One of the things I love about travel is going to places you’ve never even heard of before. I admit to being quite ignorant of much of Mexico and it’s 31 states prior to coming here. I knew about the Cancun area, and that was about it. From Mérida we knew we wanted to head southwest towards San Cristóbal, so we looked at a map and saw a place called Campeche was on the way. Why not, right? So we researched it briefly online and booked our bus tickets out of Mérida. After Holbox, we had come back to Mérida for another 10 days or so to just relax, and check out a few places to eat that we never made it to last time, and hit up some of our favourites again! We were excited to be moving on from the east to new land, and Campeche sounded like a great stop along the way.
We arrived after a three hour bus ride and cabbed to our hostel, Casa Allende (which while staff was nice, I can’t say I recommend, who likes ants in their beds and cockroaches in the bathrooms?!). We had a rough start, as we were on edge with each other, but once we got checked in, we went for a walk down to the malecon (the boardwalk along the oceanfront) and tempers were washed away with the tide. Right as we came out from behind the buildings and saw the ocean, we saw, towering above us, a 14×25 metre flag flying 50 metres high. I’ve never seen such a massive flag before! We had mere moments to take in the size of this flag before a military truck pulled up and 15 or so men jumped out and headed to the base of the flag. They began the process of saluting the flag and then taking it down, folding it up somewhat and loading it back into the truck with them, ensuring it never touched the ground. It was fascinating to watch, and turns out they do it every day! Or so we heard; we saw them take it down two days in a row and sort of made that assumption, as we met someone else who said they saw it come down the day before we arrived. I think it’s to keep the flag from deteriorating from the ocean elements. We met a couple, a Canadian and a German who were travelling long term- he had been on the road for seven years or so and was so full of stories he was nearly bursting! Meeting other avid travellers with the same passion for the world is one of my favourite parts of this grand adventure!
That evening we hit the town. Our hostel was just outside the main centre, perfectly located, just ten minutes walk away from the hustle and bustle of the zocalo. When we entered the city square we saw a band was setting up and about to play. It was a guitar orchestra – 10 men with guitars lined up on the stage, with the stunning backdrop of the illuminated Cathedral. What luck for us to stumble upon yet another free orchestra of music in Mexico! We sat down and enjoyed the beautiful music the men played and sang into the warm night air.
The next day we took advantage of the beautiful sunny weather and rented bicycles and took them for a nice cruise down along the malecon, the best way to see the oceanfront! We cruised the whole 5km down and then back again, the ocean breeze at our one side, the palm tree lined highway on the other. We cruised passed the seafood restaurants hawking their calls of ‘camarones, pescado, cangrejo’ at us as we biked on. Strong smells from the endless line of fishing boats wafted our way, mixed with the salty sea breeze. Biking was a great way to see the seafront and some of the monuments along the way. It also kept us cool in the heat of the day. It was so nice to have an ocean breeze to go with the hot Gulf of Mexico weather, something we definitely didn’t have in Mérida.
After returning the bikes we walked through the city just to gaze at the colours. Downtown Campeche is meticulously clean. It almost doesn’t even seem real – the bright colours of every building façade, the cobblestone streets, and the immaculate cleanliness of it all. It’s like something out of a story book!
That night we were in for a real treat, even though we had no idea. We walked to the main square to grab a bite to eat and heard a huge raucous commotion outside. We stepped out since we were done our dinner and walked right into the beginnings of a massive parade. I mean, hundreds and hundreds of people were marching in the streets, all organized, in the most magnificent costumes! I asked around and found out it was a celebration for both Navidad and Día de los Muertos (even though that holiday had officially passed a month before. This explained why almost every single person in the parade had the hypnotizing catarina skeleton make up on. My excitement was uncontrollable!
I ran ahead, snapping photos, then ran back, then onwards again. Everyone looked so striking, I was hypnotized! The first group of was men dressed in all white, and women in all red, carrying colourful explosions of flowers. They danced around in harmony together, the bright colours all blurring together. Next came the day of the dead – groups of people, many of them dance groups, from children as young as age 4 up to middle aged folks streamed past us in elaborate dress and make up. Hundreds and hundreds passed us and I was giddy with excitement. We had missed most of the parade in Mérida on day of the dead so this was such a pleasant surprise and exactly what I had been hoping to see in while in México. We followed the parade for over half an hour, running ahead so we could watch the whole procession again and again. It was just breathtaking!
I walked home that night in a daze. I was floating on cloud nine for all we had seen this night, all so unexpectedly! Campeche was winning my heart by the second with all these unexpected events that we stumbled upon! The next day we grabbed a bite in a bakery, walked down the malecon and then explored the city, checking out the wall that was built around it to help protect it from pirates and buccaneers in the 1600’s. Then we hit the town square in the evening once again. On the way we chanced upon a salsa competition in front of one of the large churches. Dancers were dressed in their finest salsa wear, paired up, and hit the dance floor, numbers on their back, to show their best moves and be judged. It was so fun watching the incredible energy of these dancers. I could tell from the abundance of dance schools around the city that dance is a huge deal here in Campeche.
After we took in the competition we continued on to the square just in time for the stunning light projection display on the beautiful edifice of the Palacio Centro Cultural. We didn’t know what was happening so were a little taken aback when speakers began blasting music and a huge crown poured in front of the building. It was a stunning visual display for a half hour showing the history of Campeche. It was awe-inspiring!
As we walked back to our hostel that night we were stunned. We had no idea what to expect from this little town as a stop over. But we were completely blown away. It was much smaller than Mérida but had that same intensity of culture and activity- there was always something going on here to celebrate the culture of Campeche; from music to dancing to parades! We didn’t find much in the way of food here, and our accommodations were quite dire, but the rest of the town made up for it. I found myself falling for Campeche as hard as I fell for Mérida, but liking some things even more! It was smaller, much cleaner, and had that amazing oceanfront! If we had had more time to explore the food side I’m sure I would have been ready to move to Campeche! If you’re in the Yucatán, this little gem is absolutely worth a stop on your visit!