Merida, Yucatan - Orlando / Florida Guide
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The city of Mérida, capital of the Mexican state of Yucatán, was crowned American Capital of Culture for 2017. Yet its old colonial streets are so often bypassed by visitors for more popular neighbours such as Cancún and Tulum. Those who do so are missing out, but if you are going, make sure you book the right Mérida as there’s more than one. In fact, there are at least four in Mexico alone.
Founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1542 on the ruins of the Maya city of T’ho, Hispanic influences still linger here. Its main square and former parade ground, Plaza Grande, is an ideal people-watching spot, busy with shoeshine boys and vendors by day. It is also home to the impressive Catedral de San Ildefonso and the grand mansion Casa de Montejo. This is named after one of the city’s founding fathers and was once home to his family. More impressive architecture is to be found in the neoclassical Quinta Monte Molina mansion and the Teatro Peón Contreras opera house. Then wander the main boulevard El Paseo Montejo, where the old plantation owners’ mansions have been converted into chic shops and restaurants.
Mérida’s annual eight-day carnival which is typically held in February, the week before Ash Wednesday is a real treat for the senses, with endless themed parades and costumed locals dancing to a mambo and salsa soundtrack.
Beyond the city lies the remnants of an empire far older than Mérida’s Spanish roots. The two main features are the ancient Maya cities of Uxmal and Chichen Itza both of which warrant a separate article.
The name Uxmal means ‘thrice-built’ in Mayan. This name refers to the construction of its highest structure, the Pyramid of the Magician which was built on top of existing pyramids. In this case, five stages of construction have been found. In Mayan culture, you must destroy so later generations simply built over existing pyramids. Now by tunnelling in at ground level, the number of layers can help to determine the original age of the site.
Uxmal was one of the largest cities of the Yucatán peninsula on the Ruta Puuc (Puuc Route), and at its height was home to approximately 20, 000 Maya. Uxmal and other surrounding Puuc sites flourished in the Late Classic Period around 600-900 AD before they were overruled by neighbouring settlements. The rulers of Uxmal are also thought to have presided over the nearby settlements of Kabah, Labná and Sayil. There are several white roads of the Maya connecting the nearby sites.
If the Maya ruins do not offer something that interests you then how about an alternative that’s different and adds a splash of pink to your trip. Head to sleepy Celestún, where a flamingo colony stalks the lagoon of its namesake reserve and provides a pleasant view.
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