It wasn’t instant, but we eventually learned to like, if not love, this crumbling city.
We had wanted to explore the Yucatan peninsular a bit more, so being the biggest city in the region, Merida theoretically made a great base.
I have to be honest, when we arrived I was bit disappointed. It seemed extremely quiet and nothing was open. No restaurants, shops, nothing.
However when we found the main square we discovered there was some life in the city. It had the usual Mexican zocalo feel to it, and plenty of bars and restaurants.
Still, the next day we struggled again, thinking that beyond the square there would be more, but nope, more quiet streets. While we did eventually find places to eat, it never quite lived up to expectations in terms of being a bustling Mexican city. It was quieter than quiet places we had visited such as Guanajuato.
The issue was the size I think, it’s a large city and with no easy ways to get around (there are buses but they are confusing with the one way system) and no way of knowing where the little pockets of action were, it was a bit frustrating.
Don’t get me wrong, it is really beautiful. The old colourful buildings make walking enjoyable and it is very photogenic, but that isn’t helpful when you’re trying to find somewhere to buy a bottle of water.
Our first impression of Merida as a crumbling city wasn’t quite correct either. The centre is, sure, but there are large hotels and superstores on the outskirts of town, and El Paseo Montejo, a large tree lined boulevard flanked by colonial mansions, now converted into museums and businesses but still just as grand and beautiful.
We went out for one special meal, a belated birthday meal after Katy got ill in Cozumel. Lo Que Hay is a totally vegan restaurant, which wouldn’t usually be our first port of call, but sounded like a refreshing change from the meat and cheese dominated Mexican cuisine.
Each night the restaurant has a different theme. There is no menu, you pay a set price (175 pesos) and receive a 4 course meal, plus a drink. When we visited, it was Japanese night. We started with miso soup, which considering it couldn’t use dashi stock (since it contains fish) actually tasted really good, if a bit different.
Second course was fruit, vegtable and bean sushi. This was delicious, and full of contrasting textures. The main course was stir fry, perhaps not the most Japanese but really well flavoured and so, so tasty. We finished off with vegan ice cream, very crumbly as it was mostly shaved ice but again very tasty. All of this was eaten in a beautiful colonial courtyard with fountains all around and a very friendly family who run it. Well worth a visit for even the most hardened meat eaters.
The rest of the week we just ate local food, our two favourites were a delicious gordita (stuffed corn cakes) shop in the main square, and a local taco place which served nothing but beef tacos with the most perfectly cooked, tender juicy beef you can imagine. Yum.
We planned to take lots of day trips from Merida, but we ended up doing a lot of relaxing by the pool instead, in addition to a lot of walking around the city. We did manage two trips though.
Now if we had bothered to study a map, we would have realised that Chichen Itza is halfway back across the peninsular and so it would have been far better to visit on the way back and stop at Valladolid. But we didn’t.
So we dragged ourselves out of bed to catch the 6.30am bus, as we’d been strongly advised to get there early. The ride was about 90 minutes, so we arrived about 8am, which is when the gates opened. After paying the rather expensive entry fee, we were some of the first tourists on site that day. We were so early that none of the souvenir sellers had even set up yet!
And as for the site itself? It was interesting and impressive, but a lot, lot smaller than we imagined. After an hour we’d basically seen it all, though we did spend longer exploring every little corner. But sprawling this is not.
I think it was the cost more than anything – you were being charged way more to see it than other ruins in Mexico just because it is more famous. Also for fans of climbing, you can’t climb anything at Chichen Itza, you can’t even go very near some structures – probably because of the sheer volume of visitors.
We left around 11am as bus after bus of tourists from Cancun started to arrive and the site became very packed, vindicating our decision to go early. We endured half an hour of worry as no ADO buses arrived but eventually a sister company’s bus arrived.
Our other trip was to the beach town of Progreso, around 45 minutes from Merida on a very cheap bus. We didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the town, we just headed straight to the beach!
It’s lined with beachside bars and restaurants, you can sit right on the sand. They’re not cheap but undoubtably a lot cheaper than Cancun!
Progreso is a cruise ship stop which explains the prices and tourists, though it’s not to the same scale as Cozumel was. It also has the unusual record of the world’s longest pier – it stretches out for 6km and because of the length is basically just a suspended highway for most of it’s length. They were obviously very desperate for the cruise ship business!
After some fish tacos, beers and then more beers on the sand, we made our way back to Merida. Progreso isn’t an amazing beach (the water is quite murky compared to the Caribbean sea beaches of Cancun and PDC) but for a seaside day out, it wasn’t bad at all.
The bus from Playa Del Carmen to Merida cost us 408 pesos each with our preferred bus company, ADO. Cheaper tickets are probably available, but as usual we went for comfort (our attitude has changed as we’ve moved through Central America!). The terminal for Merida in PDC is NOT the convenient one right near the main street and beach, it’s a few blocks back and a sweaty walk from the Cozumel ferry dock.
For accommodation we purposely chose a big anonymous hotel. As much as we like guesthouses, sometimes we like somewhere where we can be super lazy and spend a day doing nothing without owners asking you your plans for the day.
Our hotel was called Hotel Plaza Mirador, a posh sounding name but that’s where that ended. It’s a 1990’s hotel which is showing it’s age a bit now, save for an updated pool. The rooms are ok, though ours didn’t have an external window which made for some dark days. We paid £22 per night via Expedia – rather than our usual Booking.com who insisted on adding on tax and IVA to the final price when it should have been included.