Also known as “The White City,” Mérida deserves to be explored from head to toe. It remains one of Mexico’s best-kept and most pristine state capitals. The city was founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo, who upon seeing the imposing architecture of the churches and shrines decided to call it Mérida after the Spanish city of the same name whose principal characteristic is its impressive Roman vestiges.
Mérida is located in the state of Yucatán, in the southeastern Yucatán peninsula and approximately 20 miles from the Gulf of Mexico coast. It is the state’s capital and largest city. Mérida’s international airport is located 20 minutes from the city’s downtown area. The majority of international flights make stops in Mexico City, from where the flying time is two hours.
As for the weather in Mérida, you can expect to be using the air conditioner. It is extremely warm year-round, reaching maximum temperatures of 100 F or more during the hottest months, like May. During winter months, the temperature cools at night. Like the majority of Mexico, the summer is rainy season (June through October) — expect extreme humidity.
Things to do
One of the most surprising elements of the city is its architecture. You can find a bit of everything, from colonial, French, and neoclassical styles to baroque and churrigueresque representations.
An afternoon in Mérida’s central plaza cannot be missed. Here you can see locals come together and interact while being in an excellent place to admire the surrounding buildings, including the San Ildefonso cathedral dating back to the 16th century.
Walking along Paseo Montejo — a wide tree-covered avenue located to the north of Plaza Mayor — is the perfect vantage point for admiring the giant 19th century-houses constructed during the henequen boom. Some of these residences have remained private homes, while others have been transformed into galleries, restaurants, and offices.
In terms of museums, there are many that you can visit in Mérida. At the Museo Regional de Antropología de Yucatán and the Museo de la Ciudad de Mérida, you can find archaeological objects from the region. Discover new approaches of contemporary art at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Ateneo de Yucatán and over 8,000 pieces of folk art at the Museo de Arte Popular.
For those that wish to explore the surrounding areas, Mérida is also the center of a network of haciendas — the result of the henequen boom in the 19th century. Many of the large estates transformed into immense storerooms, but several in the nearby area, such as Temozón, Santa Rosa, and San José, were restored to function as luxury hotels with delicious restaurants. And of course, you cannot miss the archaeological sites, cenotes, beaches, and small towns in Mérida’s outskirts.
Where to eat
The local gastronomy is quite an adventure. The dishes are extremely varied. Many feature pork such as the famous cochinita pibil or poc chuc (pork with purple onions accompanied by bean broth), but others include turkey and other local ingredients like black achiote paste, which give tremendous flavor to the dishes. You can also find papadzules which are corn tortillas filled with hard-boiled eggs bathed in an exquisite green salsa — truly an unforgettable and unique culinary experience. Almost all dishes are traditionally topped with habanero — be extremely careful with this hot pepper.
A solid option for an introduction to the flavors of Yucatan food is La Chaya Maya. You can’t go wrong here. It boasts two locations downtown and is frequented by tourists and locals alike. Afterwards, make your way to Sorbetería Colón, an institution in the city serving the best ice cream — be sure to try unconventional flavors such as mamey and sapota.
Places to stay
Located at the beginning of Paseo de Montejo, the interiors of Rosas & Xocolate seem to have been designed for stunning photographs, like the central patio whose pink and yellow walls contrast with the pool’s bright blue.
Found 30 minutes from the center of Mérida, Chablé is spread out over three kilometers of lush vegetation. Every day the hotel offers at least three activities from which the guests can choose two completely free of charge. For many, the restaurant, Ixi’lm, run by chef Jorge Vallejo of Quintonil, is excuse enough to visit.
In the center of Mérida, in what once was an abandoned house is now one of the city’s most beautiful hotels, Casa Lecanda. With only seven rooms, each one has a unique décor, and the service is always attentive and personalized. Don’t miss their delicious breakfasts.
What to buy
Linen or cotton guayaberas (loose shirts); shawls, henequen bags, and, of course, hammocks — the cotton ones are the most comfortable and breezy, but there are many different materials to choose from. While there are many stores where you can buy handicrafts and souvenirs, visiting the market Mercado Lucas de Gálvez in the town center is an adventure of colors, smells, and flavors.
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