The largest city in the Yucatan Peninsula, Merida is a cultural crossways home to some 750,000 people. Considered my many to be the cultural capital of the entire peninsula, as far back as the Spanish conquest and settlement in the 1540s, Merida is a city awash with contrasts. Some visitors come away describing the centre as provincial, others as cosmopolitan, but whoever you believe Merida is a town brimming with history. From its narrow colonial streets, to the wide plazas and some of the best museums in the region, visitors to Merida will find much to entertain them.
Although regularly marketed as an ‘undiscovered gem’ by some obviously outdated tourism advertisers, Merida really is a tourist town. It might have been the rope making capital of Mexico in the past, but now tourism is big business here. Luckily, there hasn’t been any sacrifice of beauty in the process, and the locals will be more than happy to point out, if it isn’t obvious enough, just how gorgeous Merida really is.
Merida has lots on offer for visitors, but here are three things you definitely should take the time to see.
El Paseo Montejo
Constructed by the city’s wealthy, the El Paseo Montejo is an amazing tree-lined strip which is just perfect to walk down during the evening. Inspired by the Champs-Élysées in Paris, this boulevard is a dreamy local spot to explore. Check out the bakery at the Plaza de La Bandera, where even if baked goods aren’t for you, the family owners sell mouth-watering tamales every evening. Also worth a look is the Palacio Canton, a monstrous pink mansion housing the Regional Archaeology Museum. Both house and museum are one of a kind.
Mercado Lucas de Galvez and San Benito
A massive indoor market so odd it must be seen to be believed, these are two adjoining markets that sell everything from shoes and flowers, to turkey meat and spices. Certainly if you’re looking for something that shows off the real style of Merida, this is as close as you’re going to get!
Ideal if you want to get a day of people watching in during your time in Merida, the Plaza Grande is the city’s central square. At the heart of the town’s historic centre there is a large park surrounded by Merida’s historic buildings. These include the cathedral and museum of contemporary art in the east, the palace of Montejo the Conquistador in the south, the old City Hall in the west, and the Governor’s Palace in the north. On Sunday evenings the plaza’s surrounding areas are closed to visitors for a variety of music and cultural events.
Merida is a beautiful and unique city, with so much to do within the city bounds, as well as within a day or two drive of the area. If you do happen to get bored during your stay, consider heading out on a day trip (or staying overnight) at one of the nearby Mayan ruins, which are spectacular.