Founded in 1542 by the conquistador Francisco Montejo, Merida today is the capital city of the state of Yucatan. The center of cultural and commercial activity in Merida is the Plaza Mayor (Plaza of Independence)and the site of many fine examples of Spanish colonial construction.
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The Palacio Montejo, built in 1549 for Francisco Montejo and his family, is the finest example of Spanish colonial architecture and originally extended the full length of the south side of the Plaza Mayor (Plaza of Independence). Until recently the Palace was occupied by descendants of Francisco Montejo.
The Cathedral on the east side of the Plaza occupies the site of an earlier Mayan temple and was built between 1561 and 1598.
Opposite the Cathedral is the 16th century Town Hall and on the north east corner of the Plaza is the Government Palace built in 1892 that has an impressive collection of murals by the famous Mexican artist, Fernando Castro Pacheco.
One of my favorite hotels is the Hotel Gran located in the Parque Cepeda Peraza located one block north of the Plaza Mayor on Calle 60. Built in the 19th century this grand old hotel has large spacious rooms with views overlooking the plaza. It can be noisy at night but if you are a sound sleeper you will like these rooms. Otherwise ask for rooms away from the front of the hotel.
Another favorite is the Colonial just a few blocks from the Plaza on calle 62. A small dining room and clean rooms makes this small hotel a good choice.
For those wanting to be away from town continue north on Calle 60 to the Paseo Montejo, a four lane road surrounded by trees, lavish colonial estates, and upscale hotels. During Meridas prominence in the early 20th century, the Paseo Montejo was laid out on the model of the Paris boulevards. It runs through a select residential neighborhood flanked by monuments; the most interesting and striking is the Monument to the Fatherland. My choice of hotels on the Paseo Montejo is the Conquistador hotel but there is also the Montejo and Holiday Inn near the American Consulate.
Be sure to visit the Museo de Arqueologia on the Paseo Montejo across the street from the hotel Montejo.
The University in Merida offers many evening programs including ballet, Mayan dances, varied music programs, and fine art shows.
Before leaving Merida be sure to visit the large market place located approximately four blocks south east from the Plaza Mayor. Here you will find foods and dry goods of the region as well as many busy souvenir shops.
Located in the center of the Yucatan, Merida offers visitors a wide variety of day trips to well preserved and magnificent Mayan ruins and Spanish Haciendas. One of the favorites, because it was virtually untouched by the Spanish conquistadors, is Uxmal to the south. Although not one of Mexico's largest archeological sites, it is one of the finest and most complete complexes of pre-Columbian architecture in Mexico. Not far from the ruins is The Hacienda Uxmal which offers fine upscale accommodations with spacious rooms and fine food.
On the road to Uxmal is the 17th century sisal hemp plantation, the Hacienda Yaxcopoil. The hacienda's history spans three great periods of ancient Yucatan: pre-Hispanic life, the colonial period, and the sisal hemp boom of the late 19th century and early 20th century. Plan to make this brief but exciting stop. It is well worth the visit.
From Merida 11 miles north on the road to Progresso is the early ruins of Dzibilchaltun thought to be the occupied from about 1500 B.C. until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. Approximately 8000 buildings have been identified on the site which makes Dzibilchaltun the oldest and largest site in the Yucatan, and probably the whole of Mexico.
For a weekend trip by bus take the road south west to the walled city of Campeche. This historic city was founded in 1540 but the first Spanish conquistador to land here was Hernandez de Cordoba in 1517. During the 16th and 17th century the city was repeatedly raided by pirates. During the late 17th century and early 18th century the city was surrounded by a wall and eight forts for protection. Much of the wall and forts are visible today. Not far from Campeche is the Mayan ruins of Edzna.
If you are in search of Mexican culture and tradition as well as Mayan ruins I recommend a visit to Merida. I have been travelling to this region of Mexico for many years and each time I return I find something new,or old, to bring me back. I love this city for its friendliness and warmth of character as well as its history. I have never been disappointed with any visit to the Yucatan. There is more to do than a leisurely one or two week vacation permits. Make several trips but take your time to fully appreciate the people, their culture, traditions, and the country.