Mérida travel diary
What I wouldn’t give to trade in these recent rainy days for some Mérida sunshine right now. When I first started telling people that I was going to Mérida, Mexico for my mini vacation, I think every person looked at me and said “wait where?” Admittedly, I had only found out about it may be a week before I bought my ticket so I can’t really fault them. I was looking for somewhere beautiful to take a break from work/grad school stresses, plus keep it affordable when I stumbled on Julia Engel’s instagram posts in Mérida. I googled it, searched on Airbnb and Instagram, and immediately booked my trip. So overview first: it’s the capital of Yucatan, the biggest city of the Yucatan Peninsula, just a few hours west of Cancun, and is considered one of the safest cities in Mexico. When I first saw it on Instagram and started googling, I assumed you’d have to fly into Cancun since it’s a bigger airport (in my head?), but I was so pleasantly surprised to find out that not only does Mérida have it's own airport, but flights are super cheap, on par with flights to Cancun, even from Richmond for my RVA natives.
We booked our stay at Piedra De Agua, a boutique hotel right in "Centro" and about 20 minutes from the airport. I loved our stay here! The rooms were comfortable, the staff was kind and helpful, and the pool was perfect. There were hammocks by the pool, as well as a little bar area and a wood fired oven for pizzas. While we were technically in the tourist area, but it's not a tourist trap city...meaning it wasn't over flooded with tourists, or at least not over flooded by white tourists which is what would stand out there. Honestly, it's kind of weird because the main street (Calle 60) is the only place you really saw tourists. The second you turned off the main street, it was just normal life with all locals. Merida is more of a city vibe and not a beach town, so most of our activities really just consisted of walking around and exploring and looking for food, aka my favorite activity, vacation or otherwise.
I really loved the vibe of Merida. The people were super friendly, and even when we were struggling with the language, they were were patient with us. I will say though that this was a huge challenge. I try not to be the American who expects English everywhere, but this was hard as the locals spoke almost zero English and I just want you guys to know what to expect too! This was also harder because this area still has so much Mayan influence so some of the dialect wasn't translating in my Spanish Google Translate. I tried my best with the little Spanish I knew, Google Translate app, and hand gestures, but it was still really tough. Pro tip though, Google Translate lets you download languages so that you can access the dictionaries offline.
The weather was beautiful, minus one afternoon thunderstorm, but that was over within thirty minutes. Also, Uber works in Merida, and rides are like $2 so that was awesome when we weren't walking around. During the day, we explored the town by going to get food, checking out the museums, driving out to the beach, or just relaxing at the Piedra de Agua pool with $1 margaritas. The margaritas and hammocks by the pool were just what I needed to destress from real life.
We only drove to the beach one day which is Progreso Beach and it's about 40 minutes away. If you really are craving the beach, it's there, but it was kind of a waste of time for us and we didn't spend much time there. On our way back to Centro we stopped by what's considered uptown Merida and we didn't spend much time there either. Someone had recommended it to us as a "cooler" area of Merida, but honestly I didn't care for it because it's basically just the modern area. It's got huge malls and franchise American restaurants and such, which I don't know, is just not what I look for when I travel, so we headed back to Centro. I loved the Fernando Garcia Ponce Art Museum for a day activity too. It's got awesome art, a beautiful lush green entrance garden, and it's a great place to get away from the heat for a little bit.
For brunch we loved chilaquilles, and we went tried a spot called Chilla-killers the first day, mainly for the name! It was really good, but I have to admit that the chilaquilles we got from the Lucas de Galvez market for a fraction of the price were tastier! These are always my favorite finds because the food just always tastes better in hole in the wall places and out of Styrofoam. Also, the Lucas de Galvez market went through multiple blocks so it was a fun way to explore the area. There were really good places all around the hotel, and I loved just walking around and popping into spots, and they usually had no name, so sorry about that! Another place we loved for food and drinks was Mercado 60. It's an open space with different bars all lined up and then just picnic tables in the middle so you can spend all night eating and drinking and it's pretty popular so you'll get to meet people there and it's really just a good time. We came back two nights in a row! Also, for drinks, we loved La Negrita Cantina and Mezcaleria la Fundacion. Both really fun vibes and La Negrita Cantina having live music and salsa dancing too.
I've gotta say, my favorite thing about Merida is that for the weekend (starting on Thursday night), Calle 60 shuts down traffic and everyone is just in the streets. You know my European self loved this. The restaurants bring out tables into the street so you can eat dinner and still be part of the action. There's the main park in front of the Cathedral and it was so nice to go and just sit and people watch (with some ice cream) in the afternoon. BUT there's also mini parks almost every other block and on these weekend nights there's live music at each park and theatrical acts in the streets. Another really cool thing was that Friday and Saturday there's Mayan ritual recreations. On Friday, the locals set up bleachers in front of the Cathedral and athletes come in traditional Mayan clothes and play a game called Pok ta Pok. They split into teams and try to get a literally fire ball through a hole. Think volleyball, but instead of just getting the ball over a net, it's through a tiny hole!
I've definitely been recommending Merida to everyone since coming back, especially for a short trip. We chose the hotel this time, but Airbnb had some amazing villas for rent too, so I'd love to come back with a bigger group of friends and have a house to ourselves.
What are some of your favorite smaller vacation spots?