Mérida, Yucatán

Mérida (Tiho' in Modern Maya) is the capital and largest city of the Mexican state of Yucatán and the Yucatan Peninsula. It is located in the northwest part of the state, about 35 km (22 miles) from the Gulf of Mexico coast, at . The city is also the municipal seat of the municipality of the same name which surrounds it. In the census of 2005 the population of the city was 734,153, ranking 12th among the most populous Mexican metropolitan areas. The population of the municipality was 781,146. The municipality's area is 858.41 km² (331.43 sq mi). The metropolitan area includes the municipalities of Mérida, Umán and Kanasín and had a population of 886,188 in the same 2005 census. It is the largest of the 3 cities of the world that share the name -the other two being in Spain and Venezuela.

Mérida is serviced by Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport (IATA airport code: MID)


There were three Spanish Conquistadors named "Francisco de Montejo", "El Adelantado" (father), Francisco de Montejo y León "el Mozo" (son), and Francisco de Montejo "el sobrino" (nephew). Mérida was founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo "el Mozo" (son). It was built on the site of the Maya city of T'ho (also known as Ichcaanzihó or "city of the five hills", referring to five pyramids) which had been a center of Mayan culture and activity for centuries. Because of this, many historians consider Merida the oldest continually-occupied city in the Americas.

Many carved Maya stones from ancient T'ho were used to build the Spanish Colonial buildings that are plentiful in downtown Merida, and are visible, for instance, in the walls of the main Cathedral. Much of Mérida's architecture from the Colonial period through the 18th century and 19th century is still standing in the centro historico of the city. From colonial times through the mid 19th century, Mérida was a walled city intended to protect the Peninsulare and Criollo residents from periodic revolts by the indigenous Maya. Several of the old Spanish city gates survive, but modern Mérida has expanded well beyond the old city walls. Late in the 19th century and the early 20th Century, the area surrounding Mérida prospered from the production of henequén (known as sisal in English, because it was exported from the port of Sisal, which for most of the 19th century was the most important port in the state). At one time, around the turn of the 20th Century, it is said that Merida had more millionaires than any other city in the world.

The result of the concentration of wealth can still be seen today in Merida. Many large and elaborate homes still line the main avenue of Paseo de Montejo, though few are occupied today by individual families. Now, those homes have been restored and serve as office buildings for banks and insurance companies. Merida has the one of the largest centro historico districts of any city in the Americas (surpassed by Mexico City and Havana, Cuba). Large and small colonial homes line the city streets to this day, in various states of disrepair and renovation; the historical center of Merida is currently undergoing a minor renaissance as more and more people are moving into the old buildings and reviving their former glory.

In August 1993 pope John Paul II visited the city on his third trip to Mexico. The city has been host to two bilateral United States - Mexico conferences first in 1999 (Bill Clinton - Fox ) and the second in 2007 (George W. Bush - Felipe Calderón ).

In June 2007, Merida moved its city museum to the renovated Post Office building next to the downtown market. The Museum of the City of Merida houses important artifacts from the city's history, as well as an art gallery.

Merida is the cultural and financial capital of the Yucatan Peninsula, as well as the capital city of the state of Yucatan. In recent years, two important science competitions were held in Mérida: the 2005 International Mathematical Olympiad and the 2006 International Olympiad in Informatics. In 2006 Mérida hosted FITA Archery World Cup Final. From 3-11 July 2007 Mérida is hosting the International Cosmic Ray Conference


The city lies in the trade wind belt close to the Tropic of Cancer, with the prevailing wind from the east. Mérida's climate is hot and humidity is moderate to high, depending on the time of year. The average annual high temperature is 91 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Celsius), peaking in May when temperatures can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in the afternoon, it is most often a few degrees hotter in Merida than coastal areas due to its inland location and low elevation. The rainy season runs from June through October, associated with the Mexican Monsoon which draws warm, moist air landward. Easterly waves and tropical storms also affect the area during this season.


Mérida has been nicknamed "The White City", though the exact origin of this moniker is not clear. Some explanations include the common color of its old buildings painted and decorated with "cal" (though anyone visiting modern Merida can see that buildings are not all white nowadays) or the fact that the residents keep the city particularly clean. Mérida was named after the Spanish town of the same name, originally (in Latin) Augusta Emerita (see Mérida, Spain). Mérida served as the American Capital of Culture in the year 2000.

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 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. Each year, the MACAY Museum in Merida mounts a new sculpture installation, featuring works from Mexico and one other chosen country. Each exhibit remains for ten months of the year. In 2007, sculptures on Paseo de Montejo feature works by artists from Mexico and Japan.

Mérida and the state of Yucatán have traditionally been isolated from the rest of the country by geography, creating a unique culture. The conquistadors found the Mayan culture to be incredibly resilient, and their attempts to eradicate Mayan tradition, religion and culture had only moderate success. The surviving remnants of the Mayan culture can be seen every day, in speech, dress, and in both written and oral histories. It is especially apparent in holidays like Hanal Pixan, a Mayan/Catholic Day of the Dead celebration. It falls on November 1 and 2 (one day for adults, and one for children) and is commemorated by elaborate altars dedicated to dead relatives. It is a compromise between the two religions with crucifixes mingled with skull decorations and food sacrifices/offerings. Múkbil pollo is the Mayan tamal pie offered to the dead on All Saints' Day, traditionally accompanied by a cup of hot chocolate. Many Yucatecans enjoying eating this on and around the Day of Dead. And, while complicated to make, they can be purchased and even shipped via air. (Muk-bil literally means "to put in the ground" or to cook in a pib, an underground oven).

For English speakers or would-be speakers, Mérida has the Mérida English Library, 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 also is home to the Yucatan Symphony Orchestra, which plays regular seasons at the Jose Peon Contreras Theatre on Calle 60 and features classical music, jazz and opera.


Merida is located in the Northwest part of the state of Yucatan, which occupies the northern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula. To the east is the state of Quintana Roo, to the west is the state of Campeche, to the north is the Gulf of Mexico, and far to the south is the state of Chiapas. The city is also located in the approximate epicenter of the Chicxulub Crater. Yucatan has a very flat topography and is never more than 30 feet above sea level. The land outside of Merida is covered with smaller scrub trees and former henequen fields. Almost no surface water exists, but several cenotes (underground springs and rivers) are found across the state. Merida has a centro historico typical of colonial Spanish cities. The street grid is based on odd-numbered streets running east/west and even-numbered streets running north/south, with Calles 60 and 61 bounding the "Plaza Grande" in the heart of the city. The more affluent neighborhoods are located to the north and the most densely populated areas are to the south. The Centro Historico area is becoming increasingly popular with American and other expats who are rescuing and restoring the classic colonial structures. The Los Angeles Times recently noted this surge of interest in rescuing Merida's historic downtown.


Yucatecan food is its own unique style and is very different from what most people consider "Mexican" food. It includes influences from the local Mayan culture, as well as Caribbean, Mexican, European and Middle Eastern cultures.

There are many regional dishes. Some of them are:

  • Poc Chuc, a Mayan/Yucateco version of barbecued pork.
  • Salbutes and Panuchos. Salbutes are soft, cooked tortillas with lettuce, tomato, turkey and avocado on top. Panuchos feature fried tortillas filled with black beans, and topped with turkey or chicken, lettuce, avocado and pickled onions. Habanero chiles accompany most dishes, either in solid or purée form, along with fresh limes and corn tortillas.
  • Queso Relleno is a "gourmet" dish featuring ground pork inside of a carved edam cheese ball served with tomato sauce
  • Pavo en Relleno Negro (also known locally as Chilmole) is turkey meat stew cooked with a black paste made from roasted chiles, a local version of the mole de guajalote found throughout Mexico. The meat soaked in the black soup is also served in tacos, sandwiches and even in panuchos or salbutes.
  • Sopa de Lima is a lime soup with a chicken broth base often accompanied by shredded chicken or turkey and crispy tortilla.
  • Papadzules. Egg "tacos" bathed with Pumpkin Seed sauce and tomatoes.
  • Cochinita Pibil is a marinated pork dish and by far the most renowned from the yucatecan food.
  • Bul keken, (Mayan for "beans and pork") is a traditional black bean and pork soup. The soup is served in the home on Mondays in most Yucatan towns. The soup is usually served with chopped onions, radishes, chilies, and tortillas.
  • Brazo de reina, (Spanish for "The Queen's Arm") is a traditional tamal dish. A long, flat tamal is topped with ground pumpkin seeds and rolled up like a roll cake. The long roll is then cut into slices. The slices are topped with a tomato sauce and a pumpkin seed garnish.
  • Achiote is the most popular spice in the area. It is derived from the hard annatto seed found in the region. The whole seed is ground together with other spices and formed into a reddish seasoning paste, called recado rojo. The other ingredients in the paste include cinnamon, allspice berries, cloves, Mexican oregano, cumin seed, sea salt, mild black peppercorns, apple cider vinegar, and garlic. The most popular Mexican hot sauce, El Yucateco hot sauce, is made in Mérida, Yucatán. Hot sauce in Mérida is usually made from the indigenous chiles in the area which include: Chile Xcatik, Chile Seco de Yucatán, and Chile Habenero.

    Language and accent

    The Spanish spoken in the Yucatán is readily identifiable as different, even to non-native ears. It is heavily influenced by the Yucatec Maya language, which is still spoken by a third of the population of the State of Yucatan, although mostly in smaller towns and villages. The Mayan language is harshly melodic, filled with X sounds ("X" is pronounced "sh" in the Mayan language) and very full throated vowels.

    Being enclosed by the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, and with poor land communication with the rest of Mexico, Yucatecan Spanish has also preserved many words that are no longer used in many other Spanish speaking areas of the world. Also unique among Yucatecan speakers is the heavy use of diminutive language that shows affection towards even mundane objects. However, with the improvement in transportation and especially with the overwhelming presence of radio and TV, their isolation has eroded, and many outside elements of culture and language are now slowly but consistently permeating the culture.

    Even if fewer younger Yucatecos are fluent in Mayan today, it is still the second language of the State. Many students now choose to learn a foreign language like English, which is taught in most schools.



    City Service is mostly provided by 4 local transportation companies: Unión de Camioneros de Yucatán (UCY), Alianza de de Camioneros de Yucatán (ACY), Rápidos de Mérida, y Minis 2000. Bus Transportation is at the same level or better than that of bigger cities like Guadalajara or Mexico City. Climate Controlled buses and Micro-Bus (smaller in size ) are not uncommon.

    The Main Bus Terminal (CAME ) offers 1st. Class (ADO) and luxury services (UNO) to most southern Mexico cities outside Yucatan with a fleet consisting of Mercedez Benz and Volvo buses. Shorter intrastate routes are serviced by many smaller terminals around the city, mainly in downtown.


    Several groups and unions offer Taxi transportation : Frente Único de los Trabajadores del Volante (FUTV) (white taxis ), Unión de Taxistas Independientes (UTI), Radiotaxímetros de Yucatán, among others. Some of them offer metered service, but most work based on a flat rate depending on destination. Competition has made it of more common use than it was years ago.

    Taxis can be either found at one of many predefined places around the city (Taxi de Sitio ), waved off along the way or called in by Radio.

    Unlike the sophisticated RF counterparts in the US, a Civil Band radio is used and is equally effective. Usually a taxi will respond and arrive within 5 minutes.

    Another type of Taxi service is called "Colectivo". Colectivo taxis work like small buses on a predefined route and for a small fare. Usually accommodating 8 to 10 people.


    Merida is serviced by Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport with daily non-stop services to major cities in Mexico (D.F, Monterrey, Villahermosa, Cancún, Guadalajara, Tuxtla Gutierrez, Toluca) and international (Miami, Houston) and usually receiving charter flight services to and from Europe and Canada. Also there is a good amount of freight and cargo planes moving in and out. As of 2006 more than a millon passengers were using this airport every year, (1.3 in 2007) and it is under ASUR administration.


    There are no passenger Train services. Trains are mostly used for cargo.


    Main roads in and out of Mérida:

    • Mérida-Progreso (Federal 261), 33 Kilometers long and currently under upgrade to an 8 lane freeway. It joins the city with yucatan's biggest port city Progreso.
    • Mérida-Umán-Campeche (Federal 180), connects with the city of San Francisco de Campeche.
    • Mérida-Kantunil-Cancún(Federal 180), 4 lane road that becomes a Toll road at kantunil. It joins Merida with Chichén Itzá, Valladolid and ultimately Cancun.
    • Mérida-Tizimín (Federal 176) connects Mérida with tizimin (2nd. Largest city in Yucatan ).
    • Mérida-Teabo-Peto known as Mundo Maya Road Carretera del Mundo Maya, its utilized in both "convent route" Ruta de los Conventos, and linking the ancient maya city of Mayapán and Chetumal, state capitol of Quintana Roo


    Merida has many regional hospitals and medical centers. All of them offer full services for the city and in case of the Regional Hospitals for the whole Yucatan peninsula and neighboring states.

    The city has one of the most prestigious medical faculties in Mexico (UADY). Proximity to American cities like Houston allow local Doctors to crosstrain and practice in both countries making Merida one of the best cities in Mexico in terms of health services availability.



    In 2000 the Merida municipality had 244 preschool institutions, 395 elementary, 136 Jr. high school (2 years middle school, 1 high), 97 High Schools and 16 Universities/Higher Education schools.

    There are several state institutions offering higher education:

    Among several private institutions:

    Merida has several national research centers. Among them

    • Centro de Investigacíón Científica de Yucatán (CICY)
    • Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del IPN
    • Centro de Investigaciones Regionales Dr. Hideyo Noguchi, dependent from the UADY, conducts biological and biomedical research.
    • Centro INAH Yucatán, dedicated to antropological, arqueological and historic research.


    Merida is the Yucatan state capitol. State Government officials reside here and its also the base for the Merida Municipality. "El Ayuntamiento" is constituted by an elected major, assembly representatives and síndicos. Current Major is César Bojórquez from Partido Acción Nacional and was appointed on July 2nd 2007. State Governor is Mrs. Ivonne Ortega Pacheco also appointed July 2nd 2007.


    Current consular representations in Mérida are:

    Interesting Places

    Historic Sites

    • Monumento a la Patria (1956)
    • Palacio de Gobierno (1892)
    • Catedral de San Ildefonso (1598), first in the continental Americas.
    • Barrio y Capilla de Santa Lucía (1575)
    • Barrio y Templo Parroquial del antiguo pueblo de Itzimná
    • Barrio y Templo Parroquial de San Cristóbal (1796)
    • Barrio y Templo Parroquial de San Sebastián (1706)
    • Barrio y Templo Parroquial de Santa Ana (1733)
    • Barrio y Templo Parroquial de Santa Lucía(1575)
    • Barrio y Templo Parroquial de Santiago (1637)
    • Capilla de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria (1706)
    • Capilla y parque de San Juan Bautista (1552)
    • Casa de Montejo (1549)
    • Antiguo convento de Nuestra Señora de la Consolación (Nuns)(1596)
    • Iglesia del Jesús o de la Tercera Orden (Third Order) (1618)
    • Templo de San Juan de Dios (1562)

    Cultural Centers

    • Centro Cultural Andrés Quintana Roo, in Santa Ana, with galeries and artistic events.
    • Centro Cultural Olimpo. Next to the Municipal Palace in the Plaza Grande.
    • Casa de la Cultura del Mayab, the Casa de Artesanías (house of handcrafts) resides there. Its in downtown Merida.
    • Centro Estatal de Bellas Artes (CEBA). Across the El Centenario, offers classes and education in painting, music, theater, ballet, jazz, folclore, spanish dance, among others.
    • Centro Cultural del Niño Yucateco (CECUNY) in Mejorada, in a XVI century building, with classes and workshops specifically designed for kids.
    • Centro Cultural Dante a private center within one of the major bookstores in Merida (Librería Dante).


    Major Theaters with Regular Shows

    Shopping Centers

    Three local shopping centers were created in the 80's and still exist, although now they mostly cater to locals and have banks and government offices for everyday business:

    • Plaza Oriente, in the East and the very first "plaza comercial" in Mérida.
    • Plaza Dorada , in the west.
    • Plaza Fiesta , in the NorthEast.

    In the 90's and early '01 two other centers with the major "American mall" look and feel opened.

    2007 was the most dynamic in commercial activity and 3 new shopping malls opened to the public:

    • Macroplaza, catering to middle income families.
    • Plaza Altabrisa in the northeast. For middle-high income families
    • Galerias Mérida in the north for high income families.

    In 2008 groundbreaking ceremonies were held for City Center Mérida in the north and 2 more centers are in the works.


    Gran Turismo (5 stars)

    • Hyatt Regency Mérida
    • Fiesta Americana
    • Intercontinental (Presidente ) Villa Mercedes

    4 Stars

    • Holiday Inn Mérida

    3 Stars

    • El Castellano
    • El Conquistador
    • Los Aluxes
    • Misión Mérida

    Several other American and European chain hotels are currently under construction

    • Fiesta Inn (2008-2009)
    • Holiday Inn Express (2008-2009)
    • Marriot (2008-2009)
    • Hilton (2008-2009)
    • Ibis (2008-2009)
    • Sleep In (2008-2009)


    Several facilities can be found where to practice sports:

    • Estadio Salvador Alvarado in the north
    • Unidad Deportiva Kukulcán (with the major Soccer Stadium Carlos Iturralde, Kukulcan BaseBall Park and Polifórum Zamná multipurpose arena)
    • Complejo deportivo La Inalambrica, in the west (with archery facilities that held a world series championship )
    • Unidad deportiva Benito Juarez Garcia, in the northeast.
    • Gimnasio Polifuncional, where professional basketball team Mayas de Yucatán plays for the Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional de México (LNBP) representing Yucatán.

    Team Sport League Stadium
    Leones de Yucatán Beisbol Liga Mexicana de Beisbol Parque de Beisbol Kukulcán
    F.C. Itzaes Fútbol Segunda División de México Estadio Olímpico "Carlos Iturralde Rivero"
    Mérida F.C. Fútbol Segunda División de México Unidad deportiva s/n
    F.C. Itzaes Fútbol Tercera División de México Estadio Olímpico "Carlos Iturralde Rivero"
    Mérida F.C. Fútbol Tercera División de México Unidad deportiva s/n
    Mayas de Yucatán Basketball Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional de México Gimnasio Polifuncional

    Sister cities

    Mérida has three sister cities. They are:


    External links

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