Merida’s Rich Cultural Tapestry is Intimately Tied to Ancient Mayan History

In 2017, the Mexican city of Merida was named the American Capital of Culture for a second time, highlighting the Yucatan Peninsula and its abundant riches.

And it’s easy to see why. The world renowned Chichen Itza ruins, exquisite markets, sprawling haciendas, and flocks of pink flamingos, make this city and its surroundings one of Mexico’s most spectacular.

Today, Merida’s culture is a distinctive blend of traditions inherited from the ancient Mayan civilization dating back to 2600 B.C. and customs brought by Spanish conquistadors when they began colonizing the territory in the 16th century.

The city of Merida itself was founded by Francisco de Montejo y León in 1542 on top of an ancient Mayan city called T’ho, whose stonework was repurposed by the Spaniards as foundations to erect lofty Catholic churches and colonial mansions. After 500 years of coexistence, a comingling of rituals and beliefs created a vibrant cultural identity that continues to shape this dynamic city, even to this day.

The Noche Blanca (White Night) celebrates the art and music of the city throughout December. Free performance stages are set up in the local parks and squares around the city. Bars and restaurants provide extra entertainment events, and museums and galleries open up for special exhibits and performances.

Merida Fest is an annual festival of food and culture that takes place every January. And it’s one of the best things to do in Merida. As the city is already highly culturally active, Merida Fest takes it a step higher, with more events than usual. Special tasting menu nights are a highlight, and restaurants putting on sampler menus at discounted prices means it’s not to be missed.

The internationally renowned festival, Day of the Dead, is also celebrated in this part of the Yucatan. Here, the festival is born from the Mayan tradition and is locally known as Hanal Pixan. It runs from October 31st through November 2nd. But the main street event is on the final evening where families follow the precession from San Juan all the way to the Cementerio General. Expect faces painted as skulls, and locals wearing traditional clothing.

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