Gran Museo del Maya
If you are interested in Mayan culture, history and life, and maybe visiting nearby antiquities, then make your way (taxi or the bus worked fine too) a few miles out of town to the new Gran Museo del Mundo Maya. It is a substantial, well organized place and will take you half a day.
The Heart of Merida
All the above are well worth visiting and laced between them are cafes and the odd bar (which are also worth visiting). We happened to be there on a night when the USA was playing Mexico in Mexico City and had the pleasure of viewing it, amongst a band of enthusiastic and friendly locals. There are so many places to eat all day, so simply test a few….I enjoyed everyone (but then I am just happy to visit mid ranged, local places with things I sometimes don’t understand what they are, on the Menu).
We came across some activities on the Plaza which take place regularly (and are free!), just ask the Tourist Office for times:
- A light show in the evening light up the Casa de Montejo
- At weekends they often close part of the Plaza and dancers perform the traditional Yucatan moves in their local Mayan outfits
- There is a regular guided walk, in English, highlighting the history of the surrounds
Merida is the antidote to the beach
It’s about 4 hours from Cancun, inland, in the Yucatan. Even though Merida has a tourist industry because of the buildings, cafes, museums and colonial feel to it, Merida is essentially a sizeable regional center.
The joys of Merida are its narrow streets, and squares first founded by a Spanish chap called Franciso de Montejo in the mid 1500’s; nowadays he is memorialized by a popular local bottled beer! The pride of place is Plaza Grande and I’d advise staying in one of the various places near there, as that is the cultural and leisure heart of the city. Surrounding the Plaza is the magnificent cathedral, the mansion of Casa de Montejo the Palacio Municipal (which housed the Tourist Office) which you can visit and is an opportunity to get inside a colonial building. Next to the cathedral is the Contemporary Art Museum (there were several smaller ones too I noticed).
Ever one to explore beyond the city one day we took a regular bus to the little town of Progresso, 45 minutes away. A small seaside town with a very, very long pier which periodically has cruise liners dock (fortunately none there when I was there and so the town was easy and pleasant to explore).
One day we rented a small car, for around $25, and this enabled us to visit Uxmal and the various small sites on the Ruta Puc. Practically, apart from getting slightly lost getting out of seemingly, sign less Merida, the driving was easy and pleasant with good roads and little traffic.
We left at 5.30am and thus was at Uxmal when the gate opened at 8am (after having had time for a coffee too). This was a great move:
- The temperature was ideal
- We had the place to ourselves – by the time we left 3 hours later the first coaches had arrived and were hurrying folk around
- (I’ve not been to Chichen Itza but hear that can be mobbed in the peak as it is much nearer to the Cancun resorts)
- Uxmal is the honey pot. Everyone goes there, the nearby smaller sights were pretty well deserted. Wonderful to have such old and atmospheric locations to yourself!
- Uxmal is remarkable, well kept and over a wide area in the semi forest. Definitely worth the, not inconsiderable effort, whatever your level of interest. We also ran across the Chocolate Museum (apparently lots of the worlds cocoa used to be grown there, nowadays it comes from places like The Ivory Coast).my rule of not driving in the dark in unfamiliar places.
How did we get to Merida?
- TheMerida airport has a small handful of flights from the US coming to the delightfully tiny airport. But I came from Mexico City on the Mexican low cost carrier My expectations were low but, with new aircraft, free service on board, civilized loading, it compares very well to the likes of Ryanair to me. You can book Interjet here
- I’d decided for the return to get to Cancun Airport and take a non stop flight back to Newark, so I planned on taking a coach. Mexico has no passenger rail service left but does have a network of longer distance coaches. I used Ado, booked tickets a day in advance and travelled on a nice, modern, well driven coach. Seems like there is a range of good and high class luxury coaches operating across Mexico; they seem well regulated and good value. I’d certainly do that again.
- Note : having been used to the excellent and well priced food of the interior of the Yucatan it came as shock to get London prices at Cancun Airport!
- In the USA Mexico gets bad press regarding safety and security and whilst it is sensible to go aware of the facts, also pack your open mind!
- A few words of Spanish go a long way (even though many speak English)
- If you do go in the summer (and Merida is a place you can visit at any time) prepare for the fact that in the afternoons it will be very hot and work around that