Mérida (Mexico)

Catedral de San Ildefonso

Mérida is the capital of the state of Yucatán in Mexico. It has a population of about 750,000, and is the largest city in the Yucatán Peninsula.

Understand

Zócalo or Main Plaza, with the Cathedral in the distance

Mérida is a city of contrasts. You will find elegant hotels, restaurants and malls in the northern part of the city. Downtown, there are hotels and restaurants to suit every budget. A large central market and numerous small shops are found all around the main plaza. Mérida has a rich cultural life which also reflects its diversity. Many free concerts, performances and other events are held daily.

The city was founded by the Spanish conquistadors in the 1540s on top of a centuries-old Maya city called T'ho. The palatial home of the family of conquistador leader Montejo can still be seen on the south side of the Zócalo or main square. Here and there bits of ancient Maya stonework can be seen reused in Spanish Colonial era buildings in the old part of town.

From the later 1800s to the 1920s, Mérida enjoyed prosperous boom times fueled by the henequen or sisal plant harvest, which made Yucatán the rope maker to the world. Progressive Mérida had electric trams and street lights before Mexico City. The wealthy constructed the grand Pasejo Montejo avenue north of the old town, inspired by the Champs-Élysées in Paris. With the development of artificial twines the sisal boom ended, and Mérida slowed to a more sleepy provincial capital until development picked back up in the late 20th century.

The city's ambiance is colonial and the climate is tropical. The daytime temperature varies; in January, it is about 24°C (75°F) and in June, about 35°C (95°F). To beat the heat, most people are busiest in the mornings. They have lunch and siesta, then go back to work for a few hours in the late afternoon. The cool breezes from the Gulf of Mexico drift into Mérida in the evenings and this is when many of the residents spend their time outdoors. You can see them visiting and talking as they stroll along the streets, sit in the plazas or dine in the many sidewalk restaurants.

From Mérida, it is easy to take day trips to a vast array of destinations: archaeological sites, ecological parks, typical villages, caves, beaches, colonial missions and more. Take your time and really explore the Maya sites, walk for miles along the Gulf of Mexico, attend a village festival, photograph the wildlife, crawl through a cave or swim in a cenote.

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 30.8 31.5 34.0 35.6 36.3 35.3 35.0 34.9 34.2 32.7 31.5 30.6
Nightly lows (°C) 17.2 17.3 18.6 20.2 21.7 21.6 21.4 21.3 21.6 20.8 19.3 17.5
Precipitation (mm) 38.4 32.2 22.5 24.4 69.4 138.3 158.7 140.7 183.1 127.9 56.2 45.1

Source:w:Mérida,_Yucatán#Climate

Get in

By plane

Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport (IATA: MID) has direct international flights to Havana, Miami, and Houston. Domestic connections include Mexico City (Aeroméxico, Interjet, VivaAerobus and Volaris), Monterrey (Aeroméxico, Volaris, VivaAerobus), Guadalajara (Aeroméxico and VivaAerobus), Veracruz and Villahermosa (Aeroméxico and MAYAir). Regional carrier MAYAir also has connections with Cancún and Cozumel.

The airport is located in the southeast of the city, and is best reached by by heading south on MEX 261 (direction Umán). A taxi stand with fixed rates is located just outside the baggage claim; pay the fare beforehand at a booth. ADO also have a stop in the island in front of the arrivals doors for a direct bus to Hotel Fiesta Americana and CAME (two separate routes). For a cheaper and frequent option, Bus 79, also known as Aviación, makes a round trip between the airport and Calle 70 in the city center, near the CAME bus station. The bus departs every thirty minutes until 21:00, and costs around $4 MXN.

Travelers can also get to Mérida by flying into Cancún and driving (or riding the bus) west on the carretera (MEX 180D) for three hours.

By bus

There are several bus stations in Mérida; most visitors will arrive at either the first- or second-class stations. If coming from Cancún (4 hours) or from several other cities you can choose to go to Mérida's CAME bus station (described below) or to the   Terminal por Hotel Fiesta Americana, which is closer to el centro and a short taxi ride away.

Lines served include ADO, ADO GL, ADO Platino, and OCC lines. ADO Platino is the highest class of service with free instant coffee packs in the back with hot water along with your choice to choose a single seat by yourself on the left side of the bus, and TVs on the back of every seat allowing you to choose an array of movies and TV shows, some even in English. ADO GL is a step down without the extras but some more legroom that the regular ADO buses.

Get around

Mérida street signs

Many street corners in the Centro Histórico have, in addition to the standard street signs, whimsical plaques illustrating such diverse subjects as fruits, animals, musical instruments, etc. These signs served as a navigation aid in an era when the majority of the city's residents were illiterate, and frequently reference businesses or buildings which were (and in some cases still are) located there. Most plaques now on display are replicas, but still provide an unusual glimpse into an earlier age.

Street corner in the Centro Histórico

The streets in most of the parts of interest to visitors are in a rough grid with numbers for street names. Even numbered streets run from north to south, with the numbers increasing as you go further west; odd numbered streets run from east to west, with the numbers increasing as you go further south. This makes it easy to tell how many blocks away from something you are (just remember to divide by two when counting blocks in the same direction). Addresses are commonly given as either intersections of two streets, or stated as on a street between two cross streets. For orientation in the old part of town, remember the Cathedral and Zócalo (main square) are at the corner of 60 and 61 ("Calle 60 x 61").

By foot

If staying in the older central part of town, many attractions, restaurants, etc. are within walking distance for those who don't much mind walking in the tropical climate.

By bus

Mérida is served by a sprawling network of privately-operated buses with service to the outlying suburbs. Most routes radiate outward from a 4-block area east of the Zócalo, on Calles 56 and 58 between Calles 59 and 63. Destinations of routes are painted on the windshields; if in doubt you can always ask the bus driver. For visitors the most useful routes will be those heading up Paseo de Montejo from the centro – these depart from   Calle 56, and will have 'Paseo de Montejo' and/or 'Altabrisa' marked on their windshields.

Most bus stops are not marked, but many buses can be hailed from points along the route. To get off, simply say (or yell) 'baja!', and the driver will pull over at the next opportunity. A single ride costs $7 MXN (no transfers); pay the bus driver directly on entering. Buses generally operate between 05:00-21:30 during the week, with less frequency on Sundays and holidays.

The Municipio de Mérida maintains a helpful webpage with a complete list of public bus stops in the Centro. Travelers wanting a more comprehensive route map can purchase a Guía de Transporte Mapa de Mérida from one of the newsstands located at the northwest and the southeast corners of the Zócalo for $50 MXN.

By taxi

Taxis are numerous and reasonably priced. Most taxis do not use a meter, and it's best to agree on a fare before getting in. Taxis marked 'taximetro' use a meter and tend to cost a bit more – make sure that the driver does not switch the meter to the night ('noche') rate if you are traveling during the day.

By bicycle

Mérida is surprisingly bicycle-friendly outside of the centro. Bicycles can be rented from a number of shops.

On Sunday mornings the city holds the weekly Bici Ruta (literally Bicycle Route), when from 08:00-12:00 the entire lengths of Paseo de Montejo and Calle 60 are closed to motor vehicles. This popular event is open not only to cyclists, but to rollerbladers, skateboarders, runners, and those who simply want to enjoy a pleasant stroll with no noisy traffic. For those who don't own their own bicycles, they can be rented from a temporary   bicycle stand (open Sundays only) near the Monumento a la Patria on Paseo de Monteo, as well as from   Bici Merida (also on Paseo de Montejo, tel. +52 999 287 3538, M-Sa 09:00-22:00, Su 08:00-15:00).

By horse-drawn carriage

Calesas, horse-drawn carriages, waiting for customers near the Zócalo

An especially note-worthy type of transport in Mérida is the calesa, a traditional horse-drawn carriage used continuously since colonial times. Carriages can be picked up along Calle 61 by 58 and 60 (on the north side of the cathedral), and head up Calle 60 and return down Paseo de Montejo. A typical tour lasts about 45 minutes and includes narration, costing about $350 MXN.

By tour bus

By rental car

Most major car rental companies maintain counters at the airport, and also have offices on the ground floor of the Hotel Fiesta Americana and/or in the centro. All rentals include mandatory liability insurance, but this may not always be included in quotes and may lead to confusion if you are shopping around.

See

There is much to see in Mérida, a city of a million inhabitants that is over 400 years old. Besides the Centro Histórico, where most tourist attractions are located, there are many charming neighborhoods, shopping malls and parks. Progreso and the Yucatán Gulf Coast are only thirty minutes away to the north.

Centro Histórico

Around the Plaza Grande

Facade details of the Casa de Montejo
Palacio Municipal
Palacio del Gobierno
The stations of the cross in the interior on the side naves are particularly noteworthy, as is the painting above a door depicting the baptism of the Mayan ruler of Maní. An additional item of interest on the left side is the so-called El Cristo de las Ampollas ('The Christ of the Blisters') located in a side chapel. In 1645 this wood carving was brought from the village of Ichmul, after it miraculously survived a fire which had destroyed the village church. The original was destroyed during the revolution, but the devout still come to pray at the replica. Free.

Museums and galleries

Religious buildings and architecture

Iglesia De San Cristóbal
Arco de San Juan

Paseo de Montejo

Museo Regional de Antropología (Palacio Cantón)
Monumento a la Patria

A beautiful, tree-lined street, lined with houses developed by the henequen-industry barons. It's a great place to walk in the evening. Have a dish of ice cream, look at the renovated mansions – an especially interesting villa is the   Casa del Minarete (No 473). A romantic treat is renting one of the horse-drawn carriages, called calesas, that will drive you up and down the grand boulevard. You can catch a calesa at the Plaza Grande and take a trip down Paseo de Montejo and back.

Outskirts

Do

Cultural activities

Traditional dance performed every Sunday in the Zócalo

The ayuntamiento (city hall) sponsors many cultural events during the week, free of charge. Almost every night visitors and residents alike can enjoy outdoor concerts or dances in one of the many downtown parks and squares. Sunday afternoons at the Plaza Grande (at and around the main square) are a particular treat, and perhaps the most charming time in Mérida. The streets around the square are closed to vehicles, and the locals dress up to go for strolls to see and be seen. Brass bands and dance orchestras hold free concerts, and couples dance – if you're not shy, consider joining in, or ask a local to teach you the steps to a local dance like the jarana. Street vendors sell a variety of refreshments.

Festivals

Carnaval de Mérida

Other activities

Those who have time to spend several months in Mérida, will also encounter many opportunities to become a volunteer – helping women, children, the disabled, the elderly, the sick and the illiterate. Places to volunteer include PPPN for helping disabled children and AFAD for helping unwanted dogs and cats find health and new homes.

If you are interested in learning Spanish, learning about Latin America and learning more about yourself in the process, Mérida is an excellent place to do so.

Buy

Markets

Mercado Lucas de Galvez

Crafts

There are hundreds of stores in downtown Mérida. In and around the Plaza Grande, the large plaza in the Centro directly across from the cathedral, it is common for street salesmen to engage passersby in friendly small talk, by telling them some historical facts about the surroundings. The conversation will quickly turn to recommendations of shops selling hammocks, guayaberas, handcrafts, jewelry, etc. The items sold in stores that use street salesmen to find customers tend to be highly overpriced. While there are honest and hardworking street salesmen, as a general rule, the best shopping strategy is to browse stores without the assistance of any street salesmen and to never allow a street salesman to bring you to a store. Since street salesmen work on commission, tourists are usually charged higher prices if they are brought into a store by a street salesman or other street guide.

Mérida is a great place to pick up a good quality hammock. However, be aware that many people selling hammocks in and around Mérida will try to get the highest price they can from a tourist. A good hammock costs between 300 and 800 pesos, not dollars. The tighter the weave, the better the hammock. You should always insist on unfolding and viewing a hammock before buying it.

There are plenty of hand-crafted hand-crafted things to buy in the shops along Calle 56A.

Traditional clothing

Guayabera shop
Huipils and textiles for sale at the weekly Sunday market in the Zócalo

The Yucatán is also famous for its guayaberas, to the point that the shirts are also known as the camisa de Yucatán (the shirt of the Yucatán). Locally-made huipils, the traditional garment worn by Yucatecan women, and jipijapa hats (aka Panama hats) are also popular items for sale. As with hammocks, quality varies widely.

The street salesmen who offer to bring tourists to stores that sell traditional clothing almost always accompany or direct people to stores that offer the double whammy of low-quality guayaberas and huipils at high prices. (Most such salesmen work on commission, which explains their aggressiveness.)

Other items

Cuban cigars are also a common item being sold by street vendors, but beware: many if not most 'Cuban' cigars sold on the streets of Mérida are excellent fakes that are manufactured elsewhere in Mexico. True Cuban cigars can be found in Mérida, but they are sold mostly in non-tourist areas.

Eat

Street food

Mercado de Santa Ana
Street vendor at the Zócalo rolling a marquesita, a sweet crunchy wafer filled with cheese, fruit, or chocolate

A range of street food is available, especially at   Mercado Lucas De Galvéz, the central food market. This is also a good place to shop for local specialties, including queso mennonito, an unpasteurized cheese made in the nearby Mennonite community.

Near the Monumento a la Patria on Paseo de Montejo, a family sells tamales every evening (and has been for decades). The tamales are cheap, fresh and absolutely delicious.

On Sunday afternoons the streets around the the Plaza de la Independencia (Zócalo) are closed to vehicles, and the square comes alive with craft vendors as well as street food stands serving traditional Yucatecan dishes. Those vendors offering full meals have their own shaded outdoor seating available. Snacks can be enjoyed on the many benches in the plaza, which is also a great place for people-watching.

During the rest of the week, the   Mercado de Santa Ana has a good range of food stalls serving Yucatecan food, with shaded seating.

Budget

Mid-range

Papadzules, a traditional Yucatecan vegetarian dish, at La Chaya Maya
Cochinita pibil, a traditional meal of slow-roasted pork served in tortillas

Splurge

Bakeries and desserts

Cold desserts at Dulcería y Sorbetería Colón

Drink

Agua de chaya

Look for a drink called agua de chaya, often simply called 'chaya'. It's a cool, green, mildly sweet and very refreshing juice made by pressing a spinach-like vegetable.

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

Free wi-fi is available in all plazas, including the Zócalo (Plaza Mayor). Additionally, many restaurants and cafés now offer free wi-fi for their patrons.

Stay safe

Mérida is a relatively safe city; however visitors should beware of pickpockets and keep their bags secure. If in spite of these precautions you fall victim to theft your best course of action will be to contact the Policía Turística (Tourist Police), tel. +52 999 942 0060. Tourist police officers wear blue and white uniforms, and many speak English. They can be easily found in the center around the Plaza Grande, and along the Paseo Montejo.

The tourist police also maintain two assistance booths in the centro: one in   Hidalgo Park (corner of Calle 60 and 59), and one in   Santa Lucia Park (corner of Calle 60 and 55). Both stands are open daily 08:00-20:00.

Stay healthy

Mérida has one of the best hospital networks in Mexico, and receives patients not only from Mexico but from neighboring Guatemala and Belize as well as from the United States. Cooperation with the medical establishment in cities like Houston has helped to develop a comprehensive network for medical care, with many private clinics meeting and even exceeding standards in Europe and the US.

Public hospitals can provide urgent care, but facilities are basic and staff are unlikely to speak English. For visitors who are not confident with their Spanish, private hospitals and clinics offer a good alternative. Many doctors can speak some English, but nursing staff and receptionists will likely not.

Cope

Consulates

Go next

Maya ruins

Dzibilchaltún
Mayapán

Several important archaeological sites are close to Mérida. Many moderate sized sites, such as Dzibilchaltun and Mayapán, are an easy day trip. The largest, Chichen Itza, is somewhat further and much more extensive – while a day trip visit from Mérida can be (and often is) done, if you want to see the whole site without being rushed, Chichen is better visited in two days with an overnight stay. Fans of ancient Maya architecture can also find staying overnight at Uxmal worthwhile, since it has a night-time light & sound show, and the following day one can visit the nearby smaller ruined cities of Kabah, Sayil and Labna.

Other attractions near Mérida

Celestún Wildlife Refuge
Hacienda Sotuta de Peón
Routes through Mérida

Campeche  S  E  Valladolid Cancun
Progreso  N  S  Uxmal Dzibilchaltún
Celestún Hunucma  W   E  END


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