Mexico has everything on offer a traveler needs. The bustling metropolis of Mexico City, coastal paradise in Playa del Carmen or Cancun, authentic food of the country is served best in Oaxaca, and for every other need there sure is a place in this country. But one destination in Mexico that often slips under the radar is the stunning beauty called Mérida.
For Mexicans, Mérida is one hell of beauty in the Yucatan Peninsula region. For people asking questions about the safety of the place (any place in Mexico), the answer is that Merida is one of the safest locations in this country. But security alone isn’t enough, as Merida offers a highly cultural, artsy abode, from where the beaches are about 20 miles away and accessible. All in all, there are plenty of reasons to visit the place, at least once in a traveler’s lifetime.
When I was here, I did happen to meet a lot of travelers along the way and had too many questions about the place I was heading to. Most of my questions revolved around what is it that one can do over there? After most answers turned an unconvincing eye towards me, I had to resort to hiring a local guide, one that a hotel guy helped secure from a nearby locality. So it was with this guide that I explored one of the best travel destinations I’ve been to in the past few years. My guide, Abejundio, was the perfect man for this trip, showing me around to all possible nearby attractions, Mayan ruins, but most importantly he was a real guide taking me into the local culture and showing ways how to eat and drink like one.
Art, culture and history
Merida like many other Mexican destinations has its own history, art, rich culture and traditions, as well a colonial past. A question that has always played in my mind is what exactly does it mean when they say enjoy a place? Abejundio gave me the best possible answer of all, saying enjoyment lies in discovering everything possible and falling in love with all of them. So leaning on to this response, Abejundio’s and my first order of business was to take a nice long walk through the downtown area of Merida. The first thing anyone would spot are the buildings – an attraction in their own right. These structures have different shades of pink, blue, red, yellow and purple, all of which will tend to take you back in time into those colonial times this city experienced.
Furthermore, there are many other attractions like those pin buildings off the main square, some eye-catching government buildings, the Cathedral, and many parks along the way. On many of these buildings, old paintings could be found, which recounts some historical details of this Peninsula and reflect on events such as the Mayan massacres, rebellions, the arrival of the Spanish, local heroes and many other things.
Next, to the cathedral, there is the Museum of Modern Art, set on a lush courtyard and regularly showcases and holds exhibitions for Yucatan artists or try to promote the essence and beauty of the peninsula itself. There are other small galleries like the Galeria Tataya and Soho Galleries could be found around the Santa Ana square for more of upbeat or contemporary art.
The last bit of the visiting part ends with the Mayan ruins, although the Merida share of ruins is lesser known than its bigger cousins at Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Dzibilchaltun. One good part about the Merida ruins being less popular is that it attracts smaller crowds compared to the others. The first of these ruins are located in the jungles nearby, and the second consists of the ‘House of Seven Dolls’, because of the many those seven store human figures found inside these ruins. The temple’s name is due to all those seven stone human figures found inside. You could read on for more info on these ruins of Merida, as there are many guidebooks, information portals, and people who are willing to tell a tale.
More than just Tacos
I have never believed for once that Mexico is just about Tacos, Fajitas and Burritos, there’s more to the food culture of Mexico than just that. In the Yucatan valley especially, the dishes served are made using local products that cannot be found anywhere else in Mexico, or so my guide tells me, which I believe entirely. Some of the local dishes that could be tried here include frijol con Puerco, escabeche, Sopa de Lima, cochinita pibil, relleno negro, papules, queso relleno, salbutes, poc church and tostadas. I know that those names above seem impossible to spell and like anyone reading them might be curious to see what’s in them, but trust me I never understood what all they add to these, but they tasted excellent, that’s for sure.
The next endeavor was fulfilled by heading into the Lucas de Galvez Market area. This is the biggest marketplace in Merida, set up in a massive Pink Building on street 56, which is precisely between streets 65 & 67. Now here don’t dwell on the street addresses, just ask your guide (if you are hiring one) to take you to the market. This market is total Mexican, the noise would be proof of that. Spices, fresh produce, juices and many other things could be found here in abundance.
Also, there are plenty of food stalls here serving local flavors. One of the items Abejundio asked me to eat was kibis, and I succumbed to it in all senses. This is a dish with fried wheat, meat filled dish, served with onions and chili. A typical Yucatan sweet dish that my guide suggested was called champola (ice cream with coconut milk)
And some Tacos
On to the main street again, Abejundio took me to one of Los Trompos’ franchises for top-notch tacos. On his further recommendations, I also tried eating cochinita pibil or little pig as well as the El Yucateco hot sauce, which is just designed to blow all sanity off your heads.
How the locals do
My question to Abejundio, was how locals spend their days or what do they do here outside of their work? His response was to take me to a sunset point and further on to enjoy a bit of nightlife here in Merida. It happens that people, prefer their drinks over some music and dancing, to beat the relentlessness of the day and enjoy to their fullest during night time. Nightlife here also consists of marketplaces at multiple locations, with the ones at Santa Lucia or Santa Ana squares the most popular ones. At times, on special occasions, locals end up wearing costumes and dancing to the music. These special occasions happen every Monday night.
I did not have enough time on my hands to explore further of the nightlife or life in general of the people of Merida, but I’ve been told that what I just experienced is just the surface level stuff. So presumably, when I come here again, I could do other things.
My notes on Mérida
In my defence to those questions frequently asked by people about visiting Mexico and the safety factors surrounding any travel to this country, be assured, everyone here is polite and helpful in the best possible way. Despite the fact that Merida’s population is over a million people, you’d still wonder why the streets are not overcrowded. Walking around the city is a peaceful excursion and will bring the true essence of the Yucatan people, especially at night. When here, be carefree but humble. Yucatan peninsula is a beautiful place to be, and Merida is this region’s and Mexico’s unknown heaven.