By Lee Steele, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht and Eduardo Vázquez
A greener path
Tourists still seem to prefer a horse to go along with their carriage rides, but bowing to popular demand, the city has introduced a few electric carriages to the mix. The city has also carved about 45 miles of bike lanes throughout Mérida. Some are confusing — cars and buses often use them as access lanes to enter parking lots. A lot more effort went into the paths along the Paseo de Montejo where joggers — some possible out-of-towners unfamiliar with the rules — compete for space. Motorists complained they had less room to maneuver. But walking the Paseo — especially at the huge intersection outside the Walmart —feels safer these days. Pedestrians have a dedicated path and lights. Walk/don’t-walk signs are also at various intersections in the Centro, but as we noted in Issue 5, a few adjustments are in order. (Video: See our carriage review)
Pride and Fury
You’d think the biggest parade on the Paseo in a conservative city like Mérida would be something like Carnaval. Nope. In 2022, it was an extravagant LGBTQ+ pride march attracting an estimated 20,000 people. The event previously took place in far less prominent streets with far fewer participants. Graffiti on monuments, including the one above, remains after a demonstration in March protested gender violence.
These recently opened cafés are within walking distance from each other. Is there room for them all?
On Calle 47 and 56, Baretto has replaced Marmalade — except now a new Marmalade appears to be about to open next door where Tradicion Venezuela briefly operated. On the other side, La Papa Caliente did not survive the lockdown.
Maria & Montejo, Rituales de Café might be the most mellow and refined of the recent batch of coffeehouse newcomers, on Calle 58 between 37 and 39. Despite a fairly obscure location, they are often packed with regulars who appreciate their simple elegance.
Justo Bread Studio opened as the pandemic began to spread, but remained in operation during lockdown by bringing coffee and baked goods to the sidewalk. It led several vibrant new businesses — Matilda, Fiorella Gelato y Sorbete Gelato, and La Bottega — to replace a defunct airline ticket counter and an insurance company branch office (left) on the Paseo de Montejo at Calle 29.
Tinoc Café is taking on established rivals such as Soco around the corner and Voltacafe and Bengala Kaffeehaus to the west and south. But it’s got its own unique vibe on Calle 58 between 51 and 53.
Pastel-infused Menta & Rosa, on Calle 56 between 45 and 47, is popular for breakfast and brunch. Very often customers are outside patiently waiting for a table to be freed up. If your tastes lie elsewhere, the girly vibe is worth it for the chilaquiles served in a casserole dish.
An old sewing machine distributor has become a vegan café on Calle 54 and 49. Early reviews give Arista Barista a thumbs up to latte de horchata, and another made with peanuts.
Just a taste of all the new restaurants
Ramiro Cocina, a tiny eatery well-loved for home-style Yucatecan food, Calle 41 at 60. Previously: A wine shop, among other things, when the building was a deep blue. Note: Café Creme and a ceramic workshop still anchor the small complex.
Yakuza, a high-end sushi bar with a cocktail bar to match, Calle 47 between 54 and 56. Previously: Sayonara Asian Cuisine, and before that, Dice Ño design. Note: The first Yakuza is still at Victory Platz on the north side.
Piensa Rosa, a splashy, fun restaurant with two marble outdoor countertops parallel to the Paseo de Montejo at 43. Previously: Casa Jure, a private French neo-classical casona dating to 1905. Note: While in the courtyard, look up at the pink umbrellas facing down. It’s reminiscent of an installation we’ve seen in the Pasaje outside the MACAY.
Casa Yucatán, traditional Yucatecan food with Chef Ernesto Cab Vera at the helm, Calle 60 near 49. Previously: Maruja Barbachano Galería. Note: A classic Mérida casona with a fancy marquesita stand in the courtyard.
Health Ha, fresh smoothies, Calle 47 between 58 and 60. Previously: Compro Oro, a gold dealer. Note: Is this Health Food Row? The Vegan Inc. chain is opening up a few doors down, and near 56 is Pitagoras, a vegetarian café in the old Huevos Motuleños y Más.
Gran Lumiére, fusion cuisine with French flair, Calle 60 at 51. Previously: Islamic cultural center, and before that, Amate Books. Note: Part of what’s called Casa Patricia, which also has a gift shop and guayabera store, and a hair salon. Tranquil courtyard in the rear.
Sabino Comedor & Bar, Mexican fusion, Calle 60 and 45. Previously: Napoli Mia, which broke our hearts when they closed. Note: Direct view of Santa Ana church, which is especially fun if there’s a wedding.
Esencia Maya Fusion, a streetside café with an open-air restaurant and bar upstairs, Paseo de Montejo and 39. Previously: Briefly Changomango. Years ago it was Bravo Tapas and Las Brasas. Note: Great views of the glorieta. An adjacent store features Yucatan-inspired hats, shirts, and dresses.
Cervo is the newest restaurant at the Harbor Lifestyle mall, part of a big Mexican restaurant group that includes its flagship Sonora Grill steakhouses. This time around, the emphasis is on Mediterranean food, especially seafood dishes like the ones you’d find in Greece, Italy, and Spain. One critic described it as “Tulum style,” which would be in line with the trend these days.
The remate reborn
Nights at the park-like southern base of the Paseo were always kind of quiet except during Noche Mexicana. But not lately.
Quiet offices facing Hotel Casa San Angel were replaced with the high-energy Lyon restaurant. It particularly made a big splash with its opulent Oracle roof bar.
Left, friendly, and festive Trópico 56 may actually break the curse that’s quickly put a fork in many other restaurants in that space.
Pizza Neo just opened, and they sell New York-style pies that we loved. The same owners have taken over the neighboring El Gran Café, which was underutilized at one of Mérida’s most dynamic locations. Everything has been gutted and there are big plans for a roof bar and restaurant complex.
Sadly, the doors shut tight at the charming Luna Nueva hostel and café, leaving the corner property at Calle 49 ready for new ideas.
Places hiding in plain sight
Some things should remain secret, but other times you just can’t resist sharing your discoveries with everyone. Yes, there’s a new speakeasy in Mérida! If you haven’t discovered it yet, keep your eyes out for a shiny walk-in refrigerator door in the Santa Lucía area. Inside the secret bar, you’ll find an underground atmosphere and plenty of fancy drinks. The space is tiny, but they wedge in space for musicians to perform. (And no, we’re not talking about Malahat, but if that’s your guess, you’re close!)
Dix and Boobs
Subtlety is dead. It’s not just the short shorts and nipple rings tourists wear on the streets since everyone stopped reading guidebooks imploring us to dress conservatively. Across Santa Ana park on Calle 47 is a bar that’s actually called Boobs. Its logo renders the pair of O’s as an owl’s eyes, or are they … something else? For men with different tastes, there’s a bar on Calle 54 between 56 and 58 called Dix. Oh my. A neon sign near the entrance says “Welcome to hell.” Mother warned us about places like these.
Asai is off the hotel lobby at the former pretty-in-pink InterContinental Presidente, which is now the handsome-in-blue Villa Mercedes. The entire property was brought up-to-date by Hilton. The Japanese restaurant is a spinoff of Chef Yasuo Asai’s Kaiseki in Mexico City. For a twist on tradition, try the cactus sushi.
Chino Moreno, specializes in street seafood, Calle 56 near 43. Previously: Comida Godínez, to-go lunches for office workers. Note: small menu includes tuna tostadas and octopus quesadillas. (Update: It’s already come and gone.)
The old Mini Super Pronto on 60 near 55 has become a rocker bar called Fah, so tourists in Santa Lucía will have to find somewhere else to grab snacks and 200-peso bottles of vino tinto. In its place is a casual, fun place for live music. They appeared to be looking for homesick gringos when they hosted an “Expats Fahntastic Party” with half-price beer and margaritas. It probably worked.
Charlie Parker lives
Music is at the center of the Charlie-Parker-inspired Bird, a Santa Lucía hangout on Calle 58 between 53 and 55, in the former Fundación Mezcaleria spot. (That place moved to the old Pancho’s on Calle 59, where its devotees have followed.) Attention to craft beer on tap, bespoke tacos and authentic rustic pizza is more than we could have hoped for. The Bird landed just as many people were beginning to rediscover the concept of evenings out in Mérida. If Bird reminds you of Dzalbay, there’s a reason.
Art in Izamal
Galería Wayak is artist-owned, and while the art is Mexican, the owner speaks French and English in addition to Spanish. In one year, it’s become known as a “must-see” when visiting Izamal at Calle 29 293bis, Centro, a block away from the plaza. Their ongoing goal is to transform old buildings into residences for local, national, and international artists who wish to pursue their creative work in Yucatán.
Breath of fresh air
Unless you go to the north, it’s hard to find a public roof deck above the second floor. But the Courtyard by Marriott in the hotel zone opened the city’s highest pool in 2021. The adjacent Kioyú Sky Lounge opened sometime afterward. It could have been a tourist trap, but no, the food’s actually terrific. And we were also surprised by how sweet the air is up above it all. Need we mention the sweeping views? I think we saw Galveston. Day passes are available for the pool. Fronto, at the boutique hotel Diez Diez, Calle 56 and 37, opened as lockdown uncertainties peaked. But by 2021, the second-floor patio caught on. Just don’t skip the indoor dining room where watching the bartender is a show in itself. Below, La Ermita is growing as a destination. Cigno was designed by Roger Gonzalez Escalante (Casa Lecanda’s architect) at Calle 66 between 73 and 75. Believe it or not, this gem was used as a lumber yard in the last decade. As we mentioned earlier, on the Remate, Lyon has a whole new format, with a cantina-themed space and roof lounge called The Oracle, which opened in August. Esencia Maya Fusion has great views further up the Paseo de Montejo.
Design for our time
Proof that not everyone is just throwing money at a project, the Hotel Plaza by Kavia is a well-thought-out overhaul of an unattractive and outdated office complex on the Paseo de Montejo, near Calle 39. They kept the bones and added soft lighting, an open center elevator, and even a putting green on the terrace. It adds a touch of distinction where the boulevard deserves it most. As for the hotel tower next door, the one with the never-ending renovations, all bets are off.
During the pandemic, many folks in Mérida, especially women, found themselves out of a job. As a result, the city has seen a dramatic increase in outdoor markets selling everything from hair accessories, to ironwork, and plants. Though some of these bazaars operate out of communal areas in shopping centers or parking lots, others have sprung up in public spaces with the approval of city hall. Several of these markets are organized around themes such as “LGBTQ+ creators” or “women helping women,” while others are a little more free-form. These bazaars are great places to pick up one-of-a-kind items while supporting the local economy.
The Delorean on Prolongación Paseo de Montejo was the place to get your dose of live rock. After having to close up shop, the venue relocated to Centro and downsized its stage to a walkway on 58 and 59 — just across from El Palacio de la Música. Though much smaller, the Delorean has kept on rocking and offering pub fare and plenty of beer. Its music genres vary depending on the night, but often have a hard rock or alternative edge. The smaller location has its advantages, as the music attracts many passers-by including tourists. But the Delorean’s Facebook page has dropped plenty of hints that they are looking for a bigger space where they can put on larger shows and host bigger bands once again. Fans can’t wait.
The shows must go on
Live concerts have made a major comeback in Mérida featuring artists like Alejandra Guzman, Gloria Trevi and Alejandro Fernández. In the coming months, even bigger shows will hit the stage.
Guns N’ Roses / Molotov
The legendary American hard rock band Guns N’ Roses will be playing at the Xmatkuil fairgrounds on Oct. 15. The long-lived Mexican rock/rap band Molotov will be opening what is sure to be an explosive show.
The Mexican rock band formed in the 1990s and is known for their over-the-top antics which parody the stereotypes of 1980s-style glam metal. They will be rattling the rafters of the Foro GNP on Oct. 22, 2022.
Coming from Germany and fronted by Tilo Wolff and Anne Nurmi, Lacrimosa mixes gothic rock and heavy metal, along with violins and trumpets at the La Isla Auditorium on
Formerly known as La Onda Vaselina, OV7 is a Mexican pop group with hits that include Te Quiero Tanto, Tanto, Shabadabada, and Mírame a los ojos. OV7 will be performing at the Foro GNP on Nov. 5.
One of the most popular rock bands in all of Latin America. Café Tacvba has won a swath of awards including Grammys, Latin Grammys, and MTV Music Awards. They hit Mérida on Dec. 10 at the Foro GNP.
A modern malecón
Progreso authorities earned raves when its overhauled malecón —the promenade that runs between the beach and the restaurants, shops and bars — was beautified. It leaves a good impression on jaded cruiseship visitors, as well. Places like Scappata Casa di Mare have contributed to a more upscale restaurant scene, as well.
A more inclusive beach
Five floating wheelchairs and a set of movable rubber ramps were installed last year in Progreso. These are among the new amenities now available to visitors with disabilities. The new infrastructure also includes three wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, showers, signage in braille, and improved ramps to access the boardwalk and beach with greater ease. Even a merry-go-round has been designed with a ramp and places for wheelchairs.
Walk with the dinosaurs
Just a few minutes from Progreso, Chicxulub’s Sendero Jurásico offers visitors the opportunity to walk a roughly one-kilometer path lined with large dinosaur figures and great photo opportunities. The park has proven to be popular with families, and especially children. Meanwhile, the new Museo del Meteorito on Progreso’s malecón has even more dinosaur-themed exhibits, many high-tech. Tickets required for both.
On the run
With the increasing popularity of running in Yucatán over the past decade, so have athletic events, from 5-km fun runs to full-on marathons. Though most of these events have been concentrated in Mérida and Progreso, over the past few years they have started to pop up across the state. One of the most popular of these is Valladolid’s half-marathon that kicked off in 2019. Its third installment was a full marathon on Oct. 3.
On the outskirts of Valladolid, Villas Vallazoo offers luxury cabañas in a natural environment. Each of the cabañas is decorated in the theme of a different species of animal native to the Yucatán, including monkeys, jaguars, and macaws. The cabañas are surrounded by the Vallazoo natural reserve which is home to over 250 endemic plant species as well as many of the animals the cabañas are themed around. Bicycles are also for rent, as is the use of a mini-golf course — somewhat of a rarity in Yucatán.
Get outta here
Mérida’s Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport may not be as large a hub as Cancún’s — but with more and more domestic and international flights, it has never been easier to fly into the White City. The airport operates flights to and from Houston, Dallas, Miami, Las Vegas, Toronto, and Havana — as well as a new route connecting to Guatemala, which puts the beautiful destination of Flores within easier reach. TAG Airline’s president, Marcela Toriello, said even more Central American destinations are coming. Aside from daily flights to domestic destinations such as Mexico City, Monterrey, and Oaxaca, Volaris begins flights to Guanajuato on Nov. 18. That makes jaunts to places like San Miguel de Allende all the more feasible.
Xiol is a recently excavated archaeological site just in Kanasín’s industrial zone. It is made up of seven restored Puuc-style structures from the late-Classic period, roughly 600 to 800 CE. Xiol translates as “spirit of man.” But this name was only recently given to this ancient site by INAH; its original name has been lost to time. The site is easily observable from the highway and is expected to open to the public in 2023.
Kulubá has been known to archaeologists since the 1930s, but is only now gaining much attention thanks to ongoing excavations. The site is 35 miles from Tizimín and is officially still closed to the public, though it is still possible to visit. Like Xiol, Kulubá is expected to open in 2023. Kulubá is known for its grand Puuc palaces and relative isolation from other ancient Maya capitals. Bring plenty of water and dress for the heat if you go.
During the construction of the Tren Maya — or Mayan Train — tens of thousands of artifacts have been found, including hundreds of well-preserved sculptures, pottery vessels, and burial sites. Even more exciting, several previously unknown temples and even entire cities and settlements were announced. Not too many details have been published, but sources assure us that they are truly mindblowing.