Vibrant. Vivacious. A burst of colour. These are the words that spring to mind when I think of the beautiful, terracotta painted city of Merida, the capital city of the Yucatan. Steeped with history and culture, this city is the perfect melting pot of city life and culture and a great place to spend the next few days in.
Merida is easy enough to get to, being a mere 2 hour drive from Chichen Itza. And I would highly recommend spending a couple of nights in this city, if you want to steep your soul in some authentic Yucatan culture.
Ambling around the easy to walk streets amidst the tree lined plazas, with its cute white love seats dotted everywhere, my thoughts are that if Paris is nicknamed the city of love, then Merida is a close second. Young couples smooching away, old couples sitting with arms intertwined – being a true romantic at heart, it makes me sigh with happiness. I know I am going to LOVE spending the next few days here.
We start off our time in Merida by indulging in a Mayan Combo Platter at La Parilla, an eclectic restaurant off the main street in central Merida. The inside of La Parilla has a quirky but vibrant mural with skeletons hanging off a bright red car of sorts, but the outside has some lovely café like seats where we enjoy poc chuc, panuchos, salbutes, sausages and tacos while observing the sprinkling of everyday life in the plaza opposite, its fountain spurting cool, fresh water droplets, welcome in the heat of this terra caliente.
Having spent a couple of days in the Yucatan, I truly get the rationale behind the need for a siesta, especially after a satiating meal, and given that it gets too hot to wander around, we are more than glad to head back to our cool, terracotta painted hacienda to indulge in a siesta!! A bit about our hotel – we specifically chose to stay in a boutique hotel versus one of the bigger chain hotels, because we wanted to be in the heart of Merida and we have found in our travels, that the best luxury is found in the quaintest boutique hotels and the Hacienda is no exception. We loved our gorgeous suite overlooking the pool and being a stone throw away from the centre of Merida, it is the perfect combination of luxury and convenience in one.
We are lucky to be in Merida over a weekend, the best time to indulge in culture. The streets around the grand plaza are closed to traffic and become pedestrian friendly walking streets. Vendors put up their carts to display their wares. From souvenirs, to houseware, to clothes stalls, to skeleton cardboard cut-outs (I really have to find out what the obsession is with skeletons here) and best of all, amazing street food carts dot every inch of free space available.
Restaurants put their tables on the sidewalks. The weekend has truly begun, celebration mode is nigh and of course, this calls for a shot of tequila with a sangrita for me!
Noche Mexicana takes place at the top end of Paseo Montejo, and is a free 1 ½ hour dance extravaganza, showcasing some of the best talent Merida has to offer. From the backdrop of the stage, to the vibrant, graceful dancers, in their colourful attire and tap dancing shoes, this is the perfect way to spend a Saturday night. I watch in awe as the ladies pirouette away, balancing water glasses on their heads, twirling their skirts as their partners sway them around. In another lifetime, I was a dancer. And a nomad. I am pretty sure of that. My heart sings with joy as I watch these dances, truly steeped in culture. The plaza is full of locals, enjoying noche Mexicana, and the botanas and coronas sold in the nearby food stalls in the night market.
To end our day in Merida, we dine under the stars at Panchos, between calle 60 and 65.
Having eased ourselves into Merida, we start off the next day with Gorditas for breakfast from “Gorditas a Gordas” on the corner of Calle 60 and 61, munching on these maize meal pockets stuffed with savoury fillings while waiting for the Turibus to rock up opposite the Catedral de San Ildefonso.
Turibus is a great way to see Merida, being the classic “hop on-hop off” mode of transport that I am a great fan of, albeit touristy. I love the fact that you pay just $120 for the day, and you can jump off in an area that you find interesting, explore and then hop back onto the bus to the next stop. A caveat on Turibus though – it doesn’t have any brochures or route info, but I pretty much figured its route out which I have put in my travel notes at the end of this post, so as not to bog you down with too many details.
The tour is about 1 and a ½ hours long, and by far, my favourite section is the long boulevard of Paseo Montejo studded with splendid mansions, vast lawns and beautiful tree covered sidewalks, with the café tables spilling out onto them.
Never a dull moment on this street – we find these gorgeous trees with faces carved into them, and watch as more couples sit in the white love seats, whispering sweet nothings into each others ears!
Sitting at one of the many cafes, you can watch the world whiz by on Paseo Montejo, by car or clippity clopping by on a horse drawn carriage, which I must get myself into at some point!
Ambling on, we come to the end of Paseo Montejo with what has to be my favourite monument in Merida – Monumento-a-la- Patria or “the monument to the motherland” – , a spectacular sculpture carved out of pink stone that tells the history of Mexico.
Commanding presence, this sculpture also doubles up as a roundabout, and directly opposite is the charming bistro Cubaro, where I will dine tonight, sipping on a glass of vino and watching the sculpture all lit up, truly satiated with this bit of my Mexican adventure.
And of course, once we have completed our circuit on the Turibus, we head to the Mercado Lucas de Galvez – the bustling central market where you can get everything from fresh meat and vegetables, to those annoyingly cheap replicas of designer goods! But our main reason for being here – the chilli! Not a single meal has gone by without a hot poblano or other chile on our plates, and what better place to get some great pictures of this essential Mexican condiment than the marketplace?
True to its cultural heritage, Merida hosts yet another dance on Monday evening – La Vaqueria opposite the Palacio Municipal in the Main Plaza. From 9 pm onwards, you can indulge for free – in a colourful, happy event that will leave you tapping your feet to the rhythm and take all you have in you not to grab your partner by the waist and dance along with these amazing folk!
This is an incredibly popular event for the locals and all the seats are grabbed up as early as 7.30 pm, and couples begin to slow dance before the actual show to the sounds of the band warming up. I am mesmerised at how much love there is in the air in this magical city – it really does rival Paris!
The thing to do on a Monday night then – indulge in some excellent street food before settling down to indulge in this vibrant dance. Again, loads of food stalls, a tonne of choices and an excellent time to sample all the mouthwatering goodies you’ve been reading so much about – tamales and panuchos and poc-chuc for me, followed by a strange but mouthwateringly delicious Mexican street food dessert called a “Marquesita” – a thin, crispy pancake stuffed with nutella and – cheese! Yes, you read right – chocolate and cheese – who would have thought that such an unlikely combo could be so utterly divine??!! Yes. This diva may enjoy the finer things in life, but she also gets immense satisfaction out of steeping her soul in a culture through its food, and the best place to do so is in the streets or where the locals eat!
We have had a smashing time in Merida, and I am almost reluctant to leave this place because I could easily spend a couple of weeks here, exploring every nook and corner and telling you all about my wonderful experiences but alas, the journey must continue – but it is proper unwind time now in the lap of luxury in Playa del Carmen and I cannot wait to wiggle my toes on that sandy beach! Join me, wont you?
But first – some Harpreets Wanderlust Travel Notes and pearls of wisdom:
- Merida has great free cultural stuff going on pretty much every day of the week, with the best shows over the weekends. Get yourself a copy of the Yucatan Magazine for all the latest news. Available free at most hotels across the Yucatan.
- Turibus – a great way to get around but: it is supposed to come to a designated stop every 45 minutes or so, but doesn’t really keep to its time schedule. The lack of route info can be frustrating but here’s what I noticed: from the Cathedral, the bus drives around Merida for about an hour with no stops, then it has a stop at the Hyatt/Holiday Inn on Av. Colon and a third stop at the Grand Plaza Parkside on Calle 60 opposite the Atheno Peninsular. One circuit and you will figure it out, and despite the lack of information it is a great way to get around.
- If you miss out on the night markets and food stalls over the weekend, then do try the Mercado which has some great food stalls to try out local food such as tacos (all kinds), lechon (roast pork), tamales (vine leaves) and cochinita pibil (pit roasted pork).
I hope you have enjoyed my memoirs of Merida, and I would love to hear from you! Leave me a comment below…..thanks for stopping by!