Mérida City Culture

Original open uri20160815 3469 4dfqrb?1471297696?ixlib=rails 0.3
Mérida City Culture
The chapters of Mérida's pre-Hispanic and colonial history are writ large in the open book of this city's culture. Historic homes, an ambitious museum, a fascinating cathedral, and a lively central plaza are all key points of interest for visitors.
By Julie Schwietert Collazo, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Sandra Salvadó/age fotostock
  • 1 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 4dfqrb?1471297696?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Mérida's Maya Museum
    Inaugurated with great fanfare by President Enrique Peña Nieto in December 2012, El Gran Museo del Mundo Maya was established to honor and showcase artifacts and information about the great Maya civilization, which flourished on the Yucatán Peninsula for nearly 2,000 years. Four permanent exhibits and two galleries featuring temporary shows display more than 800 pieces at any given time, including important statuary discovered at nearby Maya sites. The museum also puts on a free sound-and-light show nightly that is visible from the street.
    Photo by Sandra Salvadó/age fotostock
  • 2 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 w5dh0j?1471297700?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Casa de Montejo
    Casa de Montejo was once the home of the Montejo family, whose members included the conquerors and colonizers of Mérida. The house dates to the mid–16th century and is distinguished by the fact that it is the only remaining Renaissance-style residence in Mexico. Although its interior has undergone many stylistic changes over the centuries, it remains impressive. Guides give tours of the residence, which is now a museum and cultural center; the bedroom and dining room are particularly eye-catching, replete with lavish furnishings. A salon of temporary exhibits features artwork by Mexican artists past and present. Casa Montejo also has a library and gift shop, where fine, locally made handcrafts are for sale.
    Photo courtesy of Yucatan Tourism Board
  • 3 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 1r2qkqu?1471297705?ixlib=rails 0.3
    City Tours
    Even if you typically avoid tours, it's worth taking a chance on the Turibus, a double-decker bus that makes a complete circuit around Mérida's key attractions. Use the ride to get the lay of the land, or hop on and off whenever it strikes your fancy. Try the Circuito Nocturno, a two-hour evening tour, to see many of Mérida's most beautiful buildings illuminated at night. For a more active (and free) experience, take advantage of a no-charge walking tour of the city's historical center. Tours step off from the Tourism Office at the Municipal Building at 9:30 a.m., Mon–Sat. You can take the tour in English or Spanish; led by a knowledgeable local guide, it's a great way to learn the city's colorful history and highlights.
    Photo by age fotostock
  • 4 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 mdxu62?1471297712?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Mérida's Historic Center
    The zócalo, or plaza square, is the center of social life in many Mexican cities. It's the place where couples and families come to spend an afternoon or evening just enjoying each other's company in the shadow of a city's most important buildings, the cathedral and city hall among them; vendors circulate, selling everything from handmade potato chips to balloons. Lucky for visitors, Mérida's main square is particularly lovely. On Sunday evenings, bands treat visitors to live performances of cumbia, salsa, and son music; on Mondays, a traditional folk dance is performed on the square. You will, however, find entertainment and authentic local culture here any day of the week.
    Photo by Charles Mahaux/age fotostock
  • 5 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 1g5lvl9?1471297720?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Sundays in Mérida
    Sunday is a day of rest and retreat in many parts of Mexico; restaurants tend to close early, even in the capital, and people relax among family and friends. In Mérida, though, Sunday offers an unusual number of opportunities to enjoy unique cultural experiences. In addition to live vaquería music in the main square, complete with traditional Yucatecan dancing and dress, a Maya wedding ceremony is reenacted each Sunday afternoon outside the Palacio Municipal. If shopping for typical local goods is more your bag, head a few blocks southeast of Plaza Grande, where each Sunday vendors sell traditional garments like huipile tunic dresses and guayaberas, as well as bags made of sisal, a fiber indigenous to the Yucatán.
    Photo courtesy of Yucatan Tourism Board
  • 6 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 hmxajh?1471297727?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Maya Architecture
    Chichén Itzá is the best-known Maya site on the Yucatán Peninsula—perhaps even in the country—but it's not the only one, and it's not the one closest in distance to Mérida proper. Mayapan is one site that's less well-known; as a result, it doesn't have the same flow of visitors (or vendors) you'll find at Chichén Itzá. Dzibilchaltún is also close to central Mérida but not overrun with tourists. Neither site is as large as Chichén Itzá, but both are impressive. If you can't get to any of the archaeological sites, visit Canton Palace Museum in Mérida's historic center. In addition to being an exceptional example of the Porfirian style of architecture, the museum's exhibits are devoted to Maya archaeology.
    Photo by Sandra Salvadó/age fotostock
  • 7 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 1jze50p?1471297733?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Burning of the Bad Mood
    As a largely Catholic country, most Mexican cities and towns host celebrations for Carnaval (Carnival) before the Lenten period, but the people of Mérida like to believe theirs is among the best. Festivities are spread out over eight days in February or March (depending on the year), during which time parades and dances, often performed to live music, dominate local social calendars. Highlights of the festival include the ritual “burning of the bad mood,” during which a proclamation is read and a figure representing bad moods is burned, and the battle of the flowers, in which participants throw flowers at each other. The week is capped with the burial of Juan Carnaval, whose “widows” stand by, mourning his death publicly.
    Photo by Charles Mahaux/age fotostock
  • 8 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 tc0syu?1471297739?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Mérida's Cathedral
    It seems that every town and city in Mexico has a centuries-old cathedral with a fascinating history, and Mérida is no exception. When the Spanish arrived in the area in 1542 and established Mérida, they destroyed the five main pyramids of the pre-Hispanic civilization that had been living there, taking the stones and rubble to build the cathedral, which was completed in 1598. Though its interior lacks the ornamentation typical of many Mexican cathedrals, one popular attraction is the Christ of the Blisters statue. Legend has it the statue was carved from a lightning-struck tree that burned without charring; the statue later survived a fire in the church in the town of Ichmul. It has been on display in the Mérida cathedral since 1645.
    Photo by age fotostock
  • 9 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 oc5yh?1471297743?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Local Handcrafts
    Seeking out authentic local handcrafts and other goods is a favorite activity among many visitors to Mexico, and in Mérida, some specific items are popular souvenirs. Among them are fine linen or cotton guayaberas—comfortable shirts for men that are perfect for Mérida's tropical climate. Some shops have tailors who make bespoke guayaberas for customers. Complete the look with another local item, a Panama hat, known here as the jipi. Hammocks are also a frequently purchased item; Mérida once had a robust sisal industry, so the hammocks from the region are especially prized. Pottery, baskets, and other local crafts can all be purchased at Bazaar de Artesanías or Bazaar García Rejón; both are handcraft markets in central Mérida.
    Photo by Dorling Kindersley/age fotostock
  • 10 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 vthmkm?1471297747?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Traditional Maya Cuisine
    Maya influence on Mérida's cuisine has not waned in the centuries following the civilization's decline. In fact, modern-day Mayas uphold millennia-old traditions in the kitchen, and many of these are even in use in the city's most popular restaurants. The people of Mérida have sophisticated, international palates, but take great pride in their local cuisine. This is epitomized at restaurants such as the casual La Chaya Maya, where the very names of menu items—such as poc chuc, a pork dish, and tikin xic, a seafood plate—sound exotic. Upscale dining with Maya influences can be had at award-winning K'u'uk and at Frutas y Flores at InterContinental Presidente Mérida.
    Photo courtesy of Yucatan Tourism Board