Yucatan Capital Offers Authentic Mexican Culture

MERIDA For clients seeking authentic Mexico, the Mayan heartland of archaeological ruins, Colonial Cities, romantic haciendas and distinctive cuisine is easily accessible from Merida, the capital of Yucatan state.

By: Maxine Cass

MERIDA For clients seeking authentic Mexico, the Mayan heartland of archaeological ruins, Colonial Cities, romantic haciendas and distinctive cuisine is easily accessible from Merida, the capital of Yucatan state.

Clients can see much of the Yucatan Peninsula using Merida as a base. They can explore the region by taking a group tour or by hiring a private car and a driver to explore the major attractions nearby: several haciendas, archaeological sites at Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Ek-Balam, and spotting pink flamingos at Celestun Special Reserve National Park.

The White City, as Merida is called, boasts San Ildefonso, the oldest cathedral in the Americas, and Paseo de Montejo, a long boulevard with elegant French-style mansions looking like whipped cream atop delicate pastel and white windows and doors.

The mansion builders were owners of haciendas in the Yucatan countryside, their plantations yielding immense wealth from henequen, sisal rope, in the latter 19th century. The best-known mansion is the Palacio Canton, now the Regional Anthropology Museum, which was originally built by a Yucatan state governor to outdo all others.

After the Spanish used the ruins of a Mayan ceremonial center to build colonial Merida, including the cathedral, in the mid-16th century, control of the Yucatan territory remained under direct control of Spain, with commerce flowing out from the Gulf of Mexico directly to Europe not to Mexico City.

Sons of settlers and later children of hacienda owners traveled to Europe for education, shopping and culture. That European influence remains in the popular Thursday evening Yucatecan Serenade, with storytelling, poetry recitation, music, singing and traditional dances in Parque de Santa Lucia.

A two-hour Paseo Turistico tram tour with one stop en route provides clients with an overview.

Most colonial-era buildings, including the cathedral, are located on Merida’s tree-shaded major square, the Plaza Mayor. The Casa de Montejo, Merida’s signature building with a pink facade and elaborate carved statues around the entrance, was built by the Yucatan’s Spanish conqueror in 1549. Next to the cathedral is Museo Macay, a former archbishop’s palace that is one of Mexico’s best contemporary art museums.

Take a short walk around the square and you will find the Governor’s Palace, rebuilt in colonial style in 1892 with modern-era murals on courtyard walls. Walls of mirrors, delicate murals and windows create a European atmosphere for clients going to Sunday afternoon concerts in the upstairs History Salon.

Merida’s City Hall, on the opposite side of the square from the cathedral, is topped by another city symbol, a clock tower. Next door is another art gallery and concert venue, the Olimpo Cultural Center.

The Popular Art Museum and the Yucatecan Museum of Song are a few blocks east of the Plaza Mayor.

Yucatan music is the trova, a unique adaptation of Cuban and Columbian music and rhythms, performed by two singers and a guitar player. The Museum of Song explains this unique art form and plays host to frequent free concerts.

Merida’s own rhythm is slower, with warm to hot days and mild evenings an incentive to sit a while in an outdoor cafe across from the Plaza Major, or in one of Merida’s tree-shaded squares around town. Informally, shops and businesses close down in the hot afternoon, and visitors can join locals heading to a cantina for a beer and botanas, free plates of substantial snacks guaranteed to stave off hunger until dinner.

Dining & Shopping

Dining can be another cultural event for clients, as Yucatecan cuisine mixes mainly Mayan ingredients with French and New Orleans touches. Merida visitors shouldn’t resist brazo de reina, with spinach-type leaves, pumpkin seeds, corn, tomatoes and boiled eggs wrapped in banana leaves; puchero, the traditional chicken and pork Sunday stew; or poc-chuc, marinated pork in bitter orange juice, garlic, onions and spicy sauce.

The Yucatan’s high-quality hammocks, hats, and men’s shirts, known throughout Mexico, illustrate a life-style that recognizes the sun, heat and the need to rest comfortably. Hamacas, hammocks, are the Yucatan’s traditional hand-woven bed, accommodated with hooks in walls of rooms even today, for people who prefer to hang one when they travel.

A Panama hat, the local version called a jipi, is a perfect buy for shoppers wanting a light, white, flexible fiber hat. Dear to all Yucatan males is the thin guayabera shirt, a Cuban style now made locally, which fits the tropical climate of a bustling city surrounded by steamy jungle.


Agents are offered 10% commission on rack rates or packages by the following hotels, which add a 17% tax on all rates.

Hotel Villa Mercedes. This re-creation of an art-nouveau-era mansion, close to the Paseo de Montejo, is filled with stained-glass and light. There are 84 quiet rooms, including 65 standard, 16 executive, two junior suites and one master suite.

Rates through December are $127 for a single or double standard room and $180 for a junior suite. Through August, an executive room package for two people and breakfast buffet is $110.

Call 011-52-999-942-9012. Web site: www.hotel villamercedes.com.mx.

Hyatt Regency Merida. The 299-room, 18-story hotel, a few blocks from the Paseo de Montejo, is Merida’s tallest. The 8-year-old facility has a pool, a gym, two tennis courts, a business center, meeting space and three executive floors.

A single or double room costs $142 through December. A Great Deal package, through August, is $80.

Call 011-52-999-942-1234. Web site: www.hyatt.com.