The Yucatan peninsula of Mexico has a well-established reputation thanks to the marquis spots of Playa del Carmen, Cancun, and Cozumel, all hot spots on the east side of the peninsula. On the west side is a lesser-known treasure that will offer visitors a completely different experience. Like its neighbors to the east, the state of Campeche offers beautiful beaches and golf courses, but the focus is on sharing their rich culture and heritage.
Touted as one of the most beautiful capitals in the country, the Fortified City of Campeche was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999 for the quality of its architecture and state of preservation. It is home to seventeen archeological sites including Calakmul, the largest Mayan city that has ever been discovered. Its cuisine is a fusion of Mayan, Spanish, and Arabic influences and its beaches are ideal for windsurfing and diving. Filled with beautiful gardens, kiosks and eighteenth-century buildings, Campeche is a state full of history and culture. The town is walkable and very safe, and families regularly gather to enjoy the plaza or an evening out. The feeling of family and community permeates Campeche. A dedication to sharing their history, culture, food, and traditions is what makes this Mexican state so different from any other.
Without a doubt, Campeche’s proximity to Calakmul is reason enough to visit. The ancient Mayan city of Calakmul was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002. The site was originally 3,000 hectares, approximately 7,400 acres, but in 2013 the Mexican government proposed enlarging it to 331,397 hectares, over 818,000 acres, allowing it to meet the criteria necessary for the “mixed property” status. In 2014, UNESCO added it to the list of mixed natural and cultural properties. Located in the central/southern portion of the Yucatan peninsula, the site is deep in the tropical forest of the Tierras Bajas and according to UNESCO, played a key role in the region’s history for more than 12 centuries. Its well-preserved structures provide a vivid picture of life in what was the Mayan capital. Discovering the settlements of this Mayan urban center lost within the jungle is an experience. Becán, a Mayan city surrounded by a pit, continues to hold an important place in history, as remains suggest it was the site of significant war activity.
The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, created in 1989, surrounds the ancient city and at 7,231 kilometers, is one of the largest protected areas in Mexico. Known as the second lung of America, there are more than 86 species of mammals including jaguars, pumas, ocelots, tigers, and lions, as well as spider monkeys, anteaters, eagles, tapirs, and more than 300 species of birds. As for flora, you won’t be disappointed. There are about 73 different types of orchids.
A 2-hour drive south of the city of Campeche you’ll find Miguel Colorado, a lush, vast, green expanse of forest, jungle, and wetlands offering the outdoor adventurer the opportunity to do almost anything. The voluntary conservation area covers 8,000 hectares, approximately 20,000 acres. Kayaking, swimming, hiking, cycling, and observing wildlife top the list.
Less than an hour east of Campeche is Edzná. The name Edzná (Itzná) is from a Mayan language and means the house of the Itzá, which suggests a possible connection between Edzná and Chichén Itzá. The city was once the capital of a relatively large state area. Structures include the Gran Acropolis, a central platform that supports 5 structures located in the eastern section of the site, and a significant cardinal point for the Maya. The Gran Acropolis faces the horizon with the Palace located directly in front. This residential building runs north to south for 135 meters, 442 feet, and has four large rooms at the top of the staircase. The Small Acropolis is an 8 meter/24 ft. high base with three buildings located on top. These structures have a view of the city and overlook the Temple of the Masks. The Temple of the Masks was uncovered in 1988 and has two small but distinct masks on the base of the temple, one to the east and one to the west. One mask represents and honors the Sunrise God and the other the Sunset God. The masks are made of stucco, a delicate material that makes the preservation of these masks miraculous. Equally amazing is that remnants of the red and blue paint used to decorate the masks are intact.
For the foodie, this is paradise, especially if that foodie has an affinity for seafood. Campeche delivers on some of the best the sea has to offer. Shrimp and octopus are transformed when combined with onions, garlic, spices, and a savory sauce. Perhaps the most famous dish in Campeche is Pan de Cazón, prepared like a lasagna but using tortillas instead of pasta and layering them with cooked shark meat, black or refried beans, and caressed in a mouthwatering tomato sauce.
If you’re looking for a quiet getaway where you can connect with your inner beach bum, explore ancient civilizations, commune with nature or satisfy your culinary curiosity, Campeche is for you. It’s close to home…make plans.