251km (156 miles) SW of Mérida; 376km (234 miles) NE of Villahermosa

Campeche, capital of the state of the same name, is a splendidly restored colonial city that is woefully overlooked by travelers. All the historic center's facades have been repaired and painted, electrical and telephone cables moved underground, and the streets paved to resemble cobblestone. Several period films have been shot here, including Che, Steven Soderbergh's epic two-part biography of Che Guevara.

Those who do come to Campeche often are on their way to the ruins at Palenque or the Río Bec region, or they are accidental wanderers by nature. In truth, Campeche is not geared to foreign tourism the way Mérida is -- though it is catching up -- so expect less English translation at museums, ruins, and services. Also, expect less in the way of nightlife, except on weekend nights when the main square becomes one huge street party.

Campeche's history is laden with drama. The conquistadors arrived in 1517, when Francisco de Córdoba landed here while exploring the coast and stayed just long enough to celebrate Mass. Native resistance thwarted attempts to settle here until Montejo the Younger gained a foothold in 1540.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, pirates repeatedly sacked the city. The list of attackers reads like a who's who of pirating. On one occasion, several outfits banded together under the famous Dutch pirate Peg Leg (the likely inspiration for many a fictional one-legged sailor) and captured the city. Campechanos, tired of hosting pirate parties, erected walls around the city, with baluartes (bastions) at critical points. For added security, they built two forts, complete with moats and drawbridges, on the hills flanking Campeche. Four gates breached the wall, two of which still stand: the Puerta de Mar (Sea Gate) and the Puerta de Tierra (Land Gate). The pirates never cared to return, but in Mexico's stormy political history, the city did withstand a couple of sieges by different armies. The wall was razed in the early 1900s, but the bastions and main gates remain, along with the two hilltop fortresses. Most of the bastions and both forts now house museums.