Yucatan’s Merida ~ 4 Things You Should do in the Evenings

In the historic center of Merida on the Yucatan Peninsula, I found four great things to do in the evenings. Merida is a charming city, but the days are hot and walking around the city in the blazing heat can be quite a sweaty experience. When the sun goes down and the temperatures drop to a more comfortable level, Merida comes alive and the people come out.

There is a constant string of press about problems in Mexico, Merida is not one of the places experiencing these problems. I felt perfectly safe walking around at night. I was assured by cabbies, an expat couple that lived there and the folks in my hotel, that the Historic District of Merida was very safe for couples and singles to stroll freely at any hour of the day or night. No place in the world is 100% safe for tourists, but the Yucatan and Chiapas in Mexico’s south are very close to it.

Juevos Moltulenos Yucatecan breakfast in Merida

Juevos Moltulenos at La Chaya Yucatecan Maya restaurant.

My first recommendation is really something you can do at any time of day. My favorite restaurant in Merida, perhaps all of the Yucatan, is La Chaya Yucatecan Restaurant at Calle 62 x 57. I loved it so much I ate there three times in three days. The first time I was there I had a breakfast of Huevos Moltulenos, a delicious plate filled with a base of fresh corn tortillas, refried beans, fried eggs, diced ham, peas, local cheese and a savory tomato based sauce. It came with a chai drink that was chilled and very tasty. They also had giant glasses of fresh orange juice, I had both the chai and the OJ.

Yucatan Maya corn tortillas made by hand

I do love hand made corn tortillas!

For both a dinner and a lunch I had the Pork Cochinita. It was a plate filled with a citrus marinated, slow roasted, very large piece of pork meat in a yummy red sauce and frijoles. It came with delicious fresh hand made corn tortillas.

There is no better tortilla in the world than a fresh, hand made, corn tortilla. When I lived in Guatemala I became spoiled by these ever present tortillas, the thin machine made flour tortillas all over Mexico barely deserve to be called tortillas next to them. I guess it’s just that I love the Mayan tortillas over all others.

My second recommendation for both food and pure Mexican fun ambiance is El Nuevo Tucho at 482 Calle 60. I heard music coming from a parking lot across the street from my hotel Luz En Yucatan. From the parking lot I entered the restaurant. It’s a sort of night club, cantina, Yucatecan restaurant. There was no air conditioning, but the many ceiling fans were doing their job. The crowd all appeared to be working class Mexicans. I was the only gringo in sight that night. The waiter told me they don’t get many foreign tourists, but they do get quite a few Mexican tourists and locals.

Live music in Merida Mexico

Big fun at El Nuevo Tucho restaurant in Merida.

The place has a stage with different musical and musical comedy acts throughout the night. This is the kind of place that might intimidate some tourists, which is a shame. Everyone was very friendly, the waiters were attentive and the food was delicious. The musical acts I saw that night were both great fun and very talented. One of the things I love about live bands in Mexico is that they are almost always performers as well as musicians. These people sang, danced and goofed around with each other in a playful, fun and sexy way. I felt like I was in a Mexican movie. It may sound strange, but after living in Mexico for over a year, this was the most Mexican place I had ever been.

Corona Beer Girls and me

The icy cold Coronas were tasty.

The food here was also top notch. I ordered the Chicken Pibil. Pibil of any kind is one of my very favorite foods. Pibil’s spicy tangy sauce is the key to the amazing flavor. It is basically achiote paste with a citrus juice and other seasonings, savory wonderfulness! The chicken came wrapped in three large bundles of banana leaves, along with rice and onions. As always in any real Mexican or Guatemalan restaurant, it included a large basket of my other favorite thing, fresh corn tortillas. El Nuevo Tucho’s icy cold beers, along with a shot of tequila the folks at the next table shared with me, made the evening a perfect slice of Mexico. The Corona girls that practically demanded a photo with me might have added a bit of fun to the evening as well 😉

Live Yucatecan music in Merida

Traditional music on a balmy spring evening in Merida.

My third recommendation for an evening in Merida is the regularly scheduled live music in the parks. Each night a different park or square around the city center has live music. The music can be anything from very traditional Yucatecan music to modern Latin Jazz. The evening I went to the music they were playing folklorico music. The park was filled with locals and tourists alike. The performances start at 9 pm and I recommend you get there a good twenty minutes early for a seat. When you get to Merida, you should ask at your hotel where the live music in the park is that night and make a plan to attend.

My final suggestion is that you just go down to the Central Plaza, find a bench, sit and watch the world go by. Merida offers a wealth of fun and cultural activities. There are also elegant theaters and many other things for you to discover on your own when you go.

Mexico’s Merida ~ Old Mansions and Museums in the Yucatan

The city of Merida on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is a huge modern city with a historic center and sprawling suburbs. I last visited the city 38 years ago with my parents, I was twelve. The memories of my youth, part actual memory, part remembered slide shows from years gone by, turned out to be quite accurate.

Cathedral and plaza Merida Mexico

As always, click on any photo to ENLARGE it.

Evening in Mexico Merida Yucatan

Evenings in Merida when the temperatures cool and people come out.

 

The core of the city around the central plaza and San Ildefonso Cathedral, built in 1561, were almost exactly as I had remembered. People come out in the cooler evening temperatures to stroll, sit and gossip with their neighbors in the large plaza. They are careful not to sit under any of the parks trees which fill with birds and a cacophony of song every evening. The people of Merida are quick with a smile and seem quite used to the assorted variety of tourists and other Yucatecans.

I was only in town for a few days, which was plenty of time to explore around the cities center. Other than the museums and historic buildings near the center, inside what used to be the cities walls during the colonial period, there is not much of interest to see or do in the ever expanding suburbs of  Merida.

 

Plaza birds in MeridaAfter exploring the historic center of the city, there is an unlimited number of things to do a bit further outside the city. There are at least half a dozen significant Mayan sites within a few hours drive and several old sisal haciendas to explore. There are also quite a few cenotes not far from the center that are good for a cool dip in the blazing heat of the Yucatan’s afternoon. I did not explore these on this trip as both time and money were in short supply. I recommend that anyone planning a vacation in Merida should rent a car, it will end up being less expensive and more convenient than the tourist buses which all seem to cost about 500 pesos to go to any of the destinations outside of the city.

Homes and mansions restored in Merida

These fine old homes have all been restored, or were never allowed to decay.

In the late 1800’s Merida became one of the worlds most wealthy cities due to the many henequen and sisal plantations. Henequen is used in the production of rope and twine. The Mexican revolutionary wave hit Merida in 1915 causing the beginning of the end of the wealth of the plantation, or hacienda, owners. By the 1930’s indigenous rights along with socialist and land reforms put a final end to the wealthy plantation owners.

The city of Merida is full of the old mansions of these former henequenero’s. A surprising number of these grand old homes are in a state of abandoned decay, others have been restored and now house corporate offices or retail centers. There are also quite a few people from the United States and Canada coming down and buying up these old properties to restore.

Old homes in Merida for restoration

These old homes are waiting to drive some poor gringo into fits of frustration and insanity while they are restored.

My experience and that of my friends in Guatemala and Mexico is that if everything goes perfectly, and your Spanish is good, the cost and time it will take to restore these old buildings, or any construction project, will be double whatever the initial estimates were. If things go badly and your Spanish is poor, sometime around the second year of the project that was to take 8 months, you will be reduced to an angry shriveled mass of despair.

Owl Gate of Merida Yucatan

One of the original gates to the formerly walled city of Merida Mexico.

The best way to see these old mansions and the other sites around Merida is to take one of the open air tour buses that operate in the city. There are two different tour buses, one is a double decker that leaves from in front of the cathedral every few hours called Turibus. They advertise that they run regularly, this was not the case on my visit. The other leaves from in front of  Santa Lucia Park several times a day. Be warned that both buses will only leave if there are enough tourists to make it worth while. I waited for three different buses the first day, none of them ended up leaving for the tour due to lack of tourists. The second day I arrived in time for the 10 am bus from Santa Lucia Park, and was finally rewarded with a city tour.

Merida anthropology museum

French Revival marble and crystal surrounding ancient Mayan art in the Merida Museum of Anthropology.

Two of my favorite attractions in downtown Merida were the Museum of Anthropology and the Governors Palace. The Museum of Anthropology is filled with some really beautiful and amazing Mayan relics. It is inside the former home of one of Merida’s land barons which was built in the late 1800’s in stunning Beaux Arts style. I found the ancient Mayan carvings and artwork illuminated by French crystal chandeliers to be a very interesting  juxtaposition.

The Governor’s Palace is more of a classic Spanish colonial style building filled with very moving murals by the Mexican artist Fernando Castro Pacheco. The murals mostly depict scenes of the conquest along with all of the violence and despair that went with it. I found them quite thought provoking and powerful. I was surprised by the honesty and brutality of these artworks. The struggle of the Maya peoples, and indigenous peoples everywhere, is well represented in the images of brutality and nobility by Mr. Pacheco.

Mayan resistance to the conquest

After hundreds of years of occupation, the Yucatecan Maya have managed to retain much of their language and culture.

Mural in the governors mansion.

Frey Diego De Landa and the souls of the Maya he and the Catholic church tortured during the brutal conquest of the Americas.

The story of Diego de Landa is representational of the conquest and Christian crusade in the new world. Father Diego de Landa seemed initially to befriend the Maya and to try and earnestly convert them to his religion. He tried to understand the language of the Maya and attempted to translate it.

When he discovered that his Mayan parishioners were still following their old Gods and traditions, he began a brutal campaign of torture and murder in the name of God’s love.

His breaking point came when he discovered that some of the Maya were following the lessons of the crucifixion and had started copying it. They were crucifying other Mayans as a sacrifice.

Anyone interested in the history of the conquest would be well rewarded to do some reading about de Landa and his odyssey.

I had some great food and fun in the evenings, but that’s for tomorrow’s post.

Hotel Luz En Yucatan in Merida was Great

Merida Yucatan Mexico hotel elegant hallway

The entry way hall to the swimming pool. Notice the complimentary liquor cart on the left. As always click on any photo to ENLARGE.

Hotel Luz en Yucatan in the historic center of Merida is a great little oasis.  After a long 14 hour bus ride I arrived in Merida at 8:30 in the morning and took a taxi from the bus station straight to the hotel. I have been to fairly nice hotels where they will not let you check in early, no matter what. Luz en Yucatan is not one of those places. When I arrived before 9 am they had a clean room and were more than happy to let me check in and get settled.

Luz is run by an Irish guy named Don, at least that’s who I dealt with mostly. He welcomed me with a little tour of the place and gave me some great printouts they had done for visitors on recommended places to eat, have fun and be a happy tourist. He also gave me a copy of Yucatan Today, a very top notch local travel and dining guide. The office generally had someone there to help with advice and directions.

Most of the rooms in the hotel are around a nice little swimming pool, those were all taken so I stayed in a room without much of a view, but very well appointed. The cost after a small discount was $54 USD, which is actually quite a bit out of my budget range and was totally worth it.

Merida Mexico swimming pool in hotel

A very nice swimming pool in hotel Luz En Yucatan.

The room had a quiet new air conditioner, a ceiling fan, small refri that was pre-stocked with 2 cold beers, a coffee machine and fresh ground coffee (not those horrible little pre measured bags), a television with remote, a 5 gallon jug of fresh water with a little electric pump on it and thick plush towels for the bathroom. It was obvious that the management of the place had put a lot of thought into the little things that make a stay nice and comfortable. They even had an alarm clock for me to borrow for my last night so that I wouldn’t miss my bus in the morning.

rooms with pool view in Merida Mexico

Ask for one of the rooms around the swimming pool.

I had planned on staying in a hostel near the central park, but they did not mention air conditioning. After I saw that the temperature was going to be over 100 degrees Fahrenheit every day of my stay, I opted for cool comfort over sweaty and economical. Merida is full of a wide variety of choices in hotels near the center, I was quite happy with mine.

One more thing I should mention about the attention to customer comfort and pleasure that Luz En Yucatan offered is a free liquor cart. It was next to the office and open for anyone to have a shot or add some top shelf liquor to a drink of their own. The only thing the hotel did not have is a restaurant, this was not a problem, there were a ton of choices for eating within 2 or 3 blocks. They did have a well equipped kitchen available for guests use, hostel style.

Home chapel in Merida Mexico

Before being converted into a hotel, the building was a home. This is what's left of the private chapel in the home, now a storage closet.

Merida is a city of 1 million people with very few tall buildings, unless you want to spend all your time in a taxi, staying near the central plaza is a must. The hotel was a short three block walk to the plaza and very close to several cathedrals and other city parks.

My next post will be about walking around Merida and doing a bunch of touristy fun things. Thanks Don and crew for a very enjoyable stay.