Merida is the capital and largest city in Yucatan state in Mexico, as well as the largest city of the Yucatán Peninsula, located in the northwest part of the state, about 35 kilometres (22 miles) off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Current population, according to populationstat.com, is around 1.16 million. The city, like much of the state, has heavy Mayan, Spanish, French, British, Lebanese and to a lesser extent Dutch influences. Mérida has the highest percentage of indigenous population within any large city in Mexico. The Maya are approximately 60% of the population. Mérida was founded in 1542 by Montejo y León (“el Mozo”) and named after the town of Mérida in Extremadura, Spain. For a brief period, around the turn of the 20th century, Mérida was said to house more millionaires than any other city in the world. The result of this concentration of wealth can still be seen today. Many large and elaborate homes still line the main avenue called Paseo de Montejo. Merida is a very influential city in the region and known as the safest city in Mexico! (wiki)
The bus to Merida was short and not much to see along the way. It was generally more the scrub brush and very few towns or villages. We arrived at the ADO Centro Historico Station around noon. It’s a very hot town, so glad that I’d booked a hostel, El Mayab, just around the corner from the station.
I walked to the hostel and was greeted, at the door, by the owner. He was very nice, checked me in and showed me to the mixed dorm. The beds were nice and the room also quite clean. I did notice the A/C on the wall, which was a nice surprise! After checking the place out, I had a bit of a siesta, before heading into the city.
In the early evening, I headed to central park. There were quite a few people sitting or strolling in the park and vendors selling food, handicrafts, etc. I walked around and saw many of the old colonial style buildings and then a huge cathedral.
Cathedral de Merida is well preserved and has some beautiful artwork, many tombstones, as well as antique bells and crosses on the side of the building. It was really quite impressive.
From the cathedral I went down to Madre Park and then on to Santa Lucia Park, both of which are nice little parks to sit under a tree, cool off and relax. Santa Lucia has some very nice restaurants, but a bit beyond my budget.
Right across the street from the cathedral is Gorditas Dona Gorda. After visiting the parks, I went back and had a few gorditas for dinner. A gordita is a pastry made with masa and stuffed with cheese, meat, or other fillings, similar to a pasty and to the Colombian and Venezuelan arepa. (wiki)
After my Gorditas, I went back to the hostel and tried to go to sleep. Problem was that I was still itching from the reaction to the tick bite I’d gotten in Campeche. I had taken some allergy meds, but it didn’t seem to help. I itched furiously the entire night, had hives everywhere and didn’t really sleep much. By the time I woke, the itching had subsided somewhat, so I thought things may have improved.
I had a nice breakfast and then went for a stroll, once again, in the city. This time, I headed to the market. The market actually starts just behind the cathedral and goes on for blocks and blocks… and blocks. It is a huge market area. It takes a large portion of the inner city. There is a large, somewhat, central market, but that is only a small portion of the entire market area that surrounds it.
Throughout the morning, I was feeling a bit dizzy, lacking energy and still itching, so around noon or one, I headed back to the hostel. Again, had a nice siesta for a few hours and awoke late afternoon. I wasn’t feeling well, so I just went out for some tacos and back to sleep.
The next day, I wanted to go to some of the surrounding cenotes. A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. There are many cenotes surrounding Merida. The main reason I originally wanted to come to Yucatan was because of the cenotes. I’d met so many people who’d been and said that they are incredible… and they are!
Anyway, I spoke with the owner of the hostel and he recommended that I head to Homun, a small town about an hour from Merida by colectivo, which you can find behind the central market on Calle 67. It was a fairly short ride and the minibus was quite comfortable (MXN$28 – $1.25 each way). We arrived in the center of town. It seemed like a bit of a ghost town, not many people around. As I walked down the street, I was approached by several guides, who offered their services. They were asking for several hundred pesos, and that seemed to be quite a bit to me, so I just said no and kept walking, until I got past them. I stopped to take a look at the church in the middle of town, then headed down the road to Cenote San Antonio. Along the way, a tuk tuk driver stopped along the side of the road and asked if I needed a ride, I asked the price and he said 20 pesos ($1), which I thought was reasonable, so I jumped in.
The location was very hot and dry, and no one to be seen. I walked up to the reception area, paid the entrance fee (MXN$50), they handed me a life jacket and pointed down a path. It was a bit confusing, but I just went ahead, down the path and would see what happens. At the end of the path, there was a small hole in the ground, with wooden stairs going down into the ground. I went down and was nicely surprised to find a large pool, in what smelled like a large cave. There were a couple of bats flying around, but no people…. nada, total silence. I changed into my swimmers, put on the life jacket and walked into the water. It was SO NICE! The water was cool, clear and floating around was so pleasant. I floated around for about an hour before any people arrived. Around 5 or 6 people showed up, so I thought it was time for me to head on to the next cenote.
From Cenote San Antonio, it wasn’t, or so I thought, very far to the next one, Cenote Yaxbacaltun. I had seen a sign on the main road that said it was 2 kilometers from the intersection, so around 3 kms total. It was around 11:00 am and very hot. I walked down the dirt road towards the main road, then back on to another dirt road heading west. I walked… and walked… and walked, for what seemed like forever. It was freakin hot!! I didn’t think a couple of kilometers was that far.
Finally, I saw a small sign and turned to a small shack on the side of the road. There was a man sitting in the shack full of…. life jackets. He said that the entrance was 50 pesos, so I paid and went in. This time, there was a very large hole in the ground, with looong steps going down, so I took the steps to the bottom and saw a few people swimming.
This pool was quite a bit bigger than the other and it was possible to dive at a couple of places. I went ahead and dove in and floated around for a bit. After a while, the people left and again, total peace and…. silence, so nice. I swam for quite a while, changed and headed back to town. Again, no one around, so no local transport! Maybe the few hundred for the guide wasn’t such a bad offer after all? 🙂 Anyway, I walked back to town, had a nice lunch at El Rincón Del Abuelo, then hopped into a collectivo back to Merida.
See “Merida (continued)” for the rest of the story!!