“As a woman traveling alone, I hadn’t expected to feel as comfortable as I explored the city day and night on my late November trip,” says travel writer Margo Pfeiff, whose essay about Merida appears in today’s Los Angeles Times.
Pfeiff extolls Merida’s “excellent cuisine and vibrant markets, as well as a remarkable roll call of cultural, culinary and outdoor events almost every day and night. It’s a great place to prowl shop- and café-lined streets, urban plazas and parks, and the region’s best museums.”
She had ambitious plans outside the city limits of Yucatan’s capital, but found herself happily discovering the virtues of the Centro.
“Each morning I chose a different route to stroll to the city center amid the tolling of church bells and the aroma of freshly squeezed oranges, toasting tortillas and Chiapas coffee,” says the Canadian freelance writer whose Instagram page swerves from Arctic to tropical moods.
She confesses a personal bias for the Arctic cold, but appears to have adored sultry Merida.
“Mérida is one of those cities where the best entertainment is zigzagging lazily through a maze of candy-colored colonial buildings; poking into small shops and chic galleries; peeking into peaceful courtyards; or stopping for cocktails, microbrews or high-octane coffee at the hole-in-the-wall Café Cafico,” says Pfeiff. “I clocked as many as 10 miles one day, people-watching and soaking up culture.”
She recommends the Museo Fernando García Ponce-Macay for its “eccentric local and Mexican artwork.” And she noted that the cultural sites were free.
I enjoyed long, lazy lunches, usually in the relative quiet of one of the many shaded parks and plazas around Merida. I’d slip in for a plate of cochinita pibil, slow-cooked pork marinated in sour orange, achiote and other spices, at Manjar Blanco, a simple eatery opposite Parque de Santa Ana that American chef Rick Bayless has raved about.
There is a growing number of innovative, modern Mexican fine-dining restaurants, and vegetarian and vegan options are booming. There is even a slow-food market on Saturday mornings just outside the city center.
“One of my favorite lunches was at Apoala, which serves Oaxaca fusion cuisine outdoors overlooking Parque Santa Lucia, Mérida’s second-most-popular plaza,” said the writer.
“But Mérida’s traditional cantinas — bat-wing swinging doors ’n’ all — were my favorite hangouts. Once the domain of macho men, several have been delightfully gentrified such as El Cardenal, with its tree-shaded courtyard, and the hip hangout La Negrita. Both offer great live music, a lively social scene and free snacks called botanas well into the night.”
“As nighttime approached, bands began to play and people danced under the stars. I picked up a dish of fresh coconut ice cream, sat beneath a chorus of birds roosting in the trees and savored this Sunday night tradition, not regretting for one second that I had never left this charming colonial city.”