A friend who visited Merida in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula this fall reports that it is still a laid-back, charming colonial city with low to moderate prices. Merida is one of my favorite cities. It is not overrun with tourists, and the locals are generally both dignified and friendly.
The centre of the city has many buildings that date from the colonial period, and most homes and hotels are constructed around beautiful inner courtyards. Merida is also an excellent base from which to explore the Mayan ruins at Uxmal and Chichen Itza.
My friend stayed at two of the city’s most expensive hotels, the Panamericana and the Montejo Palace. Even so, he spent only $56 a night for a double room at each hotel. He preferred the Montejo Palace in general, but liked the big courtyard swimming pool and garden at the Panamericana.
There are many nice places to stay in Merida that are less expensive. The Paseo Montejo, just across the street from the Montejo Palace, charges about $10 less per night for a double. The Maria del Carmen, which is part of the Best Western chain, has double rooms for about $48 a night, and they can be reserved by calling Best Western’s toll free number.
A number of years ago I liked the Hotel Colon, which has a delightful garden and some rooms with private steam baths. The Hotel Caribe is highly recommended in guidebooks. Should you arrive at the Merida airport without a place to stay, there is a hotel finding service there.
While it is possible to fly direct to Merida, it would probably be less costly to take a charter flight to Cancun and then a local bus. Mexican inter-city buses are inexpensive and usually good. The Yucatan is one part of Mexico where driving yourself is also a reasonable option – the terrain is flat and the roads relatively decent.
Several companies operate day trips from Merida to the ruins at Chichen and Uxmal. The trips cost about $25 per person, which includes transportation by minibus, lunch and the services of an English-speaking guide. My friend stayed one night at the Hacienda Uxmal, a gorgeous colonial style hotel within walking distance of the ruins. A double room there cost about $58. The sound and light show at the ruins cost a mere $2.50.
He also spent two days at a beach resort called Yucalpeten on the north coast of the Yucatan. A room at the Fiesta Inn right on the beach was about $35 a night, but would be more in winter. Tucalpeten is a new resort area which can be reached by taxi from the town of Progrese, and the bus to Progreso from Merida costs only about 75 cents.
Food prices in Merida are reasonable. A buffet breakfast at the Montejo Palace that included a big selection of breads and fruits as well as four hot dishes cost less than $5. At a cafe, a meal of four enchiladas, two soft drinks and two beers came to about $6. My friend liked a pizza place called El Gatto. I used to enjoy the food at a popular restaurant called the Express, which is still there. For a treat, the Buffalo Restaurant specializes in beef, particularly steak. A full meal for two with drinks and a shrimp appetizer costs about $30. Los Almendros and Tulipanes are both moderately priced restaurants that specialize in local cuisine. At the cafes, beer costs from 50 cents to $1.25 depending on the poshness of the place.
Shopping is one of the attractions of Merida. Bargains include silver jewelry, embroidered dresses called huipils for women and shirts called guayaberas for men or women, as well as hammocks and panama hats. Name brand toiletries and other items are available in Mexico at about half their Canadian prices.