If the Yucatan’s land-locked capital of Merida leaves you itching to see the sea, taking a Campeche day trip is an excellent option. Although the 4 – 5 hour round-trip travel time makes some people shy away, Campeche gives the term “hidden gem” a whole new meaning.
Needless to say, I think it’s worth the trip.
For full disclosure, I spent a week in Campeche. However, I traveled there from Merida and explored Campeche many times over as if my time there was a day trip.
So, I know firsthand that you can see Campeche’s most popular highlights as a day trip from Merida, and I’m here to show you how.
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The Great Debate: To Drive or Take the Bus to Campeche?
Let me start by admitting my bias—I almost always choose to take a bus over renting a car (with a notable exception, in hindsight, being the bus journey from Merida to Uxmal).
But when I put my unbiased cap on, renting a car and driving from Campeche to Merida will get you there faster (in a little over two hours, if there isn’t much traffic leaving Merida).
There are loads of parking spaces in Campeche, so finding a place to leave your car will be easy—and leaving it is what you’ll likely end up wanting to do.
The historical center of Campeche is so small that you can easily walk down every street during your day trip, plus meander along the oceanfront boardwalk without ever relying on a vehicle.
For this reason, taking the bus is a more attractive option for some day-trippers.
However, you’ll either need to prepare yourself to walk 40 minutes upon your arrival at the Campeche bus station or take a taxi to the historical center. Since you’ve only got a day, I recommend taking a cab. Plus, there’s not a whole lot to see between the bus station and downtown.
Taking the Bus from Merida to Campeche
If you don’t mind a 2.5-hour bus trip each way as part of your day trip, taking the ADO bus is a great choice. It’s a direct bus ride and they offer several departures throughout the day.
That means you can either get an early start to your Campeche explorations or sleep in so you’re energized to hit Campeche’s town at night.
Below are the bus times you can more or less expect from ADO, although you should check their website for departures for your travel date.
Also, there are several times outside of the ones listed here—I chose those that work the best for a Campeche day trip.
ADO Bus Schedule: Merida – Campeche
ADO Bus Schedule: Campeche – Merida
Things to Do During Your Day Trip in Campeche
If you haven’t already gathered, Campeche is a small city—especially its walled historic downtown area, which is where you’ll want to spend 80% of your time. So, you’ll get to spend a fun day wandering its colorful streets and an evening reminiscing about how well you got to see it all in just a day.
The sites of interest in Campeche are so close together that there really isn’t a need to put them in a specific order. So, without further ado, below are some must-dos during your Campeche day trip from Merida.
1. Dine at an Outdoor Restaurant on Calle 59
No matter where you turn, Campeche is colorful. But the buildings on Calle 59 seem even more so; as a pedestrian-only street, you can gawk at the architecture without dodging oncoming cars.
If you arrive at Calle 59 early enough, you’ll be able to wander down the middle of the brick road. You’ll only have this opportunity if you arrive before 9:00 am, though.
After that point, restaurants begin pulling tables onto the street. By noon, everything is set up for lunch-goers. And by night, the area is hopping—you might even have to wait for a seat.
Calle 59 will make you feel you arrived in Europe, and even more so when the soft streetlights come on at night. So, if you’re able to swing it with your Campeche day trip from Merida, I recommend dining there in the evening.
2. Grab an Ice Cream in the Main Square
“Zócalo” is a Mexican word for “main square,” and Campeche’s zócalo is where almost everything of touristic interest branches off from (which, admittedly, isn’t a large feat given how small the historic center is).
The zócalo offers several benches beneath trees, so it’s a perfect place to take a break from Campeche’s sun. And what better way to bask beneath the shade than eating ice cream? There are a few stores around the perimeter of the zócalo where you can grab some.
You can find a few vendors around the zócalo during the day, but more tend to come out in the late afternoon and evening when the temperatures cool down. You also might get to watch a cultural performance (tips are encouraged).
3. Admire the Cathedral
Campeche’s cathedral sits at the far end of the zócalo and steals the show of the plaza’s backdrop. It’s open to visitors, and there’s no entrance fee to explore the European-style church.
You won’t need to dedicate a whole lot of time to wander around it; the cathedral is small, so a quick lap will do for most people.
4. Spend Time by the Sea
Let’s face it; you’re not taking a day trip to Campeche just to see pretty buildings—Merida has its fair share of European architecture too.
Visiting Campeche’s oceanfront promenade (malecón in Spanish) is one of the most popular things to do there. The approximately 3.5-kilometer-long boardwalk looks new even though it has over 20 years under its belt.
During your exploration of the boardwalk, you’ll get to see several sculptures and pieces of art.
Walking along the Campeche’s malecón in the daytime gives the phrase, “in the heat of the day” a whole new meaning. Unless hopping between the shade of narrow palm tree leaves as they sway in the wind sounds fun to you, prepare yourself with sun gear.
Or even better, visit in the early morning or evening.
That said, an advantage of visiting the malecón during the “heat of the day” is that you’ll practically have the whole place to yourself, as seen in the photo above.
5. Explore Plaza de la Republica & Parque de Las Banderas
Plaza de la Republica and Parque de Las Banderas, which from here on out I’ll call the “plaza” and “park” are two spaces that mesh together in Campeche, with a Mayan architectural museum wedged between them.
Accessing these sites is easy; simply follow Calle 59 to the end, heading towards the ocean.
Once there, you’ll get to enjoy some of the best views of Campeche’s “skyline” (aka, the cathedral).
The plaza and park are yet more areas in Campeche where it’ll likely be too hot to hang out for long if the sun is out. But benches are plentiful for the evenings and winter when the temperatures get relatively cooler (low 80s for highs, woohoo!).
6. Explore Every Street in the Historical Center
Yes, you really can see every street in Campeche’s historical center during your day trip from Merida.
In fact, wandering the streets in Campeche was my favorite thing to do during my stay.
The walled center is set up in an almost perfect grid. So, start walking parallel or perpendicular, per your preference, and weave up and down the streets.
As a word of caution, the backside of Campeche’s historical center (the part furthest away from the ocean) requires a bit of agility. In fact, the sidewalks are raised so high off the ground that they had to cut out cement steps so that people can reach them!
So, if you’re not up for, or can’t manage, that much of an adventure, hop in your rental car or cab and explore the far side of the center by vehicle.
7. Hang out at Baluarte de San Juan
Baluarte de San Juan is one of the entrances to Campeche’s walled historical center, and you’ll naturally encounter it on the backside of town if you explore every street.
They’ve done a beautiful job of making this an open, accessible space for people to visit. You can purchase snacks or souvenirs from vendors who set up little shops in that area.
There’s also yet another church you can enter free of charge.
If you enjoy history, there’s a cannon you can take a look at inside the walled city near the Baluarte entrance.
The cannon sits under an open-air shelter. You won’t be able to walk up to it because they keep it roped off. However, you can get a decent view and read about its history.
Ready to Take Your Campeche Day Trip from Merida?
So, there you have it; taking a day trip from Merida to Campeche is easy, and you can see just about everything the city has to offer without rushing.
Although traveling from Merida to Campeche in a day involves some time on the road, I think it’s worth it. Mark my words—someday Campeche will be the next big thing in the Yucatan.
For now, you’ll get to enjoy this city with few tourists.
Psst! Are you thinking about traveling to Uxmal? If so, don’t miss my how-to guide on taking the bus from Merida to Uxmal (and learn how to avoid the mistakes I made).