We spent a leisurely last morning in Merida down at the Café Club, chatting again with Bob, the Canadian. When we told him we were off to Campeche, he couldn’t say enough good things about the city, which made us all the more intrigued about going there. After checking out of the Hotel Maison Lafitte, we took a cab to the ADO CAME bus station. The tickets from Merida to Campeche were extremely reasonable – 162 pesos each (about $12 US).
The bus ride was about 2 1/2 hours in total, through nice countryside and on very smooth highways (except where they were doing roadwork). Right before we crossed from the state of Yucatan into the state of Campeche, our driver pulled off into a sort of lay-by area, where local vendors then boarded the bus and walked through the aisle in a line, peddling a variety of snacks: plastic bags stuffed with sliced jicamas and oranges, fresh sandwiches of chiles, jamon y queso (ham and cheese), even popsicles. We noticed that the driver was given a complimentary sandwich on their way out (probably his “fee” for stopping).
When we arrived at the ADO Station in Campeche, I went immediately to the counter to buy our bus tickets to Palenque for next week. This was to ensure that we get seats, as there is only one daytime bus that runs to Palenque on that day and taking a night bus in that direction can be dicey. The price for those were also very good – 289 pesos each ($20 US), which seems extremely reasonable for a comfortable, air-conditioned trip of 5 hours.
After we had our tickets to Palenque in hand, we took a cab to the centro historico, Campeche’s historic center, where our hotel is located. As we drove from the outskirts of town into the heart, we were thrilled by the sight of some of the old baluartes, or fortresses, standing nobly alongside the more modern buildings. We turned a corner and were suddenly on a narrow, cobblestone street, the waning sunlight casting a pink veil across the orderly rows of houses on either side of us.
We found ourselves immediately enamored not only with Campeche’s lovely palette, but also the temperate climate and the wonderful breezes that filter through the streets. The sea air is the perfect compliment to the cheery rows of colonial homes. The city also seems to be incredibly clean and inviting.
After checking in to our hotel, we set out to explore and found ourselves headed instinctively towards the water. The malecon (boardwalk), is only about two blocks northeast of our hotel. We were impressed with what we found there – not just one, but three separate, paved paths running alongside the sea. One for the leisurely walkers, another for runners and a third for bicycles and rollerbladers. It was bustling with people, many of them dressed in athletic clothes, biking, running or walking with headphones on. We walked the length of the malecon and back again, marveling at the mix of modern buildings (even one shiny “skyscraper”) alongside the historic ones, the colonial churches rising out across the city like wise, old patriarchs.
We decided to make our way towards the parque principal (main park, or zocalo) to find some dinner. Along the way, we melted in with the crowds near the Baluarte de Santiago, where a large night market was set up along the outer walls of the fort. We walked beneath the tarp roofs, following the delicious scent of pastries, grilled carne, churros, and spiced nuts and candies. Soon we came to the zocalo, where we were overcome by the charming scene there: children playing, vendors selling books and balloons, families relaxing on benches, a man playing lively songs on a small flute, and all of it bathed in the serene glow of elegant, turn-of-the-century lamps. Every so often, atranvia (streetcar) would drive by full of visitors seated in its open-air benches. We sat contentedly for some time, enjoying the slight snap in the evening air, listening to the flautist.
We found that the park was centered around a circular building which conveniently turned out be a restaurant, El Principal. We sat down, ordered sandwiches and a couple of Cuba Libres and ate while watching some children play a game of tag. Later, in the mood for something sweet, we ordered the Pastele Imposible (literal translation: “Impossible Cake”), and found that it indeed lived up to its name–an impossibly good combination of chocolate cake with a layer of flan on the top. Muy rico!
Today, we worked in the morning and then walked down and got a table on the balcony at El Vieja de los Arcos, a beautiful restaurant overlooking the park. Lunch was very good, some of the tastiest food we’ve had so far–aplato Cubano (Cuban plate) for Tor, which included grilled puerca (pork) with salad, cuban beans, rice andplatanos fritos (fried plantains) and sopa de lima (lime soup) for Richele. We also tried an arrachera appetizer, which was tender steak on kabobs atop a grilled pineapple slice with habanero sauce. An incredible meal. All for 320 pesos, about $23 US.
Our hotel is great, in a perfect locale. These colonial buildings lend themselves well to housing visitors who fall in love easily with their elegant, stoic style. The high ceilings (20-25 feet) give the rooms a very spacious feel and the colorful azulejos (Mexican tiles) are both eye-pleasing and help to keep the rooms cool. Our room is extremely comfortable – large beds, A/C, work desk and a lot of closet space. There is a balcony looking out onto the street beyond two very old wooden doors which have a top panel that can be opened separately, a bit like Dutch doors. We are on the second floor and directly outside our room is a mezzanine that wraps around an open air courtyard on the ground level. Next to our room is the hotel’s business center, which consist of a set of desktop computers for guests to check email and several large, wooden work tables. Simple, yet well-appointed and everything a traveler could need.
After work, we went out to Miramar near the malecon for dinner, where we had burritos and tostadas de pollo (shredded chicken with beans, lettuce, tomatoes and red onions atop crispy tortillas) with a small plate of fried bananas for dessert. It’s a lively place across from the Hotel Castlemar and has prompt service and a good vibe. (Also, they had Negra Modelo on hand, which is Tor’s favorite Mexican beer!) After eating, we walked for some time, browsing the shops and seeking a barber for Tor and finally finding one in a small arcade across from the night market at the Baluarte de Santiago.
Like many Mexican cities, Campeche takes on another personality at night. Everything has a bit of a shimmer, a sort of timeless quality. We usually go for dinner around seven, sometimes as late as nine. Tomorrow night, we will try a restaurant on the south side of the city, near Baluarte de San Juan, one of the largest of the forts, and after our walk will probably end up in the park again, such a mesmerizing place to spend the evening.
Later, we look forward to taking a tranvia tour of the city and visiting some forts and museos, or museums.
Una vez más, gracias a todos por leer. Thanks again for reading. We hope you have enjoyed our first taste of Campeche as much as we have. Hasta pronto!