Exploring the Colourful Culture of Merida, Mexico

Letter 187

Having left Belize following 6 weeks in the country (back in March 2020), I was sad to say goodbye, but excited to get back to Mexico to see more of its bustling cities, countryside and ruins. At the beginning of my trip, I didn’t imagine I’d get to visit as many places in Mexico as I did, but my initial couple of weeks there left me eager to see more, and Merida was the perfect start to an incredible couple of weeks to end my travels.

Forewarning: these posts are almost a year delayed in getting written, so please forgive me if they are less accurate than my previous accounts of Belize and Mexico. A lot of time has passed!

Getting there

My route to Merida was not a simple one. Turns out, it’s not that easy to get from San Ignacio, Belize to Merida which is situated in northern Yucatan. Getting from Belize to Mexico isn’t that easy as buses don’t really connect up. From what I hear, you would have to go from Belize City to Corozal, then get a bus to the border, then a taxi to Chetumal (the nearest Mexican city to the border), then finally a bus to wherever you actually have to go. If you don’t want to do it the hard way, you can get the one direct ADO bus from Belize City up into Mexico, that leaves Belize at 7pm (or 7:30…) every day. It costs about £24, so it’s not a cheap option, but it’s much easier, safer and more comfortable. A lot of people do this to get all the way up the Quintana Roo coast, up to Playa or Cancun, but I jumped off the bus (at about 1am) in Bacalar. I thought this would be the easiest option as I’d already been there, and it’s blooming gorgeous.

Quick Stop in Bacalar

There is only one hostel in Bacalar that is open 24 hours – which you will need after you get off a bus in the middle of the night. It also happens to be the most popular one and where my friend and I had wanted to stay when we came to Bacalar 6 weeks previously. We didn’t stay then because it was expensive and then got filled up, so I thought this was a great chance to stay there, even if just for 12 hours.

The hostel is called the Yak Lake House – feel free to check it out online and fall in love with the views. It appeals to the masses because it’s right on the water, has it’s own private dock to swim from, has a bar, and offers loads of fun activities. Of course I did none of this. I paid £13 on booking.com (which is actually very cheap) and only managed to get a morning there. I thought it would be a great place to take a swim from the dock before my bus, but actually there were people constantly taking instagram pictures from the dock and lots of buzzing about as people went on day trips. It wasn’t relaxing so I ended up walking over to the public dock where we spend lots of time during the previous stay (better account of Bacalar here). Overall, I think the Yak House is overrated, but if you’re looking for a bit of a party place and lots of day trips, it might be for you.

I took a bus at about midday to Merida. I ended up getting the longer and cheaper bus (Mayab I think) which took about 7 hours. I didn’t mind it at all and it took us through beautiful Mexican countryside.

Merida – Key Information

  • I stayed in one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in. It was Nomados EcoHostel (link here) and it cost me £5 or £6 per night
    • I got a double bed in a dorm – the dorm was so spacious and beautiful
    • There is a glorious pool, hammocks and deck
    • They run cooking classes every night (super cheap and you get a small meal)
    • Very central
    • The staff were unbelievably helpful
  • It’s a well connected city to all other big cities in the area through the ADO bus station
  • There is LOTS to do, so plan a decent amount of time!

Walking Tour

In typical fashion, I did a walking tour on my first morning in Merida with a few people from the hostel. I can’t remember the tour we took, but it was a lovely guy who we met in the Plaza Grande, and he took me and the 3 others from my hostel on a tour. He was very knowledgeable and we really enjoyed it. He took us into the Museo Casa Montejo, which is a traditional house-turned museum, filled with beautiful furniture and textiles, and then we walked around the centre of the city. It’s things like this that make me wish I’d written this back in March, as I can’t remember much else. Here’s some photos of our lovely walking tour…

Cooking Classes

As I said, the hostel offered cooking classes, that I think were about £3. We learnt how to make things like tacos and it was always really fun and interactive. The teacher was a legend. My biggest regret from my trip is that I didn’t buy a taco press and some corn flour.

Mayan Ball Games: Pok-Ta-Pok

One of the best things to do in Merida is head to the Plaza Grande, get yourself a good spot in front of the Cathedral, and watch the Mayan Ball Games. It happens every Friday night and it’s totally free. It’s the weirdest, funnest thing I’ve ever seen and we loved every minute.

Bars, clubs and evening markets

The night-scene in Merida was my favourite across Mexico. It was buzzing and there were so many great things to do. It was made better by not feeling so touristy and ending up in quirky places surrounded by locals. You won’t find that anywhere near Cancun.

We loved the Mercado 60, where you can be sat at a table with 6 people, listening to a live band, under fairy lights, all eating different things. You are surrounded by different food stalls and bars, and it’s a delicious time. (Link here.) The second place we loved was La Negrita, which is just down the road from the hostel. From the outside it looks like a tiny wine bar, but inside, it’s a huge garden full of life! If I remember rightly, the drinks were enormous, and you get a free snack with each one. So it’s a massive win win (link here). I think I was too excited to take a good photo of it, so there’s just a photo of my drink. We went to other places, but the last one I remember was a club-type place, and one of the coolest I’ve been to. It was the Pipiripau Bar and it was a lot of fun. There was live music, loads of people (strange to think that was normal then…) and cheap drinks. Very happy all round (link here)!

Orchestra Evening

We were told by our walking tour guide that it’s possible to go to the Teatro Peon Contreras to see the orchestra, to which we decided, why not? The tickets were very cheap and it was a lovely, bougie evening for a group of backpackers. I would highly recommend it, if you like that sort of thing, and the building is magical. It’s something I remember really fondly from my trip.

Markets

In any Mexican city, you will find markets. They are not difficult to find. One day we went walking around and found the biggest food market, which we later realised sprawls much further than we thought. I think we were in and around the Mercado San Benito, where you can find literally anything. It can honestly be a bit overwhelmingly busy inside, but some of the smaller streets are lovely to walk around.

The main market I would suggest visiting happens every Sunday on the Plaza Grande (you’ll spend a lot of time in this square). It is so colourful and beautiful and you can pick up some great things. It’s probably more touristy, but I loved it. There also tends to be small stalls in one of my favourite squares in Merida – Parque de Santa Lucia. You can also catch some weekly dancing here, which is very sweet.

Parque de Santa Lucia

Walking around the city

Once you’ve had enough of watching Mayan ball games, seeing the orchestra, buying things at the market and dancing in bars, you might simply want to walk around the city. Merida is very beautiful to walk around, whether it’s the small old streets, or the long boulevard of Paseo de Montejo, you will enjoy any stroll. So enjoy it! And make sure to peak in the expensive shops and pretty courtyards…

Merida was definitely one of my favourite cities I visited (although most of them were) and I would 100% go back. I felt I had a good amount of time there, and was thankful I’d chosen the days I had. Make sure you are there between Thursday and Sundayfor all the fun things! The last thing I should probably show you is the wonderful place I spent a few lazy hours after busy days of walking: the pool.

Would you even believe it’s a hostel?

Thanks for journeying back to Merida with me – I hope you enjoyed or found it useful is you are visiting soon!

All the best,

From Lou

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