Mexican StateCampeche State covers the south-western part of the Yucatán peninsula. It is bounded by Yucatán to the north and east and the Gulf of Mexico to the north-west. To the south-west it is bordered by Tabasco, to the south by Guatemala and to the south-east by Quintana Roo. It lies on a low Yucatán limestone plateau rising to hills in the north. The northern half is relatively dry, the people having to rely on underground lakes and watercourses for their water supply. The south and east in contrast experience heavy precipitation supporting the growth of lush rain forest. The rivers in the south flow into the Laguna de Términos. Along the Gulf coast are many lovely beaches but also belts of swampland. Campeche's population is made up mainly of Maya and mestizos.Even today Campeche's bush country and rain forest boast a rich and varied fauna, jaguar, ocelot, tapir, wild pig, armadillo and deer being just some of the mammals found. Birdlife includes pheasant, wild duck, wild turkey, herons, flamingoes and many different kinds of parrot, while alligators, tortoises, iguanas and boa constrictors are among the various reptile species seen. As regards marine life the coastal waters of Campeche are some of the most abundantly stocked in Mexico, harbouring tuna, barracuda, shark, mackerel, swordfish, schnapper, dolphin and numerous crustacea such as crabs, prawns and many kinds of shellfish.The most important of the Mayan ruins in Campeche State are at Edzná, Hochob, Dzibilnocac, El Tabasqueño (for these latter two, see under Campeche, City), Xcalunkin, Calakmul, Balamkú, Hormiguero, Becán, Chicaná, Xpuhil and Río Bec.Jaína is even more special. In olden times this little limestone island off the north coast of Campeche was a major burial site which, judging by the disproportionately few buildings found (compared with the number and richness of the graves), must have served as a cemetery for the Mayan nobility of the entire Puuc region. The unique hollow clay figurines with arrows on their backs, beautifully modelled and painted, are recognised as the finest ceramics produced in the pre-Columbian period. Although a special permit is required to visit the island, a great many finds from the site are displayed not only in the Mayan section of the National Archaeological Museum in Mexico City but also in the Archaeological Museum at Campeche (city).HistoryLike other parts of the Yucatán peninsula Campeche boasted a large number of centres of Mayan Classic culture (300 bc-ad 900). Archaeological finds show that some of these sites were probably already settled in the pre-Classic period (300 bc-ad 300). Comparatively little is known however about later pre-Columbian Indian history in the period between ad 1000 and 1500. During this time many towns on the Gulf coast must have been involved in trade between central and southern Mexico and the north and east Yucatán peninsula.The first European to make an appearance here was Hernández de Córdoba who, in 1517, landed on the coast near present-day Champotón. A brief and bloody encounter with the native Indians saw the Spaniards repulsed, Córdoba himself dying later of the wounds he received. Although both Juan de Grijalva in 1518 and Hernán Cortés in 1519 established temporary footholds in Campeche, it was another 20 years before Francisco de Montejo succeeded in colonising at least some part of the area. Throughout the colonial period, and also for the first three decades of the Mexican Republic, Campeche remained incorporated in Yucatán. It became a state in its own right in 1863.EconomyLargely cut off from the rest of the country until about 30 years ago, the contribution of Campeche to the Mexican economy was always relatively small. Only its precious woods were of any great significance, in particular the blue or Campeche logwood (used in dye making) and the sapodilla tree (Achras sapota, the source of chicle used in the manufacture of chewing gum). A growing fishing industry, heavily backed by the state, and the discovery of offshore oil have today given a new impetus to economic development while at the same time bringing environmental problems in their wake. Agriculture and cattle rearing also receive state support. The highly interesting archaeological sites, excellent beaches and rich opportunities for angling should bring a considerable boost to tourism in the near future.
North from Campeche to Merida
Leaving Campeche by the MEX 180 (shown on some maps as MEX 261), drive north via Tenabo to the little town of Hecelchakán (56km/35mi) with its Franciscan church dating from 1620 and Museo Arqueólogico del Camino Real. The latter has a fine collection of clay figurines from Jaína island. Stelae and lintels found during excavations in the area are also displayed on the museum patio.There are numerous archaeological sites around Hecelchakán, two of which, Kocha and Xcalumkin (Holactún), deserve particular mention.
On MEX 180 from Hecelchakán head for Calkiní (25km/15.5mi) and then Becal (32km/20mi), both larger towns, the latter having a reputation for "jipi"-making. Before being put on sale these light-weight tropical hats are left to "mature" in dank store-rooms under the ubiquitous patios.Maxcanú is 30km/19mi beyond Becal, and Mérida another 95km/59mi beyond that.