Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Day Trip to Campeche

Many people coming to Merida are blissfully unaware of this pretty city just a few hours from here; while others are adventurous and want to see what the UNESCO-designated World Heritage site is all about.

The drive over is about 2.5 hours in either direction right now, with the construction of an improved highway throughout a large part of the route, which fortunately does not affect one's driving too much except in one or two places. When done, the highway will be 2 solid lanes in either direction with plenty of shoulder space and good asphalt and that should bring driving time to 2 hours or less, I am guessing.

As for what to do, well, there is a pirate ship that provides visitors with a glimpse of Campeche from the ocean; for 80 pesos and about an hour of your time you are treated to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack shamelessly played over and over while a pleasant narrative voice recounts some of the more memorable pirating highlights from back in the day when Campeche was THE port in the Yucatan (no Sisal, and definitely no Progreso) and besieged by these characters looking for loot. Landmarks on shore are also pointed out and explained along the route. Unfortunately, this narrative is only in Spanish and the only piratey thing about the tour is the ship, which has masts and plenty of rigging, but runs on a couple of deep throated diesel motors thank you very much. No pirates on board either except for a mannequin strapped to a fake steering wheel or whatever the nautical term is for the giant wheel. Drinks and snacks are available on board for purchase. It's a little cheesy, but on a cool and sunny day, it is a rather pleasant way to spend an hour of your time. Some photos:










Another thing to do in Campeche is to visit one of the forts (there are several) left over from the days when Campeche was a walled city and had several of them (the forts) sitting on the hills overlooking the town that would raise a smoke signal alarm when pirates were sighted off the coast. One in particular, the San Miguel fort, is now a rather excellent Mayan archaeological museum with plenty of pieces on display from the area, most notably the Mayan site of Jaina, where the Mayans apparently had enough time and creativity to put out some incredibly intricate art, much of which is on display at this museum. Some more photos from that museum and its fantastic view from the top:









And finally, with plenty of little boutiques, art museums and fantastic seafood restaurants, the main attraction of Campeche is the restored historic center and the malecon, or boardwalk, which makes Progreso's look like a kindergarten project! Here are some photos of the downtown (note the absence of overhead cables and tacky signage as well as the colorfully photogenic facades):













So if you are wondering if Campeche is worth a trip, in my humble opinion I would say, yes, definitely.

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