Why Not Fly Into Merida on Your Next Trip To Mahahual

If you are making your flight reservations into Cancun for your trip to Costa Maya/Mahahual, and you would like to see one of the more interesting slices of Mexico while you do it, you might take a look at flights into Merida, Mexico instead. Merida, home of a large international airport, that has many flights from the US each day, is also about the same distance as Cancun from Mahahual. If you are driving by car, the time is about the same, by bus it is a bit longer, but still a way to make the trip if you prefer. (ask your concierge how) The difference between Cancun and Merida however, is about like the difference between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. Geographically close, but historically, culturally and almost anyway you want to view it, very different than Cancun/Riviera Maya area. If you want a place to party, Cancun is great for that. But if you want to see one of Mexico’s most unique cultural destinations, you might try Merida instead.

map yucatan

Cancun is the commercial center of the State of Quintana Roo and is about 50 years old. The state is even younger, about 40 years. Prior to that, the area was part of a territory in Mexico referred to as the Yucatan, and basically uninhabited, except for the small cities of Felipe Carrilo Puerto and Chetumal, which is now the state capital. That Yucatan territory was eventually divided into three official states, Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo. The unofficial capital, and undeniable commercial center of that territory though was Merida. Many historians say Merida is the oldest city in the Americas, dating back to 1542, so it’s cultural roots are very deep. Where any cultural roots in Cancun are anchored in 50 years of history, Merida’s is in 500 years and it shows in many ways.

Catedral_de_Merida    merida street

The people of the Yucatan area, and particularly in Merida, of course consider themselves Mexican, but do also consider themselves as different. Their historical roots are Mayan for example, where much of the rest of the main geographic area of Mexico are of Aztec ancestry. This makes the pre-Spanish part of them different. The real difference though is that Merida’s history is as connected to Europe, as it is Mexico City, and you can see that everywhere, particularly in the old architecture.

Historically, the area always resisted control from Mexico City and looked east for its development over the centuries. Locals will tell you that Merida’s unique location, on the point of the penensula, with water on three sides, gave it a vision of the world that the rest of Mexico could not see. In the late 19th century, the 50 year “Caste Wars” brought the area officially under control of the central government, and the people have slowly assimilated culturally into the the rest of Mexico, for the most part. They are very Mexican, but as different as someone from New York City might be to someone from rural Texas. Both Americans, but very different in many ways.

Early “settlement” of the area was of course Spanish, and the crown set up “hacienda owners” in the area, who built giant plantation homes. Many of those old family homes and mansions are still around today and incorporated into the city’s incredible architecture. Today, those homes are small hotels, restaurants and even corporate offices. The Paseo Montejo, a boulavard any architectural junky, like me, could easily O-D on, is lined with hundreds of old historic buildings, all fully restored and many, centuries old. It is really a remarkable drive, walk or even horse drawn wagon trip, for block after block.

Henequen      Henequin plants in Yucatan

Some historians say that at the turn of the 19th century, Merida Mexico had more millionaires, than any city in the world. Today, the population is over a million, but back then, I don’t know what the population was, but it had to be very small, so to have that many wealthy people seems odd. So you have to ask, where did the wealth come from? The area was a large export area for items like rope, which was made from henequin, a type of agave that grows well in the area, as well a exotic hardwoods, and chicle, used to make gum. Lots of money in rope back then I suppose and the streets of Merida today are lined with beautiful old hacienda structures today as proof of that.

merida casa italia       merida casa italia pool


Hotel Casa Italia

The main lobby of the hotel we stayed, Casa Italia, was part of a hacienda that was over 200 years old. Today, it is row buildings, and you would never know that one of them was a hacienda. The hotel is all new built, very nice actually, but the main entry was all restored hacienda. There are many of those old buildings throughout the area that are hotels today, with city built all around them.

merida outdoor cafe     merida dancers

There is a main square, the centro histórico, with the 400 year old Cathedral of Merida as the center piece. When I was there recently, the park across the street was full of festive vendors, music and even traditional Mayan dance performances in the street. No holiday, just a normal weekend in Merida. For blocks and blocks off this main square, are hotels, restaurants, shops, pubs, you name it. We found a German beer garden and enjoyed stout beers, made locally, in the outdoor beer garden. In Mexico!

merida night   merida carrage

Merida is a tourist destination for visitors from all over the world. But unlike most tourist destinations, like Quintana Roo where I live, or Orlando, or Branson or wherever, the locals have not changed for tourism. It is not a tourist city, it is a very real Mexican city, with very real Mexico. Prices for example, were not tourist prices for hotels, food and such. The locals did not seem to treat tourists as ATMs with feet, which usually happens in a tourist town. They treat you pretty normal as they celebrate their culture everywhere, not for the tourist, but because it is who they are and what they do. If tourist want to celebrate that with them, that is great, but not why they do what they do and that is a very refreshing form of “tourism”.

Merida has all the things most want in a big city. World class health care, an international airport with lots of traffic from around the world, museums, theaters, universities and a solid city government apparatus that seems to work very well. The streets are clean and friendly, and the police were everywhere, and equally friendly and professional. For gringos, they have all the usuals too, Home Depot, Chili’s and even an English library if you can believe that. That is why you would want to live there, not why you might want to visit. But if it is great place to live, it is usually an equally great place to visit and I would encourage all to do so. It is really a beautiful and culturally rich slice of Mexico, and one not to be missed if you are coming this way. I can’t wait to get back myself!


About talesfrommahahual

Stuck in Paradise!
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7 Responses to Why Not Fly Into Merida on Your Next Trip To Mahahual

  1. Kerri Dempewolf says:

    Now I wanna go!!

  2. Jean Nick says:

    Great minds think alike: I was actually pondering on spending a couple of days in Merida next time we come down. But as for flying into Merida, at least from where we live, that doesn’t look like a very attractive option. Why not? Well, we can catch a non-stop from Newark, NJ and be in Cancun in just 4 hours. We would have to change planes somewhere to fly into Merida and the BEST option I found was 7.5 hours total travel time and cost a couple hundred more US$$ — and most options were in the 12 hour range. I’m thinking flying to Cancun and taking the ADO bus from Cancun to Merida would be faster (and cheaper) and more interesting than sitting around for hours in a generic airport somewhere in the U.S. Now all I have to do is figure out the logistics of taking ADO bus from Merida to Tulum and catching the shuttle from there to Mahahual, as our experience taking a Limones taxi from the 307 to Mahahual nearly ruined a good relationship.

    • Hi Jean. There is a bus about every 4 hours from Merida to Tulum and the cost is $300MX. I heard they are about to have one a day to Mahahual. Not sure if that is permanent, or just for the summer vacation. My guess is the latter but you never know. There are ADO buses all day to Merida and they cost about $375 MX and take about 4 hours travel time. I’d muuuuuuuch prefer waiting in Houston for a plane than in Cancun waiting on a bus. A/C in Houston the food is better! Here is the ADO site so you can check prices and travel times. Having said that, Merida is worth the trouble however you do it. You guys would really enjoy it and so much so, I’d tell you to plan to spend a few days at least. But we still want you to come here too!!!

      • Jean Nick says:

        Hi Steve! We are visiting Merida for a few days starting the end of next week and will need to take the bus(s)/collectivos/shuttle from Merida to Mahahual on Monday the 14th of December. Do you have an update on the potential Merida/Mahual direct bus you mention above? If not that, we’d like to take the ADO bus to Tulum and catch your shuttle van on its way through. Can you advise please? We are also excited to read your July post that we can now catch an 8 a.m. ADO bus in Mahahual on Saturday morning and make our way to the airport that day 🙂 Is that still running? Thanks in advance for your advice and help, and look forward to eating with you soon 🙂 Jean and Tom

      • Hi Jean. That bus from Merida is still not a reality. From there, you can either bus to Tulum, like you plan, but need to be there by 5:15 or so, to catch the evening ADO to Mahahual. You can also bus to Bacalar and take a Caribe, or a commuter bus, to Mahahual. There is one that stops 3 times a day, but not sure the exact times. One is around 11:00 AM and the other is around 3:00 PM.Those are a bit harder to catch and not as comfortable, but it is an option. Small combi vans (taxi vans) will stop there about every hour also and they come to Mahahual too. If you go the night before, stay in Playa Del Carmen and there is an 8:00 AM ADO to Mahahual from there. Yes, the early ADO is every day from Mahahual and it leaves at 7:00 AM. Arrives at Playa Del Carmen, where you shuttle to the airport, at about 11:00 AM. Stop in and say hi when you get here and send me a note if you have questions before. Enjoy Merida!!!

  3. Pingback: ADO Bus From Cancun Airport To Mahahual | Costa Maya Mahahual

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