Mérida: the tropical capital of the Yucatán

When it came to our final days in Bacalar, it was either to continue following the coast up Quintana-Roo as most travelers we had met were doing or cut across the interior towards the the largest city and capitol of the Yucatán

At the time there was also thought of trying to reach Campeche which was just under a few hours north which didn’t end up becoming a reality due to our budgeted time for Mexico. Our total budgeted trip time to Brazil was one year and we were now coming up to almost 3 months in Mexico from our original two month plan.

Really beside a little info we pulled off of the web we had no set expectations besides Merida being called the “White City” and it being so close yet not quite on the Gulf of Mexico. Needless to say, our route setup allowed exploration through the SE coast of Mexico as we would continue South towards Central America. If you’re looking at a map and confused to why we started south to north returning to south, it had more to do with hitching a ride from Chiapas and ending up in Bacalar first. Suggestion if traveling a similar route would be to begin in Merida and head south.

I’ll throw together a blog in the near future specifically on good route options for shorter travel plans or if flying into Cancun and solely planning on covering the east coast of Southern Mexico and Belize.

Bacalar to Merida

Back to Merida. From Bacalar it was about a five hour Ado bus-ride (more or less depending on departure time) and about $20 per person. They may have had colectivos with transfers but we had left in the afternoon expecting to arrive at night. Ado semi-longer to long rides had always been reliable, comfortable and timely. Also once again as said in other posts, using bus-bud to buy our tickets always has worked out to a better deal and buying a few days in advanced as well.

Arriving into Merida we headed just south of the city center. It was now total dusk but the streets bustled of liveliness. Stadium lights glowed over a smaller yet packed baseball diamond . Food vendors encompassed the block and as much as we would have loved to drop into the night game, we were also in need of finding a place to stay. We had viewed a few options in the area and picked one of the most local options.

Where you could stay

Hostal La Ermita

Close enough to the bus station (about 500m) and definitely the right price we ended up last-minute booking a place at Hostal La Ermita. Traveling with our Elixer 3 MSR Tent (thanks to my brother Colton) a first question usually looking ahead of time or as of this time, last minute was to any available camping options. In a multi-shared room at the time you were looking at spending about $6 a person. They did end up having a lawn area not particularly for camping but let us set up for $4 for the both of us, including breakfast (policy could’ve changed by now but never hurts to ask). The hostal’s included breakfast was simple yet sufficient. Lots of space to lounge around along with a small cafe / study area, a pool, shared kitchen and of course showers. Location was easy accessible to bus stations and more than walkable to the historic central area.

Transportation

Uber is more than reasonable and available all throughout the city.

Colectivos can also be used for traveling within and out of the city, many departing every fifteen minutes meeting close to the historic central. Many of the bus terminals are located blocks within each other. Certain colectivos heading out of the city, say to Progreso, Homun or Valadollid leave on the hour and can fill up pretty fast.

City Bus if you don’t mind public transportation and intertwine with the locals is our favorite way to get around. Also if you have a smartphone and haven’t downloaded the Moovit app, it was a real game changer here with up to date schedules, and accurate pick-up/drop-off points giving you easy to understand bus transfers.

While in Mérida

Re-supply

If long-term travel has exhausted your equipment or you’ve been off the grid for a bit there is a Decathlon towards the north west part of the city in what seemed to be more of a shopping district. Nearby there were also a few shopping malls. A bit out of place for our camping/hostal lifestyle we were able to find a tech-store in one that had a usb powered fan which was a lifesaver for sleeping in the tent while using the rainfly. On a side note on the Grand Fashion Shopping mall I believe the name was, being in sub-tropical weather in Mexico was a surprise to see a full-blown ice-rink while watching hockey and figure-skating practice throughout the day. Lastly, if you use apple products you can have equipment serviced or pickup new cables at a certified dealer with a small apple museum upstairs.

Historic Center

Just north center of the city is loaded with preserved history including San Ildefonso Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in the Americas. Just before reaching the edges southern border of the center you’ll have the Merida arch. Also of course you have the governors palace and many other state buildings in this area.

Food

El Cardenal Cantina

We found this place a short walking distance from our hostel and it did hit the Yucatán style while serving local craft beers and more. They did have karaoke during our visit and the service was quick and friendly.

Gran Plaza the Shopping Mall

This is somewhat of an unconventional spot while traveling but to be honest was a moment of air-conditioning with a number of chain restaurants. Not our normal go to but if in that area of town not a bad place to grab a bite with some wifi.

While we were in the Yucatán known for an absolutely delicious particular types of cuisine we didn’t end up eating too much here. Not to say there wasn’t local style around with tortas on just about every block but there was a plethora of US fast-food chains. That being said, we tended to just catch a bus to the Chedrahui, a supermarket in the shopping district and cooking for ourselves back at the hostal.

Exploring

Wandering around the historic district and surrounding areas even back around our hostal for our week or so here went without problem. Streets were lit and nothing out of the ordinary was witnessed. We had beautiful weather for strolling around in shorts and t-shirts. Plenty of pastel painted housing to go around, faded under the strong sun but absolutely had a blast walking the streets.

And if you feel like popping into a gym for a change

Master Mike’s Gym is a bare basics but if you’re looking at getting a little exercise beyond cardio and body-weight stuff i believe it was $5 for the week. Also an odd place for paper-machete comic figures and more as there were life-sized action figures in and around the gym.

Progreso

So we took a day-trip on one of the busses to Progreso, a port town about 30 minutes north of Mérida. Not knowing much about it other than it being on the coast was a chance to get back into the ocean again. It had been a little over a month since Zipolite and the ocean had been calling our name.

We arrived to a bus station surrounding by touristic vendors selling just about anything with Progreso printed on it. We popped into convenience store to grab a couple beers and then made way towards the beach. Swarms of vacationers filled the sands as heavy winds blustered strewing plastic and styrofoam along the shoreline. The waters were gray and fierce looking as a cruise-ship and a container ship both sat beside an enormous dock. After actually catching a little too much breeze we decided to re-located and discover a little bit of the town which seemed to be a bit more interesting.

Though not a total bust as each place holds something special, I wouldn’t say it to be a need to see spot unless wanting to make it to the coast.

Overall take

Merida was a break from being off the grid for sometime and the first city we’d visited in a while as well. It was an unexpectedly well developed city that had definite influence of the States and Europe as there were many international stores. It’s a good place to relax and rejuvenate and resupply as well as take in the Maya culture, and set yourself up for the rest of the Yucatán.

If you are swinging through for the cultural aspect, there are wonderful museums and antiquated preserved buildings throughout the town. Beyond this being somewhat of a Latin-American touristic spot, you can probably spend a few days to a week at most to really see everything.