WHERE I STAYED
Santa Ana Hotel $26.30/night
While luxury hotels have their appeal, I never feel like I can justify the price for how little time I spend in my hotel room. As long as the room is clean and has a private bathroom, I’m content. That being said, I’ve definitely stayed in my share of unsavory motels and hostels in my search for cheap accommodations. So for only $105 for four nights, I was a little nervous about my hotel going into this trip.
Everything considered, Santa Ana Hotel is a steal and far exceeded my expectations. With less than 20 rooms, this hotel has an intimate feel. My room came with two beds (queen and twin), a private bath, tv, air conditioning, and a ceiling fan. The water pressure and the air conditioning were strong, which is a must for Mérida in August.
Upon entering the hotel, we were greeted by the lovely Dulce. She was so helpful, giving us recommendations for food and activities, and even offered to connect us with a tour to Homún (more on this later). In general, all the staff at this hotel were incredibly friendly, and even lent us an umbrella when the heavy rain set in for the afternoon. For breakfast one morning before our tour, we conveniently had a continental breakfast at the cafe inside the hotel. In addition, the hotel has a small pool, perfect for cooling off in the sweltering afternoons and a free coffee every morning. In the afternoons, I often saw the lobby area filled with digital nomads toiling away on their laptops.
The hotel is located steps away from Parque Santa, where you can find cheap, delicious Yucatecan specialties. There are many restaurants and bars to choose from in the area. And the location is walking distance to Plaza Grande, Parque Santa Lucia, and many other sites.
When I come back to Mérida, I will definitely stay here again.
WHERE I ATE
** As of August 2022, all restaurants required a face mask upon entrance. In addition, some also checked your temperature and offered hand sanitizer.
Manjar Blanco $$ When requesting a table with the host, be sure to ask to sit in the terraza. While the inside is beautiful, the garden like terrace is truly magical. With a canopy of trees to provide shade, Manjar Blanco is the perfect place to laze your morning away.
We both got the breakfast special, which included: coffee, orange juice, a fruit plate, and a breakfast entree of your choice. The beans and coffee were excellent.
Parque Santa Ana $ More often than not food stands tend to have the best food. In the corner of the park you will find a food court of competitors with ever present plastic tables and benches covered with colorful plastic table covers. When we went, we saw many families and other locals enjoying a Sunday night. As you approach, be prepared to be aggressively called to as the competing stalls vie for your patronage. Many people say to choose the busiest stall, but honestly, I’m sure they are all good. As you progress through your meal it is fun to watch the waiters joking and taunting each other as they compete. Be sure to order an agua fresca, they are massive and a great addition to the meal.
Le Chaya Maya $$ If you want to try some classic Yucatecan dishes, but need some air conditioning to escape the heat, this restaurant is for you. They offer English menus, so you’ll find a mix of tourists. You must get the chaya drink, it is so refreshing.
Kuuk $$$$ Definitely a luxury, but if you enjoy fine dining, then I would definitely recommend it. We chose to do the tasting menu with the drink pairing which included 21 tastings with 2 cocktails and 3 different wines. The presentation for each dish was inventive and added to the overall experience. The service was so attentive, it was a meal I will never forget.
La Negrita $$ A fun cantina with live music from 6-9pm. The colorful drinks come in a tame 20 oz or the more popular 400 oz jars. As long as you order drinks, you can flag down a waiter and request a refill on snacks. A great place kill a couple hours dancing or people watching.
Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca – MUGY $$$ While I did not eat a meal here, my friend did try some of the cochinita pibil during the presentation. At 3pm, a presentation is given about the history of cochinita pibil, the signature dish of Mérida. Afterward, the two men lift the cochinita pibil from ground, and samples are handed out to the audience. My friend reported that the sample, along with a fresh tortilla made by the women preparing tortillas just to the side of the presentation, was delicious. Even if you don’t eat here, you should still visit the exhibit inside that shows the history of Yucatecan cuisine.
Must Try Yucatecan Foods: Sopa de lima, marquesitas, cochinita pibil
3 DAY ITINERARY
Day 1: Saturday
We arrived at the airport around 6am. After freshening up at the airport, we chose a taxi booth right before exiting the airport, told the agent where we wanted to go, and paid for our ride. Upon exiting the airport, we were flagged down by our driver, and we were on our way to our hotel.
I like to start my trips with walking tours, as they are like a crash course on a new city, to help you orient yourself and also to glean some recommendations from a local. I booked the tour ahead of time with Free Walking Tour Mexico and it was great. The guide was incredibly passionate about his Mayan culture and was happy to share the history of his city. Starting from Parque Santa Lucia, he led our group of ten around the streets pointing out architectural feats and providing anecdotes about the history of particular landmarks. Along the way he also provided many food recommendations and other activities to do in the city. I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone.
The rain started around 6pm and didn’t let up for hours. As a SoCal girl, I almost never get to enjoy tropical storms. As we had a reservation at Kuuk for 8pm, we braved the storm and walked to our dinner. After an amazing 21 tasting meal, we walked along the Paseo de Montejo back to our hotel. Since the rain had finally stopped, it was nice to see local 20-somethings enjoying bars and grabbing marquesitas from carts dotting the street.
Day 2: Sunday
We booked a tour through our hotel with Edith Tours. During check in, the receptionist offered us tour options, and we chose the tour to Mayapan and three cenotes in Homún. I originally planned to take a collectivo to Homún and then find a local motor taxi guide. But the convenience of a driver in an air conditioned van and the bonus of visiting a Mayan archeological site was a great deal for only $50 per person.
Our guide Pablo was fantastic. Half of our group of four spoke Spanish and the other half spoke English. Throughout the tour, he was able to switch flawlessly between the two languages, giving many details about the rich history of the Maya. The entrance fee for Mayapan was $45MXN, and we found only one other group our entire time out there. After an informative tour of the site, we had time to climb the large pyramid in the center. It was a beautiful experience.
Pablo then drove our group to Santa Barbara Cenotes & Restaurant, where you will find three cenotes. The entrance fee and meal afterward were included in our tour fee. We chose to bike between cenotes, and I’m so happy with that decision. There is the option to take a horse-drawn cart, but you must still walk between three cenotes once dropped off. Before entering, you must wash yourself at the outdoor shower which is supplied by the fresh cenote water.
Each cenote is different, so take your time at each one. At the second cenote you can dive in, and the third cenote is simply breathtaking. We went on a Sunday, so it was busy, but it never felt crowded. Exhausted from swimming for a couple hours, the meal at the restaurant was delicious. What sticks with me the most was the empanada. So unlike the Filipino empanadas I grew up with, these fried pockets had a masa based dough flecked with chaya (a local spinach) and filled with cheese. It was served alongside a bowl of Sopa de Lima, that was almost as good as the one from Kuuk. Full and sleepy, Pablo drove us back to our hotel just in time for a quick dip in the pool before the daily afternoon rain.
Tired from our tour, we dragged ourselves to Parque Santa Ana for casual dinner. After choosing a table from the many food court options, we sat back and enjoyed the evening. To top of the night I had a marquesita filled with nutella and cheese, for all my salt sweet fans, this snack is for you. Crystal had a chocolate banana paleta, which was also yummy.
Day 3: Monday
The lack of sleep was finally catching up to us, so we had a late start to our day. Desperate for a coffee, I turned at the first cafe sign I came across. By chance the cafe, Portavia, lay within an art collective market. While drinking our coffees, we wandered through the galleries. I enjoyed my cold brew so much, I even purchased a bag of beans. After our first lunch option turned out to be closed (a common theme though out Mexico on Mondays), we ended up at La Chaya Maya. It was a tourist friendly restaurant and had huge servings.
At 3pm we wandered over to Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca to see the famed cochinita pibil we had heard so much about. After a presentation of the history of the dish, you can see the cochinita pibil dug up from underground. Try to arrive early to get a good spot, and see the juice drip from the tender meat. Be sure to also check out the exhibit inside and outside in the traditional Mayan homes.
The rest of the afternoon we walked around exploring boutiques and souvenir shops. Along the way we enjoyed a paleta in the park while listening to live music.
We initially planned to go back to MUGY for dinner that night, but ended up spending the evening at La Negrita. Recommended to us by multiple people, we know we had to check it out. Unsuspecting from the outside, once you enter you are hit with loud music and high energy. If you are looking for a quiet night with gourmet food, this place is not for you. However, if you are looking a fun place to dance and see what locals are up to, this is the place for you. As the band plays hits, the crowd sings along, ordering round after round of fluorescent drinks. The sweet drinks are complemented with various salty and spicy snacks. If we didn’t have a 3am flight the next morning, I would have stayed all night long, snacking and drinking. Don’t forget to get an exit ticket from your waiter, otherwise you won’t be allowed to leave.
I am posting this now, November 20th, and can safely say that this was one of my favorite trips of 2022. There’s something special about the tropics, despite the vicious mosquito bites (of which I am still covered in spots from). Mayan culture is beautiful and the food is delicious. I am traveling to Guatemala in a few months and could not be more excited to learn more about Mayan culture.
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