Merida: The White City

Originally known as the Mayan City of T'HO, Mérida has a proud, ancient and tumultuous past. Destroyed and rebuilt by the Spanish, Mérida was resurrected as the "Paris of the West"...


Capital of the State of Yucatan, Merida Mexico lies about 20 miles from the western Yucatan Gulf coast and makes an excellent base for exploring the Yucatan's many Mayan treasures. Known to the indigenous Maya as the city of T'HO, and often called the White City because its streets and sidewalks are cleaned twice everyday, and because of the large amount of limestone used to construct its buildings, this charming colonial city is a paradox of two cultures that have influenced its development over the last 500 years.


Considered one of the safest major cities in Mexico because of a low crime rate, Merida ranks high as a center of diverse culture and rich history. From its ornate colonial architecture, including the oldest cathedral in the Americas, to the abundant and ancient Maya ruins that dot the countryside surrounding the city, Merida is joy to visit any time of year.


If you fly into Merida on a clear day you'll see a rich biosphere of green from your window seat and as you disembark from the plane you immediately smell the earthy tropics that permeate the air. Merida is geographically located almost exactly in the middle of the Americas and you get a sense of timelessness as you purvey this magical landscape.

Merida cariage on the square


According to the YUCATAN TODAY Web site, the Spaniard Francisco de Montejo founded Merida in 1542. When the Spaniards arrived, Merida was a large Mayan city known as T'ho, situated on what is now the Main Plaza. It was conquered by the Spaniards, who dismantled all the pyramids and used the huge stones as the foundation for the Cathedral of San Idelfonso (1556-1599), the oldest cathedral on the American continent.


The Cathedral, situated on the east side of the Plaza, is only one of Merida's many interesting sites. Directly across the Plaza is the Palacio Municipal (1735), Merida's Town Hall. On the south side is the Casa de Montejo (1542), the former home of the conqueror of Yucatan.


The Palacio de Gobierno (1892), on the north side, houses 27 murals by Fernanco Castro Pacheco illustrating the violent history of  the region.

One of the major influences on Yucatecan history is the henequen plant, also called sisal (for the Yucatecan city of Sisal from which shipments left the continent). This plant became known as 'green gold' or verde oro for the wealth it lavished upon the haciendados or hacienda owners in this area. In the early 20th Century, as a result of the henequen or sisal trade, Merida was the home for numerous millionaires who built their lavish homes on Paseo Montejo, and their impressive haciendas throughout the jungle surrounding Merida. A walk down Paseo Montejo is a wonderful way to view some of these mansions, many of which are completely restored.



The rich biodiversity of the Yucatan surrounding Merida provides a playground for not only adventure travelers seeking the thrill of exploration and discovery but for families who are discovering there's something to do for everyone. From the tranquil beaches of nearby Progreso to hacienda and cave tours throughout the region, all ages will thrill with the diverse activities that can be enjoyed.


If trekking through ancient Maya ruins are up your alley, there are few places better suited than the grand sites of Chichen Itza and Izamal, Uxmal, Ek Balam, and dozens of other historically rich ancient centers of Mayan culture.


Or take the kids for a swim at one of many cenotes, underground rivers that peak to the surface in places and provide immediate relief from the oppressive heat of the region. Also high on the list of family attractions are the many museums across the region and the Centenario Zoo.


Nearby CHICHEN ITZA: History In Residence

There are so many quality archaeological sites to explore in the Yucatan that is hard to decide which ones to take in with the time you have to spend on the "Mayan Road". But the grand site of Chichen Itza is one that demands your full attention. The famous Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza are over 1500 years old and are located only 75 miles from Merida.


Try to visit Chichen Itza early in the morning or late in the afternoon, as the sun can be punishing at midday. The main attraction is the central pyramid, El Castillo, or the "Castle of the Plumed Serpent." The plumed serpent figure is a popular deity in various Mesoamerican cultures and is honored in this ancient city.. Among other names, the Mayans called this god Kukulkán, or Quetzalcoatl.


At the entrance to Chichen Itza, there is an informative museum, a dining room, clean restrooms, a few gift shops and vendor stands.


Taking to the Beaches

In the late 60s and early 70s, a small number of Americans and Canadians "discovered" Progreso, Chicxulub and Chelem to be a winter paradise. They made a pact to keep the secret. They were enticed by the warm weather, cheap rents, friendly Yucatecan people, the laid-back way of life and the safe atmosphere.


Cruise ships now stop at Progreso and there's a great deal of construction in progress that takes away from the former village charm of this beach side community. But there's still plenty undiscovered spots where you can enjoy the beach and a great deal of attractions around Progreso, including nature preserves and biological parks.


Progreso is still a laid-back port town where you can enjoy the true flavor of Mexico. Progreso has safe, tranquil beaches with no currents or tides, which makes them great for swimming, floating, windsurfing and jetskiing. Palm trees, fresh seafood, the seaside boulevard called the malecón and the friendly local Mayan residents make Progreso a great place to visit.


For a comprehensive and attractive resource for Yucatan travels, visit the YUCATAN TODAY Web site and explore the rich travel opportunities that await in this magical region.

Above (left0 vendor sells fresh fruits and vegetables at central market. Pyramid at Uxmal nearby (right)

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