Plaza Grande in Mérida. (Courtesy: New York Post)
By Lawrence Ferber
Occupying the Yucatán Peninsula’s northwest edge, Mérida is the perfect storm of rustic authenticity, youthful energy, year-round sunshine, affordable prices, modern conveniences, unique Mayan culture and independent mindset (a Yucatán flag is stashed at the governor’s should they ever secede).
Mérida’s historic center is its heart, dense with 18th- and 19th-century Spanish and French colonial architecture, public squares and boutique-y commerce. Paseo de Montejo, named after a clan of Spanish conquistadors, is its leafy Champs-Élysées — or, less cliché, Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard — equivalent. On Sundays, between 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., a portion of the Paseo and downtown become a bicycle and pedestrian zone — you can rent bikes along the route. Bonus: beachcombers need not haul four hours east to Cancún, as Progreso Beach is just 40 minutes north.
Chock-full of what’s-ons, reviews, and up-to-the-minute news, yucatanliving.com is among the best English-language resources for visitors and expats. Just be sure to carry mosquito repellent and apply it liberally. Mérida’s bloodsuckers are vicious, everywhere, and will happily risk suicide for delicious gringo blood.
Casa Lecanda has seven suites with seven scents. (Photo: Eduardo Cervantes)
Once home to the region’s wealthy, Mérida is littered with villas, mansions, and haciendas that, over the past century, fell into disrepair. Enterprising hoteliers have restored some of these to glory — with Wi-Fi to boot. The seven-suite Casa Lecanda epitomizes this trend in luxurious, honeymoon-grade fashion with amenities like organic soap and seven individualized room scents from Yucatan’s splendid Coqui-Coqui Perfumeria, plus a gorgeous bar and pool.
Renting a renovated private home is another popular option, as many have pools. Urbano Rentals, run by NYC expats Josh Ramos and John Powell, formerly of SoHo shop/design firm, Naturemorte, offers a superb selection in prime locations. Other recommended sites for vacation rentals include Mexico International and global standbys airbnb.com and vrbo.com.
Set apart from the rest of Mexico by its native ingredients and global inspiration, Yucatecan cuisine is also quite mild: hot chili is added as a condiment, with sour orange juice and pickled red onion, rather than incorporated during the cooking process. New York ex-pat David Sterling’s Los Dos offers Yucatecan cooking classes and a tasting tour of Mérida’s labyrinthine Lucas de Gálvez market. Must-trys include papadzules, chopped egg-filled corn tortillas slathered in creamy pumpkin seed and tomato sauces, and panuchos, open-faced tacos made with black-bean-stuffed tortillas.
Ignore Chaya Maya, a touristy Applebee’s of Yucatan. Instead, grab a plastic patio seat at Parque Santa Ana’s open-air stall Mary for fantastic panuchos, pavo en escabeche (savory turkey stew), and sopa de Lima (lime and chicken soup): You can identify Mary’s chairs by their illustration of a roast chicken. Breakfast and tacos don’t come better than at Wayan’e (Calle 20 at Calle 15, Colonia Itzimná), while Parque Santa Lucia’s comparatively upscale Apoala, opened in late 2013, traffics in Yucatecan-Oaxacan fusion fare and tasty craft libations. It’s a drive, but Hacienda Teya can’t be beat for its expert, authentic preparations and lush hacienda surroundings. For nouveau interpretations that would wow Wylie Dufresne, K’u’uk and Nectar are musts — make reservations ASAP!
New and stunning, albeit unfinished, Gran Museo del Mundo Maya provides a 21st-century survey of Mayan culture plus a daily, free 9 p.m. outdoor light show.
A sculpture at El Museo Fernando García Ponce-MACAY. (Photo: Lawrence Ferber)
Mérida’s MoMA, El Museo Fernando García Ponce-MACAY, is dedicated to contemporary Yucatecan multi-media work, while the large, haunting murals of recently deceased local painter Fernando Castro Pacheco can be seen for free at the nearby Governor’s Palace. Want a peek inside some of those gorgeously restored Mérida homes? From November to March, New York ex-pat/Realtor Keith Heitke leads 90-minute House & Garden walking tours on Wednesdays at 9:45 a.m. — meet at boutique/foreign cinema, LA68 Casa de Cultura (Calle 68 470A at Calle 55). Overdosed on cute boutique shops? Sample high-end shopping mall therapy Yucatán style at Galerias Mérida, which boasts an indoor ice-skating rink.
DRINK & PLAY
On weekends you may endure a line for La Fundación Mezcalería (465 Calle 56), but the young, mixed crowd and fruity, mezcal-spiked libations in this indoor-courtyard maze are worth it. Just a block away, Casa Pompidou (Calle 58, entre c53 and c55) is hipster ground zero, with a dance floor, electronic soundtrack, swathes of street art and live performances.
More from New York Post:
WATCH: Globe Trekker: LA Ruta Maya