The Capital of Yucatan Region
Leaving behind the Mexico City of the country and all the beautiful places we’ve been around, we move to our next base: Merida, the capital city of Yucatan region. Our main aim for a base here? Get to visit two of the major and most important Maya cities: Chichen Itza and Uxmal. Sadly for us, we could not count with more days to keep exploring the many other Maya cities in this region, therefore we had to choose and decided for the most important ones.
Merida has retained one of the finest collection of colonial buildings in the country and hosts the very first cathedral to be built in the New World. Of course no need to mention here that the distribution of the city follows the same pattern as any other in Mexico, where the Zocalo is the main square with the cathedral and City Hall along the sides and the streets follow a strict grid pattern. Wherever you walk is another sight, no wonder it is one of the finest colonial old towns in Mexico to be listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Now the main question is how many days you do need here. Let me tell you, for the city itself you don’t need more than one. It is small enough to make a one day visit perfect. But since coming to Merida is mostly because of visiting the Maya cities around, then it is really when you need to calculate your time, which cities you want to visit, and how many. We spared 2 days to visit 2 sites. Gladly I would have stayed longer and keep visiting as many others as possible but my plan for this trip included 3 other countries, therefore I was limited in time.
Merida has always been a very prosperous city, and in the recent past it was one of the cities with the most millionaires in the world. Palaces and mansions were built while keeping the historical colonial centre untouched. Now it is rare for a single family to live in one of such mansions, instead these buildings became institutions, hotels, museums, clinics or banks. The most notorious concentration of this palatial buildings are along Paseo de Montejo.
When talking about food this was the only place from all the ones we’ve been in Mexico where we did not find good restaurants, and the ones were really few with a clearly more touristy clientele. Even when we asked at the hotel for a real Mexican place we’ve been told wonders of one which resulted to be such a tourist trap and so bad quality that it was unacceptable. Surely you will be told of this place, but even I cannot remember the name don’t worry, you will know straight away which one is by the look from outside. Has opened big windows so you can see in full inside and has two floors, but you don’t need much more information than seeing by yourself the kind of people inside. Do you see any Mexicans? no, then who do you see? Americans, right, then this is the place. Absolutely avoid it. Just next door, on the art deco building with the art deco silver doors there is a nice Mexican fast food style restaurant. That was really good. Quesadillas were great, and so the soups and anything we ordered.
For more information visit Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Mexico’s currency is the Mexican Peso (MXN, MEX$ or $). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Merida
- Zocalo – Plaza Grande An UNESCO world heritage site, is the main historic colonial area, one of the largest in the New World.
-Cathedral of San Ildefonso Built in 1598 this is the first cathedral ever to be built in the New World.
-Macay Museum Right next to the Cathedral is an art gallery. The beautiful façade overlooks the Zocalo and a gallery crosses to the opposite street.
-Casa de Montejo Dating from 1549, it was the Palace of Montejo the Conquistador. You can go inside for free and see some of the original rooms and patios.
-Palacio de Gobierno From 1892. Free to go inside to the patios and to the first floor.
-City Hall On the opposite side of the Cathedral, you will not miss it; you will know which one it is because of the red colour and the clock tower.
–Teatro Peon Contreras From 1908, it’s the main theatre in the city, located at one of the side streets leading to Zocalo. Calles 60 y 57.
-Old Post Office Nowadays it’s the City Museum and it’s free admission. South-east of Zocalo.
- Paseo de Montejo To the north of Zocalo, you can get a taxi from the city centre to the Monument, and walk your way back from here admiring the many palaces and mansions.
-Palacio Canton Now the Archaeological Museum of Yucatan. On the corner with Calle 43.
-Quinta Montes Molina Free tours Monday to Friday. Corner with Calle 35.
-Monumento a la Patria Built in 1956, located at the farthest end of the Avenue.
- Parque de America The largest greenery within the city centre.
Arriving from Merida International Airport you have two options. The cheap one is the very infrequent ADO buses. You can check upon landing, maybe you are lucky and there is one bus in the next few minutes. Otherwise, option two are taxi-shuttles. Those are prepaid so you don’t need to be worried in getting ripped off. Just pay a the counter depending on distance and they will put you together with other people heading same direction. It’s 180Mex$ per person to the Zocalo and nearby streets around.
Not to mention travelling overland is one of the most common ways to move anywhere in the country. The road network is greatly developed and so the travel companies. Very comfortable, reliable and inexpensive, it is a wonderful way to move anywhere.
Within the city there is no need for public transportation unless when you go to Paseo de Montejo for what the best is to take a taxi up to the Monumento a la Patria and then walk your way back along the avenue. You can catch any bus passing by back to the city centre, tickets cost 7.5Mex$.
There is a good choice of hotels specially those modest more family run business which are everywhere in the city. Most of those are colonial houses. A good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
From our experience we totally recommend the Hotel Dolores Alba, in Calle 63, 464, just 2 quadrants behind the Cathedral and Zocalo. A colonial building where hospitality of the owners, cleanliness, comfort and amenities for this 3 star hotel were all great. It also has a nice swimming pool, considering how hot can get here, it’s a great benefit; plus you can walk anywhere in the city centre as you are really newt door.