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Just Back from Merida (and Nearby Mayan Ruins): July 2017

Harlingen, TX
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Just Back from Merida (and Nearby Mayan Ruins): July 2017

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:

http://www.casalucia.com.mx/

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.

14) Uxmal/Kabah and Chichen Itza: I booked these tours through Nomadas Hostel, as recommended by the Lonely Planet Mexico guidebook:

http://nomadashostel.mx/tours-en-yucatan/

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.

16) Great meals were had at La Chaya Maya, Manjar Blanco, Amaro, Cana-Nah, and Chilam Balam. The tip (propina) was not included in my bills, and I left a tip of 10% at each restaurant.

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.

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17 replies to this topic
Cozumel, Mexico
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1. Re: Just Back from Merida (and Nearby Mayan Ruins): July 2017

Enjoyed your report. The ADO taxi you mentioned is owned by one of Mexico's largest bus companies, ADO. They also own a large share of ASUR which operates the area airports including Merida and Cancun. Always excellent service.

Good comments about Chichen . I find the hundreds of vendors to be a nuisance. The good thing is, I just read the Yucatan Government may soon move them all out of the site to another location. Hope they follow through. I also liked your restaurant choices with the exception of Chaya Maya which I find overrated.

Again, thanks.

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Harlingen, TX
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2. Re: Just Back from Merida (and Nearby Mayan Ruins): July 2017

@RobertSDF -

Thank you for the kind words. What I found disturbing about the vendors at Chichen Itza is that, while walking past one booth, I commented to Israel (the Mayan Heritage guide) that I smelled gasoline. His reply? "Yes, it's gasoline mixed with diesel fuel. The vendors use it to clean and shine the wooden Mayan masks that you see for sale." Definitely something any tourist should remember if wanting to take a mask home in their luggage. And I saw the same wooden masks for sale at the Casa de las Artesanias in Merida.

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Puerto Vallarta...
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3. Re: Just Back from Merida (and Nearby Mayan Ruins): July 2017

Excellent information that is concise and to the point. Thank you.

Puyallup, Washington
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4. Re: Just Back from Merida (and Nearby Mayan Ruins): July 2017

We're going in August. Thanks for the great information, very helpful🙂

Virginia
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5. Re: Just Back from Merida (and Nearby Mayan Ruins): July 2017

Thanks for the detail. It will help my family, which is going to Merida next week.

Did you go or see any city tours you would recommend? I think there are two bus tours and maybe one walking tour by the tourist office, but I am not sure.

What were some of your likes and dislikes to the places you visited? Specifically, what did you think of the ruins themselves at Chichen Itza vs. Uxmal? And are there any of the Merida museum or city sights you would skip? I am currently not very knowledgeable about the city sights in Merida.

My husband wants to spend more time in the city and I want to spend more time outside it on day trips. We are staying right by the cathedral so we will be in the city every morning and evening, eating there, shopping there. We have five people's desires to balance -- kids who want swimming and action, me who wants learning and history, my husband who wants food and city life. For me, developing a balanced itinerary is a lot of fun, but it does entail a lot of questions beforehand!

Edited: 29 July 2017, 11:59
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Harlingen, TX
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6. Re: Just Back from Merida (and Nearby Mayan Ruins): July 2017

@gotkidswilltravel -

I don't mind your questions at all. And that's the main reason why I write my trip reports, to give other travelers fresh information and help them make informed decisions about how to maximize their time and money while in a foreign location.

The "touristy" sights to see in Merida are very thin. Lonely Planet Mexico only dedicates barely two pages of sights to see in the town itself, and seeing them took me a whopping three hours. I was happy that I spent very little time in Merida and spent the majority of my short time in the Yucatan Peninsula exploring the surrounding area.

I was also happy with my Uxmal and Chichen Itza experience. It's amazing to see what man can do when he's organized and motivated at a time when television, movies, the internet, smartphones, and electricity didn't exist.

A day before you visit any Mayan ruins, I would visit the Mundo Maya museum. The artifacts and displays you see in the museum will put the ruins of Chichen Itza and Uxmal into better context, especially since Chaac (the Mayan Rain God) is so heavily represented at the ruins.

Your kids will enjoy the chocolate museum and swimming in the cenotes. If you visit the restaurants that I mentioned, your husband is guaranteed to have great meals. Do make sure you all try the cochinita pibil at Amaro!

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7. Re: Just Back from Merida (and Nearby Mayan Ruins): July 2017

Merida's not that big nor does it have many museums or traditional tourist sites. I'm not surprised that weatherman was able to see everything in just a few hours. Being a resident, I try (and fail?) to imagine what it would be like to be a tourist and when I do so, I definitely see Merida more as a jumping off point for sites in the region rather than being a destination in of itself. However, it is nice to use as a base and I think it's worthwhile to spend your evenings in the Centro when it's so pretty (and the temps more agreeable!). Because the city is not very big, most of where the city bus tours go (Turibus and Gua-Gua) are easily reached in a couple of hours on foot. I enjoyed the Turibus because it gave me a new perspective from what I usually see from ground/car level. I think it's worth to do from that angle but not see it as a means to see new sites.

Toronto, Canada
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8. Re: Just Back from Merida (and Nearby Mayan Ruins): July 2017

I've been a tourist in Merida a couple of times (2 weeks in 2016 and 3 weeks in 2017) and I love the city. There's lots to do - symphony, galleries, wonderful restaurants. What's not to like?!! Seriously though, we've enjoyed the city a lot and I'm looking forward to going back again.

Cozumel, Mexico
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9. Re: Just Back from Merida (and Nearby Mayan Ruins): July 2017

I agree with SB. Before living here, as a tourist, I found much to do. Granted, it is not big on tourist trap type sights. I do also enjoy the ADO operated Turibus. As mentioned, if you sit on the second level you see much that is missed at ground level. For one thing, you miss what is behind the high walls at the upscale local homes. Some are not to be missed.

Harlingen, TX
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10. Re: Just Back from Merida (and Nearby Mayan Ruins): July 2017

I was very surprised at how "Un-Mexican" Merida is. Meaning, the usual culture and cuisine you find in places like Guadalajara and Mexico City have taken a back seat to the Mayan-dominated culture and cuisine you find in Merida and the surrounding areas. I enjoyed the area so much that I'm already considering a future trip where I fly into Cancun, get a taxi to Valladolid and spend a few days there, then catch a taxi back to Cancun, enjoy the beaches, and fly out afterwards.

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