Of all the places we visited on our epic Mexico road-trip in December, I did not expect Merida to capture my heart.
Merida, the capital of the Yucatán province, is only a 3-hour drive away from the ever-popular Cáncun and Playa Del Carmen area, but it might as well be a world apart. This quaint city has not lost any of its colonial charm. The people, the culture and the laid-back atmosphere only add to its appeal. Additionally, Merida makes for a great base for exploring off the beaten path sites like Uxmal and Celestun. It is also one of the safest cities in Mexico and we had no hesitation about walking around in the downtown area even after 11 PM.
Here are some of the things we did and enjoyed while in the city:
I. Stay in a converted colonial home
Merida has numerous hotels and B&Bs to choose from but a renovated colonial home is where you will want to be. With their Spanish style columns, beautiful courtyards, opulent rooms, and swimming pools, these houses offer a one-of-a-kind experience.
We stayed at the Hotel Merida Santiago. Hidden behind a deceptively understated exterior, this gem of a place is an amazingly warm and welcoming oasis with unmatched hospitality. It is perfectly located just a few blocks from the city center and the hosts go out of their way to make the stay comfortable.
II. Wander the streets
We spent an entire day doing just that!
Our day began at Plaza Grande, the historic center of the city. We gave ourselves self-guided tours of a couple of landmarks – Casa Montejo and Palacio de Gobierno, and then continued strolling through the neighborhood. The buildings were all colored in pleasing pastel shades, and each one was prettier than the one before. The narrow sidewalks, the cobbled streets and the colorful handicraft stores bustling with activity all added to the charm. We were there during the week of Christmas and that surely made the experience even more delightful.
You really have to take it slow and take in the details, and if walking aimlessly is not your thing, there are these beautiful horse-drawn carriages offering rides through the city.
III. Attend a cultural event or two
There is always something happening somewhere in Merida. Every night there’s a scheduled cultural event or live music in one of the parks in the city. I suggest checking the city’s events calendar for the days that you will be there.
On our first evening, we attended Remembranzas Musicales – live music and open air salsa dancing that happens every Tuesday in the Santiago neighborhood. What could be a better way to experience the spirit of a city than dancing with the locals under the stars! I truly do not know how to capture the feeling in words. On the next night, we saw a light and sound show at Casa de Montejo depicting the region’s history and culture. The park was already full by the time we got there. The city, truly, lives up to its two-time ‘Cultural Capital of the Americas’ title.
And the best part about this is that the admission to most of these events is free.
Check out this video and get transported to Merida for a few moments.
IV. Explore the Uxmal ruins
Uxmal is about 50 miles from Merida and makes for a great day trip. The appropriately named Ruta Puuc route goes through the Puuc hills region, is well maintained and makes for a relaxed drive through vast swaths of greenery on either side. We even saw many colorful birds along the way. The destination, Uxmal, will leave you awestruck. The gigantic Pyramid of the Magician, the intricate carvings on various facades, the quiet Quadrangle of the Nuns – we were enthralled!
Read more about our visit to Uxmal and other Mayan ruins here.
V. Visit the fairytale town of Izamal
Izamal is affectionately called as ‘Magical town’, and rightly so, because of its beauty and historical relevance. With every building painted a bright sunshine shade of yellow, I felt like I walked right into a fairytale. There’s a beautiful monastery at this sleepy town’s center and it was lovely to stroll through it.
VI. Feast on the Yucatecan food
Yucatecan food is top-notch; I would definitely recommend La Chaya Maya, a popular spot for the locals. The restaurant serves fresh, hand-made tortillas cooked in an open space right in the middle of the restaurant. And then there is also the yummy pumpkin seed sauce papaadzules. I wish I can go back right now to stuff my face with that goodness!
One more thing – being a vegetarian, I usually do not have a lot of options to choose from in a menu. But it wasn’t a problem at all in Merida.
Here’s a map that you may find useful to get to all of the places mentioned in this post.