Hello from the United States of Frozen! I write to you as I sit huddled under about 6 layers of blankets on my bed. So far the biggest mistake I have made in 2015 was boarding a plane out of a tropical paradise.
ANYhoo, enough complaining… the cold temps mean I have no choice but to lock myself in my room and crank out blog posts from last month’s trip to Mexico! The first stop of my seven night Mexican adventure was 72 hours in Mérida, and the Yucatan’s capital city proved to be the perfect introduction to the country for a newbie. Even though I knew the state of Yucatan was quite safe and far, far away from Mexico’s drug cartel violence and kidnappings, there was still a sliver of nervousness lingering about road tripping around the region. Fortunately, a couple days in Mérida squashed any fears pretty quickly.
Unfortunately my arrival in Mérida was delayed thanks to the worst car rental agency ever, America Car Rental in Cancun. If you are traveling in Mexico, I highly suggest NOT renting from them. Not only did they take almost four hours to bring out our car, but the car we received was on the verge of breakdown. In fact, it did break down halfway between Cancun and Mérida. That’s right, as darkness was falling, we were sitting in a broken down car in the middle of rural Mexico with no cell phone service.
Luckily, after jiggling with some things under the hood, we were finally able to get it started again. I don’t know who I think I’m fooling with this “we” business, as clearly I was sitting in the car continuing to not know a single thing about mechanics. But regardless, crisis averted!
My home base in Mérida was Hotel Medio Mundo, a stylish and colorful boutique property located in the city’s colonial center. The hotel is impeccably decorated and instantly reminded me of a Moroccan riad with some Mexican flair. After a long and stressful day of dealing with car troubles, it was the perfect oasis to collect ourselves in before heading out to explore the city.
I’m not usually one to visit a hotel gift shop, but I have to say that the Medio Mundo gift shop is worth a stop-by even if you aren’t staying there. The owners apparently opened it after receiving so many inquiries about where to buy the bedspreads, pillows and decorations in the hotel’s rooms, and now they travel throughout Mexico hunting down the most beautiful artisan crafts. I parted with quite a few pesos in this shop before checking out!
Hotel Medio Mundo was located about a five minute walk from the zocalo or Plaza Grande of Mérida. I remember when I visited Spain, my first international trip at age 13, that I loved how at night everyone gathered in the town squares to hang out. The same thing happens every night in Mérida, which is natural since it is a Spanish colonial city, and the crowd ranges from young couples on a date to families with small children. All three nights we spent in Mérida, something was happening in the zocalo. One evening there was a street food festival and the next, a live band and salsa dancing. It was the perfect completely free way to spend our time in the city!
A few more of my favorite things in Mérida were:
Chaya Maya – I hadn’t planned to visit this restaurant, but after walking by and consistently seeing a huge crowd of people waiting for tables each night, I figured it must be something worth trying. So we added our names to the wait list and killed an hour shopping in some of the cute boutiques located on the same street. Chaya Maya serves traditional Yucatecan cuisine, including handmade tortillas that you can watch being made from your table. The food was really great and we could clearly sense that this is a staple in the Mérida dining scene; a favorite of locals and visitors alike.
Chaya Maya offered me my first introduction to chaya, aka Mexico’s “miracle plant.” If you thought kale was a superfood, just wait until you hear all the supposed benefits of chaya: improved blood circulation, lower cholesterol, decongested lungs, improved brain and memory function and a natural remedy for arthritis and diabetes. I’m sure that within a couple years, someone is going to open a chaya bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and lines will be around the block. I chose to enjoy it in cocktail form, which likely negated most of its health benefits. Oh well!
La Negrita Cantina – Live music and delicious botanas draw a large hipsterish crowd to this recently revamped historic cantina on weekend nights. Get there early if you want to snag a table, as most patrons stop by for “hora feliz” and stay all night. I loved the concept of botanas, essentially tapas that are complimentary as long as you are sitting down and ordering drinks. The cantina itself is very quirky as well in terms of layout and decor.
La Bici Ruta – On Sunday mornings until noon, the Paseo de Montejo in Mérida is closed to traffic and turns into a giant bicycling street party. Renting a bike is cheap (about $2USD for three hours) and easy. This is *the* thing to be doing on a Sunday in Mérida, as it seemed like everyone in the city had shown up to partake in the fun. Some of the bikes were really unique and not something you’d typically see in the city, such as four-person bikes and bike-drawn carriages. Even those who weren’t cycling were enjoying the day, watching from sidewalk cafes and listening to live music performances.
Wayan’e – After La Bici Ruta ended, we kept our bikes and continued on to a taco place I had discovered online before the trip. I had read that Wayan’e’s tacos were amazing, and since tacos are my favorite food group I couldn’t leave Mérida without eating some. Despite its fame, the Wayan’e taco stand was literally a hole in the wall. You order at the window, where tacos are less than the equivalent of $1USD and ready in seconds, then grab a seat at the counter or one of the plastic tables nearby on the sidewalk. There are endless options on the menu but I asked the employee at the counter for his recommendation and he pointed me toward the chorizo tacos. He even let me try one, and after taking the first bite I promptly ordered two more. Yum!
POLA Gelato Shop – A couple blocks from Hotel Medio Mundo I stumbled upon this super cute gelato shop. After tacos, gelato is probably my second go-to food so naturally I went once a day. The shop’s background is pretty interesting, as it’s owned by four different people from the US, Mexico, Poland and Guatamela who met in Mérida and realized the city lacked good gelato. The shop’s wall also features a really cool mural depicting the skyline of Pula, Croatia, where apparently you can find some pretty tasty gelato all summer long!
Pancho’s – I usually avoid themed restaurants like the plague because they don’t typically have good food, but Pancho’s came highly recommended so I gave it a chance. Located right near the zocalo, Mexican Revolution-inspired Pancho’s has a great ambiance both inside and on its patio. The food was slightly more expensive than other restaurants we ate at and this was the only restaurant in Yucatan where the waitstaff spoke to us in English, but the food was really good and it was a fun night. The guacamole was my favorite (it was made fresh, right at our table) and my shrimp tacos were pretty tasty as well.
After two and a half days in Mérida, it was time to pack up and head on to the next destination. While the city wasn’t filled with any awe-inspiring attractions, I was glad I visited Mérida and found some great restaurants and an introduction to the Yucatan’s Mayan and Spanish cultural history. If you’re thinking, “hmm Anna, sounds like all you did there was go for a bike ride and eat,” that’s because I spent almost a full day during our three nights in Mérida on a trip to a nearby nature reserve hanging out with FLAMINGOS! Stay tuned, as that adventure requires a post all it’s own.
¡Hasta luego Mérida!
Today's post combines two of my favorite things: Instagram and free stuff!