Campeche, Mexico: A Tourism Strategy Takes Concrete Shape

Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón recently announced that he aims to make Mexico one of the world’s top five tourist destinations by 2018. He signed a National Tourism Agreement that outlines a 10-point strategy for making that goal a reality.

But in Campeche, a UNESCO World Heritage city on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula—where I live—no one is waiting until 2018. We see many of the strategies Calderón has embraced already being implemented every day. In the last year Campeche has made great strides at putting the capital city and state (both named Campeche) firmly on the cultural tourism map.

Since last November, workmen have been upgrading and widening sidewalks in the city’s historic center to create a pedestrian-friendly area. Multi-language signs have been installed at many of the public monuments; life-size bronze statues (one of a local fisherman, another of a shoeshine man) have been commissioned and installed in public spaces; and several semi-permanent museum exhibits have opened in de-commissioned churches and in parks.

It’s all designed to entice tourists to stay a few days longer in Campeche, which traditionally has been the Peninsula’s least-known and –visited state. Millions of tourists visit the neighboring states of Quintana Roo (home to Cancún and a slew of other Caribbean beach resort towns) and Yucatán (where Mérida, an expat haven that is home to several thousand foreigners, is located). Campeche—less than two hours south of Mérida—wants a piece of that pie.

The new improvements aren’t limited to the state’s capital. Late last year the little town of Palizada, deep in the state’s interior, was named a pueblo mágico, the state’s first. The Mexican government gives pueblo mágico status to villages of historic or cultural importance and provides them with funds to develop tourism. Palizada’s claim to fame is its red-roofed houses…and its riverside location. It’s also not too far from the state’s other World Heritage site—the Calakmul Biosphere, which houses the ruins of a huge, ancient Maya city.

And less than an hour down the coast from Campeche city, the little fishing port of Champotón now sports a recently-completed malecón (seaside boardwalk). Champotón, arguably the center of Campeche state’s growing sports-fishing industry, is also the closest town to the state’s beaches. Starting just south of Champotón are miles of nearly virgin beachfront. A few beach developments are under way here, but by and large these beaches are off the radar.

Champotón is where the pioneer expats with homes on Campeche’s beachfront do their shopping. Champotón has a traditional market, a couple of supermarkets, and dozens of little seafood restaurants. The little town (population around 30,000) has an engaging air, and until now property prices here have been very inexpensive. But with the pretty, new malecón in place and the beachfront poised for development, that situation may change.

In fact, it may be time for me to view properties in Champotón…while it’s still off the radar.

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