Okay, it sounds odd that we booked a tour of Mexico that spent two days in our hometown. As you’ll see later in this blog, and at the end of our trip, there was a method to our madness.
Our Hotel in Merida
When we initially booked this tour, the hotel for Merida was a boutique hotel right off of the Plaza Grande. It looked ideal for the group to wander through several historic sites. Very walkable and has a dozen or so great restaurants right in the neighborhood, not to mention shopping for souvenirs.
However, a post-COVID economy changed everything, and the pricing and service at that hotel had reportedly changed a lot—more expensive, struggling for business, and poor quality of food and service.
Villa Mercedes Merida
The new hotel, Villa Mercedes Merida, is located farther uptown. For us, it was not the ideal location, but it was close to Paseo Montejo and offered fellow travelers a chance to see the beautiful mansions that line this main boulevard of Merida.
The hotel itself may have been one of the top two of the entire trip. Part of the Hilton Curio Collection, it was a beautiful hotel. The art in the lobby area was unique and interesting. The rooms were comfortable, and the breakfast buffet was terrific.
** Hotel images are from the Gate 1 Travel site for this tour package.
Side Note: We headed to our room after arriving and checking in. Riding the elevator with a couple from our group, we all realized they had assigned all four of us to the same room. We let them take it and returned to the lobby, where our incredible tour manager quickly straightened things out and assigned us another room.
After checking in, our tour manager and some of the group walked along Paseo Montejo and did a little sightseeing, shopping, and dinner.
Hogar Dulce Hogar
While others wandered Paseo Montejo searching for local dinner spots, we grabbed a couple of Ubers, our large suitcases, and four friends traveling with us and headed home!
Advantage number one to traveling through your new hometown: we dropped off our large suitcases with dirty clothes and souvenirs and got to show our friends our new house. And see our cats, who really missed us!
After checking the house, we headed to Paseo Montejo, had dinner at a favorite restaurant, and checked out the scenery with our friends.
A Busman’s Holiday
The term busman’s holiday is a term Mark remembers his mom using when he was a kid. It means doing the same thing you do during your regular work time while on vacation.
We knew we’d be seeing a few places we always see. But, we also knew that we had intentionally NOT visited a few places on the trip because we’d get to see them on the tours, along with a guide.
Monumento a la Patria
After a delicious breakfast at our hotel, we headed to the Monument a la Patria, the Monument to the Fatherland. Dedicated in 1956, this sculpture by Colombian sculptor Rómulo Rozo includes more than 300 hand-carved figures telling the history of Mexico from its establishment to the mid-20th century.
It’s a monument we drive past regularly but had not seen up close, and having our local guide explain it was awesome.
The next stop on our tour was Merida’s Plaza Grande. We got to see the façade of the historic Casa Montejo, the 16th-century home of the city’s founding family.
We explored the Merida Cathedral, St. Ildephonsus Cathedral of Merida, Built on top of the Mayan city of T’ho. Many of the stones came from Mayan temples and other historic buildings.
Palacio de Gobierno
Our last stop on Plaza Grande was the Palacio de Gobierno, the Yucatan’s State Building.
We have intentionally not visited this building because we knew it was part of the tour, and having an experienced local guide to explain the artwork would be HUGE!
The building houses a collection of 31 murals by the internationally renowned artist Fernando Castro Pacheco. The murals depict the conquest of the Yucatan. While some were somewhat disturbing, it was very educational. We had no idea that Mayans had been enslaved in Cuba to harvest the sugarcane crops.
The architecture, carved doors, and building ornamentation were pretty amazing. We’ll definitely stop back to explore this site on our own.
Visiting Our Happy Place
One of our favorite places to visit and shop in Merida is a large central market called Mercado Lucas de Galvez. We love it because it really shows the ‘other side’ of Merida. It’s mostly locals; you can buy meats, fish, produce, shoes, small electronics, and just about anything else you want.
Our group did a relatively quick tour of the market. However, we snuck off quickly as we wanted to treat our travel companions to fresh, warm Corn Tortillas and fabulous locally-made Marshmallow treats.
From the Mercado, we headed to one of Centro Merida’s traditional Yucatecan restaurants, MUGY or Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca. We’ve been there many times with guests. The food is better than average, and they do an excellent job of showcasing local handicrafts.
We started with Tortilla Chips and two traditional dips, Black Bean and Pipian or Pumpkin Seed. We enjoyed a Margarita made with Mezcal, a Tossed Salad with Strawberries and Pumpkin Seeds, and for our entree, we selected their Tacos with Cohinitsa Pibil.
Returning to the hotel, we had some free time before heading for a group dinner with a local family.
Dinner With A Local Family
Sometimes Gate 1 Travel offers “Dinner with a Local Family” as an optional tour, which can be hit or miss. And sometimes, you’re better off exploring local restaurants on your own.
For this tour, it was an included dinner in Merida. As locals living in a very traditional Yucatecan neighborhood, we wondered where we’d be going and how it would be compared to what our neighbors sell.
As luck would have it, we visited a lovely family. We met two sisters and one of their grown sons. Both women had worked in public education for many years and had a Yucatecan woman who worked for their families for several decades.
The meal was simple, with Fresh Fruit, Empanadas, Salbutes, Enchiladas, and some Flan for dessert. They showed us their modest home, old family photos, and how to get in and out of a hammock without crashing to the floor.
For us, as ex-pats living in Mexico, it was a sweet and fun night with friends who really enjoyed the experience.
Heading Off to the Golden City
After dinner, we enjoyed a good night’s sleep. The next morning, we had breakfast and departed Merida for Izamal and then on to Chichen Itza.