In picturesque Campeche, block upon block of restored buildings with lovely facades, all painted in bright colors, meet the sea. Tiny balconies overlook clean, geometrically paved streets, and charming old street lamps illuminate the scene at night. While the heart of the city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, looks as if it has been constructed purely for touristic purposes, you’ll find just as many workaday businesses here as you will trendy restaurants and boutique hotels.
In colonial days the city center was completely enclosed within a 10-foot-thick wall. Two stone archways (originally there were four)—one facing the sea, the other the land—provided the only access. The defensive walls also served as a de facto class demarcation. Within them lived the ruling elite. Outside were the barrios, with slaves from Cuba, and everyone else.
On strategic corners, seven baluartes, or bastions, gave militiamen a platform from which to fight off pirates and the other ruffians that continually plagued this beautiful city on the bay. But it wasn't until 1771, when the Fuerte de San Miguel was built on a hilltop outside town, that pirates finally stopped attacking the city.
Campeche's historic center is easily navigable—walking is always your best bet. Narrow streets and lack of parking spaces can make driving a bit frustrating, although motorists here are polite and mellow. Streets running roughly north–south are even-numbered, and those running east–west are odd-numbered. The historic center has a perimeter stretching 2½ km (1½ miles).