Merida, Mexico – Great little city

Merida, Mexico

So far, of all the towns/cities I’ve visited in Mexico up to now, Merida has been the coolest. Situated on the Yucatan, somewhere round the top, not on the coast, but relatively close to the sea, it’s a city rich with culture, surrounded by Mayan history, and full of life. While I didn’t get to see nearly as much of it as I’d have liked, what I did see, right from day 1, let me know that I had found a special place. Merida’s center is a bit of a ghost town, strangely. Almost half the doors to homes and businesses are shut. No idea why, daytime, nighttime, no difference. But the other half of the old area, the center, is filled with small hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs. It wakes up at night with people filling the plazas, karaoke, street dancing. It’s lively, colorful, and warm. Kids stay up and out till past midnight, the smell of food fills the air, and street vendors sell everything from clothes to churros at all hours. Walking around, you’ll pass bars that you never knew existed until the doors open way past sunset, and clubs that seemed like closed businesses hours earlier.

The place has charm. It has an old-Europe feel to it with plenty of cobblestone roads, areas that are regularly shutdown for pedestrians entertainment, multiple plazas and parks. It’s a good place to recharge, go out, try Yucatecan food, and a great base from which to visit the numerous Mayan ruins of the area. While in Merida, make sure to check out the main market, which is brimming with smells, colors, and sounds. A walk through will at once disgust and enthrall you, with live animals for sale a few feet from fresh meat. You’ll find extremely cheap seafood, old Seventeen magazines (no idea why), handmade shoes, all the fresh fruits and vegetables you could want, and almost everything in between. While it’s a covered market, which was a little unexpected and disappointing, it didn’t take long to figure out why. Between the merciless sun and the powerful storms that seem to be common here, it seems clear that a roof was definitely the way to go. Another hot spot, is the Negrita Cantina, which many other travelers were raving about on a regular basis. It features cheap drinks, live music, and free food/snacks as long as you continue ordering drinks. Popular with the locals, it should provide a good night’s entertainment. And if you’d like to try something NOT Mexican, which if you’ve been in Mexico for a while, i’m sure you will, try the La Bierhaus. It’s a German resto/bar. Good sausages and other german dishes, tons of imported German beer, live music which tends to be a little too loud, and a laid-back atmosphere. This is also popular with both locals and travelers. We were joking that it took coming to Mexico to appreciate German cuisine. Not that much of an exaggeration either.

From Merida, you can do multiple day trips into the surroundings areas to visit some of Mexico’s best Cenotes (collapsed-roof caves) as well as some of it’s most impressive ruins. We visited the Uxmal ruins, which while less physically impressive than Chichen Itza, was also considerably less crowded and commercial. You can take your time roaming through the history of the place without feeling rushed by other tourists or constantly solicited by vendors. It’s well worth it. But Uxmal (220p entry fee) is just one amongst many historical Mayan sites in the area. Others are Kabah, Chichen Itza, and Dzibilchaltún. Chichen Itza may be a bit far for a day trip, but you can get a bit closer by going to Valladolid and staying there a couple days in order to get the most of the Cenotes and Chichen Itza. There are plenty of tours that are accessible from hostels and hotels in the area or tour operators you’ll easily find along the streets of Merida’s center. Additionally, the beach town of Progreso (a couple hours north) was highly recommended, but was not something we had the time to do.

As for these little Merida gems mentioned earlier, they are all quite close to each other and just blocks from the Nomadas hostel, which is one of the most well run hostels I’ve ever been to. Nomadas offers all types of rooms from single private to large dorms. It has a great pool, a bunch of hammocks, reliable and decent internet, almost daily free cooking classes, free salsa classes, free live music, provides a map of the center core, and is quite affordable. It’s a great place to meet people, as it’s quite popular and has a steady stream of people coming through. Most are seasoned travelers who are happy to sit and share some conversations with you. I highly recommend this as your Merida base.You’ll like Merida. It’s a city that boasts an interesting mix of European influences and Maya culture. Even the main cathedral was built from stones pillaged from Mayan archaeological sites, so even within one building you have both influences, which while controversial at the time, and unfortunate even now, is a good representation of the old city as a whole. It’s humid and hot, it’s full of little surprises, and will reward you any time you decide to do a little exploring.

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