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Campeche, Mexico: A Colonial Disneyland

Walking the wall and visiting the Bastions…

I visited Campeche about a month into my first trip travelling. Just like in Tulum, I was still travelling solo back then. Although Campeche was where Hannah and I first met, so it will always be remembered as a bit of a special place.

As I said above, Campeche is a bit of a colonial Disneyland. A large part of the original city wall still stands and forms an enclave of perfectly restored pastel buildings and narrow cobblestone streets. There is a lot to see in the walled centre, including the fortified ramparts of the original city as well as well-preserved mansions. The only flaw is that it has been so obviously restored it lacks the lived-in feel that Merida had, making you wonder if it is actually a real city or just a toy town.

The pastel colours and cobblestone streets of Campeche

Campeche’s Plaza Principal…

The first thing I did was walk down to the central square, Plaza Principal, not far from my hostel which was within the old city limits, to check out the cathedral and the other sites. The plaza itself was beautiful, much like the rest of the city. Starting its life as a military camp all those years ago, now the plaza is centred around a bell-époque rotunda with wide footpaths shaded by broad carob trees. I found a bench in the shade and enjoyed the sights.

The Plaza Principal

The most visually intimidating building off the plaza is the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción, which was a real pain to type correctly. The Cathedral (much easier) dominates the east side of the plaza and was my first sight as I came from the east. Similar to Merida, this cathedral has two towers at the front, and a large, broad entrance. Unfortunately, the doors were shut when I walked by, and I didn’t have the confidence to open them for a look at the interior.

The Cathedral

The Cathedral

Cuban furniture from the living room

The other building on the plaza worth a visit is the Centro Cultural Casa Número 6. A pre-revolution mansion, now a museum of sorts that provides an insight into how the members of high society lived. Now if I can make sense of my hastily written notes, the tiles are the original ones, all the way from Marseille. The building itself has those typical high vaulted ceilings, similar to other colonial buildings I’ve seen. Beautiful Cuban furniture is on display in the front room of the house.  

The Master Bedroom

The master bedroom always faced the street with the aristocracy typically making use of hammocks in the summer periods, before packing them away for winter. In fact, you can still see the pegs used to hang them up. Overall, or so it said on the information plaque, the house is a fine example of Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles, not that I would have a clue, but it was very beautiful and interesting to see.

The Bastions…

After a particular spectacular pirate attack on 1663, the people of Campeche decided it would be a good idea to construct a series of protective walls around their city. Now some of those walls still stand, connecting some of the bastions that would have defended the city. In some places, you can walk along the walls and all of the bastions contain a museum or something of interest.

The Bonnet

The first one I visited is known as the bonnet. Built in 1690, It was the third bastion built and also the largest, armed with 13 cannons it served to support the gate to the sea.Now it holds an interesting museum that provides an overview of the Mayan sites in Campeche state and goes into some detail on the different architectural styles that were used. The museum is made up of 5 halls that are filled with stelae from various different sites, well worth the visit. As is the bastion itself, which you can climb to the top, giving you a great view of the sea and the cathedral looming over the other buildings.

The Colonial city of Campeche

The next bastion, de San Carlos, was also a museum dedicated to the history of the city and it’s dealing with pirates. They had some nice displays and like the previous one you could climb to the top and see all the cannons displayed. Unfortunately, this museum didn’t have the same love of English translations for the information cards that the previous one did, so It did limit how much I could take away from it.

It was after my visit to the bastions that I met Hannah. That night as we were walking through the city we came across some kind of outdoor movie going on at the main plaza. They had covered the arches in the library, the big yellow building, and were projecting an animated history of Campeche on the walls. We sat down and watched it as it went from jungle animals and natives to Spanish fighting pirates and celebrating Mexican culture with things like the day of the dead. It was a nice treat to stumble upon by accident.

Campeche is a wonderful Colonial city, with some stunning architecture and is well worth a visit on your backpacking trail.

 

The Ruins of Palenque: Archaeology in the Jungle

Thick Jungle and Ancient Ruins…

Palenque is a small town in Mexico that boasts, in many’s opinions, the finest of Mexico’s Maya sites. Set amongst the jungle, The Ruins of Palenque has one of the most spectacular settings and the small site will awake the archaeologist in everyone.

Where To Stay…

It may be unfair to say, but there is very little to do in Palenque except visit the ruins. There has, however, been a recent increase in the number of hostels in the town. You have two options on where to stay, you can choose one of the many places on the rather noisy streets leading from the bus station to the plaza. Or, for a more peaceful option, there is an area called La Canada, which is set on the other side of a ravine and amongst the trees, (so be ready for the audible wildlife in the morning.

I stayed at the Yaxkin Hostel, which wasn’t the best I had stayed in, but not the worse. It had hot water and a bed in one of the dorm rooms was comfy enough. The main drawback was the lack of an included breakfast, plus the wifi left a lot to be desired, so It’s not a place to try and contact home. There was a restaurant attached so you could eat easily enough. To be honest, the food in Palenque is pretty basic, but then you are only there for the ruins anyway. A bed in the dorm room set me back $10 a night.

The Ruins of Palenque…

It’s easy enough to catch a Colectivo to and from the ruins, Unfortunately, I can’t recall how much it cost, but it wasn’t much. You have to pay twice to get into the ruins, once to enter the national park, which was 22 pesos, and then 65 pesos to enter the ruins, however, that does also include entrance to the museum. Last entry is around 4: 30 pm and the ruins open at 8 am. Best to get there early to avoid the heat of midday, plus it is a fair sized site so it will take some time to get the most out of it. Now that the more practical information is out of the way, let’s talk about the ruins themselves.

Now if you are coming from the Yucatan peninsula and have visited other sites such as Chichen Itza and Tulum you will notice how the ruins here don’t seem to match the style of those sites. Superficially, Palenque resembles the Maya ruins of Guatemala more than those of the Yucatan, however, the style of this impressive ruins are unique. Which is expected of such a significant city.

The yet to be excavated Temple 11

From the entrance to the ruins I passed temple 11, which hasn’t been excavated and restored yet, so is basically just a mound of earth with the occasionally noticeable bit of ruin breaking it up, but it’s interesting to see them in that state. Unlike Chichen Itza, it only takes a few short steps from the entrance to reach the main centre of the ruins. As I rounded temple 11 the main palace, El Palacio, came into view. It’s impressive watchtower standing over the open area under it. However, the path leads you to the right, towards a row of smaller but equally impressive temples. I visited the three temples first, after stopping for a brief moment to take in the view of so many gigantic structures in view.

The first of the three is the aptly named Temple of the skull, due to a stucco relief that depicts a skull. Unfortunately, you couldn’t climb this ruin so I could only get a long distance shot. Like most Mayan ruins, it would have been painted red and blue and was built over two structures that previously occupied the site.

The Temple of the Skull

The middle structure, which you could actually enter into, was the tomb of the red queen. Guarded by an armed man, you could climb the front stairs and enter under the canopy and walk around the crypts. The interior was parallel with two chambers on each side, one with a tomb. The walls of the sarcophagus were covered with cinnabar, a red mineral, that inspired the name. The one thing I will say is those Mayans didn’t build these things with anyone of my height in mind, and I had to duck for most of my time inside.

The Tomb of the Red Queen

The last structure in the line and the biggest was the Temple of Inscriptions. Named after three large limestone tablets that decorate the central room, this temple contains the tomb of Pakal II, one of the more well-known rulers of Palenque. The three tablets described the life and rule of Pakal II and the Tomb sounded incredible. Unfortunately, you couldn’t enter his structure either, but it was incredibly impressive from outside, especially with the jungle surrounding it.

The Temple of Inscriptions

Despite the awe-inspiring nature of those temples, the centrepiece of the site was still the Palace in the centre. Built in a series of phases, this was the residence of the ruling family and its court. Built during the reign of Pakal, but with many additions made after his death, this building was the seat of political power in Palenque. You could climb the palace steps and walk around some of the courtyards and get a closer look at the square tower that I mentioned earlier. I called it a watchtower, but its actual purpose is unknown. Throughout the palace, you will find beautiful relief carvings, the most interesting of which show the rulers of defeated cities in various poses of humiliation.

The Palace

Just passed the Temple of Inscriptions, there is a nice treat for anyone willing to get their hands dirty. There is a small temple, Templo del Jaguar, and beyond that, you can see more temples that are being uncovered. You won’t be able to pass much beyond the temple without a guide but it is easy to imagine you are climbing over unexcavated buildings, I had a feeling that some of those stones didn’t look naturally formed.

The Count

The sun was out in full force by this point so I took a slight rest in the shaded area in front of the palace before walking down a slight hill, trying to stick to the shade wherever possible, to a group of lesser temples and the ball court, known and Grupo del Norte. Most weren’t as well restored, or anywhere near as impressive, as the previous structures. One of the buildings was known as the count because it was used by Count Jean Frederick Waldeck during his stay during the first half of the nineteenth century.

One of the Temples from Grupo de la Cruz

I then followed the path around and crossed the Rio Otulum, one of the streams that flow through the site, I was seriously suffering from the sun by this point and charmingly sweating through my shirt. The path leads to another group of buildings, the Grupo de la Cruz. A central square which was dominated by three temples on three sides. All as large and impressive as I had come to expect. Each was tall and narrow and contained carved panels representing rituals.

 

I then headed back to the Palace, to take one last look at it and to rest in one of the few shaded areas again. The howler monkeys didn’t seem to mind the heat though, as they continued to howl throughout my visit to the ruins. The whole site is amazing, and certainly, a must see if you visit Mexico. Unlike Chichen Itza it’s much more natural looking, you can actually imagine the place having been lived in. The surrounding jungle really helps with that.

The interior of the Palace

One of the ruins of Grupo I and II

To get back to the road I walked down passed Grupo I and Grupo II, intricate ruins of interconnected rooms. The path then leads you through the jungle, past a huge waterfall that cascaded into the river, which would have been used for fresh water by the Mayans. Unfortunately, swimming isn’t allowed, which is a shame because I needed it by that point.

At the entrance there is an excellent museum, which was included with the ticket, and provides a good idea of what life was like at Palenque and proudly displays some of the beautiful things found there. It is well worth a look and helps to bring some of what you have seen at the ruins into context.

 

 

Tulum, Mexico: A Vision Of Paradise

Tulum is one of my favourite travel spots in Mexico. I wanted to share my adventures with you and invite you to discover the breathtaking Mayan ruins and beautiful beaches that Tulum has to offer.  

Luckily my article has been published by travelicious.world; where you will be able to find out about this amazing place and all it has to offer! Feel free to check it out:

Click here for more!