You step out of the plane at the small airport and immediately feel the heat and humidity of the tropical climate hit you. As you take a cab to your hotel downtown, you notice all of the small, one-level houses covered in solid-color paint. The midday heat is strong and not a lot of people are walking on the street, but as you pass by the local cantinas and restaurants, you hear the laughter, music, and chatting of the lunch hour.
After a quick check-in at your hotel, you take a car to the nearby town of Izamal. Once a major religious center for the Mayas, the town is now filled with Spanish architecture from the Spanish conquest. A guide offers you a tour as you head up the stairs of the local monastery. He explains that after the conquest, the Spaniards recycled the stones from the Mayan temples to build their churches and buildings. Discontent with this repurposing, the Mayans would use some of the remaining engraved stones containing their idols and scatter them in unusual places of the construction so they could stealthily continue to visit and pay their respects. Of course, the Spanish thought the Mayans were simply eager to receive this new God from Europe. As you stand on the cloister of the monastery, you see in the distance the last standing Maya structure in the town: a pyramid about 20 meters tall, surpassed in size solely by the monastery.
You grow hungry, so you go for some of the local food. Lemonade with chaya — an ancient plant used by the Mayans for cooking, medicine, and rituals — is the drink of the day. With that you eat panuchos (a fried tortilla stuffed with beans and topped with cochinita pibil), along with tender pork slowly marinated with orange, achiote, and other spices, all served with pickled onions and habanero peppers. You decide to head back to Mérida to get some rest before the next day.
You leave early the next morning to head to the ancient city of Uxmal. Deeper inland than Mérida and housing almost 15,000 residents in its heyday, Uxmal is truly a sight to behold. The massive Chaman temple stands above all the other palaces, temples, and plazas. Going through the small archways into the courtyard you notice the stonework depicting gods, animals, and people on top of all the small palaces. The heat is bearing down on you, and much like the several iguanas lounging around the ancient city, you look for shade to cool off. The numerous Ceiba trees scattered around the city provide the perfect spot to cool off for a while before driving back to Merida.
As you make your way downtown, you realize that the AC in your car just won’t cut it, so you change your course towards the most famous ice cream shop in town. Neveria El Colon has only two locations in all of Mérida, but it is an institution as old as time…or maybe about 130 years. The best location is situated on Montejo Avenue. As you get closer, you notice the people queuing up to pick up their ice cream pints while others lounge about by the tables under umbrellas. All their ice cream flavors are made from proprietary recipes which have never been revealed to the public, and their ice cream is served not in the form of scoops but rather a cone shape. As your ice cream is brought to you, you notice it comes with a complimentary and very necessary glass of ice cold water.
As you finish your ice cream, nightfall approaches and you notice that the temperature begins to drop. This makes the perfect excuse to scout Montejo Avenue for a perfect place to have dinner. This avenue was named after Francisco de Montejo, a Spanish conquistador who founded the city. The avenue is wide and lined with trees, but above these trees you can see the tops of mansions, some Colonial in style and others Parisian. But one thing is sure: they all add a sense of magnificence to the street. These houses belong to the descendants of the hacienda owners who sold henequen (agave style plant whose fibers were used for naval rope for over a100 years). No longer used as residences, these mansions are now hosts to restaurants, museums, and cultural centers. Staggered in between the mansions you notice smaller houses converted to hotels, rooftop bars, and even one Irish pub. You settle for a place called Koox (sprout in Maya) which is housed in one of the mansions of the avenue. You order a pesca de cenote, which is local fish served on a sauce and garnished with fruits and spices and arranged to look like a cenote. After a nice dinner, you head out to find one of the many bars featuring live music to properly send you off before leaving the following morning.