With all the buzz about safety in Mexico, Merida in the state of Yucatan is one of the safest cities in the world.
If you are feeling the economic crunch and think you cannot afford an exciting vacation, think again. Merida is in the heart of Mundo Maya, the MOST exciting place to be in 2012, and Merida is also one of the least expensive Mexican vacation destinations.
Where to Stay:
Luz en Yucatan is where we will hang our sombreros every time we visit Merida. We loved this restored, colonial gem! Luz en Yucatan is the friendliest, most satisfying accommodation experience in 12 years of visiting Merida – that is saying a lot considering Merida is a city that prides itself on hospitality and many great hotel options. We paid $79 USD per night for a suite with a kitchenette, sitting area, 2 double beds and a single bed.
Where to Eat:
La Chaya Maya is the place to go for Yucatecan cuisine that is reasonably priced. Try tikin xic sizzling and served in banana leaves or the regional classic cochinita pibil. Enjoy a refreshing chaya and xtabentun (Yucatecan anise liquor) cocktail! Mayan ladies sit around a traditional comal in the dining room making fresh tortillas by hand. Calle 62 x 57
Pane y Vino Ristorante Italiano is fresh pasta and homemade sauces at its best for an amazingly low price. I know Italian food is not what you are thinking about while on a trip to Mundo Maya, but should you get to the point where you just don’t want another taco or panucho, go here. Calle 59 x 64
La Casa de Frida is a must when I want the traditional Yucatecan dish chiles en nogada. This and a bottle of wine make a perfect dinner for a very good price. The cozy, eclectic decor even comes with a live bunny that faithfully follows his friend, the waiter, around the tables.
Cafe La Habana on Calle 59 x 62 in Centro was our choice for a cheap, filling breakfast and fabulous coffee roasted in house.
Delicious cheap eats can be found all around the city served from street carts. Churros, salbutes, tacos, tortas, panuchos, aguas frescas…the mouth-watering list goes on and on. Don’t deprive yourself of local delights out of the fear of getting sick, just follow a few rules.
If the person making the food is the same person handling the money (without at least a piece of plastic covering their hands), walk away.
Look for a cart with a crowd – this is a very good sign.
Choose a cart where the food is being freshly prepared and not sitting in a container all day.
Go during peak street food hours, generally 10 a.m., or about 2:30 to 4 p.m
What to Do:
Take a home tour. For only $200 pesos spend a half day learning interesting facts about the city’s history and its amazing architecture. Tour beautifully restored, colonial homes in Merida’s Centro District. Tours are given on Wednesday mornings and begin at the English Library.
Take a food tour. Let a knowledgeable local guide you through the colorful and energetic world of Mercado Lucas de Galvez, the city’s traditional market. This is the way Yucatecans have shopped for centuries. Strange tropical fruits, exotic spices, food stalls, homemade candies, all to be discovered and sampled. The guide will then take you and the groceries you helped shop for to a local house where you will learn to prepare and surely enjoy a traditional Mexican meal. We had a blast with our guide Luis and his lovely wife Laura as they revealed to us the secrets of the mercado and Yucatecan cooking using fresh local ingredients. $39 USD per person.
Visit a Mayan ruin site and a cenote. Dzibilchaltún is the closest archeological site to Merida (only 15 km. from the city)
that includes a cenote for swimming. Tour the ancient structures during the early hours and when it starts to get hot, cool off in the fresh water sink hole. For an entire day of real Maya adventure you will pay a mere $115 pesos (about $9 USD). To get there, catch a combi (collective taxi) on Calle 69 between 62 and 64. This is in San Juan Park where they go directly to Dzibilchaltún.
Where to Shop:
Looking for an authentic, well made hammock at a reasonable price? Go to El Aguacate. This is not a touristy operation, it is where locals buy their “beds”. Prices range depending on the size. I bought a family size for about $65 USD. It is also, as we discovered, located smack dab in Merida’s “red light” district. Calle: 58 #604 x 73 Centro, open from 9AM to 7PM
Forget renting a car. Parking is limited and frustrating. The narrow streets are harrowing to drive and when there is traffic you could walk to your destination faster. Taxis and local buses are cheap for excursions inside and outside the city.
For a local watering hole that still observes the Yucatecan tradition of botanas (free, hot snacks while you drink) go to El Lucero del Alba located on Calle 47 No. 493 x56 Col Centro, open 12PM to 9PM. As long as you are drinking the free food keeps coming!