"Come to be amazed by the ancient walls of countless churches, hidden cities, the pink-streaked landscapes produced by flamingoes going aloft, mangrove forests, sinkholes, caves, fresh and saltwater lagoons... There are so many attractions in Merida's surroundings that you will never be short of reasons to set out on a journey, resting assure that you will be fully satisfied."
Merida is a great base to explore the unlimited adventure that is the Caribbean nuanced Yucatan peninsula. There are also many adventures to be had just strolling Merida's streets.
Merida, the capital city of Yucatan, has a population of about 750,000. It offers elegant hotels and restaurants as well as shopping malls, small stores and a central market. The city has a rich cultural life that celebrates its diversity through free concerts, performances and other public events.
An international airport brings tourists and adventurers from all over the world to enjoy the city's colonial ambiance, ancient ruins and tropical climate. Rich in history and romantic mystique, Merida is a perfect base from which to visit the area's many several archaeological sites, ecological parks, villages, beaches and cenotes.
Merida is the cultural and financial capital of the Yucatan Peninsula, as well as the capital city of the state of Yucatan.
As the state and regional capital, Merida is a cultural center, featuring multiple museums, art galleries, restaurants, movie theatres and shops. Merida retains an abundance of beautiful colonial buildings and is a vibrant cultural center with music and dancing playing an important part in day-to-day life. At the same time it is a modern city boasting a comprehensive range of shopping malls, auto dealerships, top quality hotels, restaurants and leisure facilities. The famous avenue, Paseo de Montejo, is lined with original sculpture.
Traditionally isolated from the rest of the country by geography, Merida and the state of Yucatan have created a unique culture. The conquistadors found the Mayan culture to be incredibly resilient. Attempts to eradicate Mayan culture had only moderate success. Remnants of the Mayan culture can be seen in speech, dress and histories. These are especially clear in holidays like Hanal Pixan, a Mayan/Catholic Day of the Dead celebration, which is commemorated by elaborate altars dedicated to dead relatives. Crucifixes mingled with skull decorations and food sacrifices/offerings in a compromise between the two religions. Many Yucatecans enjoying eating mukbil pollo is the Mayan tamal pie offered to the dead on All Saints' Day, traditionally accompanied by a cup of hot chocolate.
Merida's English Library is a lending library with an extensive collection of English books, videos, tapes and children's books. The library is also the site for expatriate meetings, children's storytelling hours and other cultural events.
Merida is also home to the Yucatan Symphony Orchestra, which plays regular seasons featuring classical music, jazz and opera.
Merida, the colonial settlement, was founded in 1542. However as it was built on the site of the Maya city of T'ho, which had been a center of Mayan culture and activity for centuries many historians consider Merida the oldest continually occupied city in the Americas.
Ancient carved Maya from T'ho were widely used to build colonial buildings, plentiful in downtown Merida. These are, for example, visible in the walls of the main cathedral. The city's centro historic still preserves much of Merida's architecture from the colonial period through the 1700s and 1800s. Merida was a walled city from colonial times through the mid 1800s, intended to protect the residents of Spanish blood from periodic revolts by the indigenous Maya. Although several of the old Spanish city gates survive, modern Merida has expanded well beyond the old city walls.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Merida prospered from the production of henequen, an agave whose leaves yield a fiber suitable for rope and twine. Around 1900 Merida was said to house more millionaires than any other city in the world. Elaborate homes still line the main avenue of Paseo de Montejo, though few are occupied today by individual families. Many, now restored, serve as office buildings. Merida's centro historico district in the Americas is surpassed in size only by Mexico City and Havana.
In 1993 the Pope the city. Merida has been host to two bilateral United States – Mexico conferences, In June 2007, Merida moved its city museum to the renovated Post Office building next to the downtown market.
In recent years, several important science competitions were held in Merida as well as the FITA Archery World Cup Final.
Major Cities (population): Merida (781,146), Tizimin (69,553), Valladolid (68,863), Uman (53,268), Kanasin (51,774)
Size/Area: 14,827 square miles
Population: 1,818,948 (2005 census)
Year of Statehood: 1824
Yucatan's green and yellow coat of arms features a deer, which represents the native Mayan people, leaping over an agave plant, a once-important crop in the region. Adorning the top and bottom borders are Mayan arches, with Spanish bell towers on the left and right. These symbols represent the state's shared Mayan and Spanish heritages.
The Yucatan Peninsula is home to North America's largest indigenous population, the Mayans. Yucatan has the highest percentage of indigenous language speakers in the country.
According to legend, when Francisco Hernandez de Cordova arrived on the coast of Yucatan, he asked the natives where he was. They replied in their native tongue that they didn't understand what he was saying. Because Cordova thought their answer sounded like the word Yucatan, he gave that name to the region.
Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve near the fishing village of Celestun contains thousands of brilliant pink flamingos, myriad other bird species and exotic plants. During the winter months, as many as 30,000 flamingos can be seen there.
The state is most famous for its Mayan ruins, which number between 2,600 and 2,700. Seventeen sites have been restored and are open to the public, the most famous being Chichen Itza, Ek Balam and Uxmal.
Yucatan has approximately 2,600 fresh water pools called cenotes, which the indigenous natives used for drinking water and sacrificial offerings. Today, the pools are popular tourist attractions.
The state provides sanctuary for 443 of the 546 bird species registered in the Yucatan Peninsula. Along with Campeche and Quintana Roo, Yucatan is home to 50 percent of Mexico's bird species.
Chichen Itza and the Pyramid of Kukulcan were recently named among the new Seven Wonders of the World. Amazingly, the pyramid was built so that on the spring and fall equinox (March 21 and September 21), the movement of the sun creates the illusion of a giant snake of light gliding down the pyramid's main flight of stairs. To the Mayans, this symbolized the return of Kukulcan, the Plumed Snake.
Around 600 A.D., the Mayans migrated toward the northern regions of South America and established some of the earliest known cocoa plantations in Yucatan. The cocoa beans, which were reserved for the elite members of Mayan society, were ground and mixed with water to make an unsweetened drink.
Because Yucatan has a rich history of ancient cultures, archaeological sites are active throughout the region. Mexico’s most extensively restored archaeological park, Chichen Itza, covers four square miles. Founded by a tribe of warriors called the Itzae, Chichen Itza represents a melding of Mayan, Toltec, Puuc and Uxmal architectural influences. Once a city of grandeur, Chichen Itza’s structures include El Castillo (Pyramid of Kukulcan), Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors) and Juego de Pelota (ball court). The nearby Cenote of Sacrifice provided water for the citizens and was sometimes used to sacrifice humans.
Uxmal, another archaeological park in Yucatan, is often called the most attractive of the archaeological sites. Built in approximately 700 A.D., Uxmal features the Mayan chultunes (or cisterns), which held water for the population. Chaac, the rain god, is seen in many of the carvings as well. Within a 10-mile radius of Uxmal are four smaller ancient sites at Kabah, Sayil, Xklapak and Labna. Together with Uxmal, these ruins make up the Ruta Puuc (Puuc Route), named after the hills in which they are nestled.
The Rio Lagartos National Wildlife Refuge is home to the largest flamingo population in North America. Established in 1979, the 118,000-acre National Park features diverse geological areas, from coastal dunes to mangrove swamps. From April to August, the refuge hosts thousands of flamingos, plus another 200-plus bird species and large populations of sea turtles and jaguars.
Nearly 140 miles from Rio Lagartos, the Celestun Wildlife Refuge spans the border between the states of Campeche and Yucatan. Also established in 1979, Celestun encompasses 146,000-acres and shelters 300 bird species. Celestun also provides winter refuge for migrating birds and is a significant feeding area for non-breeding flamingos.
In smaller cities such as Valladolid, Progreso and Tulum, tourists can enjoy the music and crafts of local artisans and dine at restaurants that serve such local delicacies as Pollo Pibil (a delicious marinated chicken wrapped in a banana leaves and baked) and Poc Chuc (tenders slices of pork marinated in sour orange juice and served with a tangy sauce and pickled onions).