Merida* is known as the White City, because of all the white painted buildings and the use of limestone bricks and tiles that decorate much of the exteriors. It is located on the gulf side of the Yucatan peninsula about 45 minutes inland from the Gulf of Mexico. The gulf side is very different from the Caribbean side; it is truly a more authentic experience of Mexico. Here are the best things to do in Merida.
1. Take the Free Walking Tour of Merida
The Merida Tourism Office which is on the ground floor of the Palacio Municipal (right on the main Calle of Merida) hosts a free walking tour of Merida every morning at 9am. The tour is about 90 minutes long and is highly recommended to get a great feel for the city.
2. The Paseo Montejo
Merida is a vibrantly beautiful city; the Paseo de Montejo Boulevard was home to the sisal kings who engaged Parisian architects to build the Paseo based on a replicating the Champs-Elysées.
3. The Bici Ruta
On Saturday evenings and Sunday’s the Paseo closes down one side of the road for the La Bici Ruta (Bike Route) to allow cyclists a chance to ride around town. Much of the city comes out on Sunday morning to join in, there are roller bladers, skateboarders and lots of opportunity to people watch at the sidewalk cafes. You can also rent all kinds of bikes from family ones to individual to take in the tour yourself.
4. The Plaza Grande
Plaza Grande is located in the Centro Historico of Merida. Surrounded by limestone colonial buildings the Plaza is a riot of pastel colours. The square is a meeting place for Meridanos of all ages. The Plaza is host to an artisans market on Saturday and Sunday not to mention the wonderfully colourful folkloric dancing shows held on Sunday in front of the Palacio, with a live orchestra.
5. Catedral de San Ildefonso, Merida*
The colonial architecture of the Catedral de San Ildefonso, built in the late 1500’s is gorgeous. Take a peek inside to see where the Pope blessed the cathedral. You can wander the church and take pictures from the Altar of the Black Jesus to private little niches for the Virgin Mary. The beautiful cross hanging at the front of the Church was a gift from Canada to the City.
6. Palacio de Gobierno, Merida
The Palacio de Gobierno was built in the late 1800’s and it is a great place to wander (and it’s free). The “government palace” now houses some large and impressive murals depicting the history between the Mayans and Spaniards, by artist Fernando Castro Pacheco. In the evenings the building is lit up to, illuminate the square and musicians often perform from the balconies.
7. Trova at the Santa Lucia Parque
The Parque is known for its performances of Trova. Although originating from Cuba these Trova songs are written here in the area and performed live and considered a national treasure.
8. Shopping, dining and people watching at Santa Lucia Parque
The Parque is a favourite place for Meridanos and expats alike. Full of little boutiques and restaurants and one heavenly chocolate store the quiet restful nature of the little Parque draws many wandering the colonial streets of Mexico to relax and people watch.
There is often live entertainment in the Parque. From the Yucatecan “Jarana” dancers accompanied by an orchestra. The musicians, singers and dancing “mestizos”, decked out in their colorful costumes begin the show at 9 PM.
9. Dining in Merida
You can also find some of Merida’s finest dining in the Santa Lucia Parque. From Apoala, which is famous for its Mezcal collection, it includes over 30 varieties and its new take on Mexican cuisine to La Chaya Maya, which is considered one of the best restaurants in the region. The staff is dressed in traditional huipiles that are gorgeously hand-embroidered and you will notice a small table of women making fresh tortillas to be served in the restaurant. Try the house specialty, Los Tres Mosqueteros, or The Three Musketeers, which combines three classic Yucatecan dishes: relleno negro (a black sauce made from burnt chiles and spices) over pork; papadzules (an egg dish); and pipián (a sauce with a pumpkin seed base) over turkey.
Some local dishes you must try which you will find nowhere else in Mexico include:
Cochinita pibil: A tender pit cooked roast pig that has been marinated in sour orange (naranja) annatto (achiote) and some local herbs and spices. Tender falling of the bone and served with small fresh tortillas and pickled red onion this is the central dish of the Yucatan.
Queso relleno: Dating from colonial times when the Mayan servants would take the leftover cheese rind from the plantation owners, fill it with ground port and spices then cook it under the rind was tender. The Queso is then covered in tomato ‘gravy’ of sorts and served piping hot.
10. The Lucas Galvez Market
The market in Merida Centro is a feast for all your senses. Brilliantly coloured flower vendors, vegetables you have never seen before. Handmade clothing and hammocks, blankets and standard tourist trinkets abound on the second floor. It may look dirty and rundown and the floors can be treacherous, but notice there is not a single fly near any of the meat and fish, it is open every day of the week from around 8am until four or five including Sundays. The artisan market does not tend to be open on Sundays though.
11. Gran Museo de Mundo Maya Merida (Museum of Mayan World)
This remarkable Museum details the history of the Yucatan peninsula beginning with the Chicxulub meteorite, which wiped out the dinosaurs worldwide. The Museum is a series of galleries that delineate Mayan History from the meteorite until modern day. It is a fascinating glimpse into the Mayan world and well worth the trip from Centro.
11. Experience Pok Ta Pok: A Re-Enactment of the Mayan Ball Game
Every Friday night at 8:00 pm on Calle 60 in front of the Plaza Grande. There is a game of Mayan Pok Ta Pok where the players battle it out to score a goal. The game is extremely physical and the players try to score by hitting the ball with their hips into the post. The game is accompanies by a live orchestra making it an event you must see.
12. Explore Merida by Horse and Carriage
Those carriages may look tacky with their plastic flowers but this is the perfect way to see the City. A government initiative to teach the drivers English is working very well and many can give you a guided tour speaking English. This is a magical tour particularly in the evening and you feel like you have stepped back into a different era. It takes about 45 minutes for the tour and costs around $200-300 pesos.
13. Try some street food
Merida is home to some of the best food in the Yucatan so be sure to try the local cuisine, which has some huge regional differences here compared to elsewhere in Mexico.
Marquesitas is a French style crepe, which can be purchased plain, or stuffed with the Yucatan favourite Nutella and cream cheese.
Elotes are corn on the cob drenched in mayonnaise, then dipped in fresh grated cheese and doused with lime and tajin a spicy red pepper.
Raspados are shaved ice flavoured with pretty much anything you can think of they are then eaten plain or doused with condensed milk.
14. Refrescos and Bebidas
Refrescos and bebidas in other words soft drinks and drinks. These are some of the Yucatecan favorites:
Tepache, also known as pineapple “beer” is a Mexican drink made from fermenting the fruit, peel and juice of pineapples.
Jamaica pronounced Ha Mai Ka this is the result of steeping the deep purple flowers of a type of hibiscus in sugar syrup, which becomes a deep sweet and tart tea or “juice”.
Horchata is a traditional Mexican beverage made with rice. It is flavored with lime and cinnamon and sweetened with sugar. Since it does not contain milk, it will not spoil as easily as a dairy containing beverage.
Michelada roughly translates as “my cold beer”. The spicy concoction is a beer with tomato juice or clamato, lime and peppery seasoning. Tajin is the preferred salt, lime and pepper condiment that rims the cup and surrounds the straw of the Michelada.
Licuados are refreshing smoothies of fresh fruit (or juice), evaporated milk, and ice.
Aguas frescas (“fresh waters”) are lighter drinks made by adding a small amount of fresh fruit juice and sugar to water. Hibiscus, melon, tamarind, and lime are common, but rice, flowers, cactus fruit (tuna) are all very common.
There is so much more to experience in Merida so take a chance come and visit.
Fulfilling a lifelong dream to retire early and travel the world Faith is now happily travelling to find the perfect place to retire. After spending a year in a tiny fishing village in the Yucatan, mangling Spanish and writing by the pool, itchy feet struck again. After experiencing housesitting Faith decided this was a great budget way to travel. Faith considers herself an ‘ass-end’ baby boomer who is attempting to travel cheap (that’s the Scottish blood in her). Read her blog and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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Universal Traveller – Luxury Adventure Travel & Lifestyle