Merida: the White City
When we talk about exploring Yucatan, Merida is the starting point to be acquainted with all the routes of the Mayan world. For 500 years, Merida forged its vocation of a great metropolis and departure point for exploring the Yucatan. Founded on the Mayan city of Tho, after being colonized during the conquest it became the city of the Spanish government.
Currently, with its museums, parks, markets and outdoor cafes and restaurants, Merida is a fascinating and cosmopolitan destination, with almost 900,000 inhabitants, mostly Spanish and Mayan descendants.
Throughout Paseo and Prolongacion Montejo one can find restaurants, hotels, bars, cafés, banks and businesses, with all the services to ensure visitors have a pleasant stay.
Celebrations and lively traditions always offer a colorful spectacle, rich with unforgettable images. This is the manner Merida lives, a great year¬long cultural festival, and how thousands upon thousands of visitors from around the globe become spectators of the city’s day-to-day vibrant reality.
Every night, the Historic Center invites you to join in a memorable cultural evening. On Mondays, for instance, there is a show of Yucatecan “jaranas”, our traditional folk dance, and right in front of the City Hall; While on Sundays, two bands liven up the evening to the rhythms of salsa and cumbia. There are also theatrical, dance and film shows in other cultural venues, such as the Merida Theatre, located just a few steps from the Main Square.
Moreover, cultural centers, halls, museums and art galleries have proliferated in the city, offering an array of activities and events to suit all tastes. Music concerts cover all genres, from classical to jazz, going through rock, industrial music or romantic ballads. Art shows range from the traditional to the innovative, and there are art cinemas, children’s art workshops, literary events, conferences, popular outdoor dances, and much more.
In this section, you will know about the most important festivities in Merida and a brief review for the richness Yucatecan culture in order to get closer to the beautiful land that you will visit.
Merida’s anniversary arts festival
The night of January 5, like every year with the traditional alborada (dawn), Merida awakes to the voice of hundreds of troubadours that sing to the city in the eve of its anniversary. From that day, more than 170 events will take place on days of intense cultural activity that will adorn the celebrations of the anniversary of the foundation of Merida, Yucatan.
The Festival of the City resurrects and shares its customs and traditions with its visitors through dance, music, theatre, visual arts and literature spectacles.
Popular celebration, during the first weeks of February, it summons its citizens to the streets to enjoy the Paseo de Carnival; these celebrations to the God Momo usually take place before lent. During five consecutive days, the hustle and bustle reigns, as well as the joy and the participation of the community amusing itself with musical groups, parades and events throughout Paseo de Montejo.
The Institute of Culture of Yucatan (ICY) programs an events season named Cultural Autumn, beginning in October. The shows take place in different stages like the Culture House, the beautiful José Peón Contreras theatre, the Daniel Ayala Pérez theatre and other important places, with plays, dance and plastic arts. A cultural interchange also takes place with the Cervantino Festival from Guanajuato.
During 15 days different exhibitions presented of pedigree cattle and artisan craft, industrial, tourist and commercial samples, where the best of the production of the state is displayed. It takes place in November and there are equestrian competitions, charreadas, sport activities, cultural events and the roosters palenque, where artistic shows are given with figures of national and international reputation.
Merida on Sunday
Every Sunday there are outdoor shows in different places in the downtown. Worth noting are the traditional “vaquería”, custom born in the old haciendas of the state, where the women took care of the guests and their wives and in the end danced to mayan sones combined with spanish music, in honour of the landlord or owner of the hacienda.
In this cultural event stands are placed with crafts and traditional Yucatecan clothes, like the huipiles, guayaberas, Yucatecan antojitos or traditional Mexican snacks, etc…
Hanal Pixán (Day of dead)
In Mayan it means “Food for the souls”. This tradition goes back to antiquity to venerate the memory of relatives who have passed away. In towns of the interior of the state novenas take place, as well as prayers, offerings, and during the 1st and 2nd of November, a visit to the cemetery is obligatory to pray for your loved ones; These dates are dedicated to spending time with the souls in their annual passing through by the earthly plane, when they receive permission to visit their relatives. The delicious “mucbilpollos” or “pibes”, a big tamal made of corn flour, stuffed with chicken and pork made.
In Spanish, the term “jarana” means “racket” or “noisy party”. However, throughout Mexico, jarana refers to the main dance of Yucatecan popular celebrations.
The resounding music is usually played by a typical jarana orchestra, consisting of two clarinets, two trumpets, two trombones, a “güiro” (a dry gourd with numerous slits, stricken with a thin stick to make a scratchy sound) and a set of timbales (tropical music kettledrums). Jarana music derived from old regional rhythms known as “sones”, but it is also a combination of European rhythms and ancient musical expressions of the Maya people.
Strictly speaking, no special attire is needed to dance a jarana, but female dancers usually wear a typical Yucatecan “hipil” or “terno de gala” (the full dress version of a “hipil”), white high heeled shoes and a Santa Maria shawl. The traditional men’s attire consists of white drill pants, a white silk or linen loose-fitting shirt (known as “guayabera”), a Panama hat, a red scarf hanging from one of the pockets, and Yucatecan leather sandals (known as “alpargatas”). Yucatecan traditional dress known as “traje de mestizo/mestiza”.
The geographic position of Yucatan, the ethnic composition of its inhabitants and its cultural links with the main European centers enabled the blossoming of a people of great artistic vocation, especially for music and poetry.
In the dawn of the XX century, Ricardo Palmerin (Peregrina), Guty Cárdenas (Caminante del Mayab) and Pepe Dominguez (Granito de Sal) arose, who by giving music to the verses of some writings brought life to the golden age of the Yucatecan song. Without a doubt, Yucatan is an inexhaustible quarry of great composers and poets.
In Merida, the capital of the State of Yucatan, the prevailing language is Spanish. However, Yucatec an- Maya is still spoken in neighboring rural communities.
Yucatecan traditional cuisine derived from the mixing of Spanish and Maya cultures is precisely the combination of recipes and ingredients from those two culinary traditions that has resulted in the characteristic flavors of our cuisine.
Indeed, Yucatecan food is renowned throughout Mexico for its strong condiments and the predominant use of corn. For instance, dishes like lime soup, papadzules and Motul¬style eggs all made with fried corn tortillas, and panuchos and dzotolbichay made with corn dough; another common ingredient in some of the most exquisite traditional Yucatecan dishes is turkey.
Merida boasts a large number of restaurants where you will be able to find any kind of food, from the most basic and inexpensive to the most sophisticated fine dining. The city’s choice of international gourmet cuisine is ever growing.
The weather of Merida and the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula are warm and humid. There is a long rainy season from May to January, although rains during the dry months (February, March and April) are not unheard of. The warmest months are April and May, when temperature reaches 40°C (104°F). According to meteorologists, Merida’s weather falls in the “Awo” category (warm, sub humid, with summer rains). Average temperature is 26.61°C (80°F).
The predominant winds blow from the southeast (known in Maya as "lahunlakin ik"), the northeast ("xamanxikin ik") and the north ("xaman ik"). Mild tropical storms occur sporadically between August and October. Between September and January, winds blowing from the north bring about cool and overcast spells that last several days. Between these relieving periods, “Kin”, the sun, shines over Merida almost as intensely as during the summer.
Merida is located less than 50 km from the Gulf of Mexico, on the northeast part of the State of Yucatan, which occupies the northernmost third of the Yucatan Peninsula. The city’s coordinates are 20° 58' 04 " N, 89° 37' 18" W.
Yucatán borders are with the state of Quintana Roo to the east, the state of Campeche to the west, and the Gulf of México to the north. Yucatán has a very flat landscape and most of the state is slightly above sea level.