This is a seven-part-story series on the magic of Merida, Mexico rated as one of the best cities to travel to in 2022.

I arrived in Merida for the first time on a 10-day visit to connect with a friend and to venture on my own. Driving from the airport to my destination, you get to experience a hidden gem of an old colonial city that has been through its fair share of economic struggles and is slowly becoming a place that is timeless and exceptionally gifted.

It is as authentic as it gets with its historic architecture and Mayan culture. Once a great city of wealth tied to a global economy that has moved on to greener pastures, Merida is reinventing itself to the pleasure of people like me. If you are looking to understand how a true colonial town transforms itself while remaining rooted in its history, this is the place to be. In fact, if you have any Native American DNA in your ancestry, this city will awaken in you their spirits…. and if you don’t, you can only wish you could. More on what makes this city uniquely wondrous.

What Brought Me to Merida

Several years ago, my friend Sonia mentioned Merida to me. I also read about it in several blogs. Since then, my friend Nikisha decided that the best birthday present she can give herself was to spend a month in Merida (for more on the Relevance of Celebrating Birthdays and Anniversaries in a big way, click here). The last 5 days of Nikisha’s trip, I met up with her at a quaint Airbnb about a 15-minute walk to the center of the city. Afterward, I booked an old colonial vintage style hotel (La Casa de Balm) in the heart of the city that made me feel like I was no longer in the present.

A Bit of History

Those who read my stories know all too well that history and how communities thrive are part of my traveling lens in understanding the complexities of our humanity. There is so much I’ve learned about this city and the Yucatán peninsula that I’m hoping to share through this series and my photos. But first some background on this amazing peninsula….

The Yucatán peninsula is home to the Mayans, an ancient civilization that created its own mathematical system beginning with zero, developed calendars and writing systems and built cities among many of its achievements. Even though the Mayans fought hard against their colonizers–the Spaniards, they were unsuccessful. Eventually becoming slaves and losing much of their social, economic and political power. Today, there are over 6 million Mayans reclaiming their culture and history and language. Mayan culture is everywhere, from the cuisine to the clothes, the language, cultural beliefs and much more. They are both proud Mayans and Mexicans. There is no separating of the two. Although, poverty is still a major barrier among Mayan communities and remote villages.

The City of Merida

The city was founded in 1542 and immediately became a successful economic engine as a global exporter of henequen, the processing of a fiber made from the agave family of plants. After decades of global production, by the 20th century, henequen was replaced by nylon and other synthetic fibers, causing an economic depression of which its consequences still remain today (more on this at another story).

Today the city of Merida, which is the major commerce center for the surrounding rural communities with over a million city residents, is gradually experiencing a renaissance becoming an internationally known tourist destination and a place for expatriates to retire and investors to profit. Its colonial history is uniquely rich and inspiring. But beware, Merida is not a resort town. The closest beach is about 30 minutes. Resort living is not its specialty. For those that wish to visit, this city is about history, art and culture, unique culinary experiences, and for those that love architecture, both old and reconstructed.

As an old colonial city in slow recovery, you will immediately experience an infrastructure in need of some help. There is a bit (actually a lot) of abandoned properties of which its architectural beauty is not lost, abandoned retail, streets and sidewalks that can use a facelift and the flooding of streets when it rains. However, as you walk through the city streets, you will also see quite a bit of renovations. Gems of buildings that now have become new residences, boutique hotels, Airbnbs, cafes, restaurants, galleries and retail that cater to tourists and its growing foreign residents.

 What I Love About Merida

Here is what I love about Merida, and why you may want to visit.

First…The People — friendly, supportive, industrious, engaging and so much more.  At least 90% of folks here wear a mask indoors (this includes the tourists if you want to enter their establishments). A good number of them wear it outside in the blasting heat. They are so respectful of the disease and of those surrounding them. As of July, it was reported that Mexico’s infections and hospitalizations continue to steadily decline with close to 85% vaccination rate. The selling of merchandise by young women, men and sometimes children can be a bit much but again reflects on their industrious nature to make an honest living. Life here is about work and family.

The Yucatán Cuisine— is amazing, sophisticated and elegantly presented. One of my stories will be to share what the Mayan cuisine is all about, with plenty of photos. Oh yes, this is not your typical Mexican American grub.

The Cenotes —-known as pits or sinkholes in caves with stunning limestone carvings that you can swim in are just dazzling. I only visited one but there are close to 30 in the Yucatán region. I plan to visit many more when I am back in Merida next year for an entire month. More on what this experience was like in another story with photos as part of this newsletter.

The Architecture— As I already mentioned, the city’s architecture is a reminder of a powerful past that it is trying to reclaim and readapt to the realities of today’s economy and real estate market. My community development lens was all over the place and yes, I have a lot to say about it but in another story. One thing for sure, I have fallen in love with Merida’s doors and windows and so there will also be a story about their enchanting past and present beauties.

The Vibrancy of the “Centro of the city, a place for all its people. —-A commerce center where a million of its residents come for shopping, business, entertainment and dining. There was nothing I enjoyed more than walking the streets connecting with people, exploring the retail and dining options and taking photos. My photos will be my permanent memory bank.

Other stories that will be part of this series will be the role of Haciendas and their evolution, the Mazapan’s ruins and maybe one more story…. we will see.

What Did I Not Like About Merida

Not much, other than the scorching heat and humidity. Between May – August, you feel like you are in a sauna, with May being its hottest month. Between the hours of 12-3 pm there are few walking the streets as there is not one sliver of shade to hide under. Many businesses shut down for several hours, much like a siesta (although they do not call it that). Many times, I changed clothes twice a day always feeling damped. Best advice I can give if you are traveling during these months is to wear clothes that are breathable. Leave those spandex leggings and high heels home and free yourself from wearing makeup because it won’t stay on your face. Also, there will be plenty of bad hair days. There were a number of early evening showers that help cool down the streets. I got a lucky shot capturing a rainbow over a glittering chapel.

Final Note: For this story, I have handpicked about 70 photos from over 500 that reflect an overview of what Merida is like…. both its past and present, the architecture, its people relaxing or working, its cuisine, and what the main corridor and streets look like at night and during the day. Also, there are photos that are part of two other stories listed in this newsletter. The remaining stories and photos will be spread among future newsletters.

Don’t forget to click the center of the photos for a full view.

Also click here to access Nikisha’s google map list of popular restaurants, cafes, bars, gift shops, museums and historical sites with the intention of it becoming part of your bucket list (thanks Nikisha). More on Merida to come !!

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