There are plenty of things to do in Campeche city to warrant spending an enjoyable long weekend in the Southern Mexican city. Campeche is massively underrated and, at least for now, it remains under the radar as a Mexico travel destination, despite its proximity to the Yucatan state and Quintana Roo.
It is important to note that Campeche is both the name of the state and the city that is the capital of Campeche state. In this Campeche travel guide, Campeche refers to Campeche city.
Campeche state is the least-visited state in the tri-state Yucatan peninsula. Now is a great time to visit before word gets out, and prices and crowds increase!
This article has been written by a British Travel Writer based in the nearby city of Merida, Mexico. I have been to Campeche countless times and have gotten to know the city pretty well.
Falling in Love with Campeche, Mexico
Few international travelers have heard of Campeche but it is of significant importance in Mexican history. Records indicate that ancient civilizations have occupied this land from as early as 3000 BC, before the days of the Ancient Maya.
The coastal city was a thriving trade port during the 17th century – mainly dealing with the export of dyewood and salt. It became the capital of the Yucatan peninsula several times throughout the 19th century, before being appointed the capital of the new state of Campeche in 1863.
Today, Campeche is a charming coastal town that provides a welcome glimpse into the “real” life in Mexico. Its old town is UNESCO-protected, excellently preserved, and feels almost frozen in time.
Best Things to do in Campeche, Mexico
Some of the best things to do in Campeche city are detailed below – from the must-see sights to the off-the-beaten-path gems.
Take the time to get lost in the old town
Merida may get all of the glory. However, Campeche’s old town is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful examples of a colonial settlement in Mexico following the Spanish conquest.
The pastel-colored streets here are a Photographer’s dream. Each house, tienda (store), and restaurant is painted a different vibrant color, with each one more beautiful than the last.
As you meander around the narrow cobbled street, the most unsuspecting side streets and alleyways open out into leafy, grand plazas, and beautiful church courtyards. The old town still maintains its original 17th-century fortifications which were necessary during a time when pirate attacks were a constant threat.
You can walk along the old city walls and ramparts that are extremely well preserved.
Stop for a traditional Mexican breakfast at La Casa De Las Mascaras
As far as most Mexicans are concerned, breakfast (desayunos) is the most important meal of the day. For a quintessentially Mexican experience, head to La Casa De Las Mascaras for breakfast/brunch.
Order yourself a mouthwatering plate of chilaquiles roja. These are torn-up, fried tortillas cooked in a delicious tomato sauce with cheese, sour cream, and chicken.
Alternatively, order some huevos a la Mexicana or huevos con longaniza (spiced chorizo from Valladolid). Sink your teeth into a freshly baked Mexican concha pastry on the side and wash it all down with a cafe con leche.
La Casa De Las Mascaras (C. Coahuila 104 B, Barrio de Sta Ana) is a cute place to stop for lunch in the Santa Ana district of Campeche city. It doubles as a cafe and art exhibition space and opens out to the beautiful Santa Ana church and park.
Watch the sunset from the Malecon
A pleasant way to spend an evening is to stroll along the Malecon at Golden Hour before watching the sunset. The sunset over the Gulf of Mexico from here is one of the best in the Yucatan peninsula.
Every day at sunset, you will see lots of locals crowded around the harbor watching this beautiful spectacle as if they are seeing it again for the first time. Stay until the sun dips behind the horizon and then head into one of the waterfront bars for an evening tipple or two.
It takes about 45 minutes to walk the main length of the Malecon. This is assuming you start close to the Galleria Mall in the west and end at the Puerto de San Roman harbor.
You will pass by several interesting sculptures and street art pieces as you go. Some depict important events in Mexico’s history such as the revolution and others are political in nature.
At all hours of the day, you can usually see pelicans flying overhead and hanging out on old wooden fishing boats, and hopeful local fishermen wading into the water with nets. There is also a small outdoor gym – the Campeche version of muscle beach!
Drink micheladas on the malecon
There is a small scattering of bars along the Campeche Malecon that really come to life on Friday and Saturday nights. La Malteza (Av. Resurgimiento 77A, Montecristo, 24044) is a cheap and cheerful cervezeria that is always bursting with life.
Most establishments here sell a good selection of cocktails, beers, and other non-alcoholic and alcoholic Mexican drinks. For something unapologetically Mexican, order a michelada or, as they are known in the Yucatan peninsula, an ojo rojo (red eye).
This is a beer cocktail made by blending beer with tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, hot sauce, and a sprig of lime. It sounds questionable but you might find yourself growing a liking for it.
Take a trolley tour of Campeche
In the main square (zocalo) of Campeche, you will see a lot of old-fashioned trolleys and buses. For 100 pesos per person (circa $5), you can take a trolley tour around Campeche.
The tour departs almost hourly and takes approximately 45 minutes. You will pass through some of Campeche’s most historic neighborhoods and your guide will give more background and context to some of the districts, churches, and historic buildings that you see.
You will have a couple of opportunities to stop, disembark and take photos. Campeche also has some bright red hop-on, hop-off buses but arguably the old trolleys are more charming!
Hang out at Calle 59
When night falls, Campeche residents head to Calle 59. What looks like a rather unsuspecting street during the day comes to life at night as local restaurants and bars set out tables and chairs in the middle of the street, and salsa and reggaeton music plays out from every angle.
You can simply meander down the street and stop in whichever bar takes your fancy. The street does get very crowded on Friday and Saturday nights and you can find that it is a bit of a quest to get a table if there are a few of you.
If you prefer a more laid-back vibe, some of the bars along the Malecon may be better suited for you. The bars and restaurants at Calle 59 have a little something for everyone – from chic lounges and dive bars, to fast food joints where you can grab a quick hamburger and upscale steakhouses.
Eat at Aduana Vasconcelos
Among all of the restaurants on Calle 59, Aduana Vasconcelos ( C. 59 1, Zona Centro) is the one that stands out from the crowd. The eatery prides itself on its traditional Campeche and Yucatecan delicacies that are cooked to perfection utilizing the very best local ingredients.
Consider ordering a cochinita pibil – tender pork that is seasoned and slow-cooked underground using the same practices that the Ancient Maya would use. Being close to the sea, it should come as no surprise that Campeche is known for its fresh seafood.
The Octopus pastor is a good choice. So too, are the “Ajillo camarones” – fresh local shrimps sauteed with chili, garlic, olive oil, and white wine.
If you find yourself spoiled for choice and you can’t decide what to order, Aduana also offers charcuterie board starters that allow you to sample small portions of various Yucatecan dishes at once. Wash it all down with a deliciously fruity mezcal cocktail prepared by expert in-house mixologists.
Hang out in the Zocalo
The main central square in Mexican cities is known as a “Zocalo” and Campeche’s is particularly charming. The pièce de résistance here is the imposing Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral (Campeche cathedral) which sits on the eastern side of the square.
However, the adjacent park, known as Plaza de la Independencia, is just as pleasant. Here, papel picado flags flutter in the wind, and there are always an array of street vendors selling everything from street food eats to cute handbags, purses, and other Mexican souvenirs.
Enjoy cocktails with a view
There are a few restaurants scattered around the zocalo. One in particular that you should look out for is Casa Vieja del Rio (Calle 10 No.319 Altos, Zona Centro).
The entrance to the restaurant is not clear. Look out for a narrow tiled staircase right off the main street (Calle 10) in the Zocalo. This beautiful building was once home to the very first hotel in Campeche and in its heyday, many Latin celebrities opted to stay here while in town.
Today, the restaurant and bar serve typical Mexican fares such as fajitas and a variety of tacos. Casa Vieja del Rio is perhaps best known for its margaritas which are perfect to enjoy with the view.
The view is the main appeal of the place. However, the interiors are also quaint and charming.
The walls are decorated with various antiques and artwork pieces collected from across Mexico. On certain days, local artists often host exhibitions here to sell their works.
Step inside the Campeche cathedral
The Campeche cathedral is the main focal point of the city’s central square and is dedicated to “Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.” The structure dates back to 1605.
Construction was completed in 1760, with a second steeple later added in 1850. The cathedral’s interiors are just as spectacular as the exterior and feature a spectacular 17th-century altar.
Passing through the door on your left, you can step into the adjacent courtyard and visit the little yellow Chapel of Jesús Nazareno. The chapel contains a religious museum filled with paintings and items recovered from the main church. Admission is 10 pesos.
Tour Barrio Guadalupe
When you are exploring Campeche, it can be hard to understand where one barrio (neighborhood) ends and another begins. Barrio Guadalupe is a district just a few blocks away from the Zocalo that was home to the nobility of Campeche.
There is a charming central square where locals come to walk their dogs or catch up over a cup of takeout coffee. Most notably, look out for the pastel-yellow Temple of Guadalupe.
This beautiful yellow church, surrounded by cherry blossom trees, dates back to 1660 and was built in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe of Tepeyac. A wealthy barrio Guadalupe citizen named Pedro Martin de Monilla funded the creation of the church in 1575.
Admire the Iglesia de San Francisco
Campeche, like many Mexican cities, is filled with beautiful churches and cathedrals. Mexico is a deeply Catholic country after all.
Even if you are not religious, you can admire their beauty and cultural significance. A great thing to do while exploring Campeche is to simply follow Google Maps to the various churches in town.
Not only will you discover beautiful places of worship, but you will also stumble across wonderful neighborhoods that you would not have found otherwise. The Iglesia de San Francisco is one of the most important churches in the city.
The church was founded in 1546. It was built on the ground where in 1517, the first mass in America was held.
This convent had two functions. It was used for religious ceremonies but it also doubled as a defensive fortress to guard against pirate attacks. The interior of the church is simple and modest, but it is still used for ceremonies to this day.
Visit the Campeche mercado
Mexican marketplaces are always interesting to explore, regardless of how much time you have spent traveling in Latin America. The Campeche mercado is great because it is not touristic and you will see purely locals shopping here
You will see every item imaginable displayed on the stalls – from clothing and faux designer bags and sunglasses to fresh fruit and vegetables. The produce markets are perhaps the most interesting to observe.
Rows and rows of perfectly polished fruits extend as far as the eye can see. If you are staying in self-catering accommodation, this is a great place to pick up some fresh avocados, mangos, pineapples, etc.
Otherwise, the Campeche market provides a great people-watching opportunity. Watch on as locals haggle over the prices of ingredients to prepare their Sunday dinners.
Visit the Museo Arqueológico de Campeche
The Campeche archeological museum is housed inside the 18th-century Fuerte de San Miguel *San Miguel Fort). It is spread across two floors and contains an array of artifacts that were recovered from the region.
Most of the items here have been recovered from the Calakmul ruins in the southern part of the state. Some originate from the nearby Edzna ruins, and others were retrieved from Isla de Jaina, an ancient burial site for Mayan aristocrats.
Check out the exhibits at the Mayan Architecture Museum
The Mayan Architecture Museum (Museo de Arquitectura Maya) is housed inside the Baluarte de Saldad. This is one of the old 17th-century defenses that once protected the walled city of Campeche. Here, you can view several interesting obelisks, sculptures, and tablets created by the Ancient Maya.
The exhibits showcase items recovered from four different Mayan regions: Puuc, North Peten, Chenes, and Rio Bec. The spectacular jade mask from Calakmul is perhaps one of the most spectacular items you can view inside.
If you have spent a few days in Mexico City and you have visited the CDMX Anthropology Museum, the Mayan Architecture Museum pails in comparison. But if you have an interest in Mayan culture and history, it is well worth a visit.
Visit the Centro Cultural Casa No. 6
On the western side of the zocalo, you will see a traditional vibrant red house that has been transformed into a living museum. This is the Centro Cultural Casa No 6.
Arguably Campeche’s tourism board could have come up with a catchier name. However, the house provides an interesting glimpse into what life was like for Campeche nobles back in the 18th century.
The entrance to the house is just 10 pesos per person. Most of the furniture that has been used to decorate the house are replicas. However, some of the porcelain and pottery items date back to the original owners.
Admire the Iglesia San Juan de Dios
The church of San Juan de Dios is an altogether darker, more imposing, and Gothic-looking church compared to others in Campeche. It dates back to 1626 and was built with the dual purpose of serving as both a church and a hospital for the sick.
In 1685, Campeche residents took shelter here while the city was under attack from pirates. Today, only the church portion of the building remains. Sadly, in the 1960s, part of the building was demolished to make way for new houses.
Wander through the Campeche botanical garden
The Xmuch’haltún Campeche Botanical Gardens are small but worth a quick walk through if it isn’t too hot. They are set within one of the surviving bastions of the fortified old town.
In Mayan, the name “Xmuch’haltún” means “water that springs from the earth” pointing to a fountain at the center of the garden. Several tropical plants grow here, in addition to indigenous herbs that are native to this part of Mexico.
See the Ex Templo San Jose
The Ex Templo San Jose is a grand baroque church that sits at the crossroads of Calle 10 and Calle 63, just a short walk away from the Zocalo. The front facade of the church is particularly striking and has been decorated with blue and yellow azulejo tiles that resemble something you would expect to see in Puebla or somewhere like Spain or Portugal.
The church was built by the Jesuits in 1716. San Jose is the patron saint of carpenters and shipbuilders. The Jesuits were then kicked out of the “new world” in 1767.
Search for street art
Several contemporary art sculptures and street art pieces can be found scattered around Campeche. A lot of them showcase indigenous peoples and are something of a celebration of the cultures of the Yucatan peninsula.
Take a day trip out to the ruins at Edzna
Edzna, House of the Itzas, is simultaneously one of the most overlooked and spectacular Mayan ruins in all of Mexico. The city was occupied as early as 700 BC and it was an important political and commercial hub for the Ancient Maya.
Since Campeche state is not that popular among tourists yet and the ruins are somewhat remote, you can often visit Edzna and find that you have the ruins entirely to yourself! This is particularly true if you visit during the week.
The archeological site is located 52km south of Campeche city and it takes about an hour to reach if you are driving. If you are not renting a car in Mexico, you can also take a local bus to Edzna or organize an excursion with a local tour operator.
Watch the sound and light show
The Puerta De La Tierra light show is something that you must see while in Campeche. It takes place every Thursday – Sunday at 8 pm.
Vibrant scenes are projected onto the historic arched building and they tell the story of Campeche’s history through the centuries. The show lasts about 40 minutes and is free to watch. Get there early to grab the best chairs and then continue on to Calle 59.
Head to the beach
There is no beach within Campeche city limits itself. However, there are several just a short drive away that is accessible if you have a car.
Arguably, Playa Bonita is the most convenient to get to. While it doesn’t necessarily rival the beauty of the Mexican Caribbean or the remote Yucatan beaches, it has everything that you could need for a day at the coast.
There are a couple of restaurants and bars right on the waterfront where you can enjoy typical Mexican fare or rent a sunbed and umbrella for the day for just a few pesos. The more remote Playa Punta Santa Julian, Playa Sabancuy, Bahamitas beach, and Payucan are also worth adding to your radar.
Visit the San Jose fortress
The high fortress of San Jose (Fuerte de San Jose el Alto) is a beautiful, bright yellow fortress on the outskirts of town. It is painted in a bold, vibrant, banana-yellow shade that is reminiscent of the Yucatan Pueblo Magico of Izamal.
Here you will also find the Underwater Archeology museum which contains artifacts recovered from under the nearby waters. Better still, are the incredible panoramas that can be enjoyed from the fortress’ hilltop viewpoint.
This is the perfect place to watch the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.
Where to Stay in Campeche Mexico
Campeche offers a wide selection of hotels and accommodation types to suit every budget and taste. You can find a comfortable double room with a private bathroom in a decent hotel here for as little as $25-$30 a night.
There is usually plenty of availability, but it is advisable to make your reservations in advance to avoid disappointment, especially if your travel dates coincide with the Mexican holidays. A selection of reputable Campeche hotels to add to your radar is detailed below for your consideration.
- Gamma Campeche Malecon – luxury waterfront hotel with a pool without the luxury prices
- Hacienda Puerta Campeche – a luxe 5 star stay in a converted old hacienda
- Casa Don Gustavo Boutique Hotel – quirky, luxurious rooms set within a renovated 18th-century Campeche house
- H177 Hotel – Charming, eclectic stay inside a converted colonial house right in the heart of the old town
- Hacienda Uayamon – Gorgeous rooms set inside a gothic hacienda from the 1700s
Getting to Campeche, Mexico
Campeche is home to an international airport; The Ing. Alberto Acuña Ongay International Airport sits on the southern outskirts of town.
However, domestic and international flight routes to Campeche are very limited. Unless you are traveling to Mexico specifically to visit Campeche, you are likely to be traveling overland from nearby Merida, Quintana Roo, or Chiapas.
Take the ADO bus to Campeche
Depending on your starting point, ADO buses might be the most convenient way of getting to Campeche. Public transportation in Mexico is better than you may expect.
Mexican buses are generally pretty comfortable, clean, and well-maintained.
ADO buses boast air-conditioning, complimentary wifi, and reclining seats. If you opt to pay a little more to travel on their premium buses, you can also enjoy USB charging ports in your seats and complimentary beverages.
You can get direct buses to Campeche from Palenque and Merida. The journey from Merida to Campeche takes around 2.5 hours and buses depart every 30-60 minutes throughout the day.
Services between Palenque in Chiapas run to Campeche three times a day. The journey takes around 6 hours.
ADO and OCC offer direct buses from Cancun to Campeche. Expect to be on the road for around 8.5 hours.
Buying bus tickets to Campeche
Busbud is a good site to use to check bus times and routes and purchase tickets. You can also purchase tickets directly via the ADO website or app.
However, there is sometimes an issue with using international credit and debit cards to make a purchase. So, you may find that you have to buy your tickets in person or via Busbud.
The ADO website and app are only available in Spanish. However, even if you cannot speak Spanish, they are fairly self-explanatory and are still easy to navigate.
FAQs about the Best Things to do in Campeche Mexico
Do you have any further questions or concerns about planning a trip to Campeche for the first time? The answers to some frequently asked questions are detailed below.
Hopefully, you will find the information you are looking for there. If not, feel free to reach out!
Is Campeche safe?
Campeche Mexico is a fairly safe place to visit, even for solo female travelers. Mexico in general can be a safe place to travel provided that you use common sense and use the same precautions that you would when traveling anywhere else in the world.
Arguably, traveling to Campeche is not all that different from exploring the destinations within the rest of the Yucatan peninsula. It perhaps requires a little more awareness than Merida which is the safest city in Mexico. However, it also feels more comfortable to explore than Cancun and Tulum.
Is Campeche worth visiting?
Campeche is absolutely worth visiting, particularly if you have access to a car and you are already embarking on a Yucatan road trip or itinerary. There is plenty to keep you occupied for 2-3 days, or longer if you like exploring at a slower pace.
Campeche has so far escaped the attention of most international tourists. Prices across the board (at hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, etc) are much more economical here compared to popular nearby travel destinations. Better still, you never have to contend with crowds.
Can I drink the water in Campeche?
You cannot drink the water in Campeche – or anywhere in Mexico for that matter. Although the water in Mexico is purified at the source, it often gets contaminated en route to your tap.
So, you’ll need to stick to drinking bottled water during your trip. Consider purchasing a reusable water bottle so that your water is kept cold throughout the day and you minimize your plastic waste.
Does Campeche have nice beaches?
There are no beaches within Campeche city itself, but there are several gorgeous spots nearby. From the city, you can consider heading out to the fishing village of Lerma and Playa Bonita.
Head a little further afield and you will find Isla Aguada – a Yucatan pueblo magico. The beaches here boast soft, powdery white sand and translucent turquoise waters.
Can you swim in Campeche?
Yes! The beautiful beaches across Campeche state offer clear and calm waters that are perfect for swimming and snorkeling in.
Better yet, the water temperature is great all year round.
Final thoughts on the best things to do in Campeche Mexico
Have you ever traveled to San Francisco de Campeche, Mexico? Do you have any further suggestions for the best things to do in Campeche?
I live a couple of hours away in Merida and have spent several weekends in Campeche with my partner who has to travel here a lot for work. I created this guide as I noted that there was limited information online when it came to planning a trip to Campeche and it is something I would have liked to have had when I planned my first trip!
Have a wonderful time exploring Mexico! Hasta Luego! Xo