Google the word “Merida” and 70% of results will display a redheaded cartoon princess; apparently Disney gets more clicks than one of Mexico’s oldest cities. It’s a fitting state of affairs, though, because in many respects, Merida feels like a forgotten place: lost on the internet and in time.
Once upon a time, Merida was the most advanced city in Mexico and home to more millionaires than anywhere on Earth. It was the height of henequen textile production and the wealthy sisal barons who made millions from agave fibers built their palatial mansions along Paseo Montejo, a boulevard often likened to the Champs Elysees. The glory days lasted until the invention of artificial twine, which caused the industry and the city to fall into a century-long lull.
The fact that Merida is now forgotten is part of its charm. Spend a day walking the cobbled streets, through palm-filled plazas, and past slightly dilapidated ice-cream colored buildings, and you’ll find signs of Merida’s former glory. But while the beautiful mansions and the majestic cathedral in the heart of the city are reminders of the city’s illustrious past, these can’t-miss experiences are proof that it’s beginning to get its glimmer back.
Get dessert at Dulceria y Sorbeteria Colon
Dulceria y Sorbeteria Colon is an old-school ice-cream parlor that serves scoops of ice cream and sorbet in glass dessert bowls you’d expect to find in your grandmother’s kitchen closet. Pick your flavor, then grab one of the wire-frame chairs on the sidewalk and people-watch: the main Plaza de la Independencia is directly opposite the parlor. It’s the perfect place to take a break from the heat and immerse yourself in everyday Meridian life.—Por 41 y 39 A A, Calle 56 474, Centro
Eat lunch at Apoala
In Mexico, good local food is not hard to come by, but if you’re looking for haute Mexican cuisine, Apoala is a must. Located in the historic square of Santa Lucia Park, a seat on the terrace at Apoala is one of the most coveted in the city—for tourists and locals alike. The menu features Yucatan cuisine with strong Oaxacan influences. The dishes are modern and inventive: steamed sea bass fillet with mezcal, or octopus-and-scallop ceviche with Oaxacan chili paste. The cocktails are just as creative—especially their mezcal options, one of which is served with a fragrant flaming sprig of rosemary.—Calle 60 471-2 X 55 Portales de Santa Lucía, Centro
Visit the Governor’s Palace
Mérida’s main square, the Plaza de la Independencia, is surrounded by many prominent colonial buildings, including the Governor’s Palace. The pretty, hospital-green building is home to a collection of art depicting the history of the Mayans and the Yucatan, and the inside walls are lined with murals by the renowned Mexican muralist, Fernando Castro Pacheco, as well as other artworks, depicting Mexico’s struggle with colonialism. Entrance is free, so even if you just interested in a stroll through beautiful building, it’s worth it.—Palacio del Gobernador, Calle 61, Merida, Mexico
Have a drink at La Negrita
However sleepy Merida may feel, the classic (but unknowingly cool) bar La Negrita will put that idea to bed. On the outside, it looks like your average Mexican cantina, but make your way through the wooden swing doors and you’ll discover the city’s lively side. A cool, grey interior is scattered with simple tables but if you can find a table under a standalone fan in the cute courtyard at the back—lucky you! Behind the bar, barmen mix an array of tequila and mezcal cocktails and serve local artisanal beers. If you’re in town on a Friday night, don’t miss the live music—but do expect to wake up with a headache the next day. Méridians might be peaceful people, but they know how to party.—Calle 62 406, Centro
Stay at Coqui Coqui
With only one suite available, we suggest you book this belle epoque room before you even book your flight. Coqui Coqui is a perfume brand that also has residences and spas scattered throughout the Yucatan, and anything the owners Francesca Bonato and Nicolas Malleville touch seems to turn to magnificence. The residence in Merida is the newest addition to the group and doesn’t disappoint. The suite is wildly opulent with antique tiling, two claw-foot bathtubs and a towering four-poster bed; perhaps reminiscent of how the sisal barons used to live.—Calle 55 N. 516, Centro
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