Tuesday, July 23, 2024

The layover: Mérida

Ask the average person what a holiday in Mexico looks like to them. They may bring up Cancun, Tulum, Playa Del Carmen, or other beachy destinations. If they’re more on a cultural beat, places like Oaxaca will likely come to mind. 

But those in the know think of Mérida. Capital of the State of Yucatán, this beautiful city has a rich Mayan heritage that’s celebrated in its food and cultural traditions, as well as a Spanish colonial past which is evident in its architecture and paved roads. 

The Paseo Montejo is Merida’s must-see promenade. During La Noche Blanca, the French-inspired boulevard comes alive with performances and concerts. (Wikimedia)

Voted the safest city in all of Mexico, you can get to know Mérida within 24-36 hours since it’s smaller than Mexico City and less touristy as Cancun. 

How to get from point A to point B

Mérida has a very small airport compared to other parts of the country. Once you reach the arrival gate, you’ll see booths for taxis, rental cars, and other transport services, all on one floor. 

I recommend taking the public bus into the downtown center if you want the cheapest option. Be aware though, it might not drop you off at the exact location you want so plan accordingly. 

But you’re on a layover and don’t have time to stress over the little things.

If you want to utilize your time effectively, I’d opt for a taxi. The downtown center is only 25 minutes from the airport, so you’ll get there quickly. Depending on where you want to go, it shouldn’t cost more than 300-400 pesos. 

Did anyone say wanderlust?

A flock of flamingos in Celestún, Yucatán.
A layover in Mérida offers the chance for nature lovers to enjoy the Celestún nature reserve. (Virginie Fialon/Unsplash)

If you love going on adventures, Mérida is the perfect base for day trips. Granted, you won’t have time to do all these excursions. But the quality of experiences you can partake in here is amazing.

Celestún

If you ever wanted to see a flamingo in person, going on this day trip to Celestún is totally worth it! You can book a guided tour here that’ll show you where thousands of flamingos live while learning about their natural habitat. A little more than an hour away, Celestún is a perfect option for those on a longer layover.

Progreso

If you’re beach inclined, hit up Progreso for your dose of beauty goodness, taking in the sun, sea and several margaritas. The seaside town is just half an hour from central Mérida, meaning you can easily fit in some tanning time while on your layover.

Hunucmá

The small town of Hunucmá, just a 30 minute drive away, offers stunning colonial architecture. Famed for its convents, built early in the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the architecturally (or religiously) inclined are guaranteed a fascinating trip. Local cantina “La Maya” also serves sopes of note.

Restaurants & food culture

Cochinita pibil is the crowning glory of Yucatecan cuisine and should not be missed when in town. (Museo de la Gastronomía Yucateca)

Let’s say you’re not in the mood for a long day trip. Or, perhaps you worked up a big appetite once you returned from a memorable guided tour. 

No matter the case, you have to try Yucatecan cuisine while you’re in Mérida. 

The artisans and chefs in this part of Mexico blend Maya and Spanish influences in every dish. So, you’ll find chicken and pork in a lot of the food here. But you’ll most often find it in a corn tortilla alongside beans, chile, avocados and cheese.

If you want to balance incredible culinary experience with a museum at the same time, I urge you to check out the Museum of Yucatecan Gastronomy

That’s where I tried cochinita pibil for the first time — served with refried beans, pork, pickled onions, and wrapped in a fried tortilla. In the back of the restaurant, an exhibit walks you through the history of Yucatan cuisine and tradition. 

Other tacos you need to try in Mérida include salbutes and panuchos. I tried both at a gem called Mercado San Benito. It’s a fantastic local market my good backpacking friend introduced me to last time I was in Mérida. 

But if you want to be sure you try everything this part of Mexico has to offer, I’d suggest going on a food tour like this one

Museum of Yucateca Gastronomy: C. 62 466 x 55-y 57, Parque Santa Lucia, Centro, 97000 Mérida, Yuc., Mexico.

Mercado San Benito: Calle 54 s/n, Centro, 97000 Mérida, Yuc., México. 

Noteworthy museums and walking tours

Museo Regional de Antropología, Mérida
Mérida’s Anthropology and History Museum is every bit as good as it’s more famous Mexico City sibiling. (Wikipedia)

A great museum or gallery can inspire anyone to see the beauty in their own lives. Mérida has incredible ones you can access. 

Anthropology & History Museum 

This museum holds many archaeological findings that’ll help you understand the unique Yucatan culture and history. It traces Mérida and the surrounding areas from its colonial past to the modern day. You’ll see artwork, sculptures, and other artifacts that illustrate a world that was once far different from our own. 

Address: C. 43 481, Zona Paseo Montejo, Centro, 97000 Mérida, Yuc., Mexico. 

Museo Palacio de la Música

Here, you’ll learn about the history of music in Mexican and Latin American culture. There are countless videos and photos that demonstrate certain rhymes, sounds, and dances in this exhibit, which is a love for expression that still holds up in the hearts and souls of residents all over Mexico today. 

Address: C. 58, Parque Santa Lucia, Centro, 97000 Mérida, Yuc., Mexico

Mérida Walking Tour 

The streets of Mérida have a story to tell just as fascinating as any museum. And what better way to decode that narrative than by going on a walking tour with a local guide? You’ll also get to connect with like-minded people. That’s a win-win situation. 

Meeting point: C. 63 506, Centro, 97000 Mérida, Yuc., Mexico. 

Where to find accommodation for your Mérida layover

Hotel Boutique La Misión de Fray Diego
The Hotel Boutique La Misión de Fray Diego is colonial, comfortable and located close to the airport. (Booking.com)

Since you don’t want to get caught up in traffic or stress about your flight time, booking a hotel close to the airport is ideal. That way, you’ll get a good night’s sleep before returning home or starting the next chapter of your vacation. 

If I were you, I’d choose from one of these hotels located a very short distance from Mérida International Airport: 

Hotel Hacienda Inn Aeropuerto

Address: Aviación 709, Nueva Sambulá, 97259 Mérida, Yuc., Mexico

Hotel Boutique La Misión de Fray Diego

Address: C. 61 #524, entre 64 y 66, Parque Santiago, Centro, 97000 Mérida, Yuc., México. 

Gran Hotel de Mérida

Address: C. 60 496, Centro, 97000 Mérida, Yuc., Mexico. 

Even if you didn’t originally have Mérida on your Mexican bucket list, I hope it’s worth adding now you’ve learned about what the city has to offer. At the very least, you’ve got an exhaustive list of things to keep you busy on a Mérida layover.

Ian Ostroff is an indie author, journalist, and copywriter from Montreal, Canada. You can find his work in various outlets, including Map Happy and The Suburban. When he’s not writing, you can find Ian at the gym, a café, or anywhere within Mexico visiting family and friends.

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