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.
Seven of Campeche’s original eight bastions are still standing, and a satisfying tour of the city can be had by simply following their circular path. We started at the Baluarte de Santiago, which today hosts Campeche’s Botanical Garden. A walk about the small and attractive garden requires very little time, and costs next to nothing.
A bit farther west down the coast, we visited the sea-facing Baluarte de la Soledad which is home to the Museo de Arquitectura Maya. Spread across the bottom floor of the old fort, the museum introduces visitors to the basic concepts of Maya architecture. Each stele, or carved stone column, is accompanied by a point-by-point description of all the elements and glyphs, along with their probable meaning, which really helps in understanding the cryptic art of the Maya.
Next up was the Baluarte de San Carlos and the Museo de la Ciudad. With all the pirate attacks, Campeche has had a more colorful history than most cities, and this museum presents some of its more exciting and blood-soaked episodes. While I was in the bowels of the fort, reading up on the exploits of buccaneers and swashbucklers, Jürgen was on the roof snapping pictures of the city.
On the other side of Campeche is the Puerta de Tierra, a bastion which served as the city’s main entry point. Today, it’s most well-known for its light-and-sound show, performed three times a week. We arrived early for a performance, but didn’t know that a ticket was required. And by the time we realized our error, the show was sold out. Frustrating, because it’s supposed to be rather good.
All of these bastions were impressive, but for the best fortress and museum, you have to travel a couple kilometers outside of the city and scale a tall hill to reach the Museo de Cultura Maya inside the Fuerte de San Miguel. From the top of this fortress, you can enjoy an excellent view over the sea and city. The museum is spread out across ten rooms, with exhibits that focus on archaeological finds from around Campeche State, including some priceless pieces like a glowing jade mask in perfect condition.