Great Escape: Mérida, Mexico

If you’re not into sipping margaritas on crowded beaches in Mexico, you might want to go further inland and explore the cobblestone streets of enchanting Mérida, nestled in the heart of the Yucatán Peninsula, especially for those with a sense of adventure.

Words by Marc Graser
Photos by Alex Azabache

Nearly 40 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico, Mérida is steeped in culture and serves as a gateway to exploring Mayan archaeological sites like the pyramids of Chichen Itzá, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and the temples of Uxmal.

Explore the majestic Catedral de Mérida, a stunning example of Splanish colonial architecture. Stroll through the Paseo de Montejo, a wide avenue lined with flamboyant mansions, once owned by wealthy families during the henequen boom. Immerse yourself in the local art scene at galleries like La Siempre Habana and Fundación Mezcal y Tequila. The city of 1 million people has more than 10 museums and seven colleges or universities.

Foodies should immerse themselves in Yucatecan Cuisine: a unique blend of Mayan, Spanish, and Caribbean influences. Try local favorites like cochinita pibil (marinated, slow-roasted pork), sopa de lima (lime soup), and panuchos (tortillas filled with black beans and topped with various ingredients).

You’ll want to venture beyond the urban core and discover hidden gems like cenotes, natural sinkholes in collapsed caves, that are perfect for kayaking, swimming and snorkeling, like Cenote Xkeken and Cenote Ik Kil. Also explore the picturesque towns of Izamal, known for its yellow-hued buildings, and Valladolid, with its tranquil central plaza. Hike through the Puuc Hills, dotted with Mayan ruins and offering breathtaking views.

Locals are friendly. The city is safe with low crime and unemployment. A growing LGBTQ+ community, including retired queer ex-pats, has fostered a welcoming environment, evident in the variety of inclusive cafes, lively bars and year-round events that cater to diverse identities. Remain mindful of cultural norms, though. Public displays of affection are less common, and respectful behavior is key.

While Mexico doesn’t have nationwide marriage equality, Yucatán, and Mérida specifically, have a more progressive stance. Several LGBTQ+ bars and clubs thrive, like La Cucaracha Bar and El Cardenal Cantina, offering safe spaces for socializing and making connections. Restaurants and cafes, like Apoala and Ki’Xocolatl, showcase a warm and inclusive vibe.

The annual Mérida Fest, that takes place in January, incorporates events for the LGBTQ+ community. The city celebrates Pride mid June. Organizations like Mérida LGBT and Red Yucateca de la Diversidad Sexual (RYDS) offer helpful resources to connect with locals.

A variety of accommodations for any style and budget are available, including boutique hotels like Rosas & Xocolate and Casa Lecanda. Casa Lol-Ha is a historic LGBTQ+ owned mansion transformed into a charming B&B. The centrally located Hotel Colonial Mérida and Hotel Casa Don Gustavo are also affordable.

Also Read: Great Escape – South Africa

aztec temple merida, mexico
Merida, Mexico