Why drive 4 hours to Merida from Cancun Airport?
I’ve always wanted to explore the colonial city of Merida. Usually each trip to Mexico is spent conducting site visits, meeting with wedding coordinators, hotel managers, tasting delicious food and squeezing in some beach time.
Finally, on this past trip we arrived 3 days early to learn more about the city of Merida. We rented a car at the Cancun airport and began our journey, traveling on Cuota Highway 307 all the way to Merida. It was an easy drive, at least for me, as I was the DJ while my husband drove the 2-lane highway that was surprisingly quiet. There were long stretches where we were the only car on the road, a few toll roads, and the signage made the trip easy to navigate.
To break up the drive we first stopped in Valladolid, the capital of the Mayan people. Parking was at the EL Meson del Marques Hotel where we had lunch. The cohinita pibil (pork with homemade tortilla shells) was authentic and delicious. We walked the town after
lunch, including the Convent of San Bernardino, Parque Franciso Canton, the town square with benches and a beautiful water fountain with crafts, food stalls, and souvenir stores.
After a nice stretch of our legs we were back on the road again with the sun shining and James Taylor playing on the radio!
As we arrived in Merida our first impression of Merida was it was much larger than anticipated. Jack traversed the narrow streets to find the address of The Diplomat Hotel, where we’d be staying for our trip. We pulled up at the address and as the car puttered we both looked at each other and were sure we were at the wrong place as there was a large, nondescript gate that made us a bit uncomfortable.
Right as we were confirming the address on our iPhone, the owner opened the gate, greeted us with a friendly smile, and explained we can safely park on the street and come in for a drink and snacks. Our room was spacious, comfortable, and well appointed. A bottle of red wine awaited us and the bathrobe neatly folded in a bag (brilliant)! Sara, the owner took us past the bar to the pool area where snacks and tequila greeted us like long lost friends. Sara and her husband, Neil, reviewed top sites, restaurants, and local happenings and instantly made us feel welcome. They literally spent an hour with us as if we were visiting their home. Of course, we later learned it is the hotel is their home.
You can leave your rental car behind as Ubers are efficient, inexpensive, and readily available in Merida. We set out to dinner at Mercado 60, an outdoor venue with a number of restaurant options from local traditional, Italian, BBQ, and Lebanese. Interestingly, there is a large Lebanese population in Merida and the Lebanese food was absolutely delicious. The square is filled with large picnic tables that are shared by diners as live music fills the air.
After our delicious dinner we settled into our room, which was incredibly quiet and the bed was incredibly comfortable. Needless to say we woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to explore Merida. The weather in March is delightful (70 at night 80 during the day). Sara and Neil (the owners of The Diplomat) prepared an unbelievable breakfast of local ingredients, including fruit, salad, eggs, fresh tortilla, and coffee set in front of the pool. They have done such a fantastic job creating a welcoming environment and an ambiance that makes you feel as if you’ve been friends forever.
We took an Uber into town (a quick ride, but a bit too far to walk) and started at the Mercado Municpal Lucas de Galvez, an awesome market to wonder and get lost in! Everything is sold there…shoes, umbrellas, food, tires, etc… Our only purchase was tijan, a spice used on everything, from chicken to the rim of your favorite tequila drink. Next stop Governor’s House, Palacio Municipal (city hall), contemporary art museum, Plaza Grand and Parque Santa Lucia. Lunch at La Chaya Maya, homemade gelato at Pola on the corner and then shopping. I stopped into a shoe store where they are all handmade on the premises. No pair is exactly the same. After my purchase ($15) I was able to stamp the inside of the shoes. You can pick from various stamps: handmade, Tags (the name of the store), made in Mexico, etc…It was so much fun and I love my handmade new shoes!
We continued our walk to the “Champ d’Elsysee” area of Merida called Paseo de Montejo. The tree-lined boulevard is filled with gorgeous shops and has an excellent Anthropology Museum and the Chocolate Factory (of course, we had to go in, do a tasting and purchase some chocolate).
We took an Uber back to The Diplomat to enjoy the quiet of our hotel in the calm pool while sipping the different types of tequila each night. The hotel is so quiet, relaxing and calm we almost couldn’t even work. Imagine: Just being able to relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. A bonus of this hotel, besides the owners being so engaging and helpful, is the little bodega across from our room. This isn’t your standard “cheap” souvenir shop. It’s filed with Yucatan handmade items such a clutch, a wallet, candles (smells so good), and chocolate. SO glad this shopping was literally across from our room. Other items available were embroidered pillow covers, jewelry, cookbooks, scarves, purses, oh the list is endless!!
Merida is a foodie gem. For dinner that night, we opted for Italian food at Oliva Enoteca. Italian is not what we would have expected in Merida, but it received rave reviews. Well, we now know why. Service was amazing, food was beyond delicious and the wines were probably the best selection we’ve had in Mexico. Dinner was an unexpected treat!
The next morning we were delighted by another locally sourced delicious breakfast that was plated beautifully and tasted wonderful.
If we had more time in Merida we would’ve visited the nearby cenotes, Puerto Progreso and Campeche. Next visit!
On our trek back to the Cancun area, we stopped at Izamal, the oldest city in the Yucatan, where all the buildings are painted in an egg-yolk yellow color. The Franciscan Convent San Antonio de Padua was actually built from one of the Mayan pyramids. The Convent and Cathedral are the center of the town with a nearby small craft market and some local stores. Izamal made for the perfect 30-minute stop to explore a local village before continuing our journey to Cancun.
Merida is a truly magical place to explore, despite the long journey to get there. While staying in Merida you must stay at the boutique, comfortable Diplomat hotel and tell Sara and Neil hi from the team at Vacationeeze!