When I read this quote:
“Which is more important” asked Big Panda, the journey or the destination?
“The company” said Tiny Dragon
I immediately knew it was time for me to write about “our” trip to Mexico.
This is the story…
We had a wedding of a friend's daughter in Merida, the capital of the Yucatán state in Mexico, so I had two other lifetime friends pushing me to join them. The three of us for once together in a trip.
You may know by now that I would never say no to such a journey, but I had already bought tickets to go to Spain and Portugal with my husband the week after. It was not so easy to change plans. It meant penalties, new bookings, excuses...
But as you say in Spanish: “querer es poder”. Something like: "where there's a will there's a way". So about two weeks before the departure date, there I was buying a ticket from Miami to Cancun.
Before giving you my tips about this delightful place, let me tell you that it was a trip we will never forget. And I can say that the memories I keep about our Mexico trip have to do with being there with friends.
HOW TO GET THERE
I was so ignorant about Merida's location in the Mexican map that I didn’t even know that you could fly direct from Miami, but anyway by the time I checked availability there was none left, so we flew to Cancun. A place that I have to confess I’ve dreaded to go for years.
But…from Miami there are several flights a day and at very affordable prices. And it is so close!!
So, since we were driving to Merida and were planning a strategic stop at Chichén Itzá on the way, we took a mid-morning American Airlines flight and took advantage of the time change. Cancun is an our earlier.
Besides Miami, you can fly virtually from everywhere and land directly in Cancun, about 3 hours away from Merida.
The airport is absolutely tourist friendly but totally overcrowded. We found our way around and got out before everyone. We were counting our minutes. I needed to be at Chichén Itzá before closing time!!!
From Cancun to Merida 190 miles 3 ¼ hours
From Cancun to Chichén Itzá 130 miles 2 ¼ hours
Speed limit: no idea!!! We drove FAST!! We were at the limit. We really thought we weren’t going to make it. When we finally reached the exit we were 5 minutes over the closing time, we were prepared to beg for letting us enter. I knew that, the first hour in the morning, and the last in the afternoon are the less crowded ones.
At the toll booth we mentioned that we were running late and got back a “we are one hour less than Cancun”. Well, even though it’s a mere hundred miles away, you turn your clocks back one more hour. It was definitely and still is our lucky day! We had made it!!!
Chichén Itza is an awe inspiring totally stunning place!
The name means “the city on the edge of the well of the Itzáes”. The city was built by the Cenote Sagrado.
The Mayan and Toltec vision of the world and the universe is revealed in their stone monuments and artistic works.
It is world famous for the play of light and shadow that occurs each equinox on the steps of the pyramid of Kukúlcan also known as El Castillo. To the south there are other buildings, such as the Caracol, a circular stellar observatory whose spiral staircase accounts for its name.
Surrounding El Castillo are terraces where the major monumental complexes were built: the Great Ball Court, Tzompantli or the Skull Wall, the Jaguar Temple, and the House of Eagles; Also the Temple of the Warriors, the Group of the Thousand Columns, the Market and the Great Ball Court; To the other side is the Tomb of the High Priest.
Cost US$ 22 for foreigners
Opening times: 8 am to 5 pm. Daily. (Last ticket sold at 4:30pm)
We hired a private guide to tour us around. The cost was almost nothing, don’t hesitate. Local guides have a knowledge of the place you can’t find in books or travel guides.
As soon as you are in the main pyramid captures all your senses. As planned we were all by ourselves which makes the moment so much magical than it already is.
We walked all over. We visited and then sunset took over and they started preparing for the sound and light show. Unbelievable setting that I recommend to those that can go in the evening.
We drove around 50 miles south of Merida to Uxmal and got there at noon. We were prepared for herds of tourists at this huge Mayan complex but even though there were some, it was a pleasure to walk around the buildings not feeling surrounded by people.
The Mayan town of Uxmal, was founded c. A.D. 700 and had some 25,000 inhabitants. The layout of the buildings, reveals that mayans had an important knowledge of astronomy. Unlike most other prehispanic towns, Uxmal is not laid out geometrically. Its space is organized in relation to astronomical phenomena, such as the rising and setting of planet Venus.
The Pyramid of the Soothsayer, dominates the centre, with decorations depicting Chaac, the god of rain. Surrounding this pyramid there are other buildings such as the Quadrangle of the Nuns, the Governor's Palace, the House of the Tortoises and the Ball Court.
Cost of the entrance: US$ 20
Sound and light show admission: US$ 24 from Monday to Saturday / US$ 12 on Sunday
Open Monday to Sunday from 08:00 to 17:00, every day of the year.
The evening show starts at 20:00 in summer and 19:00 in winter.
We didn’t have that much time. They were 4 intense days, but we could not leave without adventuring to at least one “cenote” of thousands around the Yucatán Peninsula. Actually we had visited the Cenote Sagrado in Chichen Itzá but we wanted to swim or scuba dive in one. At the end Cuzamá, was the choice. They are quite close to Merida and cenotes are very close to one another.
These sinkholes owe their name to the Mayans, who baptized them with the word Dz'onot, which means 'cavern with water'.
The good side of Cuzamá
In the Cuzamá area the 3 cenotes have different ages and look.
Chelentún, Chak-Zinik-Ché and Bolom-Chojol
I was lucky to have the nicest one for myself. There was nobody but me and the guide that drove me around. It was mystical and energizing. I floated in crystalline waters for about ½ hours enjoying every minute.
Types of Cenotes
Open cenote like the Cenote Sagrado in Chichén Itzá. They are the oldest cenotes (that is, millions of years), the roof that covered them gives way and collapses, leaving them out in the open.
Semi open cenote like the ones in Cuzamá are middle-aged, because they are not yet old enough to be fully exposed. These cenotes may be connected to others, and some are so crystalline that you can admire their flora and fauna underwater.
Underground cavernous cenotes like Sac Actun, are the youngest and the most enigmatic. Some are located several kilometers below the earth.
The bad side of Cuzamá
I went by myself. That night was the wedding and my friends wanted to go to the hair salon. When I got there I was offered a bike to ride around or a horse-drawn "truck", which originally had the function of moving the henequen, a local fiber that has been used since pre-Columbian times. Since I didn’t have that much time I opted for the cart. But it was a big mistake. The horse was under nourished. I felt the cart was too heavy and I imagined the ones carrying up to six people at the same time. It was sad!! Please take the bike. Exercise while enjoying the ride across the Yucatán jungle. Remember health is the new wealth.
WHERE TO STAY
I loved this posada and would stay there if I went back. But Rosas is not the only one. There are many around central Merida. They are refurbished colonial houses, now boutique hotels. You get the real Mexican feel there. When we went (in March), either for the wedding (that was big) or for I don’t know what reason, all the posadas were full, so we had to opt for the Hyatt.
It was no more a standard Hyatt that you could find anywhere in the World though prices were really good compared to these new boutique hotels. There was only one thing that made it up for the place: breakfast!! Our was included in the hotel price and it was much needed after nights of partying and drinking.
WHERE TO EAT
We had invitations to private houses for pre-wedding celebrations therefore I can’t recommend much this time, but with this few you won’t make mistakes.
In Merida you’ll easily find many places to eat delicious Mexican food. From street food carts around Plaza de la Independencia to restaurants. (look around for Chapulines…then tell us what you think)
We had dinner in a delightful terrace that opened up to Parque Santa Lucia.
The menu is innovative but still very Mexican. It has so many different dishes that deserve tasting that I feel the best way is to share with friends. Food has a vivid, spicy, piquant, utterly savory flavor. Actually Mexican food is that!!
Try the enmoladas vegetarianas, they are homemade tortillas dipped in mole negro, stuffed with quinoa and nuts, topped with cheese and banana.
Preferably get a table outside.
And of course, have some tequila or mezcal. Some people like their drinks on the sweet side, and order margaritas. I go for plain raw tequila or mezcal shot. That way I’m sure of what I’m drinking. And well, I just love it. Either one…
This restaurant is set in a colonial house painted in orange. It’s impossible to miss by the corner of the Monumento a la Patria on Paseo Montejo. It’s local food with imagination. The octopus dish on the starters was superb. And so was the traditional Sopa de lima.
You can tour the kitchen and it is worth it. If you have time, don’t miss it.
Nectar is pioneer in gastronomic techniques and faithful to the culinary traditions of Yucatan, chef Roberto Solís merges the history of the classics with an international wink. This is not a regular Mexican food restaurant, Nectar is part of the line of place that are making Merida become attractive for their innovative cuisine. I had the duck ravioles with foie gras. They were sophisticated and flavorful.
At Calle 47 # 459 between 52 and 54 st., Centro
Upon arriving, you can feel the essence of the rich, historic city blend with modern, trendy Merida. Spots for dining, mixology, artisan beers, live music and socializing: Casa Dominga “Barrio Gourmet”. Located on Calle 47 between 52 and 54, just a few blocks away from where Paseo de Montejo Avenue begins in the heart of the Centro, you’ll find this modern market eatery.
WHAT TO DO IN MERIDA
I would say, walk out of your hotel (hopefully centrally located) and explore around. It is beautiful and relaxed city. There are many colorful houses that date back to the Spanish conquistadors era.
A very nice plaza with huge laurel trees shading the park’s benches and wide sidewalks. It was the religious and social center of ancient T’ho. Then under the Spanish it was the Plaza de Armas.
Casa de Montejo
It's on the south side of Plaza Grande and dates from 1540. It originally housed soldiers, but was soon converted into a mansion that served members of the Montejo family until the 1800s
Originally built in 1542, the Palacio Municipal was twice refurbished, in the 1730s and the 1850s. It is opposite to the Cathedral also by the Plaza Grande.
Catedral de San Ildefonso
On the site of a former Maya temple is Mérida’s cathedral, begun in 1561 and completed in 1598. Some of the stone from the Maya temple was used in its construction.
Palacio de Gobierno
Built in 1892, the Palacio de Gobierno houses the state of Yucatán’s executive government offices.
It runs parallel to Calles 56 and 58, was an attempt by Mérida’s 19th-century city planners to create a wide boulevard similar to the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City.
Parque Santa Lucía
A little further away by calle 60 but worth the stroll. The parque is more like a pretty plaza surrounded by arcades on the north and west sides. It’s popular for its Serenatas Yucatecas venue on Thursday evenings.
For the rehearsal dinner and the wedding we visited two “haciendas”. Xtepén and Yaxcopoil.
They are both spectacular. They are mainly used for big events but I guess you can go visit, and enjoy the colonial architecture of these opulent houses of the wealthy traders of the local fiber called “henequén”.
Our friend, the mother of the bride, needed some days off after the wedding. Another friend that was flying back to Germany that same evening, they both decided to change plans and join us on a 2-night escapade to Tulum.
So five lifetime friends ended up traveling together across the mayan land up to super chic Tulum.
We wanted to go in the same car. I was driving a standard SUV. It was hard to push in our huge baggages and ourselves into one car. Obviously we had to hire a driver and split up.
But someone had the bright idea of letting the luggage go by itself on one car and us in the SUV.
Brilliant!! We enjoyed the 3 ½ hour drive to our luxury beachfront hotel in Tulum.
Where to stay
If you can stay at any of these luxuriously chic hotels all located in the Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila road, don’t hesitate.
We stayed at Casa Malca attracted by the flock of bloggers taking their selfies sitting in the hanging sofas at the entrance of the hotel and posting on Instagram.
The hotel is supposed to have been owned by drug lord Pablo Escobar. But now is Lio Malca's property who is the creator of this art project. You'll see a Kaws clown sculpture by the entrance and many other artists decorating the gardens and the main house that leads straight to the beach. They invite you to enjoy luxury and art in the same location in this natural paradise.
Rooms are very spacious. We had a room that opened completely to the beach and the other in the garden area. Both boldly decorated.
And the more affordable Coco Tulum
WHERE TO EAT
Walk along the congested road or get a cab to drive you to the restaurant, but leave your car at the hotel because you won’t find anywhere to park in the surrounding areas. Moreover the walk has its rewards. The street is full of boutiques opened till late where you’ll find things you can only buy at very selected places in the world. We stopped at De la Rosa, Bendito and Josa. We loved every piece of clothing, every hat, every sandal.
And you go on walking towards your restaurant and start realizing that Tulum is a ‘must see, must eat, must have’ place.
Restaurants are hard to get in but your concierge can help you get a reservation. Some places only take booking for dinner just until 7 pm. So if you want to eat later, be prepared to wait. They have such a smart atmosphere that you probably will not care at all. Just order a tequila and watch people pass by.
Highway tolls and some street vendors only accept pesos, so have them ready!!