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Extensive Yucatan and Merida intro and must sees

Even if this is, or isn't, your first time in Mexico or in Yucatan or Merida, this guide will give you my list of top recommendations that I always share with travelers and locals. Perhaps the most complete, comprehensive and all-inclusive introduction you can get to Yucatan. Consider the titles and bullet-points to identify which sections interest you the most ;)

Challenge your travel style and experience great experiences at hidden and popular places. Yucatan has adventures for all interests and ages; from extreme, cultural, gastronomic, or relax, you will surely find the perfect plan for a unique vacation. Remember to find tips, activities and the link to the best services within each city, town or region of your choice, for example, Merida.

It’s organized as follows:

  1. Merida
  2. Merida surroundings in Yucatan

Merida

Centro (downtown)

The Gran Plaza (Main Square) and its surroundings are more than just nice spots to take a picture. You can find galleries, murals, museums and history: mayan, colonial, caste war and contemporary. To discover it, you can walk it and / or take the free tour at the City Hall. See the details on this route. At downtown you will certainly enjoy:
  • Cathedral
  • State’s palace murals (on corner with the cathedral)
  • Sillas confidentes (confident chairs) - these famous chairs are all over Yucatan, in various colors, although mainly white; their accommodation is ideal for 1 on 1s.
  • Santa Lucía park - giant confidentes to take pictures on, Yucatecan serenades on Thursdays, and many restaurants nearby; definitely the most popular park among tourists
  • Being at downtown is an excellent opportunity to taste “marquesitas”, or enjoy an ice-cream or drink fruit water 

Paseo de Montejo (avenue) and Mansions

Many believe that due to Merida’s majestic and white mansions, it is known as the White City (Ciudad Blanca). And although you will find admirable mansions, many of which are white, the reason for receiving this name has nothing to do with the color of the constructions... you will have to come to discover the reason why it is known as the White City. Aside from this brief parenthesis, Paseo de Montejo is a 2-way avenue and from the many things and places you’ll find I can highlight:
  • Remate de Montejo - where the avenue starts, street 57
  • Palacio Cantón - holds the Anthropology museum
  • Monumento a la Bandera (Flag monument)
  • Museums, bars, restaurants, ice cream, and more
You can visit these either walking, cycling (on Sundays and the first Saturday of each month, the government holds a Biciruta), on horseback carriages (“calesas”, despite being typical I do not recommend it due to my opinions on the treatment of animals), or by tourist bus (it is a great option to tour the city listening to local stories, legends and locating points where you can return).

Events

Merida is undoubtedly a cultural city, being in 2017 the American capital of culture for the second time. What this means, is there are high quality events, which are really affordable and a vast majority are even free. Read more about the main events throughout the year in 3 reasons to visit Merida. Many events are hosted by the city’s government, you may have heard of “the Meridana week”, which is a series of daily events at downtown:
  • Palacio municipal
  • Monumento a la bandera
  • Parque Santiago
  • Parque Santa Lucía
  • Casa Montejo, even at
  • the cemetery
At these events, enjoy cultural and artistic traditions, such as “vaquerias” (folk dances with live music, highlighting the dancing style known as jarana), yucatecan trova music (usually triplets play the guitar and sing), and Pok-ta-pok (mayan ball game). Another free event you should attend is a videomapping showcasing Yucatecan history accompanied by great background music at: Additionally, if you have the chance, look for events at:
  • Centro cultural Olimpo
  • Teatro Peón Contreras - main Merida’s theater from 1900s
  • other Merida theaters
Under “Events” inside Wanderlum’s section of Merida, you can review a calendar with on-going and unique events for the specific day you are visiting.

Keep reading about Yucatec events.

Nature in Merida

Yes! Within the city you can enjoy parks, 2 zoos, 1 public Mayan ruins site with a cenote (open to swimming), cenotes (although most are not accessible to the public… don’t worry there are many places nearby and in the whole peninsula, each with a special beauty), and many more. Inside Merida section, you can filter by archaeology, nature, culture or adventure for more info about each of these places.

Yucatan

Food

Yucatecan cuisine is unique in Mexico. Its influences are mayan, Spanish, Caribbean and Middle Eastern. Additionally, it mixes local flavours due to its local diversity and varied importations. Important to taste:
  • cochinita pibil - what Yucatan is mostly known for
  • panuchos - “bean-stuffed tortilla” with turkey meat on top
  • poc chuc - grilled pork, commonly prepared on underground ovens (similar to popular Mexican lamb dish, barbacoa)
  • marquesitas - made famous from 1990s by an ice cream maker who innovated with the dough to make cones and created this mixture of crepe and taco stuffed with dutch cheese (“de bola”)
  • Spanish lime (huayas) - one of the regional fruits, excellent choice to refresh with a cold fruit water
  • “colados” - tamale inside a banana leaf, stuffed with chicken
  • you will also find: kibis, polcanes, salbutes, papadzules, vaporcitos, pibes (or mucbipollo)
  • other full dishes: sopa de lima (soup), queso relleno (stuffed cheese), relleno negro, huevos motuleños (eggs over a toasted tortilla with cheese, tomatoes, bacon…)
At restaurants or local places, you must try and enjoy this region’s authentic flavours. Markets are always a great choice with several options; within Merida area you could go to markets: Lucas Galvez, Santiago park, Santa Ana park and Kanasin. Each area and municipality has its own specialties, for example:
  • huevos motuleños at Motul
  • general traditional dishes Maní
  • ceviche, seafood fried quesadillas and seafood at Yucatecan coast: Celestun, Chuburna or Rio Lagartos Lagartos
  • Meat at Tizimin
Another alternative, is to try several samples at a cantina-style bar. As long as you keep drinking (non-alcohol drinks included), you will be served several yucatecan dishes in small portions. There are several of this at downtown Merida and Progreso pier… aside from eating you enjoy live music.

Keep reading about Yucatecan cuisine.

Adventures

Discover ecotourism and culture, extreme and light adventures; let yourself be surprised everyday with the many available options, which you can book online here. You may know Yucatan is mainly flat, with porous soil; there are some hills to the south of the state, and coast all to the north. The vegetation is low jungle, which enables long paths for hiking and mountain biking.

Nature

  • Cenotes

    There’s a lot to pick from with over 7,000 cenotes in Yucatan peninsula. And its volume is not the only reason why someone has already recommended you to visit one, you will certainly fall to its enchantments. Cenotes are sinkholes inside caverns, or semi-open or totally open (like a natural pool). They have been formed over millions of years because of the porosity of the surface that allows the filtration of water, forming large underground rivers; some are still connected to the rivers.
    • Ik Kil - The most famous (and touristic) of Yucatan
    • Tecoh (you may read 10 reasons to visit it), Abala, Homun and Cuzama - 4 municipalities neighboring Merida with thousands of cenotes; each is different from the other, and each is spectacular
    You can visit cenotes with a variety of depths, flora and fauna so you can either choose to relax, swim, snorkel or scuba dive.
  • Beaches

    Yucatecan, or Emerald, coast covers beaches, natural reserves, mangroves and plenty of fauna. Mangroves, besides being a natural barrier against hurricanes and tropical storms, give life to hundreds of animals; much of the birds on the peninsula can be seen on the coast.
    • Natural reserves near the coast
    • Mangroves by boat
      • Celestún
      • Río Lagartos
      • San Crisanto
    • Kayak trips Kayaking is a challenging and enjoyable family activity to do on the beach or through mangroves. Of course, the more distant from pollution (noise, trash, etc) you get, the more variety of fauna you will enjoy.
    • Pink beaches or pink lagoons In recent years the pink beaches became very famous. Although the coloring is not natural (it’s got only after a water treatment to process the salt), they are a great sight! (you may be interested in reading Las coloradas blog article).
  • Caves and grottos

    Many municipalities in Yucatan have caves, and there are some with over 100 registered caves. The caves were used by the Mayans as a refuge, mainly in the Caste War. So in addition to marveling at the formations of stalagmites, stalactites, columns and crystals (minerals), it is also possible to discover Mayan vestiges. Many caves are very humid, and it is even possible to find inside cenotes and swim in the dark if you dare. There are caves lighted and with some ease to walk them, there are also many extreme with tours that can be up to 8 hours to crawl and explore tunnels of these complex systems. Or why not, accessing via rappel (you might be interested in reading An Indinana-Jones-style rappel).

Birds, endemic and migratory

In Yucatan you can find 50% of the bird species of Mexico. There are owls, Canadian ducks, multicolored birds, etc. You can practice birdwatching throughout the state, next to trails, highways or in their natural habitat (remember many leave their nests during the morning or during the evening as they take refuge from the day’s heat). For birdwatching visits, it is really important to keep in mind that we are invading their environment, therefore we must respect and try to leave the least possible impact.
  • Flamingos (flamencos) - mainly seen along the coast, the most popular places are:
    • Celestún
    • Sisal
    • San Crisanto
    • Río Lagartos
  • Tho bird (clock bird / turquoise-browed motmot) - it’s the most representative bird; it is possible to find it from the Yucatecan peninsula all the way down to Costa Rica. It is relatively small in a green / blue colorful tone. The clock bird name is because its tail has 2 large feathers, which it moves like a pendulum.

Mayan Legacy

Mayan legacy can be discovered even in the daily speech ... More concrete, it is common to find the influence in their house constructions (mainly in villages), and you can easily reach communities that live following ancient Mayan traditions. As long as you respect, if want to learn about the quality of life they enjoy, you would appreciate tours like this one (you may be interested in reading Chacmultun's article). Speaking of archaeological sites, there are many not open by INAH (the official institution that investigates, and maintains most sites in Mexico) as mentioned in the article An Adventure at OxWatz. There are many others that you find in every corner, as in Izamal. And there are many archaeological ruins sites under mainly 2 currents:
  • North - following the coast (as Xcambo) or center (Chichen Itza); this one includes most of Quintana Roo’s (Tulum, Coba, etc)
  • Puuc - focused on details and highlighting Uxmal (you may enjoy reading Culture from up high)
In addition to touring the archaeological zones, you can stay to a night show in both Chichen Itza and Uxmal. Both present a video-mapping of Mayan history over the pyramids of Kukulkan and the Dwarf respectively.

Colonial Yucatan

Some colonial towns in Mexico with history, traditions and touristic infrastructure receive a badge for “Magical town”.
  • Izamal - a magical town surrounded by pyramids and with its great convent built on top of the largest and most sacred pyramid of Yucatan
  • Valladolid - the second largest city in the state, there are many cenotes nearby to visit
  • Haciendas - as restaurant, hotel, or museum; restored or simply conserved, it is possible to see the greatness from Yucatan’s henequen time (green gold).

Where to sleep

  • Merida has a perfect location to stay and enjoy the Yucatan peninsula. It has accommodation options for all budgets and tastes: airbnb is now available and very popular to stay in colonial-style houses or a local apartment, hostels, hotels, boutique hotels and even at old haciendas
  • You may also consider the main tourist towns like Izamal or Valladolid; 
  • or stay at the beach (if you are not so interested in exploring the whole region, but more in enjoying the coast), like at Progreso, San Crisanto, Dzilam, Celestun or Rio Lagartos... 
  • Or how about staying at the hotel ranked by Prix Versalles 2017 as the best hotel in the world: Chablé Resort and enjoy its luxury-nature mix, spa and its restaurant by the renown Mexican chef Jorge Vallejo.
No matter which one you choose, try sleeping in a hammock. In Yucatan, most houses / rooms / apartments, modest or not, have where to hang their hammocks. Don't worry, many accommodation places know this and you may have one in your room or garden.

Accommodation in nature

If nature-immersion is your thing, you could stay outside Merida and:
  • camping inside some reserve or the beach (you may be interested in reading An Adventure at OxWatz)
  • camping on cenotes’ outskirts - here is a list of cenotes with camping area, the most popular ones are Campepen and X'canché
  • hotels and cabins / eco spas, Mayan villages or rural accommodations, find here some - the southern state is most popular for cabins, including: Peto, Sihunchen and others

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