Hello and Happy Thursday! Or should I say, Friday Eve?
I had planned on doing this post tomorrow, but honestly couldn’t really keep myself away from this blog for much longer. And also maybe the fact that technically I’m supposed to be reading the writings of Hanfeizi for my Early Chinese Philosophy class later this afternoon had something to do with it. Procrastination Station, am I right?
Before I get started on Mérida, I wanted to kind of walk you through my approach to planning trips. If you know me personally or you’ve read my “20 Things” post, you’re familiar with my wanderlust. I’ve traveled to 28 countries, some quite extensively. To me, a “vacation” is exploring a new part of the world to its smallest details. Most people prefer to just head straight to the beach, stay at a resort, never leave it and then go back to the same spot the next year. I literally am unable to do this. Have you ever seen that meme of Bilbo Baggins skipping out of the Shire saying, “I’m going on an adventure!” – ok that’s me. My husband found this out straight away while he was trying to plan our honeymoon. He wanted to sit himself on a beach, drink in hand, and stay there. I wanted exploration and culture. We finally settled on Hawaii and we really got the best of both. We stayed at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua in Maui and definitely got spoiled rotten at the resort buuuuttt I dragged him all over that island too. Like…I’m talking I made him drive a few hours to the other side of the island just to visit Maui’s only winery, Ulupalakua. Yes, it was worth it. Yes, you will get this same attention to detail in every travel guide I post. I want you to know that when I post my travel guides, there has been MONTHS of thought, comparisons and research put into each itinerary. I *could* be that carefree person that just books a ticket, gets to their destination and then just kinda…sees what happens. BUT WHAT IF I MISS SOMETHING IMPORTANT?!
Each of my travel guides will be our actual itinerary laid out exactly as we did it, audibles we called and things we discovered. I’ll make my recommendations and I’ll also tell you what wasn’t worth it. I want to preface this by saying that these are all well-thought-out itineraries and recommendations, but I really encourage you to do your own research as well. If what I put in here works for you, great. But I promise if I was given extra time in each place, I could put so much more into these guides and so if you are able to find those places doing your own independent research, maybe you can go root out something awesome and then tell me about it so I can see it next time!
That being said, and without further ado, let’s dust off those passports and get ready to click “book flight” on Kayak because trust me when I tell you, you want to go to Mérida.
Mérida is in the northwestern portion of the Yucatan in Mexico. If you’re envisioning a Mexican resort town like Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, get rid of that vision because it’s nothing like that. Mérida is 3 hours away from Cancun and the resort towns on the Eastern coast and it’s about 45 minutes away from the ocean in general. So don’t expect a beach resort. Mérida is actually the capital city of the Yucatan state and while there are a lot of heavy European influences (Spanish, French, British, Lebanese and to a lesser extent Dutch), Mérida actually has the biggest population of indigenous Maya than anywhere else in Mexico, about 60% of the population. This mixture of culture is obviously appealing to people everywhere since there are about 25,000 expats living in Mérida and even more “snow birds” that have vacation homes there. Walking down the streets, through the plazas or down Paseo de Montejo is an experience all on its own. A plethora of languages, mixtures of diversity, family events taking place almost every single night of the week, salsa dancing in the square, and the scents of a multitude of ethnic restaurants soaking the air. Guys…it’s a magic city. At first when I suggested this as the location for our second wedding anniversary trip, Adam’s initial response was, “Where? Meri-huh?” but after going there, we both agree that we can’t fathom how it’s not on more people’s radars. I hope this travel guide inspires you to give it a chance and I hope that if you go, you love it as deeply as we do. So let’s get started.
Where To Stay (when we were booking, we couldn’t decide where to stay so we actually booked 3 different places.)
It’s hard to sum this place up in words. Coqui Coqui is a perfumeria that has just a few locations including Mérida, Coba, Bora Bora, Izamal and Vallodolid. Technically, this is not a hotel. It’s a residence. The perfumerias each have one (sometimes two) residences on the property, mostly upstairs apartments. I cannot stress this enough. Coqui Coqui is hands down the most luxurious place I have ever stayed. The pictures below will show you why. Not only is it gorgeous, the breakfast experience is so special I have goosebumps thinking about it, we had our own private rooftop pool and our own personal spa. That’s right. Our own personal spa. The two days we spent at Coqui Coqui, we accumulatively spent about 6 hours getting multiple massages and treatments in the spa with our two personal masseuses. I will warn you in advance – this clearly is a higher budget experience. If you can swing it, I’m begging you to do so.
What To Do
Paseo de Montejo
This is a major strip in the city. While we were there, there was a biking festival going on and tons of people out enjoying the day, walking their dogs and playing games with their kids. While there’s a lot to see and do on this strip, we recommend the following:
Start at the Monument to the Fatherland
Make your way to Casa T’ho for some major shopping goals. It’s a little complex with several amazing, quality boutiques complete with a little cafe as well. We had iced coffee and meringue cookies to take a break after stimulation overload from so many purchases! (If you don’t come back with a pair of gold earrings from the jewelry shop, you’ve done it all wrong)
Refresh with margaritas at Cafe Impala where you can sit on the street and watch passersby for hours while you chat, drink and sample snacks on the menu.
Don’t fill up on food at Cafe Impala though, because one block down from the Paseo is the Mercado Santa Ana and, I have to say this a little louder for those in the back, TACOS! Guys. Tacos. That is all.
Where To Dine
On vacations, I pay special attention to dinner plans. Usually, we’re off adventuring all day and we will make our way back to our hotel sometime in the early evening to clean up and change for dinner – yes we change for dinner, I swear I was born to live in the Victorian age or something – and dinner is always a special orchestration of exploring flavor, culinary masterpieces, beautiful wines, hours of talking and maybe some nightcaps after. Dinner is a fanfare. If you don’t treat dinner like the ritual that it is at least while you’re on vacation, please if you don’t take anything else from this blog, take my advice to start doing this.
Rosas & Xocolate – make reservations in advance!
If you stay at Coqui Coqui, it would be a mistake to not just hole up in there for an entire day. That’s what we did. We literally did not leave. We ate breakfast, got into our suits, read by the pool til the sun got a little higher in the sky and then got in. The rooftop pool has a glass bottom! The gals that work at Coqui Coqui are so sweet and would continue to bring us fresh squeezed juices and ice water while we were in the pool and also made sure our supply of champagne and rosé didn’t get too low. They even went on a special trip to get a specific brand of champagne we requested! After a whole day in the pool, we spent 4 hours in the spa and then went to the room and ordered tacos from Uber Eats. So…in this instance I did not enjoy the ritual of dinner because, well, to be quite frank, hours of sun + little hydration + champagne + getting in a hot bathtub after my massages = I almost passed out in the spa. A story we look back on and laugh at today, but seriously I lost my vision, got the cold sweats and could barely get out enough words to ask Adam to pour cold water on my neck. So…maybe don’t repeat that experience. But the rest of it you definitely should!
I cannot – CANNOT – say enough about our experience at The Diplomat. If Coqui Coqui is out of your price range, stay your entire trip at The Diplomat. We loved it so much, we’re already planning our trip back purely just to stay here. The owners, Neil and Sarah, are a couple from Toronto with an incredibly interesting background (also lived 6 years in Shanghai) and they are some of the coolest people you’ll ever meet. They have serious knowledge of the Yucatan and will go over everything with you at check-in: your itinerary, different recommendations they have, dinner reservations, etc. There’s nothing they haven’t thought of. For breakfast every day, Sarah prepares an absolute smorgasbord of items she got that morning at the market and various herbs they grow on the property along with creative juices for their mimosa bar. Every afternoon, they host tequila and mezcal tastings by the pool. Over the course of just a few days spent there, we had numerous chats about Mexico, travel and life in general. Adam and I truly felt like we left this vacation with new friends after meeting Neil and Sarah.
What To Do
Honestly, on this day we went back to Coqui Coqui to shop the perfumeria and we went back to Casa T’ho to pick up a few treasures we had kept talking about and had to return to buy. And we revisited Cafe Impala for more margs and snacks. What can I say, when it’s good it’s really good. This is how you know I truly loved these places. Ultimately we went back to the Diplomat to enjoy a few hours in their pool and had margs with Neil and Sarah. So not much to mention for itinerary this day. I promise it’ll get more exciting soon!
Where To Dine
Apoala – make reservations in advance!
We suggest the flores en amarillo starter. Trust me!
Oh and p.s. Apoala has a SPEAKEASY! It’s teeny tiny little joint with maybe 4 tables and the main bar, complete with candles everywhere, a rolling ladder and weird concoctions in jars. You have to know the right person to ask for the password and to get taken there, but…figure it out. If you don’t figure it out you don’t deserve to experience it LOL
What To Do
Thankfully we had a rental car already and were able to go outside of the city to do some exploring. Let me ask you a question. Have you ever seen pink water before? Follow up – would you like to see pink water? Occurring naturally in nature? Because if you drive about 45 minutes outside of the city and head to Progreso Beach, hang a right and drive another 15 minutes or so, you can find a hidden oasis of salt flats and hundreds of flamingo flocks. Pink water + pink birds = DO IT FOR THE GRAM! It’s called Las Coloradas. And you need to go. Pro tip: don’t try to walk out to the water, the ground is clay that is borderline sinking sand. I took one wrong step and wound up sunk to my knees and sinking further, grasping on to Adam as he hauled me back out.
After you’ve soaked up all of the views, head back to Progreso. Honestly, the beach is not great. In fact it’s not even okay. Don’t go for the beach. Go for food and the views and just kinda to be able to say, “hey look we went to the beach!” We went to Crabster Seafood and Grill. Then we headed back to town to clean up (scrub clay off my legs) and go to dinner!
Where To Dine
Oliva Enoteca – they do not take reservations ahead of time so plan on showing up a little early since there are limited tables and you do not want to miss incredible Italian food by an amazing chef.
Where To Stay
We booked an AirBnB called El Palacito Secreto. The owners, the O’Garas, are Irish transplants and are so kind. It’s a little complex surrounding an insane mosaic pool. I think if our count is correct there’s about 6-8 guest rooms. Although it was a gorgeous spot, and extremely well priced, we were still on a Diplomat high and wished we hadn’t booked the Airbnb so we could have spent more time at The Diplomat. Honest opinion.
What To Do
We enjoyed another day of exploring the city! Honestly this day was just a lot of shopping, dipping into random places to eat mass amounts of tacos and sampling mezcal margaritas along the way. What could be any better? Our specific recs of places not to be missed are the following:
Pancho’s – go to the Frida garden in the back, an outdoor patio with Frida Kahlo infused everywhere. Try any taco. Have any margarita. They’re all delicious.
Fundacion de Artistas – for some serious Yucatacan art and boho vibes, you’ve got to check this place out. There’s a few shoppable items if you’re ready and willing to drop serious cash. Otherwise, it’s nice to just go stroll around inside.
Imox inside of La Gala – La Gala is a new art gallery, but upstairs is Imox, a boutique showcasing over 75 Mexican fashion and home decor designers. I DIE! We bought….a lot.
Where To Dine
Mercado 60 – no reservations needed as this is a food stall market mecca. Seriously any flavor of food you can imagine, you will find here in this super chic food market. It’s like food trucks, but they’re permanent structures. Also, you’ll be in the company of expats from all over the world. Surprisingly (aka not surprisingly since so many Nazi families fled Germany after WWII and wound up in Central and South America), there are a ton from Germany so there may be a few picnic tables strung together with rowdy Germans sloshing beer all over the place. Later at night, they play music and the place turns into an all out party. Do not miss this.
Get back in your rental car and hit the road for Uxmal, Mayan ruins not found until the 1950s. You could drive a similar distance and go to Chichen Itza, but every single person I’ve talked to about this suggested Uxmal instead, so don’t just take my word for it. It wasn’t overcrowded when we went (around 9 a.m. so that probably helped) and the ruins just go on for days. You could easily spend 2-3 hours there. Oh and watch out for monster iguanas, they’re everywhere. Side note: On the drive to Uxmal you’re going to want to go through the town of Muna. This takes a little more time, but on this road you will see a pull off on the side of the road. There are no markings to tell you what the pull off is for, but that’s where I come in. Scientists have now come to an agreement that the crater that struck Earth and killed the dinosaurs hit the Yucatan. Merida is inside the crater. It’s not obvious when you’re there, but if you drive through Muna and pull over at this pit stop, it is at the top of the crest and you can look out and actually see it. Pretty crazy! But, like….then get to Uxmal quick fast and in a hurry because it’s awesome and you have plenty to do once you leave.
After leaving Uxmal, take the same road you took going there. You’re going to want to look for signs that point to Cenote Kankirixche. You can also use GPS on your phone for this. As remote as it feels, GPS does work. You’re going to feel like you’re driving to the middle of actual nowhere because, well, you are. But when you get there, I promise, it will all have been worth it. We went in January and after hours in the sun at Uxmal, a cenote was beyond incredible. For anyone not familiar, a cenote is a natural water pool inside of the Earth, underground. See pics below! The water was cool, no scary creatures (important info for me because yikes, worst fear) and we spent hours just hanging out there.
I was lucky to snap this picture without anyone in it! But to be fair, it wasn’t crazy crowded like cenotes tend to be. There were maybe 8-10 other people in there with us. You can’t tell from this picture but it was actually pretty huge. Also…over on the right where the water looks deeper, that leads down to some underground tunnel systems and other pockets of water and there was a scuba team going down to explore while we were there!
Where To Dine
Honestly we were so spent from such a long day that we just went back to Pancho’s for more tacos, enchiladas, chips and salsa (if you don’t do well with spice, avoid the green salsa everywhere. It’s literally hellfire) and margaritas. Then turned in to get up for our flight the next morning.
Side note: The airport in Mérida is TINY and not very reliable. Our flight was cancelled the day we were flying out and all other United flights were randomly cancelled too. So my word of advice is be flexible. Keep that rental car on hand. We actually wound up having United reroute us out of Cancun so we drove the three hours to Cancun to fly out and make it home that night. TIP: CARRY CASH! As in pesos cash. There are tolls and they only accept cash and if you do not have that cash, your only hope is having American dollars on you because they’ll take that. Otherwise you are severely out of luck.
Other side note: any time you’re traveling outside of the city on any “road trip” whether that’s half an hour or longer, be advised that there are federal police road checks literally everywhere. Some are legit. Some are not. Some are actually people dressed up and there is a very real practice of kidnapping tourists and taking them on an ATM spree to drain bank accounts. While Mérida is so so so safe and we never ever felt in harms way, driving through tiny towns and back roads was a bit of a risk. Anyone going needs to be aware of this.
That being said, this was one of our favorite trips we’ve taken in 3 years of marriage. We are so in love with the Yucatan and are already just dying to get back to Mérida – I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t looked at real estate there.
I hope you enjoyed this travel guide as much as I enjoyed going back down memory lane as I wrote it!