Hi, Friends -
From July 20 to 24, I visited Merida and some of the nearby Mayan ruins. The following is what I learned after spending a few days in this part of the Yucatan Peninsula:
1) I used the Yucatan State chapter (roughly pages 300 to 327) of the latest edition of the Lonely Planet Mexico guidebook. The information was largely accurate (a few prices have increased slightly since the book was printed) and was a nice complement to my vacation.
2) It took about 45 minutes to clear Immigration and Customs at the airport in Merida when my fully-loaded United Airlines 737 landed. Note: be sure to bring a pen with you to complete the Mexico Immigration and Customs forms given to you on the airplane. Read the forms carefully and fill them out completely, including the perforated card at the bottom of the Immigration form. Be sure to keep this card when it is given to you by the Immigration agent, as you will need this card to depart Mexico! If you lose this card, you will have to pay a fine upon departing Mexico.
3) Once you clear Immigration and Customs, walk outside and straight ahead to the taxi booths (just follow the posted signs). The fee was 200 pesos for a taxi (a company called ADO) from the airport to my hotel. I was given a small bottle of cold water and a cookie wafer by the taxi representative in the booth after I paid the 200 pesos fee. The ride from the airport to my hotel took 20 minutes in moderate traffic.
4) I was lodged for four nights at Hotel Casa Lucia:
I will write a review of this hotel here on TripAdvisor in the very near future, and will rate this hotel either a "Very Good" or "Excellent."
5) Gran Museo del Mundo Maya: 150 pesos entry. Photos without flash allowed. It takes about 1 1/2 hours to view the relics. I paid 90 pesos to go from my hotel to the Museo. Note: it is difficult to hail a taxi at the Museo. If you need a taxi, your best option will be to walk 2 blocks to the nearby Fiesta Inn (a tall building, you can't miss it) and hail a taxi at that location. An airport taxi was dropping off a guest at the hotel and he agreed to take me back to my hotel in Merida for another 90 pesos.
6) Plaza Grande: watch out for touts wanting/trying to attach themselves to you and act as your guide (for a fee) in that part of Merida. They were not dangerous, just a little bothersome.
7) Casa de Montejo: free entry.
8) Catedral de San Ildefonso: free entry.
9) Palacio de Gobierno: free entry. Just walk past the stern-looking police officers guarding the entry. Because it is a government facility, you may see a peaceful protest occurring just outside the entry (this happened while I was at the Palacio).
10) Palacio Municipal: free entry.
11) Iglesia de Jesus: free entry.
12) I experienced exchange rates of $1 = 16.50 pesos, $1 = 16.60 pesos, and $1 = 16.85 pesos while in Merida. The best cambio (exchange business) that I discovered was $1 = 16.85 pesos at the "Efectivo" cambio located right across the street and right next door to Hotel Casa Lucia.
13) If you have an unlocked smartphone, you can buy a SIM card and service plan at the Telcel store located at the intersection of Calle 59 and Calle 56. I paid 149 pesos for the SIM card and 50 pesos for a 7-day service plan.
I toured Uxmal/Kabah on a Saturday and Chichen Itza on a Sunday. I visited Nomadas Hostel on a Friday and reserved these tours by paying 600 pesos for each tour (600 pesos x 2 = 1200 pesos), which was for the transportation, guide, and lunch. When I arrived at Kabah, the cost of the ticket was 50 pesos, and at Uxmal the cost was 223 pesos. Note: the entry process at Uxmal is a little confusing. You have to stand in one line and buy a ticket for 70 pesos at the ticket window, then stand in the line next to it and buy another ticket at a different ticket window for 153 pesos (70 pesos + 153 pesos = 223 pesos). I was told it was done that way to ensure that both the State (Yucatan) and Federal (Mexico) governments get their fair share of the ticket money.
I toured Chichen Itza on a Sunday, and the ticket cost was 242 pesos. The ticket-buying process at Chichen Itza is similar and different to Uxmal: you will buy two tickets (70 pesos + 172 pesos = 242 pesos) but you will buy them at the same window.
The tours booked through Nomadas Hostel were subcontracted out to a company called Mayan Heritage. My guide for all of the tours was a man named Israel, who was polite, friendly, and spoke excellent english and spanish. The vehicle used was a relatively new Volkswagen van that was roomy, clean, and had excellent air conditioning. It took about 1 1-1/2 hours to reach Uxmal and Kabah and 2 hours to reach Chichen Itza. I was very pleased with the level of service provided by Israel and would readily choose Mayan Heritage again for future tours.
Lunch after the Uxmal/Kabah tour was at a restaurant named Cana-Nah, and after the Chichen Itza tour, was at a restaurant named Chilam Balam. For both lunches, I only had to pay for the cost of my drinks and the tip.
If you are planning on visiting Chichen Itza, arrive early! We arrived at 10 AM and had no problems parking or buying tickets. By the time we left at 2 PM, the site was flooded with tourists (mainly from Cancun), parking was a nightmare, the ticket-buying line stretched far out into the parking lot, and the weather was incredibly hot. There are also many vendors lining the paths around the ruins, but they're not aggressive or bothersome and they're easy to ignore if you're not interested in buying any souvenirs.
15) Museo del Cacao: 120 pesos entry. Located almost right across the street from the Uxmal entrance. Once inside, you will follow a path into several huts where you will learn about the chocolate-making process and how chocolate was important to the Mayan people. You will also see a Mayan chocolate ceremony and the chocolate-making process. There is an aviary with parrots and spider monkeys, jaguars, and deer in captivity. Note: the spider monkeys and jaguars were seized from locals who had exploited/abused/shot them, and are now kept in captivity to ensure their survival. Finally, the Museo del Cacao gift shop sells souvenirs, including chocolate bars of many different kinds (dark chocolate with pepper, dark chocolate with coffee, dark chocolate with cocoa nibs, etc) for 100 pesos each, with plenty of free samples to taste. However, the same chocolate bars are sold at the Ki Xocolatl store at Parque de Santa Lucia in Merida for 69 pesos each, but the selection is a little less than what you will find at the Museo del Cacao.
17) For the best price on souvenirs, visit the Casa de las Artesanias, located on Calle 63 between Calle 64 and Calle 66. Prices are fixed and non-negotiable, but are much lower than the souvenir shops located elsewhere in Merida and at Chichen Itza.
18) Cenote de Yokdzonot: located just west of Chichen Itza. 70 pesos entry, and a life vest is included with the price. Swimming in the blue water of the cenote is via a wooden staircase (a little steep at the end) that descends down into the cenote. I just paid the entry fee and snapped a few pictures.
19) The cost to return to the airport from my hotel to leave Merida was 150 pesos. Traffic was very light at 5:10 AM and the trip to the airport only took 10 minutes in very light traffic.
Comments and questions are welcome from other TripAdvisor members. If I remember anything else about my trip that I didn't mention, I'll be sure to include it in this thread.