By Jeanine Kitchel
Colonial Mexico is only 3-1/2 hours from Cancun in the form of that grand dame, Merida. Whenever I need a cultural boost, real Mexican Yucatec food, streets teaming with masses of people, an old mercado where you can find anything and everything, historic mansions brimming with history, and an all day street fair every Sunday when the streets at the main plaza are closed off to cars, I head to Merida.
If you’re a regular visitor to the Riviera Maya and haven’t seen Merida, you really should make time for it in your next itinerary. ADO buses make direct runs daily from the Cancun bus station to Merida for around $35 USD and are air conditioned and sleek, with TVs and bathrooms. Or if you have a car, it’s a fast run on the super highway. Hotel prices start as low as $33 USD/night at the Trinidad (Calle 62 and 65) or Trinidad Galeria (Calle 60 and 51) both near the main plaza; both are eclectic and charming. The galeria is an actual art gallery and each room is unique. For historic sense of place, Merida’s oldest hotel is The Gran, Calle 59 at 60, and the upstairs rooms with balconies are a great spot for people watching on the square below. Rates start at $84 USD. A bit farther off the plaza (Calle 59 at 68) is recently renovated hotel Villa Maria with only 11 rooms in an exquisite 200 year old building, complete with dining room, bar and sitting area. Rates here start at $140 USD. The old Villa Mercedes mansion was bought by the InterContinental group (now known as Presidente) and is just off Paseo Montejo at Ave. Colon with internet rates beginning at $106 USD.
Restaurants abound in Merida, in all price ranges. On the plaza you’ll find two local outdoor eateries specializing in Yucatec favorites–panuchos, salbutes–for only 25 pesos. The 100 year old ice cream shop with fruit glacees is next door. Restaurants like Los Almendros serve Yucatec specialties with all the pomp they can muster, and there are steak houses, Argentine restaurants, Italian restaurants, along with one of my favorites, Alberto’s Continental Cuisine, run by two now ancient brothers who’ve managed to house an art collection within a restaurant. Their garden patio displays one of the largest rubber trees I’ve seen. It’s romantic, beautiful, and the food is different–some Lebanese specialties are included on the menu.
Whatever way you slice it, I promise you’ll be wowed by Merida. There’s culture, food, history, walking tours, even horse drawn carriages. It’s a trip though time, and a taste of real Mexico.