The sun-kissed town of Mérida has certainly joined the ranks of Mexico’s most desired destinations lately. The capital of the state of Yucatán, Mérida features Mayan culture, rustic architecture, a relaxed vibe, proximity to the white sands of Progreso beach and iconic ruins like Chichen Itza, a progressive mindset, safety, and contemporary comforts at fantastic prices—all of which seduce many US tourists into becoming repeat visitors and, in some cases, permanent residents. Here we offer up five reasons, besides delicious warm weather, to book a trip to Mérida right now.
1. Yucatecan Cuisine…and Cooking It
Yucatecan cuisine is unique from the rest of Mexico’s thanks to a handful of factors: European as well as south-of-the-border influences; rustic, age-old cooking methods; and a wealth of indigenous Yucatán produce like Chaya leaf, Achiote, and Habanero peppers. Plus, a comfort to the spice-averse, it’s very mild—fiery elements are added to dishes as condiments after they’re served. An Oklahoma City expat, chef David Sterling runs Yucatecan cooking school Los Dos, offering tasting-heavy tours of Mérida's spectacular, labyrinthine market complex and preparations of dishes like pavo en relleno negro a la francés (oregano butter-roasted turkey in charred chile sauce), sikil pak (a pumpkin seed-based dip), and sopa de lima (a lime-chicken soup).
2. Contemporary Yucatecan Art
The two-level Yucatan Museum of Contemporary Art, aka MACAY, is the only institution of its kind dedicated to showcasing the region’s freshest, cutting-edge, modern work. Smack dab in the historic center, across from Plaza Grande and next door to Catedral San Idelfonso, the two-level building—once the bishop’s palace, incidentally—contains some 15 rooms’ worth of temporary exhibitions, a handful of permanent galleries (largely dedicated to local household names Gabriel Ramírez Aznar, Fernando Garcia Ponce, and muralist Fernando Castro Pacheco), and multimedia installations throughout its spaces and leafy courtyard. Oh—and it’s free!
3. Sundays in the Square
Every Sunday, the historic Plaza Grande area is closed off to traffic and morphs into a lively market and festival. During the early part of the day, folks bicycle through from Paseo de Montejo (the city’s Champs-Élysées equivalent, half of which is also car-free), while restaurants set up outdoor café seats along the plaza for prime people-watching. Hawker carts offer street food staples like marquesitas and esquites, the former a waffle cone-like treat, the latter a savory cup of corn niblets with sour cream (or mayo), chile sauce, and lime, while performances take place with plenty of traditional outfits, dancing, and music.
4. Amazing Boutique Retreats
Mérida brims with privacy-minded boutique properties offering distinctly Yucatán flavor and design, from budget-traveler-friendly to luxury-honeymooners-friendly. One of our 2013 Hotel Awards winners, the Neoclassical Casa Lecanda falls squarely into the latter category with seven uniquely designed rooms, while the five-room Villa Verde, an impeccably restored 1700s-era home—its oversized front doors were originally designed for accommodating horse carriages—boasts a gorgeous courtyard and pool. The Rosas Y Xocolate is Mérida's closest thing to a W—with its hip vibe, a spa featuring chocolate-drizzled body treatments, and a well-curated shop—while the all-suite Hacienda Xcanatun offers sublime bliss and tranquility with bathtubs carved from coral stone, private outdoor verandas and hydrotherapy tubs, and a restaurant serving high-end takes on Yucatecan staples. Be sure to savor a cool Jamaica—a black cherry-eque beverage made from hibiscus flowers.
5. This Sandwich
While plenty of delicious pork meat, cooked and otherwise, can be found at Mérida's market, the torta de lechón al horno (roasted suckling pig sandwich) at its Taqueira la Socorrito should be on the bucket list of porchetta-sandwich-lovers everywhere. A baguette-style roll is sliced and slathered with pork fat and juices, then filled with succulent fall-apart meat, sections of crackly skin (called cáscara), and slaw, then seasoned to taste with chopped onions and peppers pickled in sour orange juice. It could, more than any other factor, be the reason you visit Mérida again.