Mérida, Yucatán Gem

Centro historico of Mérida

The Yucatán’s capital, Mérida, is an unhurried city of pastel crayon colored 19th Century Spanish Colonial mansions and traditional squares accented by popular public parks. One of the safest cities in Mexico, not only is it an architectural gem, it treasures its Mayan heritage. Folk dancing takes place on the closed off historic square on Saturday nights, and bike riding can be enjoyed in Paseo Montejo, which is closed to cars on Sundays. Mérida was founded in 1542 and was named after the town of Mérida in Extremadura Spain. The city was built on the site of the Maya city of “Tho.” Tho had been a center of Mayan culture for centuries and because of this, some historians consider Mérida the oldest continually occupied city in the Americas.

The Plaza Grande marks the center of the city, the centro historico of Merida. Bounded on four sides by buildings which include the Cathedral San Idelfonso, the Governor’s Palace, Casa Montejo (now inhabited by a Banamex), the MACAY museum, the Olimpo (a cultural center that houses gallery space, a movie theatre and the Planetarium) and the Ayuntamiento (City Hall), the Plaza Grande is a lovely park where people come to meet, sit, read the paper, sing, dance, chase the pigeons or just watch the world go by. Locals still ride in little horse-drawn taxis, which gather by the plaza in the evenings. Trios of trovadores wait to be hired for serenades and wander the corridors strumming their guitars.

At the turn of the century, merchants who had grown rich on the trade in sisal rope brought great wealth to Mérida. The city retains a European feel, with many of the older buildings built from French bricks and tiles, brought over as ballast in trading ships. Like the rest of the peninsula, it had little effective contact with central Mexico until the 1960s and looked to Europe for influence, thus the stark difference in character and style from most of other popular Mexican cities.

Ancient Mayan history is still evident in many buildings, carved Maya stones from ancient T’ho were widely used to build the Spanish colonial buildings that are abundant in central Mérida. Much of Mérida’s architecture from the colonial period through the 18th century and 19th century is still standing in the centro historico of the city.

From colonial times through the mid-19th century, Mérida was a walled city intended to protect the residents from periodic revolts by the indigenous Maya. Three of the original seven old Spanish city gates survive, but modern day Mérida has expanded well beyond the old city walls.The exposed brick streets were originally brought from Spain as ballast in the sailing ships, sailors replaced the ballast with ink wood harvested in Mérida.

Mérida and the state of Yucatán have traditionally been isolated from the rest of the country by geography, creating a unique culture. The conquistadors found the Mayan culture to be incredibly resilient, and their attempts to eradicate Mayan tradition, religion, and culture had only moderate success.  The surviving remnants of the Mayan culture can be seen every day, in dress, language, and in both written and oral histories. It is especially apparent on holidays like Hanal Pixan, a Mayan/Catholic Day of the Dead celebration. It falls on November 1 and 2 (one day for adults, and one for children). Many of the local ladies still wear the traditional white dress decorated in beautiful embroidery.

Not only is Mérida a wonderful draw on its own, the central location is the perfect starting point to explore the Mayan Route of ruins, cenotes (underwater sinkholes with crystal clear water), and refurbished haciendas. Some of the haciendas are private residences and we have access to the best of the best!


I spent three days with a couple of extremely knowledgeable guides – I was wildly impressed with both guides and loved exploring Mérida and Uxmal, one of the largest and most important archaeological sites of Mayan culture. The Mayan town of Uxmal, in Yucatán, was founded c. A.D. 700 and had 25,000 inhabitants. The layout of the buildings, which date from between 700 and 1000, reveals knowledge of astronomy. The Pyramid of the Soothsayer, as the Spaniards called it, dominates the ceremonial center, which has well-designed buildings decorated with a profusion of symbolic motifs and sculptures depicting Chaac, the god of rain. The ceremonial sites of Uxmal, Kabah, Labna and Sayil are considered the high points of Mayan art and architecture. Uxmal is only about 40 miles from Merida. Spend a week here and vary your days: lounging about, exploring Mérida and venturing out to the archeological sites.

Despite the large population of Mérida, the area feels sleepy and calm, it doesn’t exhibit the rush rush energy of a large city; small villages dot the country roads, week long fiestas are popular in the tranquil towns outside the city. Mérida, itself can lay claim to a couple of well known chefs – I met two who had trained under chef René Redzep at Noma, the world famous Copenhagen restaurant. Roberto Solis, owner and chef at Néctar is a former Noma chef and he also cooked at Per Se in New York. Our dinner at Néctar, a small unassuming restaurant was amazing and the  very reasonable tab was beyond belief for the amount of food and wine we enjoyed, under the watchful care of friendly and efficient staff. The New Yucatecan Cuisine, as Solis describes it, is traditional in a sense, but wildly innovative.

Don’t miss the Mercado market teeming with vendors of fresh fruits and vegetables, piles of  indigenous spices, housewares – a massive mecca of interesting food and home items. If you like poking through cemeteries, the Cementerio General is spectacular.

This is not a traditional bustling city like Mexico City – Mérida has a relaxed vibe, love the proximity to Mayan ruins without the crowds, love the authentic city and the very friendly locals.

Planning another escape soon! Highly recommend and we can help you organize the VV Best guides, dining, private experiences and hacienda resort stay. We can also arrange visits to private haciendas for cooking classes with well known local chefs.

Chablé Spa, Mérida

Set near ancient Mayan ruins, sacred sites and sleepy villages, Chablé Resort & Spa in the village town of Chocholá, welcomes spa aficionados to 40 deluxe villas with private pools in the heart of the Mayan forest.

The stunning spa is imagined as a hedonistic and utterly private retreat, the hacienda’s centerpiece is its incredible spa built beside a “cenote” – natural cave formations, fed by natural underground springs and are believed to be sacred to the Mayans. The cenote, the energy center of the Spa, is considered a power source by the Mayans.https://i1.wp.com/chableresort.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/chable_fountain_of_youth.jpg?fit=1300%2C853

Spa philosophy is based on a duality of the eternal dance between two opposing forces, which strengthen each other. Shamanism combined with luxury, ancient healing techniques with modern science. The extensive spa menu provides a broad range of Journeys. Begin with a beautiful Mayan initiation ceremony, including a sage cleansing and Mayan blessings, meander to your teak cube perched above the cenote and begin the calming Journey. The menu is filled with pages of  unusual ‘experiences’ like the three temescal, the pre-Hispanic Mexican version of a sweat lodge combined with ceremonies performed by local shamans and Janzu water massage. Several stand alone buildings contain a saltwater-filled ‘floatarium’ and a hydrotherapy circuit which includes three plunge pools and a steam room cave covered with gold tiles. Yoga is offered daily on the banks of the cenote or beneath the canopy of a massive tree hung with flickering lanterns. https://i0.wp.com/chableresort.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Scroll-down-SPA.jpg?fit=1063%2C709

As the central concept of Mayan cosmology, the Tree of Life is a sacred symbol representing two remote worlds, Heaven and Earth, united by the Human Being. The Tree of Life honors the quintessential nature of duality in life and portrays the body as a bridge or transitional point between the tangible and intangible worlds. Through the spa treatments, guests are invited to find a balancing space within, a space where harmony, introspection and stability reside.https://i0.wp.com/chableresort.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Chable-97.jpg?fit=1300%2C867

Even if you aren’t a ‘spa junkie’ the exotic blend of options and sense of calmness will lure you back each day to the Chablé Spa. This is a spot where you should indulge in the spa treatments, roam the magnificent grounds, unplug, and then…take time to visit the splendid Mayan ruins and historic colonial capital of Mérida. I spent a leisurely week and am ready to return to indulge and dig deeper into the mysteries of the Mayans.


  • Truly one of the best spa experiences I’ve enjoyed.

Herb Bouquets