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Mérida, Mexico 

When I began planning my trip to the Yucatán Peninsula, I knew I wanted a more authentic experience than a week in a Cancún resort that emulated all of my American customs. 

 

And so began my trip planning to Merida and other less popular destinations in the Yucatán. Although our time in Mérida was limited to a few days, there were a few key takeaways from our time in the city.  

Now, for those of you who have never heard of it you’re probably wondering, “Where even is Mérida?”. Mérida is located on the western side of the peninsula roughly four hours west of Cancún. Unlike the hustle and bustle of Cancún, Mérida boasts a charming city full of Spanish architecture, busy markets, and delicious Mexican cuisine.

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The history and culture is rich in the heart of the Yucatán. The people of this city are proud of their Mayan heritage and were proud to share it with all who visited. On one particular night we gazed in awe as we watched an organized display of history reenacted through dance and song at the Catedral de San Ildefonso in La Plaza Mayor.

 

The Cathedral de San Ildefonso was built in 1598 by architect Juan Miguel de Aguero. When the Spanish invaders entered the city, they made it their mission to dismantle Mayan culture. In fact, many of the stones used in the cathedral's construction were repurposed from Mayan temples that were dismantled. The cathedral is open to the public, but holds regular services for the community, so I advise always being cautious and respectful when exploring. 

The Plaza where the cathedral stands is busy at all times of the day and night it seems. Vendors would call out to us offering us food or clothing. The street food was incredible, including arroz con leche that came from one particular vendor who danced and sang his way through the day. We found ourselves looking for him whenever we entered La Plaza Mayor.

 

The people of Mérida were incredibly friendly and seemed to welcome us with eagerness despite the language barrier. I was able to speak enough spanish to get us by, which felt very intimidating at first. But the more I attempted my spanish with the locals, the more confident I felt.  Whether through gestures or something just short of pantomiming, we were always able to get our point across to each other. 

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Before I delve too far into our time in Mérida, I would like to start by stating that at the time of this adventure I was not fluent in Spanish. (Although my goal is to become fluent, it was not necessary while navigating the city streets.) As you can imagine, once you are in the heart of the Yucatan there are very few people who speak English. Although it is not mandatory to be fluent in Spanish when traveling to Latin American countries, it can be helpful to know a few common phrases. Even simple phrases such as asking for the check or asking directions to the bathroom can be crucial (just ask my husband). For this reason I strongly encourage purchasing a translation guidebook for those more complex phrases. I like to keep a small book of fast phrases by Lonely Planet in my bag at all times in case I find myself in a language barrier pinch. 

 

 Our adventure to the Yucatán started with us landing at the Mérida airport on Christmas Eve. After going through customs and collecting our bags the fun, or should I say confusion, began. Much like in the U.S. the rental car location was just a short drive from the airport. The challenge however was finding the shuttle that takes you there. Thankfully, after a brief period of confusion one of the airport workers pointed us in the right direction. So picture this, here I am in a foreign country with a father and a husband who speak zero Spanish, trying to organize a car rental. To say we stuck out like a sore thumb would be an understatement.  I’m not one to back down from a challenge but trying to navigate a car rental in a foreign country was a battle for the record books. As we're trying to work out the details of our car rental reservation, half in English and half in Spanish, we learn that the compact car we reserved was no longer available. To understand why this was an issue I would have to tell you about my husband to which could be a whole blog on its own. To keep things short my husband can be hyper vigilant when we travel. Maintaining a low profile and not drawing attention to ourselves is one thing he continuously stresses. Safety is his top priority, and I love him for it. But it’s difficult to be discreet when the only car available is a brand new Dodge Challenger, complete with shiny white paint and bright red racing stripes. If this didn't scream "We're tourists...and idiots", then I don't know what would. With no other choices available we loaded up the white stallion and headed to our airbnb four blocks from the city center. I think we scratched the low lying front bumper on every single pot hole and topes (speed bumps) that we encountered for the next ten days.

 

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Catedral de San Ildefonso

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Catedral de San Ildefonso at night.

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A notable restaurant that we found in the Plaza Mayor was La Jarana. As we walked in the front door, there was a woman hand rolling fresh tortillas for the restaurant's guests. The food was delicious and inexpensive, which we found congruent throughout the whole region. 

While in Mérida we stayed in a quaint Airbnb about four blocks from the plaza. Mérida is a very reasonably priced city and we discovered that you could make your trip to the city as upscale or as low-key as you liked without losing out on much. In Mexico currently, one peso is equivalent to 0.05 USD. So we were able to find very affordable accommodations for a very reasonable price.

 

From Mérida, we explored the surrounding region including the Puuc Route (this deserves an article in and of itself), Izamal, and Chichen Itza. Mérida offered us a unique perspective on life in the Yucatán and I am so glad we decided to visit this magical city before we ventured off to other sites. 

Stay tuned for more of our adventures in the Yucatán! 

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