merida-roundabout

Merida – Mexico – Information


NOVEMBER 2016:





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OVERVIEW:

I made my way from Progreso to Merida by public transport (Colectivo).

Progreso is a small beach town 30 minutes north of Merida.progreso-abrzarse-beach-west

In Progreso, I stayed in a GRANDPAcking Standard homestay: the Abrazarse Life B&B.

I got the Abrazarse at a discounted rate of MXP533 / night (US$29). It was very homely and comfortable.progreso-abrazarse-room progreso-abrazarse-bed progreso-abrazarse-balcony-view-2

It was time to head for Merida. I have heard so many nice things about it …

I planned to stay in Merida over the end of October Festival of Souls and the Day of the Dead Festival on the 1st & 2nd of November.


PROGRESO TO MERIDA:

From the Abrazarse it was an 800m walk to the Colectivo Terminal.

The Colectivos to Merida leave when they are full. The cost is MXP16. They fill up very quickly … you don’t have to wait long.progreso-bus-terminal

It is only a 30-40 minute drive to Merida’s Historical Center. This is where the Colectivo bus terminal is. It stops only 1 block from the Central Park / Cathedral.

From there, it was an easy 10 minute walk to my hotel.


ABOUT MERIDA:

Mérida is the capital and largest city of the state of Yucatán. It is located in the northwest part of the state, about 35 kilometres (22 miles) from the Gulf of Mexico coast. It has a population of 1 million.merida-location-mapThe city (like much of the state) has heavy Mayan, Spanish, French, British, and (to a lesser extent) Dutch influences. Mérida has the highest percentage of indigenous people of any large city in Mexico with approximately 60% of all inhabitants being of the Maya ethnicity.

Mérida was founded in 1542. It was built on the site of the Maya city of T’hó. T’ho had been a center of Mayan culture and activity for centuries: because of this, some historians consider Mérida the oldest continually-occupied city in the Americas.

Carved Maya stones from ancient T’ho were widely used to build the Spanish colonial buildings that are plentiful in downtown Mérida.merida-roundabout

From colonial times through the mid-19th century, Mérida was a walled city intended to protect the Peninsular and residents from periodic revolts by the indigenous Maya. Several of the old Spanish city gates survive, but modern Mérida has expanded well beyond the old city walls.

Mérida has one of the largest centro histórico districts in the Americas (surpassed only by Mexico City and Havana, Cuba). Colonial homes line the city streets to this day, in various states of disrepair and renovation; the historical center of Mérida is currently undergoing a minor renaissance as more and more people are moving into the old buildings and reviving their former glory.merida-map


COMMUNICATIONS:

In Mexico, free internet is normally widely available in the restaurants and bars. Your accommodation almost always provides free internet too (quality can vary). In the bigger towns and tourist areas, this is reasonably reliable.

This normally means that you don’t need the usual GRANDPAcker 2GB monthly Mobile Phone Data Package; you should be able to get away with less data.merida-cathedral

Merida is no exception; internet is generally available. In fact, in some areas, Merida City provide Free Wifi Zones to the public.

After my total frustration with Telcel, I was giving AT&T a try. I had NO SIGNAL problems in Mahahual, El Cuyo, and Rio Lagartos. In Merida, the AT&T signal was good. AT&T is good if you plan to stick to the big cities and main tourist destinations.


BEACHES:

The nearest beach is in progreso, a 30-40 minute drive north of the city center. You can catch a Colectivo to Progreso from the Centro Historica for MXP16.

Progreso offers a nice beach and a pleasant Day Trip away from the city. Many Meridians do this trip at weekends.

progreso-location progreso-abrazarse-beach-east progreso-malecon-road


WHERE TO STAY:

There are plenty of options for all budgets … all year round.

A general accommodation search for the 1st week of November (the last month of ‘Hurricane Season’ and the month immediately before Peak Season) reveals the following …

HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):

BOOKING.COM:booking-merida-hotels-1 booking-merida-hotels-2
AGODA.COM:agoda-merida-hotels-1 agoda-merida-hotels-2
EXPEDIA:expedia-merida-hotels

PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You, usually, have to add 19% to the displayed price to get the final price.

VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):

If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AIRBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.

Holiday Rentals are usually rented by the week. A simple future search for the first week of November demonstrates what’s available nicely (please note that these prices are in US$s) …

TRIPADVISOR:tripadvisor-merida-rentals
AIRBnB:airbnb-merida-rentals

Vacation Rentals are, usually, displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any Security Deposit (if required). BUT, the displayed price may be EXCLUSIVE of the host site’s Service Fees (which can add as much as 16%).

In S.E. Asia I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, in Mexico they are definitely worth a look. This seems to be their ‘territory’. The other sites seem to list the same hotels … AirBnB offers many different options in the same price range.

IN SUMMARY:

As you can see, there are many accommodation options available to GRANDPAckers.

There are many more that are not listed on the internet.

The usual Hotel Search Engines tend to list the same hotels and tend to compete very little on price … but, now and again, one will ‘stick its head up’ and offer a’member only special deal’ … like the one that I got at the Doralba (below).

Vacatioon rentals are a good way to go … as long as you can get one at a good price close to the Centro Historica … you don’t want to be stuck out in the ‘wop wops’. Most of the options listed on AirBnB (above) are in inconvenient locations for GRANDPAckers.


MY ACCOMMODATION:

I booked 3-4 weeks before my arrival. Merida was one of the few places where I knew my exact dates well in advance.

I used BOOKING.COM to book 8 nights in the Doralba Inn. The Doralba is on the edge of the Historical Center … which is why I chose it. One thing that Queretaro, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende taught me was that you need to be close to the center.merida-doralba-location-map

I got my room at a 55% discount rate of MXP483 / night (US$27) including a complimentary Buffet Breakfast for 2. The Doralba is a smoke free hotel – everywhere. It was a ‘pay on arrival at the hotel’ deal. I got an additional 3% discount for paying in cash. This resulted in a total discount of 58% and a nightly rate of MXP469. That is pretty good for Mexico.

DESPEGAR.COM.MX were offering a similarly nightly rate for the same room … but I used BOOKING.COM because I am accumulating loyalty benefits.

The road that the Doralba sits on is not very picturesque and the frontage doesn’t look very inviting.merida-doralba-street-1merida-doralba-street-2merida-doralba-frontage

But, you step inside into a ‘Tardis’ to find wide open spaces.merida-doralba-courtyard merida-doralba-poolmerida-doralba-pool-loungers

I booked a Standard Double. It was on the 3rd floor overlooking the central Courtyard. Thankfully, there is a lift in the hotel.merida-doralba-room-balcony merida-doralba-room-viewmerida-doralba-room-frontage

My room was large and came with a Double bed, a Single bed, a small open wardrobe, bedside tables, dresser, hot water ensuite, balcony access, aircon, ceiling fan, in-room wifi, and Mexican cable TV.

merida-doralba-ensuite-entry merida-doralba-room-entryThe aircon was a bit old and was noisy when it worked hard … but, once it had the room at the right temperature, it was fine.merida-doralba-room-furniture

I must admit, it is a shame that it didn’t have a small fridge … I am getting used to the convenience of having one.

The in-room wifi was very good and fast enough for video streaming. The shower had good water pressure and plenty of hot water.merida-doralba-room-beds

The Buffet Breakfast was simple but adequate. It was the same every morning: a selection of scrambled eggs, Mexican baked beans, potato mix, breads, toast, yoghurt & oats, and cornflakes. You also had unlimited coffee, tea, and orange juice.merida-doralba-breakfast-area merida-doralba-buffet-breakfast

The Doralba is starting to show its age … and minor items in my room needed maintenance: such as the ceiling fan which was too noisy to use at night.

But, at a 58% discount, you can’t nit-pick. It was very good value for money at the price that I paid.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:


Booking.com






TRANSPORT:

By Foot:

You can walk around the Centro Historica on foot.merida-central-park

Trike / Tuk Tuk:

You don’t find things like Trikes or TukTuks in Mexico, so those ‘supercheap’ options are not available to you.

Scooter / Bicycle:

I would not advise scooters / bicycles for GRANDPAckers (not around the busy Centro Historica, anyway). You see very few bicycles around town.

Taxi:

Taxis are reasonable cheap in Mexico if you know what the Rule Of Thumb should be. Alas, tourists get over-charged frequently.merida-souls-6-elmita-church

Taxis do not use meters and the price should be confirmed first. The guideline is MXP10 for the ‘flag fall’ plus MXP10 / km. You can almost double this at night.

Your hotel can arrange taxis for you; some post their rates on a board in the lobby; taxi hotel rates are usually higher than cabs you hail off the street.

So far, I have found UBER Taxis to be a safe and cheaper option than using the Taxis on the street. UBER taxis can be half the price of normal taxis … and the price is metered (so you don’t have to haggle with the driver). UBER operates in Merida.


EAT:

Yucatecan food has its own unique style and is very different from what most people consider “Mexican” food. It includes influences from the local Mayan culture, as well as Caribbean, European and Middle Eastern cultures. Tropical fruits are often used.merida-centro-historica-street-1

There are many regional dishes. Some of them are:
  • Poc Chuc: a Maya/Yucateco version of boiled/grilled pork.
  • Salbutes and Panuchos: Salbutes are soft, cooked tortillas with lettuce, tomato, turkey and avocado on top. Panuchos are fried tortillas filled with black beans, and topped with turkey or chicken, lettuce, avocado and pickled onions. Habanero chili accompanies most dishes, either in solid or purée form, along with fresh limes and corn tortillas.
  • Queso Relleno: is a “gourmet” dish featuring ground pork inside of a carved edam cheese ball served with tomato sauce
  • Pavo en Relleno Negro (also known locally as Chilmole): is turkey meat stew cooked with a black paste made from roasted chili, a local version of the mole de guajalote found throughout Mexico. The meat soaked in the black soup is also served in tacos, sandwiches and even in panuchos or salbutes.
  • Sopa de Lima: is a lime soup with a chicken broth base often accompanied by shredded chicken or turkey and crispy tortilla. I got one in a Mercado for MXP50.merida-local-bar-ceviche-mxp50
  • Papadzules: Egg “tacos” bathed with Pumpkin Seed sauce and tomatoes.
  • Cochinita pibil: is a marinated pork dish (by far the most renowned from Yucatan) that is made with achiote. Achiote is a spice that gives a different flavor and also a reddish color also peppery smell, also known by Spanish (Recados) is seasoning paste.
  • Bul keken (Mayan for “beans and pork”): The soup is served in the home on Mondays in most Yucatán towns. The soup is usually served with chopped onions, radishes, chili, and tortillas. This dish is also commonly referred to as frijol con puerco.
  • Brazo de reina (Spanish for “The Queen’s Arm”): is a traditional tamal dish. A long, flat tamal is topped with ground pumpkin seeds and rolled up like a roll cake. The long roll is then cut into slices. The slices are topped with a tomato sauce and a pumpkin seed garnish.
  • Tamales colados: is a traditional dish made with pork/chicken, banana leaf, fresh masa, corn tortilla, and achiote paset.

There are surprisingly few ‘quality’ restaurants around the Centro Historica … but you can find them in the odd little square 2-3 blocks away from the Central Square.merida-outdoor-trattoria

STREET FOOD:

You find surprisingly few street stall options in the Centro Historica during the day; but the streets fill up with them at night.merida-street-to-central-park

You always find them around the parks where there is more room for them to set up shop.merida-small-square

LOCAL RESTAURANTS:

You get your normal density of Local Eateries where you can get good meals for MXP40-75. 

Meals are also a reasonable price is bars with something like Enchiladas at the Las Vigas costing only MXP59.merida-las-vigas-enchiladas-texmex-mxp59

And something like a Ceviche at Morgan’s (my local bar) for MXP50. Their meal of the day was MXP40 and is always worth a try if you fancy something really ‘local’.merida-local-bar-ceviche-mxp50


DRINK:

A few of the ‘quality’ restaurants have Happy Hours with decent 2-for-1 cocktails. These are proper cocktails … not the watered-down variety that you get in tourist locations (like Isla Mujeres). Something like a Margarita in a nice restaurant can cost as little as MXP65. A 2-for-1 deal in Happy Hour makes these excellent value for money in a very pleasant environment.

Some bars have Happy Hours on beers where you can pay as low as MXP18 for a 330ml bottle of local beer. Expect to pay MXP20-30 normally.

If you don’t mind ‘roughing it’ with the locals, you can try one of the many Cantinas. Here, you can expect to pay under MXP20 for a 330ml beer and under MXP40 for a 1L bottle. But Morgan’s had 1L bottles for MXP40 in a much nicer environment.


YOUR HEALTH & SAFETY:

There is no reason to feel unsafe here. But, as always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.


WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:

Historic Sites:

  • Monumento à la Patria (1956)
  • Palacio de Gobierno (1892)merida-government-palace-frontagemerida-government-palace-courtyard merida-government-palace-interior
  • Catedral de San Ildefonso (1598), first in the continental Americas.
  • Barrio y Capilla de Santa Lucía (1575)
  • Barrio y Templo Parroquial del antiguo pueblo de Itzimná
  • Barrio y Templo Parroquial de San Cristóbal (1796)
  • Barrio y Templo Parroquial de San Sebastián (1706)
  • Barrio y Templo Parroquial de Santa Ana (1733)
  • Barrio y Templo Parroquial de Santa Lucía (1575)
  • Barrio y Templo Parroquial de Santiago (1637)
  • Capilla de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria (1706)
  • Capilla y parque de San Juan Bautista (1552)
  • Casa de Montejo (1549)
  • Antiguo convento de Nuestra Señora de la Consolación (Nuns)(1596)
  • Iglesia del Jesús o de la Tercera Orden (Third Order) (1618)
  • Templo de San Juan de Dios (1562)merida-san-juan-church

Cultural Centers:

  • Centro Cultural Andrés Quintana Roo, in Santa Ana, with galeries and artistic events.
  • Centro Cultural Olimpo. Next to the Municipal Palace in the Plaza Grande.
  • Casa de la Cultura del Mayab, the Casa de Artesanías (house of handcrafts) resides there. It’s in downtown Mérida.
  • Centro Estatal de Bellas Artes (CEBA). Across the El Centenario, offers classes and education in painting, music, theater, ballet, jazz, folclore, spanish dance, among others.
  • Centro Cultural del Niño Yucateco (CECUNY) in Mejorada, in a 16th-century building, with classes and workshops specifically designed for kids.
  • Centro Cultural Dante a private center within one of the major bookstores in Mérida (Librería Dante).

Museums:

  • Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, Yucatán’s Mayan Museum, offers a view of Yucatán’s history and identity.
  • Museo de Antropología e Historia “Palacio Cantón”, Yucatán’s history and archaeology Museum.
  • Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Ateneo de Yucatán (MACAY), in the heart of the city right next to the Cathedral. Permanent and rotating pictorial expositions.
  • Museo de la Canción Yucateca Asociación Civil in Mejorada, honors the trova yucateca authors, Ricardo Palmerín, Guty Cárdenas, Juan Acereto, Pastor Cervera y Luis Espinosa Alcalá.
  • Museo de la Ciudad de Mérida, in the old Correos (post office) building since 2007 offers information about the city from the prehispanic times’ Tho’ or Ichcaanzihó to current days.
  • Museo de Historia Natural, natural history museum.
  • Museo de Arte Popular, popular art museum, offers a view of popular artistry and handcrafts among ethnic Mexican groups and cultures.
  • Museo Conmemorativo de la Inmigración Coreana a Yucatán.

Festival de las Animas (Festival of the Souls / Ghost Festival):

This festival is held in Merida in the last week of October (in 2016, this was from Monday 24th to Sunday 31st). There are activities, shows, and exhibitions scheduled every day.

For me, the highlight is the Paseo de las Animas (the Procession of the Souls).

The procession starts in the General Cemetery and continues to Parque De San Juan.ghost-festival-route-map

Activities are scheduled all night at major places along the way: The Cemetery (itself), Ermita de San Isabel, Esquina del Diamante, and the Parque de San Juan. Activities at these locations start at about 6:00-7:00pm and continue until 10:00-11:00pm.

I chose to base myself at Ermita which seemed to have the best selection of activities. I arrived at Ermita early: 6:00pm.merida-souls-5-elmita-church

They already had puppet shows underway.merida-souls-1-puppetsAnd families had altars set up on the streets to honour their departed.merida-souls-2-altar merida-souls-4-street-altars

At 6:30pm a band started playing traditional Maya music.merida-souls-3-maya-musicIn the Ermita park, crowds of people (locals and tourists alike) where getting painted up ready for the night. We joined them.merida-souls-7-make-up

I tried to look as haunting as possible in the photos … a bit like the butler in the Addams Family. But you can’t help the odd smile …merida-souls-shaunmerida-souls-10-shaunmerida-souls-9-shaun merida-souls-cindy-annette

Night had fallen and it was time for some traditional Maya dancing.merida-souls-11-maya-dancersmerida-souls-maya-dancers

And a walk down the street to view some altars.merida-souls-12-street-altar merida-souls-women

 The procession from the Cemetery was due at Ermita at 8:00pm … it duly arrived at 8:30pm lead by a tall ghostly man. So tall that they had to lift up the overhead power lines with a long pole to help him pass.merida-souls-13-image merida-souls-14-image merida-souls-15-image

The procession was several 100 meters long. A mix of locals and gringos. Everyone joined in.merida-souls-19-procession merida-souls-20-procession merida-souls-21-procession merida-souls-23-procession

We joined the procession for a while.merida-souls-shaun-friends

merida-souls-girlmerida-souls-pretty-girlMany of the small children looked absolutely gorgeous.

And some people had put in a lot of effort with their costumes.merida-souls-couple

We ended up at an expat party along the route watching the procession from the rooftop.merida-souls-annette merida-souls-shaun-friends-2merida-souls-26-rooftop

I’m not going to elaborate … if you want to know more, you’ll have to come and see yourself.


MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:

ATMs:

There are ATMs everywhere. The ‘de facto’ ATM withdrawal limit in most banks is MXP5,000. But, a couple of banks allow you to withdraw MXP7,000.

HSBC has fast become my favourite in Mexico. Their ATMs have allowed me to withdraw MXP10,000 in a single transaction in several towns … for a Foreign Card Fee of only MXP33.50. Yes, I still had my Home Country Bank’s Foreign ATM Transaction Fee, but these ‘friendly’ ATMs do help to keep the cost of Travel Money down.

Shops:

Shopping in Merida is very good … at true Mexican prices.

Supermarkets:

The big Supermarkets are outside of the Centro Historica.

Within the Centro Historica, itself, you have several reasonably sized options.

These Supermarkets offer prices as good as anywhere that I have found in Mexico to date.

Street Markets:

There are many around the Centro Historica.

There are, also, several covered Mercados to choose from.

These Mercados are where you buy your fruit and vegetables at the best prices. For instance, it is easy to find bananas for MXP5 / Kg (less than half the price that I have found them for elsewhere in Mexico).


WHEN TO GO:

July through October is hurricane season in this part of the world, and the weather becomes more changeable and less predictable during these months.merida-climate

The rainy season is May through October. Whilst I was there in late October, it rained hard for 30-60 minutes almost every afternoon. This left the streets very wet with lots of puddles to negotiate for a couple of hours afterwards.

PLEASE NOTE: These countries love their tiled floors and this, coupled with footpaths worn to a polish over many years, means that it can be slippery underfoot when dry and near dangerous when wet. Wear shoes with good grips.

The high season is December through May as these are the months with the most temperate and driest weather.

Merida can get stiflingly hot and humid in the height of the summer. At this time of year, many head to the Progreso Area to cool down in the sea breeze.


GETTING AWAY:

From here I will be heading to Uxmal.

I will tell you more about that in a future post.


CONCLUSION:

Many people rave about Merida. But, as a ‘holiday’ destination, I found it very ‘average’. The single-story buildings laid out in a strict colonial grid (for me) leave the city a bit characterless.merida-centro-historica-street-2

One good thing about this grid layout is that there is an extensive one way system with adjacent roads alternating directions. This is excellent for traffic flow.

If you like history and culture, there are plenty of those sorts of attractions to keep you busy for a few days.

The truth seems to be that Merida is more of a place to live than a place to visit.

There are about 10,000 expats living in Merida (mainly from the USA and Canada). Most are retirees.

The attraction seems to be the low cost of living coupled with the fact that there are always plenty of things to do. It is not about the beauty of Merida, itself.

Merida is the cheapest town that I have visited in my time in Mexico.

TTFN


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