The Mystery of Mérida’s Ciudad Maya

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Video by Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Until the early 1980s, the Mayan-themed restaurant and nightclub Ciudad Maya was one of the hottest spots in Mérida.

On Calle 84, directly behind the Centenario Zoo, the abandoned complex is in ruins, though it’s still easy to see why this spot was so popular. 

You will notice nothing keeping you from entering and looking around. But to be sure, I asked a police officer on the corner if it was OK. 

The bar’s architecture emulates the grandeur of Chichén Itzá, borrowing elements of other ancient cities of Yucatán like Uxmal. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Having got my green light, I made my way in and was quickly mesmerized by the interior, which is just as elaborate as its facade.

Once inside the abandoned bar, you can make out what must have once been a stage, dance floor, and serving area. When the bar was still active, it was known for burlesque shows featuring the vedettes of the day, many of whom were of Cuban origin. Though this was considered a classy joint, the shows were apparently … errr … rather provocative, to say the least. 

Inside the grounds, your attention will quickly be drawn to replicas of some of Chichén Itzá’s most famous monuments. 

The club was owned by a local restauranteur, Ruben Gonzalez. But after his passing, his heirs let it fall into disrepair. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Perhaps the most impressive of these is a replica of the observatory, also known as the caracol.

The replica of Chichén Itzá’s observatory is extremely impressive, though I spotted more than a few inaccuracies in its design. Still, it’s pretty amazing, and you can tell it was built lovingly.

The replica of the pyramid of Kukulkán stands roughly 25 meters tall and comes complete with feathered serpent heads at its base. Very very cool. 

Also making an appearance is the nightclub’s own copy of the grand cenote, though it stinks to the high heavens as it’s full of garbage.

Other impressive architectural elements, such as feathered serpent sculptures and Chack Mool’s, adorn the abandoned club and give off a somewhat eerie vibe. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

When you think about it, the ruins of the Ciudad Maya nightclub are a ruin of a ruin of sorts. And it’s ironic that, like its much more ancient counterpart, this once thriving spot suffered much the same fate. 

If you go

Map indicating the location of the abandoned Casa Maya right behind Mérida’s Centenario Zoo. Photo: Google Maps

No tour guides at this site! You’re on your own, but keep in mind that the spot is known to be used by teenagers to conduct … ummm … salacious activities and occasionally host some of Mérida’s least desirable elements. So avoid going at night or by yourself.