Mérida was my return to city living. It’s the capital of the state of Yucatan and apparently the safest city in Mexico. As far as a city goes, it doesn’t have as much going on as I expected it to, but it was still a good stop for a few days.
A couple of people from my Valladolid hostel were also going to Mérida that day (although we all went on different buses) and had heard good things about Nomadas Hostel, so I decided to go there too. It is a large hostel whose main draws are the pool and lots of outdoor hangout space, which were unfortunately a bit wasted due to the daily afternoon downpour I experienced. But it was a good place to meet people and find out more about what to do in and around town.
I started out by exploring the city itself. The city offers a free walking tour on weekdays at 9:30 am, which was a great introduction to Mérida and its history. Our guide was informative and showed us all the main sites in the historical center. I followed this up with more local history and art at the free Museo de la Ciudad. I wandered the chaotic Mercado Municipal Lucas de Galvez, which has a section for random merchandise like jewelry and party favors next to the produce section packed with fruit and vegetable stalls. Throughout the market people are playing music on loud speakers. It’s a sensory overload kind of place that everyone should experience. I grabbed a cheap lunch of an empanada and the spiky lychee-like fruit that I thought only existed in Southeast Asia before wandering around the rest of the historic center highlights.
Mérida went through a few phases of development that caused a strong European influence in its architecture. First was the Spanish conquest, then it experienced an economic boom during the 19th century due to its henequen fields, which coincided with an attraction to the cultural epicenter of the time, France. Because of this buildings appeared with iron balconies and a wide avenue was lined with chateau-like homes, a Mexican ode to the Champs-Elysees. Once henequen was replaced by synthetic materials Mérida became inconsequential, and was subsequently left to itself. Not much has changed since.
Mérida grew on me. At first I was a bit disappointed, since it had received such high reviews from other people, but the longer I stayed the more accustomed to it I became. I give its street numbering system major points though – streets are all numbered, with evens running north/south and odds east/west. It’s easy to navigate and so sensible.
I also finally had my first real night out in Mérida and it was a great one. We got a large group of travelers together from the hostel – Brits, Aussies, Germans, Quebecians, Kiwis, Dutch, Norwegian – and went to the Mezcaleria. In my mind we would be at a cool bar taste-testing mezcal; in reality this nightclub promoted mezcal shots and dancing the night away. Our MX$50 entry included a mezcal cocktail, and for the reasonable price of another MX$50 you could get two shots of mezcal and a beer. We were there till the 3 am closing time, dancing our asses off to a mix of salsa and international music. Just so fun.
Four nights was plenty though. With a day and a half exploring the city and two days on excursions to nearby attractions, I felt like I got a good impression of what Mérida was about.