Campeche, a small city on the gulf shores of the Yucatan Peninsula about 100 mi/160 km southwest of Merida, was founded by the Spanish in 1540 on the site of an ancient village—the Maya called it "The Land of Serpents and Ticks."
The city became a wealthy colonial port, which attracted the attention of pirates who terrorized the Gulf of Mexico. After several bloody attacks, the Spanish fortified Campeche with a series of citadels and thick walls called baluartes. Many of them can be visited today, and some have been made into small museums displaying Mayan artifacts from the city's pre-Hispanic past.
Take some time to walk along the circuito baluarte and through the old sections of town, which are going through a series of renovations. Visitors can explore various churches and plazas, including Concepcion Cathedral, which was built between 1540 and 1704. During peak tourist season, music and performances by a local folkloric dance troupe are held in the downtown plaza on Wednesday and Thursday at 8 pm.
The museum at San Miguel Fort (with its cannons, tower and moat) houses a good collection of pre-Columbian artifacts, including six peerless jade funeral masks. And if you get a chance, take a trolley ride around the city. It leaves from Parque Principal—times vary, so check at the tourist office for info.
Also plan to visit the Maya ruins at Edzna, about 34 mi/55 km southeast of town, to see the impressive Temple of Five Stories and other structures. A couple of hours' drive south are the ruins in the Rio Bec area and at Calakmul.
Two of Starwood's Luxury Collection converted hacienda hotels are in this area, one in the city proper (Hacienda Puerta Campeche) and one 13 mi/20 km outside it (The Hacienda Uayamon).
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