We arrived in Merida at 5am on Tuesday 1st May after a short night bus (8 hours) from Palenque. We stayed at Nomades hostel located in the centre of the city. We were travelling with Jess and Ellie so all got a taxi together from the station. Obviously not being able to check in for another 6 or 7 hours we napped by the pool getting bitten alive by mosquitoes before our breakfast at 7am. After some much needed food we headed out into the town before it got hot or too busy.
It was really quite refreshing walking around Merida at 8am soaking up the bustling energy of locals heading to work. We walked down the road to the main square. These main squares are the focal point of every Mexican town or city we have visited and this was no different. Each having their own style, the Merida Gran Plaza was full of trees offering much needed shade for gringos and locals alike, lovely symmetrical paths, adjourning flower beds and surrounded by stunning colonial buildings and the main cathedral. We walked into the cathedral just as the morning mass was about to begin and stood at the back taking in the grandeur of this building. As the bells rang and the churchgoers stood for mass we stepped back into the early morning heat. Once we had fully taken in the square and surrounding architecture we went for a walk with no destination in mind and stumbled upon small churches painted in yellow, street food vendors, galleries, museums and plenty of shops.
As soon as it turned 10AM we made our way to the Contemporary Art Museum for doors opening. It was quite surreal being the only two people in this huge gallery. In the gallery there were various exhibitions from Mexican artists, all from the Yacutan region and all completely different. For the 1st exhibition room we saw paintings from Fernando Castro Pacheco, the steward very kindly came over to us and explained the different meanings behind the paintings. All the paintings in this room represented Mexican culture in various forms. The first painting we saw was called ‘Ofrenda’, this shows a woman in the foreground and a full table of food, flowers, candles and incense. These are not intended for worshipping but for the purpose of remembrance and to celebrate the lives of deceased loved ones. The food offerings are items that the deceased used to love eating. These can come in the form of spices, corn, chilies and confectionary. The painting shows mugs of their favourite drinks as well, this can be anything from soft drinks to mezcal. Every altar has Mexican marigold flowers called Cempaxochitl and bread of the dead; pan de muerto. There is definitely more to the painting but this hopefully gives a glimpse into it.
Caminante del Mayab was the second painting in the room. This painting represents the journey of Mayan people with the traditional mayan tree growing out from feet symbolising that they are all at one with nature. The second room was full of paintings from a painter called Tania. They represented Mexico in the form of colours, objects and flags. Such objects could have been hammocks, dream liners or pinatas. These were all so vibrant we wanted to take one home with us. The bank said no unfortunately. Following on from the art gallery we headed back to the hostel to check into our dorm and have a swim in the pool.
For lunch we went to ‘La Cubainita’ a Cuban restaurant right next to the hostel. We paid 70 pesos each (less then 3 quid) and got a massive amount of food. The restaurant is owned by a family with just a few tables in the front garden of their house. The tables are under trees and surrounded by colourful wall art. We went at about 3PM so most of the options were gone, however the plates of food we got were incredible. Before the main dish arrived we were bought a plate of salad in a garlic vinagrette and then our mains arrived – potato stuffed with pork mince / herbs and pork mince mixed with beans and broccoli – both our dishes were served with rice and a massive bowl of refried beans. Needless to say we were completely stuffed after this so we didn’t even need food in the evening, a very cheap day!
The next day we woke up for breakfast; chilaques and pancakes. After being bitten even more by damn mosquitoes we set out to buy Niamh a pair of trousers to try keep them off and not overheat at the same time. We managed to find some in a shop where we received excellent service from the people working in the Mayan cooperative shop.
The rest of the day wasn’t as productive as we hoped. Our plan was to eat lunch, walk along a lovely avenue, go to the Mayan museum and finish off at the cinema for avengers. We ate lunch at our new favourite Cuban place again. This time with the full menu available Niamh had the vegetarian option which was a huge salad and on a second plate, a large amount of rice with lentils and green peppers. Stu had beef steak fried with the rice side and the salad starter.
After lunch we embarked on our walk along the avenue, which was full of grandeur with big colonial mansions on each side of the street. What we didn’t take into account was the time. It was 1pm and the hottest point of the day with only small amounts of shade. We walked for a bit then decided to get a taxi to the museum. Unfortunately this was the only time where there were absolutely no taxis around!! It must have been 40 degrees in the shade at this point and with no sun cream or cold water we were starting to get seriously tired and sweaty. We turned around and started walking back and eventually found a posh hotel with taxis outside. Instead of going to the Mayan museum we asked the taxi to drive us back to the hostel so we could cool off. By this point it was too late and unfortunately wouldn’t have been worth going to the museum so we stayed at the pool again until we went to see Avengers at the cinema. If you haven’t already, go and see it!! The cinema was much cheaper than in the UK, we paid 2.25 pounds each for the tickets. After the film we got a taxi back and went to bed as we had to be up at 6am to get the bus to Chichen Itza the next morning.
After the previous tours we had been on we decided to do this by ourselves and what a great decision it was. We left Merida on the 6:30am bus which took just over two hours. We arrived at the Chichen itza site 30 minutes after gates opened and it was amazing to be able to walk around the site before the hordes of people on tours arrived. The other main advantage was we missed out on the really hot temperatures that hit around 11 or 12. We 100% recommend going alone to get there early, or if you want to join these huge tours then find the earliest possible.
We walked around the whole site in 2 hours, we didn’t get a guide as that would have taken longer and we had our bus to Valladolid at 11am, plus we like to go at our own pace. We managed to read all the information boards on each monument, take plenty photos, take in all the amazing architecture, see the two cenotes without ever feeling rushed and spend some time sitting down in the shade. I mean the photos speak for themselves, it was epic being there and seeing one of the seven wonders of the new world with our own eyes. By the time we were leaving around 11am, this was when coach after coach were arriving to the site full of tourists. The site got very busy, very quickly. We were glad to have missed that and to be on our way.
We got the bus to Valladolid to get our connection to Cancun. Stay tuned for our next post on Tulum and Cancun!