Merida is the largest city on the Yucatan peninsula, with a population of around 1 million. By virtue of its local customs, colonial homes, hidden courtyards and tropical gardens, the city of Merida maintains a very easygoing and an old-world feel.
The cultured Mexican city of Merida enjoys a vibrant ambience with music concerts, dance and art exhibitions, local carnivals and religious celebrations being organized almost throughout the year. But the day-to-day affairs move at a laid-back beat, thanks to the Caribbean climate.
With several hotels and restaurants, cultural appeal and a bustling shopping scene, Merida, the Yucatan capital, is not only an important tourist center but is also the perfect base for exploring the nearby Mayan ruins and natural wonders of the area. If you happen to be in Cancun, then Merida should be in your list as it has an old world charm which is a huge departure from resort towns in the area.
Merida happens to be one of the safest cities in Mexico along with Playa del Carmen, so you can enjoy being a tourist here without ever feeling like one. Old limestone mansions dating back to the 19th century border the wide boulevards. Palacio Canton, one of the most decorated mansions of the city. Located on the city’s grandest boulevard, Paseo Montejo, this mansion is home to an archaeological museum that features Mayan treasures. The streets, which are lined by trees, are scattered with food-cart vendors and beautifully decorated horse-drawn carriages that are the main mode of getting around in the city. There is a lot of hustle-bustle around the city centre and market area, especially on weekend nights when the narrow streets around its central plaza are closed to traffic and music from the sidewalk cafes fills the air.
Francisco de Montejo of Spain conquered the Mayan city of T’ho in 1542. The limestone buildings of T’ho reminded him of the ancient Roman structures of Merida in Spain and hence he renamed this city as Merida. The Mayan culture reflects in almost every aspect of this city – the architecture, cuisine, art, music, language and even the regional costumes!
Merida offers visitors a variety of unique accommodations. The old mansions in Merida are a representation of the wealth made in this region in the 19th century. Most of these colonial homes of the city have been transformed into luxury inns and hotels. Some travelers prefer putting up in one of the luxury haciendas (restored plantations) in the countryside that offer spa services and eco-tours of the jungle.
Merida’s food scene is flourishing due to locavores and gourmet chefs. The trademark flavors of Mayan cuisine are sour orange, habanero chiles and roasted meats, but Merida is a cosmopolitan city where chefs merge local ingredients, like fresh fish and tropical fruits, into present-day savories. Many restaurants in Merida offer ‘courtyard dining’ where guests can relish a leisurely dinner by candlelight, under the stars, ringed by bewitching flowers and plants.
A large number of shoppers flock to Mérida’s busy market district where vendors offer a colorful mix of jazzy mementos. Top quality local products in Merida include the famous Yucatecan hammocks, lacework, linens, guayaberas (lightweight shirts for men), Panama hats, local baskets, pottery, spices, embroidered huipils (wee-peels) and rebozos (lightweight shawls, worn by Mayan women).
Merida is in close proximity to world-famous Mayan ruin sites such as Chichen Itza (74 miles to the east) and Uxmal (50 miles to the southeast).
Hacienda de Sotuta de Peon is a henequen plantation just 25 miles south of Merida, where visitors can view the harvesting of the fiber that was used to make ‘sisal’, which is an important product in the Yucatan even today.
The small and charming community of Izamal is just a 45-minutes drive west of Merida. Graced as “magical” by the Mexican government for its charm and eternal appeal, Izamal is a peaceful retreat of colonial buildings built on the top of an ancient Mayan center.
60 miles to the southwest of Merida is the seaside community of Celestun, which happens to be the breeding ground for one of the world’s biggest flamingo flocks.
To beat the crowds and the heat, it’s a good idea to visit these sites in the early Morning.