A jewel in the crown of Yucatan's queen, colonial Merida
Things to do while in Merida
Merida is not only the capital city of the state of Yucatan but also has been for centuries the economic, cultural, arts and intellectual center for the whole of the Yucatan peninsula, which consists of the states of Yucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo, a very large area.Merida is an ancient Mayan town seized by the Spanish conquistadors in 1542 and transformed over hundreds of years into a large and charming colonial city.It is a fantastic mix of Mayan and European cultures.For instance, the cathedral of San Idelfonso, a few blocks down the street from Casa Santiago, is the oldest cathedral on the mainland of the New World and is built from the stones of a large Mayan pyramid that stood right there in what is now the main plaza.Merida is viewed even by Mexicans as a different and magical sort of place.Geographically isolated for centuries from the rest of Mexico by mountains and jungle, Merida’s culture was much influenced by Spain, France and New Orleans, with all of which it carried on trade in rope fiber grown on countless hacienda plantations owned by the incredibly wealthy gentry of Merida.The local population is predominantly Mayan, an intact and delightful culture, which may well account for the genuine sweetness and kindness of the people here.Many of our guests have told us that the best part of their stay with us was the chance to live even for a while in an intact society where peacefulness, happiness and a “live and let live” attitude are the norm.
Here's a great video produced by the State of Yucatan. It'll make you smile.
If it happened that you never left the city of Merida during your stay here, you would still have a great time.There are tons of things to see and do here, including free music and dancing in the old squares all around the Centro Historico in which we are located.But here is a fun schedule for a week if you want to drink the Yucatecan goblet dry:
Rent a bicycle at the Zocalo, the main square at 63 and 60.Most streets in the center of the city are closed to automobiles on Sunday and this is a great way to see the colonial heart of this old walled city.Ride your bike to Paseo de Montejo, a boulevard designed on the model of the Champs Elysee in Paris, and go to the local artist fair that runs from 11 am to about 1:30 pm every Sunday.There are some very talented artists who show their work on the tree-shaded sidewalk for about two blocks and the prices are very reasonable.The big anthropological museum is right there in the palace of a nineteenth century rope tycoon.Both the building and its collection are amazing.Have homemade gelato at the century old shop on Montejo next to Triunfo, a place we liken to Pier One hallucinating. It has three floors of the most amazing stuff for sale.Come back home, swim and nap.
Dinner at a very romantic restaurant, Pancho's, on 59 between 60 and 62. It has a very nice outside patio and all of our guests enjoy it. Even if you think you are too sophisticated for waiters in big hats, you may come to adjust your preconceptions after a beverage or so. The food is very good and the people are delightful. After dinner, walk 3 blocks to the main square to enjoy free music and dancing, and a lot of times, fireworks.
Hire our friend Roberto ,the taxi van driver, to take you on the Uxmal, Muna and Tikul adventure we created together.The trip starts at 7 am to avoid the heat that can make visiting ruins bothersome.There are cheaper tours to Uxmal, but the trip with Roberto is definitely worth the price difference.Uxmal is the greatest and most enjoyable of all the Mayan archeological sites, notwithstanding all of the hoopla about Chichen Itza (which largely reflects the fact that Chichen Itza is reachable in two hours by tourists on large busses from Cancun, which by the grace of the Almighty, Uxmal is not).Hire Antonio the professorial guide who knows everything about the Mayans and is very charming and kind.Roberto the multilingual taxi van driver will take you then to the town of his birth, Muna, for a little walk around the village’s very photogenic market, square and old Franciscan church.On the way there you will drive through a really pretty row of hills that are the tallest in Yucatan, which is usually flat as a tortilla hereabouts owing to the dinosaur-killing asteroid that hit off the coast 85 million years ago.Then you go to Tikul, a Mayan city famous for its ceramics.You can stop and look around it you want.But the real reason thatyou are in Tikul is your trip to Almendros, the best Yucatecan restaurant that we know.The food is fantastic and reasonably priced.Roberto will get you back home at about 3:30 pm.
Eat at Cantamayec Restaurant for completely authentic Yucatecan cuisine restaurant. It is located at Calle 1 No. 409A por 6 y 8 junto a Blockbuster. You will take a taxi there and the restaurant will call a taxi for you when you finish. This is unquestionably the finest source of Yucatecan cuisine in the region. Order the surtido, the assortment. The papadzules and the cochinita pibil are unexcelled.
Go to Celestun, the national seaside wildlife refuge and home of countless flamingos.The little tour van of the service we use will pick you up at the front door of Casa Santiago at 9 am.The adventure costs less than $55 US per person, and includes the boat trip through the estuary and the mangroves and lunch in a great big and extremely clean and well-run palapa restaurant at the seashore. The beach is the best here and you can change and shower at the palapa restaurant’s very nice facilities.The van will bring up back home at about 5 pm.
Have dinner at Amaro, on 59 between 60 and 62. It's a beautiful place and the food is great and reasonably priced. Vegetarian dishes are offered. You will have a great time.At 8:00 p.m. our local Santiago Zocalo which is right in front of our neighborhood's ancient parish church is host to big band music and dancing, all for free. That's at 59 and 72, just a few blocks away. Remember that in the Centro of Merida that each street goes up by the number two from block to block, so that the streets are numbered, for instance, from west to east 70, 68, 66 etc. That means that Amaro's is just 4 or 5 blocks down 59 from Santiago church.
Take the tour to the working hacienda Sotuta de Peon.The small tour van will pick you up at the door at 9 am.You get to visit the hacienda’s open air palace, see henequen cactus be made into rope fiber by really neat nineteenth century steam-operated machiney, andtravel by horse drawn railcart through the hills and fields where the cactus is tended by herds of goats that eat everything but cactus.There’s a stop at the little old Mayan house of a little old Mayan man, which sounds pretty touristic, but the truth is, it is interesting.Who needs a t-shirt to remember a trip?Now you can build your own mud covered palapa and grind your own corn with a rock. Now comes the best.You go to an underground cenote, an underground fresh water river in a big cave, all very clean and well-lit.There are appropriate swimsuit changing areas before you take the steps down into the cave.The water is perfect.You are provided fins and masks, if you want.Then comes the included lunch at a big and luxurious palapa restaurant.All of this comes at a price per person of about $50US.
Have great seafood at La Conchita, a confection of pink tile operated by Conchita and her kids and grandkids. It is absolutely delightful and is inexpensive. It is on Calle 64 near 45 in Centro.The customers are all locals which gives you an idea how good the food is. The seafood soup is unfailingly good. We recommend the empanadas de cazon and the whole fried grouper.
Take the tour to Chichen Itza.The small van will pick you up at 9am and get you back home at 5 pm.The unbeatable price of about $50 US includes lunch, admission to the archeological park and a tour guide.The big pyramid Kukalkan’s Castillo is really remarkable and ballgame court is the most splendid in all of the Mayan world.The heat at the site as morning turns to afternoon is some evidence that the Mayans invented the microwave oven, but you are under a solemn touristic obligation to go there while you are here.It was named one of the Seven Wonders of the World in 2008.
Have outdoor dinner on the covered veranda in the garden of Mission del Fray Diego, on 61 off 66. Before it became a hotel and restaurant, it was an old Franciscan monastery. The paella is good and the atmosphere is charming.
Hire Roberto the taxi van driver to take you to Ek Balam, the only recently uncovered site of Mayan three-dimensional human figures.Think Angkor Wat in Cambodia.Make this trip while it is still possible to climb the big pyramid.Inevitably, with the passage of time, access will be barred as a matter of public safety as has happened to the big pyramid at Chichen Itza.Then go to the adjacent cenote for swimming.Have lunch in Valladolid, an old colonial town in the middle of the jungle, or in one of the neighboring villages. Make sure the pyramid can still be climbed before going, since the figures can only be enjoyed, in our opinion, if you climb up to them.To see some great photographs of what we are raving about at Ek Balam, visit the beautiful photographicwebsite Mesoamerica or just go to this page's sub-tab named Yucatan Tourism.If you cannot climb the pyramid at Ek Balam, have Roberto take you to Izamal, the famous “yellow city”, which is a fantastic collection of Mayan pyramids and Franciscan churches.It is a great example of the monastery towns established by the Spanish conquistadors. A really fun alternative to Izamal, whose monochromatic charm is frankly a bit drowsy, go with Roberto on our co-invented Mayapan, Oxkutzkab and Mani triple-header adventure. Mayapan is a nearby miniature version of Chichen Itza, Oxkutzkab (the "x" in Mayan is pronounced "sh") is a colonial town with a great old Franciscan church and the wholesale fruit market for all the Yucatan and Mani, where humans have lived for more than 4500 years, has a remarkably restored big church in whose courtyard in the 1560's the Franciscan bishop of the Yucatan burned in auto da fe whatever written knowledge of the Mayans he could lay hands on. In Mani there is very nice and large restaurant named for the last Mayan king in this area which serves delicious food and the best sopa de lima we have yet encountered.
Have dinner at the restaurant at Hotel Santa Lucia, 60 and 55.The place is charming, has nice art and the food is good.Walk back home via 60 to hear the music at the squares.
Go to the big public roofed market, the Mercado Lucas de Galvez, at 65 and 54.It is completely psychedelic.You may never see more life and color.It is now past noon.You will take a cheap taxi to the peaceful refuge of Lucero del Alba , at 47 and 54, a botanas bar.So long as you order drinks, beers or sodas, the waiters will cheerfully keep bringing you free plates of food.The variety is amazing and delicious.There is live music.Sit outside beneath the big palapa roof.Life does not get much more pleasant.
After swimming and a nap, have dinner at Las Vigas located on the second floor of the Los Arcos hotel on 63 near 62.Take the steps right next to the reception counter.The place takes its name from the beams, the “vigas”, that hold up its ceiling and has nothing to do with that place in Nevada.The food is very good and is inexpensive.The owner Bob is a very pleasant fellow and the place invariably makes all of our guests happy and cheerful. The prices are inexpensive and the food good. After dinner, walk a half block to the Gran Plaza, the big Zocalo, and enjoy the music and watch the people.
The following State of Yucatan economic development video is not exactly touristic but it gives a very good idea how nice Merida is
casa santiago 562 Calle 63 x 70 y 72, Centro (Santiago), Merida, Yucatan 97000
or 517 Calle 70 x 63 y 65, Centro (Santiago), Merida, Yucatan 97000
(The property is L shaped and hence has two addresses)
Skype (US number that rings in Merida) 1 314 266 1888 Sergio the manager's cell if you call while in Mexico: 999 997 4058 Sergio's cell if you call outside Mexico: 011 521 999 997 4058