We visited Merida at the very end of October 2016 hoping to see some festivities preceding to the Day of the Dead ( Dia de Los Muertos ). To our surprise, by the time we finally arrived, all the parties were over and the city life was back to normal. Therefore, if you’re planning a Halloween in Merida make sure you check in advance their festivities calendar. Besides that, we immediately fell in love with the old colonial look of the city, its colourful houses and the street buzz.
On this first night we came across a dance group in the central square performing a traditional dance routine to the joy and cheering of what was mostly locals. A great sign of the originality of Merida. We immediately realised that there were not many tourists around. Yay, it looks like we might have this town to ourselves!
While in Merida, inevitabely, you will end up at least once in La Chaya Maya restaurant. Every local will recommend it.
Go hungry and save space for comida Yucateca tipica de Maya – typical Mayan Yucatan food. It is a busy place and worth the wait in the queue! Expect dishes made from the chaya plant and many more like the lime soup, turkey pibil, relleno negro, panuchos… You can find your dessert on the street – marquesita, a local crepe-like-sweet is quite tasty.
Merida is one of the safest cities in Mexico although we felt very safe absolutely everywhere. It’s a-must-do pitstop when road tripping through Yucatan.
Accommodation is easy to find and we can greatly recommend a small hotel we stayed at – La Piazzetta. Great local food, interesting history and many cultural events. On every day of the week there are free shows open for the public on different locations around town.
The history and the culture of Merida is very interesting. When the Spanish arrived in 1541 to what used to be then called Ichkanzihóo they found local Mayan people. The Spanish enslaved the Mayans and used the materials from the five pyramids in the area to build the new city. These old stones make up some of the Merida’s top attractions – Casa de Montejo, Merida Cathedral, the Town Hall, Lucas de Gálvez market and a few churches. Inside the Governor’s Palace the murals of Fernando Castro Pacheco depict the struggle of the Mayan people as they tried to preserve their religion and language. Only three ancient Mayan books were saved ( copies are in the Mayan world museum in Merida and originals in Paris, Madrid and Dresden ). There is a free walking tour of central Merida that starts at the Town Hall and teaches you all of this. Highly recommended!
*The Mayan culture spreads across 340 000 square km of the Yucatan peninsula – parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.
On the actual Dia de Los Muertos ( November 1st ) the city was packed as it was a public holiday. The streets were flooded with locals and the vibe was good so we headed to the epicentre of the happening – Lucas de Gálvez market. It was much more than we had expected. It was a labyrinth of passages of all sorts of goods. It’s part a food market, part petshop ( cages with parrots, birds, guinea pigs, rabbits, puppies – least appealing section ), part clothing, part kitchenware, part jewellery and so on. Hundreds of people roaming around, selling and buying, eating and browsing. We found the most authentic part to be the fresh fish section with ceviche stalls. The market is a good place to spend a part of the day exploring but brace yourselves for a bit of chaos. On the positive note, there was only one other tourist besides us there. We ended our tour with some local food in our chilli. LOL.
Warning – that time of the year it gets hot and humid in the city so drink plenty water in Mexico. Otherwise you’ll end up like me ( Marija ) – dehydrated and exhausted.
There’s a lot of other shops in Merida, mostly around the Plaza Grande, and they cater for whatever you may be looking for, especially Mayan crafts. For us this was the beginning of our hammock hunt. This is a story in itself and you can read about it in the next blog post 🙂
We still wanted to see something traditional for the Dia de Los Muertos so we borrowed the bicycles from our hotel ( Hotel La Piazzetta – very nice ) and headed to the local cemetery. We only spent about 15 min looking around the old and colourful graves but we didn’t want to disturb the locals who were coming to pay the respect to their loved ones so we left quietly. Soon after, we left Merida with a sense of nostalgia towards the place. We must come back again!
Don’t miss our YouTube video on Merida if you wanna see how all this looked like!
Yucatan province – 2,097,175 people (2015)
Don’t confuse Yucatan province with the Yucatan peninsula, same same but different.
Merida – capital of Yucatan – 970,377 people (2010)