From the impressive ruins in Chichen Itza we continued our trip to the colonial city Mérida. We stayed here for three nights in a fantastic AirBnb located in an old colonial mansion. The Spanish came to Mérida in 1542 and you can still see a lot of Spanish influence throughout the city. Our AirBnb, which had a garden and swimming pool, was situated at a 30 min walk from the city centre, so we managed to see quite a bit of Mérida. The city has lots of brightly coloured buildings and beautiful squares. It's a very vibrant city and especially the centre can get rather busy, because lots of buses go from Mérida to other places on the Yucatan Peninsula. Mérida is the cultural capital of the Yucatan Peninsula and we, amongst other things, enjoyed lots of traditional dishes here. On every Sunday there is a big market on Plaza Grande and at least half of the stalls sell food. We enjoyed some delicious panuchos, tacos, and churros. For dinner at La Casa de Frida a Frida Kahlo themed restaurant, we had a couple of very traditional and interesting meals, such as black bean mole with chocolate and tamales, which is a traditional Mexican dish where they steam stuffed dough in banana leaves.
Another night we managed to get a table at the popular restaurant La Chaya Maya, which is visited by tourists as well as locals. At this place they serve lots of dishes with Chaya, which is a specific type of spinach that originates from the Yucatan Peninsula. We had amongst others, Chaya soup, Chaya juice and tacos with turkey. What I also really enjoyed in this restaurant, was the fact that the tacos are made right then and there so you can see how exactly they are made. For our last dinner we went to Mercado Municipal No 2 Santos Degollado. The market 'restaurants' look a bit shabby, with plastic coca cola tables and chairs, but the food is cheap and really tasty and we were surrounded by locals which I think is always a good sign.
Another surprisingly nice thing in Mérida was its zoo. We happened to stay really close to it and decided to have a look before we had to leave the city again. It opens at 6 am (!!) and entry is free. It's quite a small zoo and feels more like a park. I was really impressed with the type of animals they had. There were giraffes, leopards, ostriches and a large number of tigers, both orange and white ones. Unfortunately, because the zoo is relatively old fashioned, the animals don't have too much space. But despite that I preferred this zoo to some of the bigger and more commercial ones I've visited in Europe.
While we stayed in Mérida we made a trip to the ruins of Uxmal, which is about a 70 minute drive from the city. The buildings at this site were made in what's known as the Puuc style. Several characteristics of the Puuc style can be seen at Uxmal. For example, several structures had mosaics that depicted the rain god Chaac. It's quite hard to compare all the different ruins we visited, because they were all so different, but I think overall Uxmal was my favourite. It's located in the middle of the jungle and when you climb the steps to the Palacio del Gobernador, you can look over the trees and see the beautiful Casa del Advino.
The Casa del Advino is an oval temple and its doorway forms the mouth of a gigantic Chaac mask. The funniest part of the site is most definitely the Casa de la Vieja (Old woman's house) in front of which stands a collection of large penises. We went there in the late afternoon a couple of hours before the site closes, which was actually a really good moment to go. By the time we arrived, it was already getting slightly cooler and it wasn't too busy any more either.
Another day trip we did from Mérida was to Celestún, a sleepy coastal town known for the Riserva de la Biosfera Ría Celestún, an area than attracts lots of wildlife, flamingos being the main attraction. There's lots of bird watching tours you can go on to see the flamingos, herons, pelicans and lots more. However, we actually decided not to go on a bird watching tour and just relax on the beach instead. After doing and seeing so many different things, it was quite nice to just chill and Celestún is a great place to do just that.
Luckily for us, we were on our way to beautiful Holbox for a lot more relaxing, which I will write about in my next post!