Campeche, Campeche

Population: 230,000

Time Zone: Central Standard Time

Airport: Campeche International (CPR)

Elevation: Sea Level

Founded in 1540 by the Spanish conquistadores, the area was home to an indigenous people for 2,000 years. The Spaniards turned Campeche, their first settlement on the Yucatan peninsula, into a major port, shipping gold and silver to Europe. This attracted rampaging pirates who destroyed the city repeatedly for over 200 years. In 1686 construction began on a protective wall, four feet thick with four massive gates, placed around the town perimeter. The wall was a success, leading to a long period of peace and prosperity. Today about one-half of the wall still stands, marking Campeche as one of Mexico’s most interesting cities, although not well-known by foreign travelers. The 40 square blocks within the historic center are filled with 18th century, restored buildings and some that have yet to be restored.

Campeche was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, showcasing a colonial historic center adorned with pastel-colored buildings and cobble-stoned streets. The beaches in town are not on par with many in Mexico due to being a major port for goods and the oil-related businesses, but they do improve as you leave town along the Gulf of Mexico. Tourist services, including hotels and restaurants, are fairly inexpensive, catering largely to domestic tourists and to savvy foreigners who have ventured from the more well-known cities. This is a town that should be experienced before the word gets out.