Mérida continues to reap accolades in the international media as a top vacation destination. A laudatory article published Tuesday Jan. 12 by the New York Post praises the White City and its nearby cenotes and haciendas as a more authentic way to experience the Yucatan Peninsula than tourist hubs like Cancun and Tulum. Here is the Post’s article, written by Mary K. Holland.
Unless you were hiding under a giant pile of snow last winter, you would have noticed that just about everyone spent their annual it’s-January-get-out-of-New-York vacation in Tulum. While the Mexican seaside town south of touristy Cancun might masquerade as the perfect beach getaway, not even the deep turquoise water and endless white beaches can hide the fact that it’s become a tourist trap.
The question is; why share a beach with a bunch of Brooklynites when you can have an entire cenote — swimming hole — to yourself? Just north of Tulum and west of Cancun, you’ll find the Yucatan, a region that offers a refreshing change from the typical beach holiday. The area is dotted with natural jewels and is home to cultural gems including beautiful old haciendas and ancient Mayan ruins. Here’s how to experience the best of what the area has to offer.
Spend a day in Mérida
Once home to the largest concentration of wealth on the planet, Mérida (the Yucatan’s capital city), is finally getting its groove back. Founded in the 1500s, the city is laden with beautiful, old colorful buildings and grand plazas — signs that she is indeed a city steeped in history.
But Mérida isn’t just an historical hotspot, the city is also home to a number of up-to-date hotels, bars and restaurants — none of which are teeming with tourists. Apoala is one of the most popular restaurants in the city. Situated in charming St. Lucia Square, grab a seat on the veranda and tuck into an array of contemporary fusion Oaxacan-Yucatan dishes, such as squash blossoms stuffed with Oaxaca cheese.
No visitor should leave Mexico without consuming at least one margarita, and La Negrita is the place to get one. An authentic, understated bar with wooden swing doors at the entrance, La Negrita plays loud music, serves a selection of local cocktails and beers and knows exactly how to get the fiesta started.
Thinking of spending the night in Merida? Stay over at the chic, opulent hideaway, Coqui Coqui, which has decadent rooms and killer breakfasts.
Stay in a hacienda
Most of the haciendas in the Yucatan were created between the 1500s and 1800s as sprawling estates. After being abandoned and falling into disrepair, many have now been restored and turned into luxury lodging.
Hacienda Temozon (from $265/night) is one of the most famous estates in the area — and with good reason. Situated on an old agave plantation, the refurbished five-star hotel is encompassed by a large, stately veranda and is surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens.
Close to many ancient Mayan ruins and home to a museum (which showcases relics from the height of the agave production) and it’s own private cenote, Hacienda Temozon is as much a cultural highlight as it is a hotel. Other magnificent haciendas in the area include Hacienda Sac Chich (from $250), which is available to rent exclusively, and Hacienda San Jose (from $265), owned by the same hotel group as Hacienda Temozon.
Explore an ancient Mayan temple or ruin
There are many Mayan ruins in the Yucatan. One of the most famous, Chichen Itza, is well worth a visit. Ignore the tourists taking selfies in front of the El Castillo pyramid and find yourself a knowledgeable guide (there are many available at the entrance). The more you know about the history of the ancient city, the more enjoyable your experience will be.
Tip: Be sure to pack sunscreen and water, because other than the trees surrounding the area, there isn’t much shade to shield you from the baking Mexican sun.
Go swimming in a cenote
Who needs the sea when you can swim in a cenote? What were once Mayan sacred pools are now used as swimming holes for locals and tourists. Set deep underground, surrounded by limestone rock and thick roots, these crystal clear pools, filled with mineral-rich water, are breathtakingly beautiful — so beautiful that people come from far and wide to see them.
But don’t worry, the Yucatan is littered with these underworld pools, and its easy to find ones that are off the tourist track.
Ask your hotel/hacienda to recommend a good guide who can take you to the best cenotes in your area. At Hacienda Sac Chiche, our hosts recommended a local guide, who took us to a several gorgeous cenotes completely free from tourists. Salud!
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