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L.A. Times sends chocolate-covered kisses

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The home page of the Los Angeles Times Sunday travel section stresses the pleasures of Yucatan and its chocolate riches.
The home page of the Los Angeles Times Sunday travel section stresses the pleasures of Yucatan and its chocolate riches.

Yucatán’s tourist industry got a welcome boost today with some friendly coverage in one of the United States’ leading newspapers.

“For a chocolate lover, all roads lead to Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula,” reads the headline that leads off a collection of stories starting on the front page of the Los Angeles Times Sunday Travel section.

Writer Jody Jaffe and her husband this past winter spent two weeks traveling from Tulum to Valladolid to Mérida to Celestún and back to Mérida. The main story emphasized the region’s connection to chocolate production, but also recommended lots of places to eat, drink and stay.

As the lead article took a culinary bent, Mérida’s Los Dos Cooking School was mentioned by name several times.

“We planned our trip around the Chocolate Indulgence [class at Los Dos], eight hours of chocolate lore, cooking and eating led by chef David Sterling, a walking encyclopedia of all things Yucatán and Maya,” wrote Jaffe.

The writer also mentioned that they were staying at Villa Verde in Mérida, “where Sterling had left us a box of seriously delicious chocolates.”

The Choco-Story museum at Uxmal and the Chocolate Maya factory in Valladolid were also paid tribute. A “Chocolate and Yoga workshop” in Tulum got a mention, along with Hacienda Temozón, where they stopped for frijoles y puerco. Then came a late-night run back at home base in Mérida to Ki’Xocolatl, where Sterling had bought their “introductory chocolates.”

Some familiar names made the writer’s “recommended” list, which offered a range of options.

In Mérida in particular, under “Where to Eat” the Times recommended Botella Verde for “tapas and inventive Yucatecan cuisine;” Nectar, “well-known to local foodies;” as well as a Parque Santiago cocina económica, La Reina de Itzalana, “known for its sopa de lima, or lime soup, and panuchos.”

“Classic courtyard-style boutique hotel” Villa Verde Mérida and Hotel Mérida Santiago, a “cozy boutique hotel near Parque Santiago,” were among the bullet points under “Where to Stay.”

Priceless publicity like this is like candy for entrepreneurs in Yucatan, already heartened with news that tourism in 2015 is on the rise. The Times’ articles are syndicated through the Tribune News Service, so these stories will likely be picked up by other news media in the coming weeks, or inspire similar stories.

And American readers, even if they are aware of Yucatán’s charms, weren’t necessarily cognizant of the region’s chocolate riches. What better lure for consumers trying to decide where to fly next?

More reason for tourist-sector optimism: The diplomatic thaw between the U.S. and Cuba may bring even more guests because Havana and Mérida pair up naturally on a travel itinerary.

“We get so many European travelers who hit Cuba and then Mérida since it is so close,” said Michael Berton, co-proprietor of Villa Verde Mérida. “I think Cuba being open for the U.S. will dramatically improve tourism from the States.”

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