Mérida is the Yucatán Peninsula’s cultural epicenter, a genteel mix of provincial and cosmopolitan with a friendly small-town feel, despite its 777,000 residents.
By Margo Pfeiff
As a woman traveling alone, I hadn’t expected to feel as comfortable as I explored the city day and night on my late November trip.
You’ll find excellent cuisine and vibrant markets, as well as a remarkable roll call of cultural, culinary and outdoor events almost every day and night. It’s a great place to prowl shop- and café-lined streets, urban plazas and parks, and the region’s best museums.
A different path daily
I had ambitious plans to do those things outside the city limits, but I quickly fell into a relaxing routine of exploring and never ran out of discoveries.
Each morning I chose a different route to stroll to the city center amid the tolling of church bells and the aroma of freshly squeezed oranges, toasting tortillas and Chiapas coffee.
Breakfast might be a no-frills gourmet lineup of 75-cent tacos at iconic Wayan’eor lingering at Chaya Maya a lively eatery in the courtyard of a traditional colonial house with staff clad in Maya clothing. Its Yucatecan breakfast dishes included my favorite — papadzules, hard-boiled eggs wrapped in tortillas and topped with a luscious pumpkin seed sauce.
The nostalgic clip-clopping of horses on cobblestones reverberated off the grand buildings surrounding the main square. One of them was the late 1540s Catedral de San Ildefonso, built by Spanish conquistadors using relics from earlier Maya temples in the ancient Maya city of T’ho.
Afterward, to escape the midday heat, I headed inside for a closer — and often air-conditioned — look at the Palacio de Gobierno with its vast murals; the Palacio Municipal with town views from the stone balcony; and the palatial Casa de Montejo, a 16th century mansion that was once the residence of the Spanish conquistador leader.
Strolling was stress-less because streets were numbered — even- numbered streets ran north to south; odd-numbered streets east to west. That way, getting home or to a destination was more about math than maps.
At the other end of the cultural spectrum I spent the best part of a day wandering along Paseo de Montejo, a broad, tree-lined avenue inspired by Paris’ Champs-Élysées.
The most interesting stretch of the mile-long avenue ran between two colossal monuments, ending at the ornate Monumento a la Patria that’s encircled by a busy roundabout.
I loved chef Sara María Gomez’s octopus and scallop ceviche and her tempura-fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with cheese. I sipped my way through their creative list of well- crafted cocktails.
Music, dance and more
Free concerts, cultural performances and other events jammed my calendar. Music — traditional and even big band — and folkloric ballet were performed almost every night somewhere in the city. The pace picked up on weekends, a nonstop fiesta when the entire city, it seemed, came out to play.
On Saturday evenings Noche Mexicana celebrated song and dance, including salsa, hip-hop and jazz, along Paseo de Montejo. Sidewalk cafes set up in the streets, families strolled and nibbled from food carts, and shops stayed open late.
On Sunday morning cyclists take over some of the city’s most beautiful and popular streets, such as Paseo de Montejo and Calle 60, are closed for Biciruta (Bike Route). I rented a bicycle from one of the many booths and pedaled amid families and couples.
Meanwhile, Mérida en Domingo, or Mérida on Sunday, transformed the heart of the Centro Histórico, between Plaza Grande and Parque Santa Lucia, into an urban carnival and marketplace for the entire day.
As nighttime approached, bands began to play and people danced under the stars. I picked up a dish of fresh coconut ice cream, sat beneath a chorus of birds roosting in the trees and savored this Sunday night tradition, not regretting for one second that I had never left this charming colonial city.
If you go
WHERE TO STAY
Casa Lecanda Boutique Hotel. 471 Calle 47, Mérida, Mexico. Tranquil luxury boutique hotel near Paseo de Montejo. Doubles from $245 a night, breakfast included.
Hotel MedioMundo, 533 Calle 55, Parque de Santa Lucia, Centro, Mérida, Mexico. Colorful rooms in a relaxed, low-rise hotel with a vegan restaurant and a small outdoor pool. Double rooms from $75 with breakfast.
Piedra de Agua, 496 Calle 60, Centro, Mérida, Mexico. Traditional boutique hotel with a quiet courtyard less than a block from Plaza Grande. Doubles from $90.
WHERE TO EAT
Apoala Restaurant, 471 Calle 60, Local 2, Portales de Santa Lucía, Centro, Mérida, Mexico. Stylish Oaxaca fusion cuisine and excellent cocktails. Dinner for two $60.
La Chaya Maya, Calle 57 y 62, Centro, Mérida, Mexico. Traditional Yucatecan cuisine in the garden courtyard of a colonial manor. Lunch for two $35.
Wayan’e, 408-412 Calle 59, Centro, Mérida, Mexico. Casual taco joint with great choices. Arrive early; it’s a popular local hangout and some fillings run out early. Lunch for two $10.
Manjar Blanco, 496 Calle 47, Zona Paseo Montejo, Centro, Mérida, Mexico. Yucatecan traditional and fusion cuisine. Great breakfasts and lunches. Lunch for two $20.
WHERE TO DRINK
La Negrita Cantina, 415 Calle 62, Centro, Mérida, Mexico. Iconic cantina with live music.
Hermana República, 472 Calle 64, Parque Santa Lucia, Centro, Mérida, Mexico. Popular bar with local craft beers on tap.
TO LEARN MORE
This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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