At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the construction of Campeche's fortifications rescued the city from the devastation of unrelenting pirate attacks. Three hundred years later, the surviving walls and fortresses have shifted their focus to tourism, and are presently home to the city's best museums.
With a historic center that's been protected for centuries by an impenetrable set of fortifications, Campeche has a reputation as one of Mexico's most beautiful cities. We were completely won over by its picturesque charm, during a two-day excursion from Mérida.
The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, found on the nothern outskirts of Mérida, is one of the Yucatán's largest and most popular new museums. From the glories of the past right up into the modern day, the museum takes visitors on a comprehensive journey through the history of the Yucatán's original inhabitants.
One of the Yucatán's defining characteristics is its love of music. From the daily free concerts in the plazas around Mérida, to the Mexican pop blasting out of every tiny shop and the kids walking around with their smartphones on speaker-mode, music is an inescapable fact of life. So we weren't surprised to find a museum dedicated to Yucatecan music, right in the center of town.
Talking to expats and reading online accounts had led us to believe that Progreso was a humdrum place, and when we finally visited, it was more out of a vague sense of duty than any personal desire. But while we had braced ourselves for boredom, what we discovered was a friendly, likable and unpretentious beach town. Chalk it up to the miracle of low expectations, if you wish, but we loved Progreso.
After visiting the ruins of Mayapan, we made our way south to Maní. This tiny town is famous across the peninsula for its cuisine, but it was also the scene of one of the Yucatán's darkest moments.
Mayapan was the final major capital of the Maya civilization, with a period of preeminence that lasted from 1200 to 1400, postdating the fall of Chichén Itzá. Thanks to its relatively recent age, many of the ruins have survived in good condition, making it easier to imagine how the city must have looked during its prime.
After swimming in Chunkanán's three cenotes, we felt energized enough to stop at nearby Acanceh before our return to Mérida. This small town is one of the oldest Maya sites in the Yucatán, and one of the few to retain its original name, which approximately means "Cry of the Deer".
Hundreds of cenotes pockmark the earth of the Yucatán Peninsula. Fed by subterranean rivers, these pools once served as sources of fresh water for the Maya, but today they're primarily used for fun. We visited three amazing cenotes on a popular tour leaving from the village of Chunkanán.
Next to the cathedral and inside one of the city's most historic buildings, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Ateneo de Yucatán (MACAY) offers a great place to escape the sweltering heat of the sun and take in some thought-provoking modern art. During our visit, we were almost as impressed by the fabulous air-conditioning as by the bizarre pieces hanging on the walls.