I’m not happy with my city government right now—and I’m not alone. Most of us here in Campeche, Mexico are pretty peeved. But I tell myself that it’s like going to the dentist: You have to suffer through the drilling for that great look at the end…
You see, right now Campeche’s once-beautiful historic center is a construction zone. Bulldozers and work crews have torn up sidewalks along the main streets and are rebuilding them several feet wider.
The goal: turn parts of the city’s center into a pedestrian-only mall, with wide sidewalks, planters and benches. For good measure, one corner by the city walls and near the town square is being converted into a performance space.
It’s all part of a strategy to attract more cultural tourism to Campeche, one of Mexico’s few seaside colonial cities. (It’s right on the Gulf of Mexico—see my video tour of Campeche here.) The new improvements also help the city raise its profile—and burnish its image—as a UNESCO World Heritage destination.
After all, it’s not as though a city makes the UNESCO list and that’s it. No; those UNESCO guys check up on you. Are you maintaining the historic areas? Are you preserving their look and feel? Are you improving them…by restoring decaying buildings, for instance—or turning a busy, auto-choked street into a low-impact, pedestrian-only oasis?
Ten years ago, before Campeche won its World Heritage status, many buildings in the historic center were abandoned and decayed. You could have bought them for a song. Even five or six years ago, when I first came here, I saw many freshly-painted facades with nothing but rubble behind them.
Not anymore. Every day, it seems, I see renovation begun on yet another property in the historic center. Smartly-restored new restaurants, hotels and shops are opening. Some of these new enterprises are backed by locals; many more are the brainchild of Mexicans from Guadalajara, Mexico City and elsewhere, who see opportunity in a beautiful, safe city whose government is betting on tourism. Very few are expats…though I’m beginning to see a trickle of pioneers.
I wasn’t around when expats first discovered San Miguel de Allende and Lake Chapala, well on 50 years ago now. I wasn’t even on the scene when Mérida first hit the expat radar. But I like to think that Campeche may be taking its first steps toward creating an international community, with its newly-smart center, its new restaurants and shops, and its beautiful buildings and ambiance.
The city is finishing the first phase of work—several blocks on the center’s main street—this week. They’re cleaning away the debris around the first newly-widened sidewalks and putting in planters of poinsettias and a few benches. That’s just in time for the Christmas holidays and the remaining Christmas concerts…. I can’t wait.
Editor’s note: If you like historic colonial buildings, you might be interested in an area of Mexico that’s the “land that winter forgot.” It’s Mexico’s Colonial Highlands—and you can get the full story here.