Merida, Yucatan

Population: 900,000

Time Zone: Central Standard Time

Airport: Merida International (MID)

Elevation: 40 feet

Merida, capital of the Yucatan state, ranks as one of Mexico’s best colonial cites, with a rich historical and cultural presence. Sitting at the northern end of the Yucatan peninsula, some twenty miles from the Gulf of Mexico coast, Merida exudes a European influence melding seamlessly with the Mayan and Caribbean cultures that dominate the region. Before the Spaniards arrived in 1542, the large Mayan city Tihó sat on what is now the Plaza Mayor. Stones from the Mayan pyramids at that site were incorporated into the foundation of the Cathedral of San Idelfonso, Mexico’s oldest church, located on one side of the plaza.

As a major Spanish city after the conquest, the streets are lined with colonial-era architecture. Many of the finest mansions were financed by the exportation of oro verde (green gold), the henequen plant—a hardy variety that is favored for the production of rope. This crop provided great wealth to the area in the 19th century, when many of the mansions were built in town and grand haciendas sprang up in the nearby countryside.

Today Merida is known as the “White City” for its many buildings constructed of the white limestone common to the area, and for its clean parks and plazas. The locals take great pride in their intolerance of crime, making it one of Mexico’s safest cities. It is a great gateway city to the nearby Mayan ruins in the state, including Uxmal and Chichén Itzá.