Photo courtesy of foodieflashpacker.com

 

Where to go for my first international getaway? Friends have raved about Merida, Mexico. And then I read how 60,000 readers of Conde Nast Traveler named it in the best small city in the world for 2019. Off we went, and it turned out we liked it so much we extended our stay. It has it all – a serious foodie city, incredible mansions built in the late 19th and early 20th century when Merida had one of the most significant numbers of millionaires in the world, very good hotels and museums, major Mayan ruins nearby, and designer shopping. Plus, it’s totally authentic, with hardly an American fast food chain in sight, safety protocols to the max and you can fly nonstop from Miami to Merida, Mexico (Just over 2 hours).  Plus you can team the visit up with a beach stay in Playa Del Carmen and get my friend and family discount at a top luxury resort.

merida mexico, miamicurated
Plaza Grande photo courtesy of Fodors Travel Guide

 

Don’t think beach here, though there is one that’s part of the nearby port city. Culture and authenticity are what have attracted European travelers looking to go beyond the beach resorts for years (at one point there were direct flights from Merida to Italy!).

merida mexico, miamicurated

 

Since the Spanish conquest, Mérida has been the cultural capital of the entire Yucatán Peninsula. It’s also a city undergoing a renaissance thanks to expats from all over the world  who are refurbishing the sorbet colored colonial homes and bringing their skills and talents to all aspects of the city.

 

Paseo de Montejo

 

Emblematic of the colonial grandeur is the treelined boulevard called the Paseo de Montejo, home to the Anthropology and History Museum, the most iconic buildings, landmarks and shops with everything from cutting edge fashion and jewelry to stunning designer straw handbags, sandals and hats (here I did some damage).

 

shopping in merida mexico, miamicurated
Fine straw handbags from designer Paloma Van den Aker

 

Another highlight is the Plaza Grande flanked by historic pastel colored buildings, one of many cathedrals, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s also the site of music performances which, pre-COVID, were held just about every night of the week along with a show of the famed Mayan Pok-a-Tok sport, a cross between soccer and basketball. Hopefully reopening soon are the other numerous notable museums including the Great Museum of the Mayan World with textiles, pottery, books and sculptures; Casa de Los Montejo; and folk art along with many art galleries. Then there are unusual ones devoted to music, trains, and the Museum of Korean Immigration, commemorating the Korean laborers who came to work in the sisal plantations in the early 1900’s.

Uxmal Photo courtesy of Gray Line Tours

 

If you go, you can’t miss the Mayan ruins at Uxmal, about an hour out of town. It is considered one of the most important archaeological sites of Maya culture for its size and artistic quality..

A serious Mexican omelet with tortilla, black beans, egg, tomato and cheese enjoyed in Casa Azul

 

The food? Some of the best I’ve ever had in Mexico, with restaurants such as Kuuk, Apoala and Rosa Sur 32. In fact, I think it’s next to impossible to have a meal that’s anything less than very good with the freshest of ingredients that you can see at the fruit and vegetable market Lucas de Galvez, well worth a visit.

manjar blanco restaurant in merida mexico, miamicurated
Queso relleno (stuffed cheese) with chopped meat, Yucatecan spices, capers, olives and tomato sauce in a creamy flour broth from Manjar Blanco

 

Unlike most of the rest of Mexico, Yucatan cuisine features a lot of dishes with turkey, pork, and even sometimes duck. Yucatecan food also has many unique sauces and recipes based on Mayan culture mixed with tastes influenced by the peninsula’s historical ties to Cuba, Europe, Asia, and Middle Eastern cultures.. Many dishes feature Pibil. Pibil is a cooking method (from the Mayan word pib, meaning “buried”) where the foods are wrapped, usually in banana leaves, and cooked in a pit oven.

best restaurants in merida mexico, miamicurated
Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca restaurant

 

At one of the leading restaurants, the Museum of Yucatecan Gastronomy, every afternoon there are demonstrations of the Yucatecan cooking methods along with a small museum from which it gets its name. As with everything, meal prices are very reasonable — expect to pay about $50 US for dinner for two with drinks.

La Negrita Cantina photo courtesy of coolhunter.mx

 

Before dinner be sure to go to one of the local cantinas like La Negrita or  La Fundacion de la Mezcaleria for a locally made beer, mezcal, tequila or craft cocktail.

Casa Azul Monumento Historico hotel

 

There’s a big choice of hotels at all price points, from the five star Chable resort outside of town, to the eight suite Casa Azul Monumento Historico, chain hotels and  very inexpensive Air BNBs. We stayed at the  Casa Azul, a restored 19th century mansion with a Belle Epoque atmosphere, including antique furniture, ornate ceilings, carefully restored ironwork, large courtyards and pool Eight spacious suites are individually themed and decorated,  and rates (now about $250 USD a night) include what is said to be one of the best breakfasts in town.

Posheria which specializes in new corn based liquor Pox

 

We went to Merida Mexico the last week in October. Though, as I mentioned, some of the museums were closed and there were no live performances in the Plaza Grande, new places were reopening on a daily basis. We found more than enough to do and explore. And re safety protocols, everyone and I mean everyone wore a mask. Plus, every place we went our temperature was taken and we had to use sanitizer on our hands. In some places they also noted our phone number and name for contract tracing so we felt safe on that score. Speaking of safety in general, we walked everywhere at night. Merida Mexico has been written up as the second safest city in North America (first is Quebec City).

Want to team up your colonial city holiday with a stay at the beach? I’m offering a friends and family discount of 30% off of internet rates at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Playa Del Carmen, a 3 1/2 hour drive from Merida. Here’s a link to information on the resort.  If interested, write to me, karen@miamicurated.com.

And if you’re wondering about being safe and flying, check out my experience and tips.

My Experience: Being Safe Flying + Best Airlines

 

 

6 comments

  1. I spent a few days in Merida last March with friends. The best thing we did was sign up for a food tour of the city. it was fun and informative and added a lot to our knowledge of Mexican food. We had a car, so we took day trips to the coast to see the flamingos and — this was fantastic — to swim in cenotes. It was part of a Yucatan road trip which was beautiful, inexpensive and safe (not relative to Covid as that was not much of an issue then).

  2. Yes. Campeche is much smaller and simpler, but it is a beautiful, colorful city right on the water. The architecture is fabulous. I stayed two nights but I met some folks from Chicago who were staying for a month! Local artisans have a sales spot all their own in the city’s new convention center and the offerings were terrific. A free waterfront fountain and lights and music show, which didn’t seem well publicized, was terrific — lasted half an hour and attracted lots of local families. It’s a gem.

      1. No, Im afraid Im clueless on that one. We flew into Cancun, rented a car and then drove a loop through Puerto Moreles, over to Cozumel, down to Bacalar, over to Campeche, then Merida, then Valladolid and back to Puerto Moreles and then out of Cancun. It was a great itinerary, about two weeks.

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