Romantic Mérida

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Romantic Mérida
With its intimate plazas, old-growth trees, lavish architecture, and fine restaurants specializing in traditional and contemporary Yucatecan fare, Mérida provides the perfect backdrop for a romantic vacation.
By Julie Schwietert Collazo, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Yucatan Tourism Board
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    Spa Weekend in Celestún
    Mérida isn't a city from which you'll need or want to escape, but for extra privacy and peace, take a weekend trip to the town of Celestún, 60 miles away. Guidebooks call Celestún a "sleepy fishing village," and it's no empty cliché; there's little development of any sort along the long ribbon of white-sand beach. The relative isolation of the town's Hotel Xixim, with private bungalows for lodging and a spa offering treatments such as chocolate- and coffee-based body wraps, guarantees there will be plenty of opportunities to reconnect with your partner.
    Photo courtesy of Yucatan Tourism Board
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    The Liqueur of Love
    The Yucatán has one of the most distinctive regional cuisines in Mexico, with most recipes reflecting Maya influences. In addition to Yucatecan classics like cochinita pibil, a pork dish, you'll find unique local liquors, including xtabentun, also known as the liqueur of love. Made of fermented honey, the sweet, anise-flavored spirit has its roots in a dramatic Maya love story. Utz-Colel, an ancient Maya beauty, was jealous of another lovely woman, Xtabay, who was kind and generous. Utz-Colel tried to seduce men using a liqueur—xtabentun—made from flowers blooming on Xtabay's grave. The flower is said to have mild psychotropic properties. Try it—and buy it—at the Casa D’Aristi distillery, which also offers factory tours.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Mérida by Horse and Carriage
    You'd be hard-pressed to conjure up a more romantic evening than one featuring a carriage ride around Mérida. As horses' hooves clip-clop over cobblestones, your horse and driver will guide you past Mérida's colonial-era architectural highlights—including Casa Montejo, the cathedral, and Mérida's government palace—and the city's loveliest plazas, where you'll likely spot dancing or other cultural performances, often to the tune of traditional live music. Ask your hotel concierge where you can find the closest calesa (carriage) stand, or head to Paseo de Montejo, where many drivers wait for passengers right on the street.
    Photo courtesy of Yucatan Tourism Board
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    Cooking Class for Two
    Every state and region of Mexico has a distinct cuisine, and Mérida is no exception. Much of the cuisine of Mérida and its neighbors on the Yucatán Peninsula is influenced by Maya ingredients, techniques, and recipes, which you can learn about by taking a cooking class at Los Dos Cooking School, the only school in Mexico devoted exclusively to Yucatecan food. Chef David Sterling offers a variety of classes, as well as market and tasting tours. Expect to learn about the uses of squash, chocolate, corn, and pork in dishes such as tamales de boda. If one of you loves to cook but the other does not, Chef Sterling allows partners to join for cocktail hour or a meal, as long as you make arrangements in advance.
    Photo courtesy of Eduardo Cervantes/Los Dos Cooking School
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    Set the Night to Music
    You won't have to look hard to find live music in Mérida; almost every night of the week, musicians perform in the city's main square. If you're looking for a more elegant night out, however, check the listings at Teatro Peón Contreras to see who's playing during your visit. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, the large, lavish theater is home to the Yucatán Symphony Orchestra, which plays regularly. It also hosts some of Mexico's most renowned classical musicians, as well as ballet companies. Many of the performances are free; those that are not are reasonably priced, so consider splurging on box seats. During intermission, step out onto the open-air terrace to appreciate the view.
    Photo courtesy of Yucatan Tourism Board
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    Tour Mérida's Colonial Homes
    Mérida has one of the most impressive collections of colonial homes in Latin America. The grand facades of these colonial-era mansions and casonas (big houses) often conceal equally impressive interiors, as you and your partner can discover on the tours offered by the Mérida English Library. Their El Centro House and Garden Tour, offered from November to March, takes guests to four homes in the city's historic center, where you can go behind closed doors to see fully renovated homes and others that are a work in progress. Perhaps the tour will inspire your own home renovation project—or even a move to Mérida, which has a large population of expats.
    Photo courtesy of Yucatan Tourism Board
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    Effortlessly Romantic Dining
    The Yucatán Peninsula has a number of former haciendas converted into luxurious boutique hotels. Many of these have excellent on-site restaurants specializing in regional cuisine or Mexican fare with international influences. The colonial-era settings of these former sisal plantations have an effortlessly romantic ambience, with soft lighting, Spanish-style patios and terraces, and, often, lush tropical plants that provide quiet niches where you can enjoy an intimate dinner. Hacienda Santa Rosa and Hacienda Temozon will both arrange a special romantic experience for couples who want extra privacy and an extraordinary meal. At Hacienda Xcanatún, ask for a table on the terrace, which overlooks the hotel's garden.
    Photo courtesy of Yucatan Tourism Board
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    Learn to Salsa
    Salsa music and dancing are not indigenous to Mérida, the Yucatán, or even Mexico, but they have been embraced enthusiastically by locals who love dancing. If you want to join them, you can take couples' salsa dancing lessons at Mérida's Astro Salsa; classes are offered every Monday to Saturday. The environment is non-competitive, with teachers focused on helping students establish the basic steps of this style. The dance school also offers couples' classes for pairs who want to learn how to dance bachata, a popular, modern music and dance style that came to Mexico and other parts of Latin America from the Dominican Republic.
    Photo by Guylaine Couttolenc/age fotostock
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    Horseback Riding
    If the idea of a sunset ride on the beach appeals to you, head beyond Mérida to the town of Progreso, about 30 minutes away. Unlike inland Mérida, whose romantic appeal is primarily architectural, Progreso has a white-sand beach running along the turquoise waterfront, which is the perfect backdrop for a horseback ride. It's also possible to find some options for horseback riding on the beach in the quiet town of Celestún. If you prefer to stay closer to Mérida proper, check for riding options at the Club Hípico del Sureste. Outfitters can customize your experience based on your skill and comfort level, and beachfront rides can be planned for sunrise or sunset.
    Photo by age fotostock