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Merida Yucatan Travel Guide

MERIDA TRAVEL GUIDE

Places to Stay - Click here for price key

Overlooking the main plaza from its second-floor location, Hostal Zócalo ($, Calle 63 #508 between Calles 60 and 62, tel. 999/930-9562) has men’s and women’s dorm rooms as well as private rooms, some with their own balcony overlooking the Gran Plaza. The late 19th century building is full of the usual hostal suspects: couples entwined on couches, intense young ladies checking their Facebook pages, dirty-faced cherubs banging toys around. If you like this sort of atmosphere, the location and price can’t be beat.

Inexpensive, fan-cooled rooms at Hotel Paris ($, Calle 68 #474 between Calles 57 and 55, tel. 999/923-8284, www.hotelparismerida.com) have Wi-Fi and TV; pay a bit more and get air-conditioning. Free parking.

Hotel El Cid ($$, Calle 61 #573-A between Calles 74 and 76, tel. 999/924-5206) is a budget hotel with parking, Wi-Fi in the lobby (and a few adjacent rooms), and a swimming pool at the back. Rooms have air-conditioning, fan, and cable TV. Credit cards are accepted.

Moderately priced, pretty, and clean describes Hotel María José ($$, Calle 64 #456 between Calles 53 and 55, tel. 999/928-1868, www.hotelmariajose.com.mx). Rooms have a/c and fan, Wi-Fi, and cable TV. There’s a restaurant, a pool on the back patio surrounded by two levels of rooms, and an indoor parking lot adjacent to the property. It’s five blocks from the main plaza.

Three blocks apart are Hotel Trinidad ($$, Calle 62 #464 at Calle 55, tel. 999/923-2033) and its sister property Hotel Trinidad Galeria ($$, Calle 60 #456 at Calle 51, tel. 999/923-2463). The website for both is www.hotelestrinidad.com. Plain but adequate rooms fill these rambling turn-of-the-20th-century buildings. There’s Wi-Fi in rooms and gardens, and parking for guests of either hotel at Trinidad Galería.

Hip and high-end Hotel Rosas & Xocolate ($$$$, Paseo de Montejo 480 at Calle 41, tels. 999/924-2992 and 999/924-2992, www.rosasandxocolate.com). The new hotel was made by retrofitting two mansions; each room or suite is different but all have private balconies with outdoor tub as well as high-speed Internet, iPod dock, and flat screen TV. There’s a restaurant, bar, chocolate shop, gym, and spa.

If you prefer an international chain hotel, there are Best Western, Hyatt, and Holiday Inn on Paseo Montejo, which is close to downtown but a bit more upscale, with high-rise hotels, office buildings, old mansions, and some nice restaurants and clubs.

Places to Eat - Click here for price key

Friends in Merida recommend Platos Rotos ($--$$, Calle 33-D #498, Col. Garcia Gineres, tel. 999/925-3097) for inexpensive, Mexico City-style “street food,” near the bull ring. Closed Sundays but otherwise for lunch noon to five, earlier on Saturdays.

For coffee in an air-conditioned café popular with the locals, visit Cafeteria Pop ($$, Calle 57 between Calles 60 and 62). The menu also offers the usual breakfasts and Mexican comfort foods. It’s open in the morning and afternoon, and closes at night when el Pórtico del Peregrino, next door and with the same owners, opens for business for more upscale meals on a pretty patio or a/c interior rooms.

La 68 Centro Cultural ($$, Calle 68 #470-A at Calle 55, tel. 999/924-9540, www.la68.com is a cool cultural center whose restaurant serves good salads and pizza as well as veggie lasagna and pure-corn-tortilla quesadillas. They have a shop selling typical Mexican products (including handcrafts, artisan jams, cheeses and so forth) and show art films outdoors on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. This is a good place to meet interesting people and support local arts and culture.

El Trapiche ($$, Calle 62 #491) has pretty good coffee, served nice and hot, and inexpensive breakfast specials. Kill two birds with one stone by ordering the substantial “dietetic” breakfast: a cross between breakfast and lunch consisting of coffee, fruit plate, and then grilled chicken fillet with rice, beans, and tortillas. You can also get enchiladas, burgers, pizza, and more.

Wildly popular is the Yucatecan food at La Chaya Maya ($$--$$$, Calle 62 #481 at Calle 57, centro, tel. 999/928-4780). A lady makes tortillas nonstop to go with large portions of poc chuc, pollo ticul, relleno negro, pipian de pavo, and the full gamut of Yucatan’s unusual dishes. Open daily early until late.

For good coffee (made when you order it from the espresso machine), breakfast, desserts, and some quality dishes like pasta with shrimp in cream sauce, visit the perfectly air-conditioned Santa Lucia ($$--$$$, Calle 55 #508 between Calles 60 and 62, tel. 999/928-0704). The Old-World ambiance is charming, and there’s original art on the walls by such well-known painters as Rodolfo Morales and María Izquierdo. Service isn’t particularly attentive.

People who live in Merida love Las Vigas ($$--$$$, Calle 63 #501-B between Calles 62 and 64, tel. 999/286-3574). Upstairs above Hotel Los Arcos, it’s got a cool vibe and good music playing, a complete menu of international and Mexican dishes, and a bar offering Happy Hour 5 to 7 with drink and appetizer specials. Open early to late, except Sunday, when it opens at 2 (or 3) PM. The breakfast specials are great and a great value, and on weekends you get American football, boxing, and other sporting events on several strategically placed TVs.

For an upscale experience try Bruno Bistro Gourmet ($$$$, Calle 21 #66 between Calles 10 and 12, tel. 999/287-9287). The French chef owner cooks food from his native country as well as Mediterranean dishes.

Things to Do & See

Listed below is just a sprinkling of ideas. There’s so much going on in Merida; get the monthly, English-language magazine Yucatan Today for the full scoop, including a visit (or two) to the Yucatan’s iconic limestone sinkholes (cenotes in Spanish).

TIP: It’s a great idea to spend Sunday in the city itself, as opposed to visiting an archaeological site or something outside Merida, to take advantage of the free weekly entertainment, shopping opportunities, and diminished traffic at Domingo en Mérida. Vendors sell handcrafts and food on the main plaza and adjoining squares, while musicians, jugglers, and others entertain throughout the day.

Facing the main plaza, next to the cathedral, MACAY (Calle 60 between Calles 63 and 61, tel. 999/928-3258, closed Tuesday, www.macay.org) is the city’s free contemporary arts museum. They offer a permanent collection and rotating exhibits.

Museo de Antropología e Historia (Paseo de Montejo at Calle 43, tel. 999/923-0557, closed Monday) describes in artifacts and other displays the rich pre- and post-Hispanic history of the area.

Museo de Arte Popular (Calle 50-A #487 at Calle 57, closed Monday) displays regional folk art.

Bus tours of historical Merida depart from the cathedral on the Plaza Grande. Leaving every couple of hours (check with the tourism office for current schedule, tel. 999/946-2424, www.turibus.com.mx), the hop-on, hop-off, 120-peso tours are and narrated via headphones in Spanish or English.

Open daily for free tours in English or Spanish, Casa de Montejo (the house of Merida’s conquering dynasty, Calles 60 and 63, facing the main plaza, tel. 999/923-0633, ext. 25551) closes Mondays, and at 2pm on Sundays. Don’t miss the gift shop at the back.

Polo exhibitions, matches, and tournaments are held periodically at the Yucatan Polo Club (www.yucatanpoloclub.com, tel. 999/127-2394).

Los Dos Cooking School (www.los-dos.com), at the B&B of the same name, gives cooking classes of regional cuisine.

For English-language movies there are multiple multiplexes throughout Mérida, most at malls outside the historical center. Cinemex Gran Plaza Mérida (Calle 75 # 196, tel. 999/942-1429) is a nice new theater with larger-than-average screens and comfortable seats.

Tours to the highly recommended Ruta Puuc, a few hours away in Southern Yucatan State, leave from the ADO bus station (Calle 69 between Calles 68 and 70) Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings. They stop at the smaller but significant archaeological sites Kabah, Xlapak, Sayil, and Labná as well as the Museo del Cacao (with hot chocolate tasting included). Unless you have wheels this is definitely the way to go to check out these slightly off-the-beaten-path Maya ruins. For info see Southern Yucatan article and travel guide.

Nightlife

Visit La 68 Centro Cultural (Calle 68 #470-A at Calle 55, tel. 999/924-9540, www.la68.com) for art movies Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.

Ballet, theater, and other cultural events are held at Teatro Armando Manzanero (Calle 62 #495 between Calles 59 y 61, tel. 999/924-9990).

Eladios (tel. 999/927-2126) is a family-oriented restaurant with live entertainment. They have several locations; the most convenient for many visitors is the one in the historic district ( Calle 59 #425, centro, tel. 999/923-1087).

Shopping

There are many shops and galleries on the streets surrounding the main plaza and you will undoubtedly find your favorites for souvenirs and gifts. Best sellers include men’s guayabera shirts typical to the area, women’s embroidered house dresses (called filipinas, like a Mexican muumuu), huipiles (sack-like dresses, often embroidered or printed with flowers), linen and cotton blouses and dresses, “Panama” hats, regional liqueurs, gold and silver filigree jewelry, and more. Hammocks made in nearby Tixcocob are a wonderful gift or souvenir, but buy from a reputable dealer.

Guayaberas Jack (Calle 59 #507-A between Calles 60 and 62, tel. 999/928-6002, www.guayaberasjack.com.mx) is an established shop selling men’s guayabera shirts and women’s blouses and dresses.

Casa de las Artesanías de Yucatan (Calle 63 #503-A between Calles 64 and 66, tel. 999/920-7334) is a government-run co-op of regional handcrafts, open daily.

The Banamex Fomento Cultural Gift Shop at Casa de Montejo museum (Calle 63 at Calle 60), facing the main plaza, has a small but wonderful collection of regional handcrafts such as delicate little picture frames made from bull’s horns, finely embroidered huipiles and napkins, and other items. Supporting these artisans helps keep their crafts alive.

Artesanías Mundo Maya (Calle 62 #500 between Calles 59 and 61, tel. 999/924-7154) is a two-story shop selling hammocks, lots of jewelry, textiles and rugs, and on the second floor, some mediocre pottery and souvenirs from elsewhere in Mexico. It’s supposedly a co-op for villages around Tixcocob.

El Aguacate (Calle 58 at Calle 73, tel. 999/928-6265) is a nice place to purchase a hammock. The staff will help you select the right style and tell you how to install and care for your hammock. (If you really want to go native, buy a pair of hammock hooks at the hardware store to install in the walls of your home.)

Mercado Bazar García Rejón (Calle 67 between Calles 58 and 60) now has as many food stalls as those selling clothing, post cards, and other items of interest to travelers.

Head to the main plaza and surrounding plazas for Sunday in Merida, when artisans sell their handcrafts.

More Info

The State Tourism Office (Calles 61 between Calles 60 and 62, tel. 999/930-3760) is in the government palace facing the Gran Plaza in downtown Merida. There’s another office of state tourism at the Peon Contreras Theater (Calle 60 between Calles 59 and 57, tel. 999/924-9290). Both are allegedly open daily.

The Municipal Tourism Office (City Hall, Calle 62 between Calles 61 and 63, tel. 999/942-0000, ext. 80119 or 85500) rents audio guides, and leads free walking tours of the city walking tours daily at 9:30AM.

Even the locals keep handy a copy of the monthly magazine Yucatan Today, with tons of useful information and excellent maps of the city and state. There’s an online version as well.

How to Get There & Away

By Car

The roads in the Yucatan peninsula are flat and reasonably well maintained, but signage is confusing. Before setting out, study the map; signs more often point to towns en route rather than highway number.

The toll road is the fastest and most direct route to Cancun, although the parallel free road is perfectly acceptable if you don’t mind speed bumps and/or plan to check out smaller towns en route, or just want to save money. The toll road (324 kilometers/200 miles) costs at this writing 381 pesos.

Campeche’s state capital, also called Campeche, is just over 170 km (100 miles) south of Merida along Highway 180.

To tour the area in comfort, hire a car or van with driver through Yucatan Connection (tel. 999/922-0565, www.yucatan-connection.com). Other area tour operators offer car service as well.

By Bus

See bus schedules and buy tickets ahead of time through TicketBus (tel. 01800/702-8000, 999/924-8391, www.ticketbus.com.mx) at the CAME bus station (Calle 70 between Calles 69 and 71, tel. 999/920-4444) served by the first-class bus lines ADO, GL, UNO and Platino.

You can get a van directly to or from the Cancun Airport from the Fiesta Americana bus station (Calle 60 at Avenida Colón, tels. 999/924-8391 or 920-4444). Other destinations served from this hotel bus station are Playa del Carmen (south of Cancun on the Riviera Maya) and Villahermosa, Tabasco.

The second-class TAME bus station (Calle 69 between Calles 68 and 70, tel. 999/924-0830) serves intermediate destinations, primarily throughout Yucatan and Campeche states.

By Plane

The Merida International Airport (tel. 999/946-1530) has flights to Cancun, Cozumel, Mexico City, and other destinations, principally on the Mexican airlines Aeromexico, Interjet, Viva Aerobus, and Volaris, as well as Continental/United.