There he sat, bold as brass, welcoming us into Hotel Boutique Casa Don Gustavo's, one of the pirates of Campeche.
It's not quite the Caribbean, but sitting on the Gulf of Mexico, the Mexican city of Campeche has more than its fair share of pirate stories to share. The main tourist strip of Campeche city, the pedestrianised street Calle 59, is bookended with two city gates; 'Puerta del Mar' and 'Puerta de la Terra'. The sea gate used to lead to a long jetty, but those barbarous pirates, many English (ever heard of Sir Frances Drake referred to as a pirate?!), were a scandalous crew and often hit the city from the land gate having taken the scenic route before beginning the slaughter.
There at 'Puerta de la Terra' a pirate themed light show takes place at 8pm. Unfortunately, since we were travelling during the rainy season, we missed it but we did enjoy playing 'walk the plank' on the 'Lorencillo' ship by the gate and we brought life to the tales by browsing the pirate artefacts in the collection housed beside the cannons. Ring the bell, the pirates are coming!
The old city is dotted with reminders of its pirate histories, and the municipal building, lining one side of the central plaza, offers a fabulous free tour where you can find out more about the grizzly operations of those lawless raiders. Shiver me timbers!
Campeche certainly has its treasures to guard. The old colonial houses, painted in an array of pastel palette colours, are simply gorgeous to walk along. Casa 6, a 'high society' house/museum, also right in the central plaza is worth the visit, giving a glimpse into late 18th century / early 19th century interior design. We stayed in Hotel Don Gustavo, at the Puerta del Mar end of Calle 59, and the table in the dining room was set with as much care as I imagine the table at Casa 6 was set in its heyday. In fact, everything at Don Gustavo's was offered with such grace. Samantha Barrera was so helpful at reception, her smiles and true excitement that we would be exploring the city were infectious and she had us smiling from ear-to-ear after every encounter with her. Our room was spacious and extremely comfortable; and the stained-glass, saloon-style swing doors led to an enormous bathroom. The rooftop swimming pool was a great place to refresh ourselves when the humid heat got a little too heavy for us. Well, that was our excuse to spend more time in the hotel when we weren't exploring the gems and jewels of the town and outskirts.
Gem: The old cinema 'Selem' that is now a car park. Its crumbling balconies housing pigeons and the wonderful tiled floor made this an odd choice for a 'gem' but it was quite a sight. Think art-deco-stroke-hipster gem.
Jewel: Edzna. One of Campeche's most intriguing and impressive Mayan sites is a mere 50 minute ride from the city. With few tourists compared to Chichen Itza in the neighbouring state, you might be lucky enough to have the whole place to yourselves for a moment to two. Mayan Magic.
Gem: Taking the short trip up to the San Jose del Alto museum fort and seeing a model of Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hind with notes referring to it as a pirate vessel. It's all about perspective. The rooftop view to the sea inspires the imagination.
Jewel: Visiting the spectacular Hacienda Uayamon and feeling its beauty was laced with a haunting veil having read about its bloody pirate histories.
Campeche city is worthy of a couple of your days on the Yucatan Peninsula circuit. Its easy going pace makes it wonderful to stroll around with young children and its pirate history leaves everyone talking with a sea-dog accent. Yo-ho-ho!!
For more info, please visit casadongustavo.com