Since the Spanish conquest, Merida has been the cultural capital of the Yucatan Peninsula. And if you are still wondering where is Merida exactly, this colonial town can be found in the northwestern part of Yucatan state, about 22 miles (35 kilometres) from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
A delightful blend of provincial and cosmopolitan, Merida is a town steeped in colonial history. It’s a great place to explore, with narrow streets, broad central plazas, gorgeous museums, and the occasional Mexican hacienda. It’s also a perfect place from which to kick off your ecological adventure into the rest of the state, all while getting to know the culture, traditions and uncover some of the best Mayan ruins.
Merida is the perfect base for exploring multitudes of experiential, interactive outings – birding tours are usually a great option – but interestingly enough, there are over 6,000 freshwater cenotes that line the peninsula today. For centuries, the crystal-clear groundwater pools were used as sacred wells by the Mayans where they performed offerings and spiritual rituals to communicate with the gods. Local shamans still perform these rituals today, and you can even experience a traditional Mayan purification ritual in the underground Sacamucuy cenote. A beautiful offering of colorful flowers, medicinal plants, cocoa beans and candles are carried to the gods via fragrant copal (tree resin) incense. It’s an experience not to be missed.
Visiting the nearby Mayan ruins is a must. Lesser-known than their bigger sister Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Dzibilchaltun, respectively 52 miles (83 kilometres) southwest and 10 miles (16 kilometres) north of Merida, are some local favorites. The first is situated in the jungle, and is less crowded than Chichen Itza; the second boasts the ‘House of the Seven Dolls’, a temple that was given that name because of the offering of seven stone human figures that were found inside.
Long popular with European travelers looking to go beyond the hubbub of Quintana Roo’s resort towns, Merida is a tourist town, but a tourist town too big to feel like a tourist trap. And as the capital of Yucatan state, Merida also happens to be the modern day crossroads of ecotourism in Mexico today.