Neighborhoods of Central Merida
Merida's streets are very easy to navigate. Even-numbered ones go north-sound and odd-numbered ones go east-west. Easy peasy!
Merida's historical center is lined with old colonial buildings painted in colorful shades of red, pink, blue, yellow, purple, green, orange, and more. Grab a pair of comfortable shoes and let's take a walk through some of the primary neighborhoods of “Centro."
Downtown & Plaza Grande
“Just beautiful” is how I would describe the Plaza Grande. Located at Calle 61 and Calle 60, this large rectangular park serves as the heart of the city. It is full of activity every day of the week, especially on Monday evenings when it hosts Vaqueria Night.
Plaza Grande is surrounded by many important buildings. Dominating them all is the Cathedral of the Yucatan whose towers can be seen from blocks away. The cathedral was built during the 1500s using Mayan stone from the nearby temple of Yajam Cumu. Triva note - the statutes embedded in the outside walls are of St. Peter (holding a sword and book) and St. Paul (holding the keys to the church).
The Palacio del Gobierno is on the north side of Plaza Grande. On the second floor you will find a series of murals depicting the history of the Yucatan, from the Spanish conquest to the henequen boom. There are English descriptions for each panel so it's easy to follow what's being presented.
On the south side of the plaza is the Casa de Montejo which was built in the mid 1500s. You will see statutes of conquistadors standing victoriously over the indigenous peoples they conquered (not very politically correct, were they?). There is a small museum located within the building that exhibits various styles of furnishings from the 1800s.
If you're feeling up to a diversion, take a 10 minute walk from Casa de Montejo to see firsthand how the locals shop at the Mercado de Galvez. This lively marketplace has been operating since the 1880s, offering fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses along with handmade sandals, hats, shirts, and dresses. (Note: The sights and smells can be a bit overwhelming at times.) The market is located near the corner of Calle 65 and Calle 54.
Just east of Downtown & Plaza Grande is Mejorada neighborhood. It is unique in that Merida’s three historical arches (“arcos”) can be found in and around the area.
First, let’s have a little context about the arches. As you might imagine, the Mayans who were living in Tho (modern day Merida) were not so happy about being conquered and colonized. As a result, the Spanish built walls around the city to protect themselves from the many revolts. Three of the wall’s gates can still stand today.
First, is the San Juan Arch which is located at Calle 69A and Calle 64. (Technically, this is nearer the Downtown & Plaza Grande area, but it’s still very close to Mejorada). Look in the top center of the arch and you will see the statute of San Juan.
Next, is the Del Puente Arch at Calle 63 and Calle 50. The name “puente” is a reference to the bridge that once stood beneath the gate as a remedy to the rainy season and resulting flooding. This arch has a stone cross in its center.
The third is the Dragones Arch that is named after the former Cuartel de Dragones hospital that stood nearby (today it is the Yucatecan Child Cultural Center). The gate is located at Calle 61 and Calle 50. As you look up, that’s San Antonio gazing back down at you.
Nowadays, Santiago is a quiet, primarily residential neighborhood that has become a favorite of expats looking to move to Merida. But, it is interesting to note that it was originally an area that was consigned for the indigenous peoples when the Spanish were colonizing the city.
If the huge Mercado de Galvez is too overwhelming for you, then go to the much smaller and quieter market at Parque Santiago at Calle 59 and Calle 70. This is our go-to place for fruits and vegetables as well as for fresh flowers. There’s even a little tortilleria where you can get tortillas hot off the griddle. Funny story – the first time we went, I wanted to get six so I confidentially said “seis” when the lady asked me how many. But, instead of getting a half-dozen, she handed me 25 or so. Apparently, I had ordered six pesos worth. We ended up taking them back to our casa, slathering them with butter, and eating them all...don’t judge!
While you’re in Santiago, stop by Pia Pia for some great gelato. It’s just across the street from the north side of the market. Or, if you need a coffee fix, Manifesto is located in the Santiago barrio on Calle 59.
For me, the Santa Lucia neighborhood is all about food, food, food! You will find restaurants of all types in between the many the shops selling men’s guayaberas and women’s huipils.
I would venture to say that Santa Lucia Park located at Calle 55 and Calle 60 is probably has the highest per capita restaurant count of any place in the city. Located within this tiny square you can choose from some of Merida’s best eats at Apoala, La Recova, Avec Amour, and Rosa Sur 32. Just across the street is the popular Peruano.
Ok, since we are discussing the Santa Lucia neighborhood as a whole and not just the park itself, I guess I should mention that the very popular La Chaya Maya restaurant is also located in this area. It’s easy enough to find. Anytime you get near the corner of Calle 57 and Calle 62, you will hear them crying out “La Chaya Maya! La Chaya Maya!” Personally, I say keep walking. If you are looking for true Mayan-style cuisine, walk a half block north on Calle 62 to the Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca (MUGY). Here you will find all the standards: pibil, papadzules, and poc chuc as well as sopa de lima. Be sure and ask them to show you their museum area. It’s a free outdoor exhibit where they tell you about the different ingredients and show you how the food is made.
Just a few blocks north of Santa Lucia is the Santa Ana neighborhood. As with Santa Lucia, it too, has many shops and restaurants. Of interest, it has quite a few art galleries to peruse as you wander about.
Santa Ana Park also has some of Merida’s famous you-and-me chairs that are also found throughout the city. The face-to-face seating makes for a fun photo opportunity for couples. The urban legend is that these chairs were designed to keep lovers from getting too personal with one another in public.
The Church of Santa Ana is located within the neighborhood park at Calle 47 and Calle 60. It is thought to be built atop a former Mayan temple (note the raised platform of the park). Get a fresh fruit juice from one of the booths on the eastern side, and take some time to enjoy some people-watching.
If you’re looking for something more substantial to eat or drink, then just stroll a bit further east down Calle 47 towards Calle 52. As you walk along this restaurant row, you have all kinds of choices: from the very casual Café Impala and El Lucero, to the cute and quirky Marmalade, Catrin, and Latte Quattro Sette, to the more formal 130 Steakhouse, Oliva Enoteca, and Micaela Mar and Lena.
Paseo de Montejo
Technically, a portion of Paseo de Montejo, or “Montejo” for short, is part of the Santa Ana neighborhood. But, it has so much to offer that I broke it out as a separate area. This tree-lined boulevard is flanked on both sides by beautiful old mansions, most of which were built during the heyday of the henequen (sisal) boom.
This is our favorite place to take leisurely walks because of the very wide sidewalks (although it is a bit uneven in some spots, so watch your step!). As you take in the various sights, check out some of the pretty boutiques along the way. This is perhaps the most upscale part of Centro.
Two of our favorite museums are found on the Paseo de Montejo. First, located between Calle 53 and Avenida Colon is the Quinta Montes Molina. This lovely museum/home was built in the early 1900s and is still owned by a private family. As you enter, you will be taken back in time, seeing how the henequen barons used to live. Be sure and take note of the beautiful crystal chandeliers located throughout the building.
The Regional Museum of Anthropology is located also located on Paseo de Montejo, near Calle 43. Housed within the beautiful Palacio Canton (also a former henequen mansion), this museum will give you a good overview of local Mayan history and sociology.
Side Note: If want to learn even more about Mayan heritage, take a quick and inexpensive 15-minute cab ride over to the Mayan World Museum of Merida located on the north side of the city at Calle 60 299 E, Unidad Revolución. While you’re there you can take a short walk over to the Costco (yes, Merida has a Costco) to check out the cool little cenote that’s in its parking lot. No swimming allowed!
For point of reference, it is approximately one mile from where Paseo de Montejo begins at the Remate at Calle 47 to where it ends at Monumento a La Patria. It’s well worth the walk to see this beautiful monument that honors the city’s Mayan history. Pro Tip: Stroll up one side of Montejo on your way up and back down the other to get differing perspectives of the “Champs-Elysees” of Merida.