city. It is a city 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 Ciudad del Carmen – another large city
- 3 Champotón – half way between Campeche and Carmen and is notable for its seafood and beaches
- 4 Escárcega – on the highway to Chiapas
Outside of the city of Campeche, the main reason why people come to the state are the Maya ruins. Scattered throughout the state, there are few that stand out.
- 1 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.
- 2 Ednzá – about an hour away from Campeche, these ruins, discovered in the 1950s, have been meticulously restored and offer a quintessential peek into Maya life during their times. An easy day trip from the city of Campeche.
- Ruta Río Bec On the road between Escárcega and Chetumal, Quintana Roo, there ruins are spread out over a large area and include the sites Balán Ku, Becán, Xpujil, Río Bec, Chicanná. They are not well restored and are in a comparatively remote area. They are less visited than more accessible and famous sites. Still they can have a fascination, showing how this now sparsely populated area was once dense with Maya cities and towns. The architecture is in the regionally distinct "Rio Bec" Maya style, with sets of tall steep towers 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 more than a day of it; there are a couple of decent places to stay the night around Xpujil.
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.
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.
Campeche City has an airport, although it only 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$100 (pesos). 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 to complete 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.
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 bus service to other regions of the state. To make it to Calakmul or Edzná, however, it may be necessary to rent a car or hire a tour guide. Other colectivo vans can be found on the way from the market to the second class station, although these mainly serve the suburbs of the city. It is unfortunate that the spectacular sites of the state are poorly served by public transportation, but this is merely a reflection of Campeche's massively underdeveloped tourist industry.
If you plan to rent a car, it is recommended that you do this in Mérida as there are few, if any, places to do this in Campeche.
- Edzna. This Mayan archaeological site is located approximately one hour from Campeche via colectivo (M$35 one way). The same journey on a tour bus costs approximately M$350 per person (4 person minimum). There is a vending machine near the entrance selling drinks and snacks. entrance fee is M$48, bring change as the lady selling the tickets might not have any.
Stroll the old town of Campeche. Visit Maya ruins. Enjoy fishing and seafood in the coastal communities.
- 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 Northamerican 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.