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Merida, a colonial city with the charm of old Mexico

© 2007 by Bonnie McKenna
All Rights Reserved
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As evening descends on the city of Merida, people begin heading for the main plazas in town. The sounds of guitars and trumpets playing favorite Mexican songs begin to fill the warm night air. The clip-clip-clop of horse drawn carriages can also be heard as they take couples on romantic tours down the quiet streets of town.

Such is Merida, the picture of a classical, quiet colonial town, a bit of real Mexico. The city offers visitors a wealth of things to do and it is an excellent base for those interested in visiting the Mayan pyramids, cenotes and haciendas found nearby.There are numerous first class accommodations in Merida. The Presidente Intercontinental Villa Mercedes (www.intercontinental.com/merida) hotel is located near the heart of town. The rooms are large and well appointed. Ask for a room facing the courtyard. Executive lounge service is available, depending on the class of room reserved. The hotel’s restaurant Frutas y Flores offers delicious international and regional dishes. Do not miss ordering the traditional dish, Soupa de Lima. Muy delicioso.

If you are not fluent in Spanish, it is a good idea to hire a car and driver to take you to all of the places you are interested in visiting. An excellent service is Amigo Yucatan Tour and Travel (www.amigoyucatan.com) with offices in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel. A tour of the city is a must. A good place to start is the central market. Here you can buy everything from tortillas made by hand, to fruits of the region, to the traditional dress of the Yucatan, the huipil. The huipil is made from white cotton fabric, embroidered with cross-stitched flowers around the square neck and hem. It is worn with a special petticoat called a fustán.

Do not miss the Museum of Anthropology. The museum is devoted to Mayan artifacts and presents a historical perspective of the entire Yucatan. Every evening there is entertainment in the plazas around the center of town, most of it is free. No matter how long or short your stay in Merida, you will be able to enjoy traditional Yucatan dancing, big band music, serenades or cultural shows in the plazas. Once you have your bearings and have toured the city, it is time to head out to visit other areas on the Yucatan.

There are package tours, if you like, that are divided into the northern, southern, eastern and western areas of the Yucatan. If you have hired a private car and driver then you can choose exactly where you would like to go instead of a set tour program. Most of the trips involve at least an hour to two hours of driving in each direction. Be sure to bring water, a hat, a camera, sunscreen and a sense of adventure. Chichen Itza is the major icon of the Mayan pyramids. This pyramid dates back more than 1,500 years and continues to be one of the most controversial, studied and visited ruins of the Mayan world. In the Mayan language it means ‘mouth of the well for the Itza’s’ [the tribe that once inhabited the area]. The famous ball court, with its mysterious ring hoop, and perfect acoustics is one of the oldest construction sites in the zone, dating to 864 A.D.

The best maintained ruin and a World Heritage Site is Uxmal (ooosh-mahl). The house of the Magician is the centerpiece of this site. The temple is actually a series of temples one built upon the other. The temple is situated so the western stairway faces the setting sun at the summer solstice. The Governor’s Palace is an excellent example of Mayan stone masonry. Stone carvings of serpents, astrological symbols and the rain god Chaac cover the courtyard wall of the palace. Ek Balam, or black jaguar, was founded in 100 B.C. It is believed that this was one of the most powerful pre-Hispanic cities to exist on the Yucatan, both economically and socially. One of the things unique to this site is the winged idols resembling angels. This ruin is still undergoing major excavation.