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Trip Report Merida Trip Report - Lots of Food

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I'm always thinking ahead to winter vacation and after we spent 2 weeks in Merida last February, we decided to extend our trip to 3 weeks for this year. The nice thing about going to a place we’ve visited before is that we didn’t feel the need to do a lot of sightseeing. We could enjoy the city. Having taken an (expensive) trip to Iceland in August, we also needed to keep our budget in mind.

Westjet has weekly direct flights through the winter, so you’re in Merida about 4 hours after leaving Toronto. I had booked a house in Santa Ana through AirBnB. I wasn’t able to get the same place that we rented last year in Santiago – it was already booked. The interior wasn’t as nice as last year’s, however the garden was equally as nice. We had a pretty little dipping pool – I could sit in it and cool down and that was perfect after a long walk! The kitchen was well-equipped, although we didn’t do a lot of cooking. We found that we really appreciated being in Santa Ana – so convenient and easy to get around. (The sidewalks seem better maintained in Santa Ana than in Santiago, something that I appreciated by the end of the day.)

In terms of activities, we re-visited a couple of museums that we really enjoyed last time – Macay and also the Museo de Arte Popular. They are both free, quite different from one another, and really enjoyable. We wandered over to the Lucas Galvez market one morning and we visited Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, the big archeological museum, another day. We went to the symphony a couple of times (the second time was especially good, with an excellent guest saxophonist) and we also saw a fantastic jazz performance by the Edmar Casteneda Trio at Santa Ana one evening. Our house was near La Negrita so we ended up there a couple of times for drinks. Busy place and we were lucky to get a table and we were able to sit and enjoy the music late one afternoon. We went to the Paseo de Montejo on 2 of our Sunday mornings – it’s fun to watch all the people who come out to cycle or rollerblade or walk.

We had plans to go to both Celestun and Uxmal this year, but only got to Uxmal. We hired someone to take us there and then to a couple of cenotes, with a stop at the Pickled Onion for lunch. I was so impressed by Uxmal – we got there early before the tour buses arrived and so enjoyed it. It’s been many years since I was at Chichen Itza, but I definitely preferred Uxmal. The cenotes were really fun! We basically had them to ourselves and it was a wonderful day.

We did the Merida Art Walk again (and once again bought a piece of art!). There was no way that we could see all the artists, but we enjoyed what we did see. Part of the appeal is seeing inside the artists’ homes and studios. I felt some serious house envy by the end of the day! (If I had unlimited money and wasn’t worried about losing it, I’d be very tempted to buy and restore one of those colonial homes. Oh well, maybe in another life.)

Much of the time, we wandered around the city, stopping for coffee and relaxing. Merida has so many good coffee shops now. We have our favourite (Bengala) – great A/C and nice baristas – and they now have a smaller one in Santiago, as well as the one in Santa Lucia. They only have a limited selection of baked goods though, so a couple of times we ended up at Pan Central which is better for a pastry. We even went to Starbucks a couple of times – the location on the Paseo de Montejo is handy when you are in the area and need an air conditioned place to sit and have a cold coffee. We had ice cream a couple of times – Pola is so good. John also discovered the chocolate frappes at Ki Xocolatl in Santa Lucia – yummy and so chocolatey.

We really enjoyed the restaurants in Merida last year, and we weren’t disappointed this year. We typically had breakfast at the house, then either lunch or dinner out (sometimes both). Overall, prices were so much cheaper than in Toronto. We spent anywhere from $15 or $20 CAD for the 2 of us up to $80 CAD for Oliva Enoteca. (My husband doesn’t drink so that keeps prices down.)

We went to Apoala again where I love the ceviche and the stuffed squash blossoms. I had a reservation since there were going to be 6 of us and I was glad we had one – it’s a popular place. We also enjoyed Younghee Kitchen again – the owner is lovely and her food is so good. We were glad to see that they are open 4 days a week now. We went to Momocoa twice – it’s a bit of a hike all the way out to Liverpool Mall, but the barbecue there is fantastic. I love their ribs and the pulled pork is fantastic. We also had a fabulous new dessert there – smoked banana, with ice cream and chile / chocolate sauce. Yum! We got to Manjar Blanco again, where I had exactly the same meal as last time – the queso relleno negro, which I love and would order again. We had terrific tacos at Wayan’e – we were excited to find their restaurant in el centro. We met acquaintances at Café Crème where we ordered the cheese plate and the meat plate (prosciutto, pate, etc.) for the 2 of us – a really good choice, and their patio is very pleasant. We had pizza and salmon carpaccio at dadaumpa – again, such a nice patio, and in addition to the good looking owner (or manager?), they have such a sweet cat. We also had dinner twice at Ave del Paraiso – the Thai food is really good, and we ended up there on our last night so my husband could have hot curry to help get rid of his congestion. (Didn’t really help – we both had colds when we got back – but the food was really good.) During the Merida Art Walk, we found ourselves in Maiz, Canela y Cilantro, which is a nice little place we ate at last year. Good food and very inexpensive. We liked the sandwiches at Café Sukra – one was definitely big enough to share for a light lunch.

In terms of new restaurants (at least to us), we ate at both Oliva restaurants. We arrived in Merida on our 30th anniversary so we had lunch at Oliva Enoteca. We had dinner on Valentine’s Day at Oliva Kitchen. Both were excellent, although I especially loved the cannolis at Enoteca – they were sooo good. (It seemed like 3 or 4 people had a hand in assembling the dish!) Those were our 2 most expensive meals, but definitely worth it for a celebration. We also ate at Peruano twice. Peruvian ceviche is fabulous and we really enjoyed first our lunch and then our dinner there. We had a pleasant dinner at Apapacho – a simple little restaurant on calle 62 where I loved my mushrooms in a mole sauce. We shared a good pizza and salad at Eskondida. We enjoyed our Lebanese meal at Pita Mediterranean. (John had falafels, I had a pita with eggplant, eggs, salad, etc. – very tasty – and we shared a babaganoush appetizer.) One place that we really enjoyed was El Barrio, just a block off the Paseo de Montejo. The egg dishes are very good and the cinnamon buns are amazing. (She puts nuts and cranberries on the top!) We had hoped to go there on our last morning, but really didn’t have time unfortunately.We also really liked the food and atmosphere at Escargot Rustico, where we shared a baguette sandwich and a pastry on afternoon.

I’d say our only misstep was dinner at Hennessy’s. I wanted to watch the Oscars and I thought that they’d be showing them in English. We weren’t expecting fabulous food, but it was only so so (fish and chips for me, burger for John). After we ate, we ended up going home and actually found a TV station where the Oscars were in English.

Like I said, we generally ate breakfast at home. The granola from the Slow Food Market is amazing, plus we picked up some nice cheeses there, breads and so on. A couple of times, we picked up tamales there, and they made a good dinner – 50 pesos for 3 tamales (so 100 pesos for the 2 of us) – can’t beat the price! We also picked up a chicken with salad, tortillas, etc at a place not too far from the market. (I can’t remember the name.) Super reasonably priced, especially when we consider that it stretched to dinner one evening and a couple of lunches. We bought ground coffee at Riqueza (1/2 block from where we were staying) and we picked up some basic groceries at the “government store”, also nearby. There was a SIX at Santa Ana where I bought beer a couple of times, as well as a bottle of rum. (I liked the rum with Limon y Nada, which I bought at the little corner store near us.)

Overall, it was a great trip and I can see us going back again, maybe even regularly. (Maybe we’d even get to Celestun next time.) It’s definitely affordable for us, even with our Canadian dollar. I like renting a house – it’s so much more comfortable than a hotel room. We’ve met a couple of people who live in Merida who have become friends, and it’s a comfortable place for us to visit in the winter. A lot of people have the idea that Mexico is just beaches and all inclusives – they’re surprised that there’s something else! They also have the idea that it’s unsafe. Sure, Merida’s a bigger city, but I certainly never felt unsafe.

In the meantime, we’re going to Lisbon, Seville and Granada for 2 weeks in September – time to start planning!

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