Campeche ( kamˈpetʃe (help·info)), officially Free and Sovereign State of Campeche (Spanish: Estado Libre y Soberano de Campeche), is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities ofMexico. Located in Southeast Mexico, it is bordered by the states of Yucatán to the north east, Quintana Roo to the east, and Tabasco to the south west. To the south it is bordered by the Petén department of Guatemala, to the east by Belizeand to the west by the Gulf of Mexico. The state capital, also called Campeche, was declared a World Heritage Site in 1997. The formation of the state began with the city, which was founded in 1540 as the Spanish began the conquest of the Yucatán Peninsula. During the colonial period, the city was a rich and important port, but declined after Mexico’s Independence. Campeche was part of the province of Yucatán but split off in the mid-19th century, mostly due to political friction with city of Mérida. Today, much of the state’s economic comeback is due to the finding of petroleum offshore in the 1970s, which has made the coastal cities of Campeche and Ciudad del Carmen important economic centers. The state has important Mayan and colonial sites but they are not as well known or visited as others in the Yucatán.
The state of Campeche is located in southeast Mexico, on the west side of the Yucatan Peninsula. The territory is 56,858.84km2, which is 2.6% of Mexico’s total. It borders the states of Yucatán, Quintana Roo and Tabasco, with the country of Belize to the east, Guatemala to the south and the Gulf of Mexico to the west. Politically, it is divided into eleven municipalities: Calkiní, Calakmul, Campeche, Candelaria, Champotón, Ciudad del Carmen, Escárcega,Hecelchakán, Hopelchén, Palizada and Tenabo.
Campeche is a relatively flat area of Mexico with 523 km of shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico. Most of the surface is of sedimentary rock much of which is from marine origin. The area with the highest elevations is near the borders with Guatemala and Quintana Roo. Notable elevations include Cerro Champerico (), Cerro los Chinos (), Cerro El Ramonal (), Cerro El Doce () and Cerro El Gavilán (). However, these hills are separated by large expanses of lower flat land.(mediofisico) In the south of the municipality of Champotón begin a series of rolling hills known as the Sierra Alta or Puuc, which extend northeast to Bolonchen and then into the state of Yucatán. These have only an average altitude of between forty and sixty meters with some reaching 100 meters. There other areas of these rolling hills, near the city of Campeche with main ones known as Maxtum, Boxol and El Morro. Another set is called the Sierra Seybaplaya in the center of the state.
Rainforest areas subdivide into a number of types which include perennial tall tree rainforest, semi perennial tall tree rainforest, deciduous medium height tree rainforest, semi deciduous medium height tree rainforest, deciduous low height tree rainforest and semi perennial low height tree rainforest. Away from the coast, these rainforests are interspersed with savannah areas and along the coast are accompanied by areas with sand dunes, mangrovewetlands and estuaries. Species that can be found in the various rainforests include huapaque, cedar (cedrela Mexicana), pukte (bucida buceras), sapote, dyewood (Haematoxylum campechianum), dzalam (lysiloma bohamensis) and more. It also includes a number of precious tropical hardwoods such as red cedar, mahogany, ciricote (cordia dodecandra) and guayacán (guialum sanctum). Along the coastal areas, palms dominate such as the coconut and royal palm. The main wildlife species in the state are the jaguar, ocelot, puma, deer, wild boar, raccoon, hare, ring-tailed cat and spider monkey. There are many bird species including the chachalaca, ducks, quail, pelican, toucan, buzzard and many more. Reptiles include rattlesnakes, coral snakes, boa constrictors, various species of sea and land turtles, iguanas and crocodiles. While still rich in wildlife, much has been decimated because of agriculture and exploitation of forest resources destroying habitat as well as uncontrolled hunting. Off the coast is most of the state aquatic life including many species of fish, crustaceans and mollusks. Many of these are exploited commercially.
Most of the state’s surface freshwater is in the south and southwest, with rivers, small lakes and estuaries. These diminish in the north where rainfall rapidly filtrates into the subsoil. The rivers in the south and southwest belong to various basins, with the largest being the Grijalva-Usumacinta to which the Candelaria, Chumpán and Mamantal Rivers belong. The Usumacinta also flows in the state but it tends to change course frequently and occasionally divides into branches. The east branch of this river is also called the Palizada River, which has the largest volume although it is narrow. The San Pedro River is another branch is the Usumacinta, which passes by the community of Jonuta in Tabasco before emptying in the Gulf. The Chumpán River is an isolated river formed by the union of various streams. It runs north-south and empties in the Laguna de Terminos. The Candelaria River forms in Petén, Guatemala and runs north-south and empties into the Laguna de Pargos. The Mamantel River empties into the Laguna de Panlau. The Campotón River is in the center of the state and empties into the Gulf. The rest of the states streams flow only in the rainy season.
The DUFUR lagoon is located in the southwest of the state, near the Tabasco border. It is separated from the Gulf of Mexico only by the Isla del Carmen. It receives fresh water from most of Campeche’s rivers as well as salt water from the Gulf. In these brackish waters have developed a number of aquatic species such as sea bass, small sharks, crabs, oysters, turbles, and storks. The lagoon is ringed by smaller lakes and forms the most important lake-lagoon system in the country. These lakes include Atasta, Pom, Puerto Rico, El Este, Del Vapor, Del Corte, Pargos and Panlau. This system formed about five thousand years ago by the accumulation of sediment carried by surrounding rivers. This system connects to the Sabancuy estuary to the northeast.
The state is in the tropics with a humid climate with a defined rainy and relatively dry season from late winter to early spring. Average annual rainfall varies between 900 and 2000 mm. The hottest and most humid areas of the state are along the coast between the Laguna de Términos and the northern border. Average annual temperature is 26C with highs up to 36C in the summer and lows of 17C in the winter. Prevailing winds are from the northwest from November to March, from the north between September and October, from the southeast from June to August and from the south in April and May. In the winter, storms from the north called “nortes” can bring colder dry air from the area of the United States. In the late summer, there are sometimes hurricanes.
The state has a number of ecosystems, from rainforest, to savanna to coast and sea. Environmentally, the state is divided into four major regions. The coast region consists of the entire coastline of the state and a strip of shallow water just offshore called the Sonda de Campeche with coral reefs and low islands calledcays. The region has large expanses of mangroves which dominate the swamps. Non-swamp areas are dominated by palm trees. Wildlife is dominated by bird and reptile species such as storks, pelicans, ducks, seagulls, lizards, turtles and water snakes. The Mountain region is in the north and east of the state consisting of two chains of low hills called the Dzibalchen and Sierra Alta. It also includes the savannah area and an area called Los Chenes, where natural wells called cenotes are common. This area is noted for its tropical hardwoods and the chicle or gum tree. Wildlife includes deer, armadillos, rabbits, quail, and woodpeckers. The Rainforest region is located on the center and south of the state with a wide variety of trees including tropical hardwoods such as mahogany. Many of the plants used in the state’s cuisine such as achiote and tropical fruits are from here. This area is under threat due to over exploitation. The River region is located in the southwest of the state, named after the various rivers that flow here, mostly emptying into the Laguna de Términos. It has the hottest and most humid climate in Campeche with wildlife and vegetation similar to that found in both the Rainforest and Coast regions.
Campeche has three main protected areas: The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, the Laguna de Términos Reserve and the Los Petenes Biosphere Reserve with total an area of 1,810,597 hectares. The Calakmul Reserve was created in 1989 over 723,185 hectares. It consists of Yucatán and Tehuantepec moist forests, containing high and medium growth semi-deciduous forests and seasonally flooded low height semi-deciduous forests. There is also aquatic vegetation. The Laguna de Términos Reserve includes the lagoon and the area surrounding it with an area of 705,017 hectares. It was established in 1994. Los Petenes is a natural reserve consisting of isolated pockets of rainforest with mangrove areas in between. The wildlife is dependent on a varied and complex system of fresh and brackish water. The reserve extends over 382 hectares in the municipalities of Campeche, Tenabo, Hecelchakan and Calkini.
Much of Campeche’s territory is filled with various archeological sites, almost all of which are Mayan. These sites are far less known and visited than sites to the east such as Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Tulum . An early important site is Edzna, located near the city of Campeche in a region known as los Chenes. It was one of the most important ceremonial centers in the pre Classic Maya period (300-900CE). Its building show Petén, Chenes and Puuc influence, with a large acropolis surrounded by various temples, the most important of which is the Pyramid of the Five Floors. It was discovered in the 1920s and excavated in the 1940s. It is located away from other Mayan settlements on the peninsula and was probably a collection center for the agriculture products grown in the area, reaching its height between 600 and 900. These were sent to the city of Tikal in exchange for ritualistic adornment for the site. Its most important building is the Pyramid of the Five Stories, built as its name implies. Another important find came in the 1990s. During the planting season in early May, archeologist Antonio Benavides noticed that the setting sun illuminates a stucco mask hanging one of the pyramid’s rooms. The effect also happens in August, during harvest and it is believed to be related to the asking and receiving of abundant crops.
The largest archeological site in the state is Calakmul, which means “twin heaps” in Maya. It is located in the Petén region built in the late Classic period (500-900 CE). Calakmal is estimated to have been populated around 1000 BCE with its height at around 600 In 695 CE, Calakmul was conquered by Tikal and the city fell into decline. Calakmul is located in the interior rainforest of the state in a biosphere named after it near the Guatemala border. The site extends over 70 km² and was one of the largest cities of Mesoamerica. Its temples were mostly dedicated to ancestor worship encircling the palaces of the elite in the center. There are an estimated 6,000 structures at the site with only half a dozen restored. The two most important structures are the twin pyramids of Temple II and Temple VII, similar to structures found at Tikal. Temple II is tallest at 50 m high. The site has been heavily looted by grave robbers.
While most sites are in the interior rainforest of the state, there are fifty five archeological sites on the coast alone, mostly remnants of small villages. The Isla de Jaina is one of the best preserved archeological sites in the state because of its location on an island on the coast, surrounded by estuaries and mangroves. It requires special permission to visit. Unlike others on the coast, it was a true city. Other sites include Can-mayab-mul in Nunkiní, Xculhoc in Hecelchakán, Chunan-tunich, Xtampak, Hochob, Pak-chén and Dzebilnocac in Hopelchén, El Tigre in Candelaria, La Xoch and Chun Cedro in Tenabo and Becán in Calakmul.
Campeche is one of the least known and unrated colonial cities in Mexico, mostly bypassed by those visiting more famous destinations in the Yucatan peninsula. The city’s historic buildings are protected by decree to keep them from being destroyed or altered by the growth of the city. Campeche was one of the most important ports in New Spain. It suffered more than twenty one major pirate attacks in the colonial era. After 1685, the city’s main fortifications were begun taking 24 years to complete. They succeeded in stopping major pirate attacks, with only one, Barbillas, finding a way to enter the city in 1708. The fortifications consisted of a formidable wall with four main gates, three opening to land and one to the sea. It also included a number of forts such as San Carlos, Santa Rosa, San Juan and San Francisco. Stories persist that many of the mansions had tunnels to escape pirates, but these have never been found.
The state has a number of colonial era churches. The Asunción church in Dzitbalché was constructed in the 18th century, with a pointed arch doorway, choral window and bell-gable. The Guadalupe Church in Bécal, Calkiní was built in the 18th century. The San Diego Apóstol Church in Nunkiní, Calkiní was built in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The church and former monastery of San Luis Obispo is located in Calkiní, built in the 17th century of stone, wood and metal over a former Mayan temple. The facade is simple with a bell-gable and there remains only one of its original Baroque altarpieces, which was made in the 16th century. The Cathedral of Campeche is from the 16th century. Its façade is of worked stone with two levels marked off by two grooved pilasters. The San Francisco Church in Campeche was established in the 16th century although the current building dates from the 17th. The church marks the spot where the first mass was held on mainland America. Most of the state’s colonial era churches are located in and near the city of Campeche, with some in Ciudad del Carmen. The Nuestra Señora del Carmen Church in Ciudad del Carmen was built in the 18th century. The Sagrado Corazón de Jesús Church was built in the 18th century in Sabancuy, Carmen. The church and former monastery of San Francisco de Asís was begun in the 16th century by the Franciscans in Hecelchakán.
Outside of the city of Campeche, much of the notable civil architecture in the state is found on the various former haciendas. Many of these haciendas have been turned into hotels, spas and other tourist attractions. Hacienda Blanca Flor is located in Hecelchakán outside Campeche. This hacienda was a site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Caste War. Hacienda Santa Cruz is between Campeche and Calkiní in the Nunkiní community. It is dated to the middle of the 18th century established to raise cattle. It continued operating until the Mexican Revolution. Hacienda San José Carpizo is in the Champotón municipality, founded in 1871 by José María Carpizo Sánchez and was one of the most important on the Yucatán Peninsula, raising cattle. It survived the Mexican Revolution until its workers abandoned it in the 1940s. Hacienda San Luis Carpizo is located in Champotón and belonged to José María Carpizo, dedicated to agriculture. This hacienda was restored by the Mexican Army to house the Marine Infantry School in 1999. Hacienda Uayamón is near the city of Campeche with origins in the 16th century. It was attacked and its owner killed in the raid by Laurens de Graaf in 1685. It continued to operate until the Mexican Revolution and today it is home to the Hotel de Gran Turismo. Hacienda Tankuché was dedicated to raising dyewood (palo de tinte) but changed later to henequen. Despite losing most of its land in the Revolution, its henequen mill continued to operate until the 1980s.
Notable museums in the state include the Del Carmen Archeological Museum, the Museo de las Estelas Mayas in Ciudad del Carmen and the Camino Real Archeological Museum in Hecelchakán. The Museo Fuerte de San Miguel is located on one of the Campeche’s old forts. The museum is dedicated to the state’s history. Opened in 2000, it is the newest and most modern of Campeche’s museums.
Most of the beaches frequented by visitors are in the municipalities of Campeche, Champotón and Ciudad del Carmen. In Campeche, these beaches include Mar Azul, San Lorenzo and Playa Bonita. In Ciudad del Carmen, they include La Maniagua, Bahamita, Sabancuy, Playa Caracol and Playa Norte, Isla de Pájaros. In Champotón, they are Acapulquito, Costa Blanca, Payucán and Sihoplaya. In the interior of the state, there are a number of water parks such as El Remate in Tankuché and San Vicente Chuc-Say on a former hacienda of the same name. These generally take advantage of the local rivers, springs and cenotes. Ecotourism includes caves such as Xculhoc, Chuncedro and Xtacumbilxuna’an or Mujer Escondida.