A Taste of Mérida, Mexico
Updated: Jun 30, 2019
Caroline Membreño, Vickie Locke, Kellie McRae, Gabriella Marigold Lindsay, Roxana Bangura and I were all admins together on a Facebook page called Black Women Thriving Abroad (be sure to check it out).
About a year ago, Caroline contacted me to tell me that due to some issues in Nicaragua she was going to be moving to Mérida, Mexico (Caroline had also lived in Costa Rica prior to her move to Nicaragua). Shortly thereafter, Vickie who was living in Belize and Kellie who was in Thailand both relocated there as well. Gabriella was already living in Mazatlán and Roxanna was in Veracruz. Everyone was now in Mexico, except me of course.
Until then, I had never even heard of Mérida, nicknamed the ciudad blanca (white city), and I certainly had no thoughts of living there.
Caroline was very excited about the city and we began to talk more and more, comparing the quality of life, services, safety, cost of living, etc in Mérida vs life here in Costa Rica. She repeatedly invited me to visit her new city and also join in on one of their monthly expat meet ups, but in 2018 our calendar would not allow it. Finally, I promised her that by June 2019 I would make the trip and check out the city for myself.
That's how Mexico Jammin was born!
(Thanks Caroline for the nudge!)
As the trip planning progressed, I decided that since we were already going to be in Mexico, we might as well explore other cities as well. So I planned for us to stay in Mérida for 5 days and then move on to see some other areas.
One of the things I liked most about Mérida was the contrasting architecture. If you have not been to any of the gorgeous colonial towns, I encourage you to go. You do not know what you have been missing and what surprises you will find behind those ancient door fronts!
Latin America is one of the best travel destinations for colonial city exploration. Our 1st destination in Central America was to Antigua Guatemala, but as the capital of New Spain, Mexico is a country with a rich history, one of pre-Hispanic culture and has colonial towns basically all over its territory.
Mérida occupies a prime location on the Yucatán Peninsula and, while managing to keep the Mayan culture alive, even in the heart of the city, it also displays clear signs that it was once colonized by the Spanish. As you move further from the center, the buildings are blatantly European in design (in fact, there’s even a street which was inspired by France’s Champs-Élysées) its called the Paseo de Montejo.
There is a bright and shining culture in Mérida and the people living there, many of Mayan descent, are friendly and welcoming. Perhaps that helps to explain why Mérida is the only city that has been twice selected to serve as the American Capital of Culture (2000, 2017).
There is plenty to do in this city of 892,363, (if you include the Greater Mérida metropolitan area the population swells to 1,035,238). There is also a pretty good sized expat community. And, although you still need to learn Spanish, I had no trouble getting my point across with the Spanish I know mixed with the English they knew.
You will find that most of the top things to do in Mérida are actually free, from the free walking tours to Mérida's many free museums. Plus lots of free music and other events in the parks. We found something to do every night! These free events will cut down substantially on your out of pocket leisure expenses!
Let's talk FOOD! It's one of the biggest draws in Mexico, right? Well we didn’t waste any time when arriving in this Yucatán city to find out where to eat. And...it didn't take us long. There are an endless array of restaurants in Mérida, we primarily ate in the Centro area but there are likely over a thousand restaurants by some estimates. Mexican and Yucatecan foods are very different. Yucatecan cuisine has been strongly influenced by European foods as well as native Mayan foods.
They do eat a bit later in Mexico than we do in the US and Costa Rica, so if you go out to dinner at 5 or 6 you may likely find yourself eating alone however stick around till 8 or later and the restaurants are full and the action begins!
Oh and BTW for those in Costa Rica -- Mexico uses four time zones. Most of the country uses Central Standard. It was one hour later there, however in Mérida, in June, the sun rises around 6:19am and sets around 7:45pm - giving you more light in the evening - which I LOVE since I am not one to go to bed early.
We found the dining costs to be substantially lower in Mérida (as compared to Costa Rica) and we were eating at more upscale restaurants - so probably even cheaper at local establishments. You may find that you can afford to eat out more often. The alcoholic beverage costs are not necessarily inexpensive but still lower than the US (I think a Margarita was maybe $4-5 each) I can't recall how much a glass of wine was but I think maybe about the same price.
And, NO, you can't drink the water but who drinks tap water in the states these days anyway? Bottled water is cheap and you can get the large bottles for drinking delivered to your home.
Now on to my favorite pastime SHOPPING! Mérida has 11- 12 malls. Several Walmarts, a Best Buy and a Sam's Club. Samsung has a large operation in Mexico making appliances and electronics cheaper and easy to get. We shopped at Walmart and found it had most everything we needed.
I visited the newest mall, called The Harbor. It is not yet fully occupied but I was really impressed! I found a Sephora there (which is what was on my list) and many other recognizable US stores. I also went to another mall called La Isla and it was really nice! Rivals any mall in San Francisco. I shopped at Zara and I have to say that "not all Zara's are created equal" This one was sooo nice. Very up to date clothing and the store was very big. The clothing was arranged by color and style and not all bunched together (which I hate). The prices were affordable there as well. I bought 3 very nice tops and a long skirt for less than $150. I could really learn to love shopping in Mérida!!
Safety - Mérida has remained for years as one of the safest cities in the country (and one of the 50 safest cities in the world), with low crime and high arrest rates, the city is equipped with surveillance cameras, and well trained police officers constantly patrolling the streets and keeping the city safe.
Cost of Living - The cost of living between Alajuela Costa Rica and Mérida was that Mérida is between 30% - 40% lower overall with rental prices 41% lower.
For Oakland CA the costs were from 66% overall with housing rental costs running 90% lower!