When I was planning my vacation to Mexico I was skimming through tons of travelling websites. I had a clear idea of what I was looking for. I wanted my trip to be both relaxing and culturally fulfilled. I already decided to buy my ticket to Cancun – that’s where all relaxation happens, right? After reading a couple of articles on Quintana Roo I made this assumption: Cancun is perfect for party animals, Tulum is a romantic getaway for couples, Cozumel is right for divers and Playa Del Carmen (my pick) is a quiet little resort town where all of the above mentioned places are easily accessible.
Now, moving on to the cultural part. That was a bit harder; there is a little chance of getting a cultural feel of Mexico in the beach cities. I was indeed happy to come across a Lonely Planet guide that read:” Plenty of tourists never make it beyond Cancun, which is a shame: Yucatan state is steeped in history and is markedly less touristy than the Rivera Maya”. Great, exactly what I needed! I was positive about going to Merida – the capital of Yucatan where European architecture blends in with Mayan identity.
The city’s motto is La Ciudad de la Paz which in Spanish means “The City of Peace” and by statistics it is truly the safest place in the region, of course it doesn’t imply that you shouldn’t take any regular travelling precautions.
The history of Merida begins long before 1542 when it was founded by a Spaniard Francisco de Montejo: it used to be a large Mayan settlement called T’ho. The ruins of the Mayan town were taken to build the Central Cathedral (La Catedral) on Plaza Grande. Merida is a place where you can get acquainted with the Mayas: you can see the people of Mayan heritage sitting on the street in a traditional dress selling the leaves of chaya; in many museums and historical sights you will be given the explanations in English, Spanish and Mayan. The language is struggling to survive but unfortunately children in Mayan families rarely have the desire to learn it.
It’s funny how Europeans and native Mexicans interact in Merida. In the Governor Palace (Palacio del Gobierno) stunning European interior design goes hand in hand with wall murals on Mayan history such as “Creation of the Mayas from corn”, “The sufferings of the Mayas during the slavery” etc.
The same kind of mixture applies to food as well. Spicy is just not my thing and as I’ve been told you can’t get past chilies and hot salsa in Mexico. One of my Mexican friends suggested I should go the American way: “Probably, you’ll want to eat at MacDonald’s or Burger King”. No way, I won’t go all the way to Mexico and eat burgers – nonsense! And I was happy to find out that because Yucatan was deeply influenced by Spain they don’t have so much spicy food. The other thing that was introduced to Yucatan cuisine from the Old World was pork. The Yucatan signature dish ‘Cochinita Pibil’ (the word ‘pib’ is of Mayan origin and means ‘the oven in the ground”) is basically roasted pork. I am not a big fan of pork and I was puzzled how the people can eat pork for breakfast, lunch and dinner over there. If you are not a meat eater like me don’t feel disappointed just yet Merida offers a large number of restaurants of different cuisines.
The restaurants are not the only thing to explore in Merida. The city was somewhat reminding me of Washington D.C. There is always something going on there: free out-door concerts, dances, and serenades, travelling theaters, festivals and many more. Most of the city museum and galleries are free of charge as well. And even if they’re not the highest price that I’ve paid was 60 pesos which is roughly five dollars. No doubt Merida served as the American Capital of Culture in 2006. Keep in mind that because of Merida’s nice location it’s easy to make day-trips to Mayan ruins and caves, sinkholes and beaches. For all the information about tours and activities don’t hesitate to visit Yucatan Today website.
Trust me one week won’t be enough to experience Mexican culture in Merida. Do it once and you’ll keep coming back for more.