Thinking correctly that it would still be the cold winter weather up in San Miguel de Allende during February and March we added colorful Merida into our 2 month Yucatan adventure. Today it is 99 at 5pm, so we are definitely getting our heat fix in.
Here for a month, we have plans to return in December and January, once again to escape the cold San Miguel weather. Because of the heat having a pool at our Airbnb is a must and we lucked out with a nice sized one, big enough to do laps in. A good Merida Airbnb is not cheap though and we will go over our monthly rent budget. This time we have a house in the Santa Ana neighborhood but it isn’t available at the end of the year. For that we just booked a two bedroom apartment, once again with a decent pool for its 6 units. Booking ahead during the busy season is essential in order to remain at least partially on budget. Some offerings are ridiculously priced for what they offer so do some homework. We really like the Santa Ana neighborhood for proximity to Centro.
Merida is a colorful city and we love walking by all the bright facades.
Since it is hot, a lot of the “happenings” take place in the evening. We have been to the amazing symphony, a fabulous piano concert in a private home, evenings of dancing in the squares, music in cantinas and more. And we have plans to go to another symphony performance when we return from Campeche. Tickets for the first one were $21 a piece and this next one is $12.50 per person. These are amazing deals for top quality performances!!! It makes our hearts happy indeed.
To continue in the cultural vein check out the free Museo Fernando Garcia Ponce near the main square. It isn’t a large museum but we really enjoyed the artists who’s works were being presented. Pedro Tec is an amazing young photographer who’s photos explore the Mayan culture. And both Jorge Patron Ledoux and Fernando Garcia Ponce have collage style art that I really loved.
Because we have a whole month in Merida we haven’t been running around like crazy trying to get everything in. Some days we just hang out taking advantage of our own pool and reading our Kindles.
It is actually a bit of a sleepy town during the day with most things going on in the Centro area. There are a lot of people around but not much happening. I guess it is siesta time.
As we go a bit into the more residential areas, even close to Centro, we are hard pressed to find even local neighborhood tiendas (here they are called tejones) like we have all throughout our home town of San Miguel de Allende. This has made shopping for groceries a bit difficult as we really need to plan out our day if a trip to the market is included. Many of the grocery stores have basic everyday items and we have had to resort to Walmart twice in order to find some of our only slightly less ordinary food requirements.
We have visited two of the Mercados so far, Mercado Santiago and Mercado Lucas de Galvez. The latter one being massive, colorful and chaotic. Great for taking photos and buying veggies, but the meat section left a lot to be desired. Un-refrigerated meat just isn’t in the cards for our stomachs.
In Mercado Santiago we took Mark Weins recommendation and tried Taqueria La Lupita. Unfortunately they were just in the process of closing for the day and the food was a bit luke-warm. So not ideal. Incredibly cheap however we may have to give them a second try earlier in the day.
Hermana Republica is a craft brewery house close to our Airbnb and we like it so much we have visited three times. Their Tostadas de Atun are really wonderful. It can get crowded in the evening but their outside area is lovely. Maiz, Canela y Cilantro was very reasonable and makes you feel like you are in someone’s home. Another place for Cuban home cooking is La Cubanita. It has a few menu items a day to choose from and is super inexpensive.
La Chaya Maya is always recommended to try Yucatan cuisine but we weren’t that impressed with the food overall. It was a bit too bland for us. Maybe that is because it is sort of a chain, with several locations in town. Bistro Cultural has a great garden area and is good for breakfasts. Some fun art on the walls to add to the atmosphere. Mercado 60 is a big food court that is actually fairly reasonable with quite a few “stalls” to choose from. Glenn got a fabulous, large plate of BBQ ribs with fixings for $13.
To mix things up a bit when you feel like something different try La Tratto Santa Lucia for Italian. It is a bit pricey though and I wouldn’t order wine since it is ridiculously expensive. Next door is Bryan’s Burger Bar which even offered petite sizes, perfect for me. Yummy!! Their combo with burger, salad, glass of red wine and dessert is a great value.
We love searching out the Free Walking Tours in every city we visit if available. And the Free Walking Tours Merida one was very well presented by our guide Ivan. It left from the Santa Lucia Plaza in front of the big chairs at 10:00am. Look for the bright fushia umbrellas. Technically it is free but a tip is expected so be nice. We were impressed and left 200 pesos per person.
There are ongoing cultural performances in Centro many nights of the week. On Sunday you can actually start your day riding bikes (Bici Ruta) through the closed off Calle 60 and the Paseo de Montejo, a grand boulevard. Also on Sundays in and near the Plaza Grande is a handicrafts market and entertainment and regional dance performances. Saturday and Sunday see food vendor stalls set up around the Plaza.
Pok Ta Pok, the Mayan ball game, is played every Friday night in front of the cathedral. Athletes are decked out in feathers and body paint and a Shaman cleanses the area before the game begins. The whole point is to keep the ball moving using only one’s hips to get it through a ring. We saw these rings at the Maya ruins of Coba. We got to the square a bit into the game and at that point there was mainly one of the participants throwing “passes” at the others who took turns trying to get the ball into the ring. Afterwards though they began the game again, this time with the ball on fire. Ouch!! To get good photos come early and try to sit on the bleachers.
We found a couple of Cantinas with live music. La Negrita Cantina was hopping with dancers the night we strolled in but it was so crowded we couldn’t find anyplace to sit with a drink, watch the festivities and listen to the cool sounds. We headed off to Dzalbay instead where we headed up to the terrace and listened to some great oldies-but-goodies, which somehow never get too old. They have music most nights of the week, changing nightly. You can catch their Facebook page to see what is coming up.
All in all we have enjoyed our time in Merida enough so that we will return. It is very different from our home in San Miguel de Allende which is really where are hearts are. But I for one need to have some warm weather most of the year and San Miguel gets a bit too cold during the winter months. Now it is warming up so it will be perfect for when we return there in April.
We look forward to exploring Merida a bit more in a few days and before we head up to the Bay Area to do some necessary taxes and see family and friends.
If you have been to Merida and have some suggestions for our last week here, or for when we return in December, please let us know about them in the comment section.
One last thing, we have a SCAM ALERT!!!
Coming from San Miguel de Allende where it is so easy to make conversation with people who are genuinely interested in us, we fell for the tourist scam in Merida the first day we were there. Being seasoned travelers with several round-the-worlds under each of our belts we really kicked ourselves afterwards for letting our guards down. Here is how it happened.
We were walking along Calle 60 (the main drag in Centro) when someone standing at the cross walk started talking to us about how we liked his beautiful city and where we were from. We began what we considered a nice conversation where he eventually said he was a travel agent but he didn’t try to get us to buy a tour or anything. At one point he mentioned hats. Glenn, always looking for a good one was interested in the way they made them in the Yucatan. And around Merida there was a particular style made out of Sisal where they had to make them in caves underground to keep the sisal pliable. That part is real and intriguing. A bit more interest on our part. Then he told us about a store that was a co-operative with a town close by where the proceeds went back to the mayan artisans in the town. Well, we like supporting the locals so now it is a bit more interesting. But, it will be closing the next day due to Carnival starting. Warning bells should have gone off now!! He told us where to find the store but did not come with us to it. So we thought how nice he isn’t trying to sell us something. We just had a conversation. Off we went. Also he told us the nick name of the hat. This later seemed to us to have been a code for who had sent us so he could get his commission. Entering the store we were met with big smiles. Ah, a “hippy hoppy hat”, come this way!! There were different qualities to chose from and a price board. So we thought, great, no haggling, it is a set price because it is a co-operative. We paid quite a bit. More than we should have. But, in the end we still got a nice hat that we like.
Moral of the story. Don’t fall for the scam. If someone comes up to you on Calle 60 near the Symphony Hall and starts talking to you in a friendly manner. Beware. Sad to say, but if they bring up co-operatives and shopping it is probably part of the scam.
After our second stint in Merida we want to add to our impressions.
Merida, if we ever come again, would only be used as a stopping point for excursions out of town. In the end, we felt we spent too much time here and were longing for our quaint and beautifully small town of San Miguel de Allende.
Many of the restaurants we visited the first year were out of business the second time, we still felt prices were higher than warranted and trips to the outskirt malls proved disappointing.
In all, by the time we returned to SMA we were chomping at the bit to get home.