Merida, is a city of about 900,000 people and the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan .The city is a cosmopolitan destination with a substantial expat community. It’s a solid option especially for Americans wanting to spend a few winter months in a warm location. Merida has a lot to offer: cathedrals and churches, Mayan archaeological sites,museums, art galleries, restaurants haciendas and cenotes. It also homes the Yucatan Symphony Orchestra, which performs every season at the Jose Peon Contreras Theatre on Calle 60 and features classical music, jazz and opera.
The isolation of the city and the state of Yucatan from the rest of the country has created a unique culture, that the Spanish conquistadors found very hard to change and influence. Mayan traditions wether cultural, religious or linguistic are still alive today and visible in day to day life.
Yucatecan culinary tradition is also very unique and it’s the result of Mayan traditions influenced by Caribbean, Mexican, European and even Middle Eastern cultures.
You will probably arrive to Merida by car, but I suggest once you settle in to leave the car behind and walk. You will avoid the frustration of getting stuck in somehow chaotic traffic and will see more of the city.
The streets are all numbered (kind of like in New York), but they are arranged so that even numbered ones run north to south and odd numbered east to west. So looking at a map for instance you will see calle 56 running vertically and calle 57 horizontally.
You will spend most of your time in El Centro, the center of the town an area that irradiates from the Plaza Grande, also known as El Zocalo. On the main square there are several attractions: Palacio de Gobierno (House of the Governor), the Catedral San Idelfonso, the Casa Montejo (original house of Francisco de Montejo, one of the three conquistadores that founded the city in 1542) and the MACAY museum (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Ateneo de Yucatán). The MACAY hosts a great collection of contemporary paintings.
Moving north west of the square you will find the colonia Santiago with the homonymous church built in 1637 on calle 59 and 70. Nearby not to be missed is La Flor De Santiago, the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Merida.
Santiago used to be the nicest area to live in historically before the construction of Paseo de Montejo around 1900.
North of the Plaza Grande you will get to colonia Santa Ana. The Santa Ana church on calle 45 and 60 was originally built in 1500 and then rebuilt in 1700. Two blocks from there the beautiful avenue, El Paseo de Montejo, with his beautiful mansions and the stunning Museo Regional de Yucatan (Mayan Anthropology and History). The top two architectural examples are the “Casas Gemelas” and the Casa Peon de Regil.
East of El Centro is the colonia known as Mejorada, which houses museums, art galleries, the UADY (University of Yucatan) and the beautiful Teatro Peon Contreras, home of the Yucatan Symphonic Orchestra. The great traditional restaurant Los Almendros is located in the Mejorada park.
Walking back on calle 60 don’t miss the Iglesia El Jesus, built by the Jesuits in 1618. The church was built from the stones of a destroyed Mayan temple that once occupied the same site. On the west wall facing Parque Hidalgo, look closely and you can see two stones still bearing Mayan carvings.
Where to stay:
Hotel Hacienda Merida, 62 439, Centro, 97000 Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico phone +52 999 924 4363
An amazingly restored colonial home in the center of the city.
Los Almendros, Parque de la Mejorada, Centro Historico, Phone +52 (999) 923-81-35
Trotters, Paseo Montejo and Calle 60 Norte, Merida, Mexico +52 (999) 927-2310
La Chaya, Calle 62 X 57 local 2 | Centro Historico, Merida, Mexico