Campeche is the capital and largest city in the state of Campeche, Mexico. It has a population around 250,000 people and growing. It sits in the northwestern area of the state. Historically it has long been the second city of the Yucatán Peninsula after Merida roughly 155 kilometres to the north, the capital of the neighboring state of Yucatán. Campeche a port city on the Gulf of Mexico, with relaxed atmosphere and a charming Colonial old town designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Campeche was founded in 1540 by the Spanish conquistadors as the city of "San Francisco de Campeche" on top of the old Maya town called Ah Can Pech (roughly, "place of snakes and ticks", supposedly for an ancient idol depicting a snake with a tick on its head). Campeche grew into the leading port in the Peninsula in the colonial era. The city's walls and a series of forts were built in the 16th century to guard against frequent pirate attacks. With independence from Spain at the start of the 1800s Campeche was at first part of the state of Yucatán, but separated with the creation of the State of Campeche mid century.
Today Campeche is a fast growing city, but has maintained its history with meticulously preserved walls and historic buildings. Especialy outside of the city center, Campeche is a still fairly laid back place and can feel more like a small town. The city is still relatively compact and easy to get around, although as the city grows even bigger, that is slowly changing.
Campeche City has an airport. It is possible to fly from Mexico City with low cost carriers such as Viva Aerobus or Interjet. Ciudad del Carmen, two hours to the south, has flights to Mexico City as well as to Houston. Neither are cheap. The best bet is to fly into the large international airport at Mérida, Yucatan and bus or drive 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 two hour drive to Campeche, which costs roughly 144 pesos (US$10). Since it is a short run, second class buses can also be taken, although this offers only small savings (10 or 20 MXM).
From Ciudad del Carmen, buses to Campeche are also very frequent and cost roughly 130 pesos (US$13). The trip is about two hours and three quarters, longer by second class bus.
From Cancun, the trip to Campeche takes six hours and a half to complete and costs roughly 300 pesos (US$30). There are four buses to Campeche every day.
From Mexico City, Campeche is a lengthy 17 hour drive and this trip costs from 800 to 950 pesos (US$80-US$95). A first class bus is recommended.
Note that the ADO station has free wifi. Chose the Infinitum network, and instead of logging in (in the browser), there's a button for the free alternative. Seems one has to re-do this every 20 minutes or so.
Because Campeche is still a small city, it can be easy to navigate on foot, although the oppressive heat and humidity that dominates most of the year may make this impossible. If you are staying in the historic center, this is the best option.
Otherwise or for visiting attractions away from the old town, it is best to get around the city by taxi or bus. Taxi fares are charged by zone; to go from the ADO bus station to downtown, the cost is roughly 30 pesos, or $3 US. The city runs many public buses. They tend to be small, hot, usually cramped and in varying states of disrepair. The fare, however, is cheap at just 6 pesos, so they're convenient for budget travelers or the adventurous. The bus driver will make change, but don't try to offer large bills as they likely won't be accepted.
Most steets in Compeche follow the odd/even plan found in many cities in Mexico. Odd number streets go one way, even numbers the other. This means you often see an address like "calle 45 entre 16 y 18" meaning "45th between 16th and 18th." Addresses such as this put you within one block of your destination and are much more dependable than individual property numbers. In fact, you won't find many house numbers. It also helps to know the name of the barrio (neighborhood) where you want to go.
Start your visit with a walk along the Malecon, a three-mile (five-km) paved path along the sea wall facing the Gulf of Mexico. The stroll takes you within sight of most of the major attractions and also many places to eat, shop and sleep. Half way along the Malecon you're within two blocks of the center of town. The cathedral, public square and several museums lie inside the historic old walls visible from the water's edge.
Campeche is also a good base to visit the archaeological zone of Edzna (entrance fee: $55), small and therefore less visited Maya ruins 50km from town. The colectivos ($40, 45min) start at 7.00am on Calle Chihuahua, east of the market, and run hourly during the day. They take you to the entrance of the ruins. To go back you can wave one down on the main road, 200m from the entrance.
There are tourist oriented shops in the historic center, although their prices are relatively high. The central market is quite small by Mexican standards and it doesn't offer handicrafts like many other do in the country. Outside the market, vendors hawk various items, the most interesting of which are hammocks, a Yucatan specialty.
For travellers looking for a piece of home or just wanting to buy clothing, there are several grocery/department stores located around the city. Super San Fransisco de Assiss has four locations in the city, one of which is on the Gulf of Mexico near the cinema. Another is located by the university, but it's not a central location. The biggest, and cheapest store, is Chedraui, located on Avenida Gobernadores about a 10 minute walk north of the old bus station. It features a full department store, a grocery store and a small restaurant, and has several banks in the vicinity. The closest place is probably Mega, a shopping mall with a huge supermarket, a 10 minute walk along Avenida Central from the Land Gate. The local market for everything is just across the street on your left hand if you leave through the Land Gate.
Unfortunately, because Campeche is not very tourist oriented, knickknacks and handicrafts are hard to come by.
Campeche is well known for its seafood, especially shrimp (camarón) and shark (cazón) and both are widely available.
The "only" American chains in the city are Burger King, Church's Chicken and Applebee's (located north of the cinema), so visitors have extra incentive to eat local. There are many small restaurants located in the historic center, all ranging in price, but try to watch food preparation before you buy. Outside of the historic centre, Avenida Gobernadores offers a plethora of eating establishments, but again, watch the food preparation and then decide.
For a good vegan/vegetarian option, try Natura2000, on Calle 12 #155, next to the Iglesia de Jesus church. (This is not really a restaurant but a small health shop that serves some simple snacks.)
There are a few grocery stores in the city. All have a small restaurant, deli, bakery, grocery, meat and produce departments. If you have a sweet tooth, the Chedraui bakery is a must. Donuts, sweet bread, danishes, muffins and cookies are all sold in bulk and baked fresh in store, and the prices are cheap. You can also pick up bread from the bakery and meat from the deli to make your own sandwiches. These grocery stores, especially Chedraui, Sam's Club and Walmart, are impressive and offer all of the variety of an American store. For travellers on a budget, or those not comfortable with food from small establishments with questionable cleanliness standards, these stores are a godsend.
There are a few hotels on the Malecon (Av. Adolfo Ruiz Cortines), which runs the entire length of the city along the Gulf of Mexico. Most are relatively expensive, but offer clean and comfortable accommodations. There are also a few hotels located in the historic center, particularly near the center square, and they are much cheaper in price. Unfortunately, because Campeche has a very small tourist industry, accommodations can be hard to find. The hostels del Pirata, San Carlos and Casa Maya have closed. Others are now hotels. There aren't enough backpackers staying for a healthy competition in the low budget range.