The capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan and situated about 35km from the Gulf of Mexico, Merida, or 'The White City', is all about colonial gems and heavenly architecture. It is also known as the cultural capital of the entire Yucatan Peninsula. It is steeped in colonial history, with narrow streets, broad central plazas and the regions best museums. The famous avenue, Paseo de Montejo, is lined with original sculptures which change each year, and feature works from Mexico and one other chosen country. Merida was built as a walled city with several of the old Spanish gates remaining. It is, however, a modern city with a comprehensive range of shopping malls, auto dealerships, hotels, restaurants and leisure facilities. Other sites to explore around this area include Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Kabah archaeological sites, haciendas and cenotes.
There are many delights within Merida Town to explore. The central plaza, Plaza Grande, is dominated by the Catedral de San Idelfonso which was built on the site of a former Mayan temple. Some of the stone from that temple was used in its construction. The Municipal Palace and Government Palace are also located on the square, each with wonderful paintings and murals depicting various histories and cultures of the area. Casa de Montejo is in the same area. Teatro Peon Contreras is an enormous theatre built between 1900 and 1908, featuring a marble staircase, a dome with frescoes by Italian artists and various paintings and murals. The Yucatan Symphony Orchestra perform here regularly. Parque Santa Lucia is also a popular spot for visitors, and has some great restaurants.
Merida has a number of museums to explore. Gran Museo del Mundo Maya is a world-class museum celebrating Mayan culture, with a permanent collection of more than 1100 remarkably well-preserved artifacts, including a reclining chac-mool sculpture from Chichen Itza and an underworld figure unearthed at Ek' Balam. It's great to stop by before heading out to the nearby ruins to get some context first. Museo Regional de Antropologia is housed in the massive Palacio Canton and focuses on the culture and history of the Yucatan and Mayan customs. Museo de Arte Popular de Yucatan features exhibits on pop art from around Mexico, and arts and craft, such as huipiles (long woven, white sleeveless tunics with intricate, colourful embroidery) and ceramics.
Chichen Itza is the 2nd most visited archaeological site in Mexico with an estimated 1.4 million tourists visiting each year. It is located around 120km from Merida. Kukulkan Pyramid, or 'El Castillo', which is 24m high, is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Chichen Itza was a large pre-Columbian city built by the Mayan people in around A.D. 400, and became the economic and political centre of the civilisation, but was abandoned by the thirteenth century and lay in ruins in the jungle until re-discovered by a New Yorker in 1842. Uxmal is another important archaeological site of Mayan culture and has been designated a UNESCO World Hertiage Site. Covering around 60ha, its buildings are noted for the size and beautiful decoration, with ancient roads that connect the buildings. South of Uxmal is Kabah, which has a number of palaces, low stone buildings and step-pyramid temples. Also accessible from Merida is the quieter, but magnificent, Ek Balam.
Cenotes are magical, enigmatic and unique in the world, and were once the only resource for fresh, sweet water in the local Yucatecan jungle. It is estimated that there are more than 6000 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula, however only 2400 are registered. The area is a porous limestone shelf with no visible rivers; all the fresh water rivers are underground. Being porous, caverns and caves formed where the fresh water collects and is a crystal-clear turquoise color with a very pleasant temperature of 25ºC. Cenote San Ignacio is just 20 minutes from Merida and others nearby include Cenote Yaxunah, Cenote Yokdzonot and Cenote Xlacah.
Merida is known for the guayabera, a loose-fitting men’s shirt with tucks and pockets. Traditional guayaberas are white, made from cotton or linen and often embroidered. You’ll also find hipiles, which are dresses or tunics worn by the indigenous women of the region. Hipiles are often white with colorful embroidered designs that traditionally convey some sort of meaning within the local community. Hammocks are another great find in the Yucatan, and Merida's are of a particularly high quality, made from cotton string that’s woven into a fine mesh. They’re extremely popular and commonly used throughout the region. Although the centre of Mexico’s hat-weaving trade is in a town in the state of Campeche, there is a good trade in Panama Hats in Merida, which are made from the leaves of the Jipijapa Palms. The weavers work in caves where the air is humid and the palm leaves remain soft and pliable. Once exposed to the dryer air and heat, they provide excellent protection against the intense sun that you will encounter in this part of the world.
The Infinity Experience