If you are interested in local culture and traditions, you absolutely must not leave Merida off of your to-do list when you travel to the Riviera Maya.
The largest city of the Yucatan state, and the financial and cultural capital of the region, Merida is one of the most important places in which to experience the Mayan heritage.
It’s a very modern city, full of interesting museums, shops, boutiques and delicious restaurants where you can taste original Yucatecan cuisine, one of the major distinctive features of this culture; a sublime mix of Caribbean, Mexican and Spanish flavors and recipes. You will certainly have a different experience.
Merida was founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo, whose house is now a beautiful museum situated around the Grand Plaza, in the heart of the city. Here, you can also visit the majestic church built from the remains of the 5 Mayan pyramids in the original city, before they were destroyed by Spanish conquerors. Around the Plaza you can also enjoy perusing Government buildings such as the “Palacio de Gobierno¨ and “Palacio Municipal,” which are totally worth a visit if you are there.
The Grand Plaza is very popular among locals and tourists alike, due to its colorful and festive Sunday mornings, when you can appreciate regional dance shows, a local arts and crafts market, and delicious street food, 100% local. It’s all great fun.
From Thursday to Sunday, the entire historical center is closed to traffic, and the majority of the restaurants and bars set up their veranda on the street, creating a festive and joyous environment which is great to walk around in and soak up.
It’s worth mentioning that if you are coming from Playa del Carmen (famous for its round-the-clock partying), you will certainly notice a difference in the kind of celebration, and crowd. This is the real Mexican experience.
Merida is also called the ‘white city’, thanks to the predominance of white limestone, which the majority of the city’s buildings are made of; although the locals pride themselves on saying that the nickname was awarded due to the safety and cleanliness of the streets, also a good point!
Walking around is very easy and pleasant, as and when the heat permits, as its layout is reminiscent of an old Andalusian town, with perfectly parallel and perpendicular streets, just like a chess board. You will be mesmerized by the immaculate colonial houses and buildings, especially once you reach Paseo Montejo, an elegant avenue which has been built mimicking the Champs Elysees. The lateral buildings are opulent, ancient colonial houses turned into banks, fancy hotels or offices.
If you don’t feel like walking you can rent a traditional carriage, or a bike, which is even better on Sundays, when the roads become an exclusive cycling lane.
And Merida’s highlights don’t end here. The beautiful city is a most impressive example of Yucatecan history, a cradle of revolutions, poets and musicians, a fact which is glaringly obvious with the amount of museums and cultural initiatives, churches and places of interest.
If you wish to go and visit Merida we would suggest doing so during the weekend, when the city flourishes and you can better experience its folklore and traditions.
Bear in mind also, that the surroundings are rich in places to visit: from natural beauties to colonial haciendas, and other less known but still very interesting Mayan sites. A few of them worth mentioning are: the Río Celestún Biosphere, the archaeological site of Uxmal, the Ruta Puuc, and the yellow city of Izamal (just 45 minutes away), as well as a generous sprinkling of cenotes.
For this reason, it is much more practical to visit Merida by car, so that you are free to explore and move around. However, if you decide to take the bus you won’t have to worry, as there are frequent (and comfortable) buses from Playa del Carmen. And once in Merida, there are many local travel agents who can organize daily excursions for you to visit the surrounding wonders.
Feel free to ask your concierge, we will be happy to assist you organize your little escape!