Mérida and Valladolid, Mexico

  • Visited December 2018

Mérida (the capital city of the Yucatán state) and Valladolid (pronounced Vaya -do – leed) are both ‘Pueblo Magico’ – considered magical places of Mexico. If you have read any of my other posts on Mexican destinations, you will have realised that there is more to Mexico than its beautiful beaches. In an attempt to encourage tourists to visit other parts of Mexico, the tourist board came up with The Programma Pueblos Magicos – a list of special places recommended to visit. These places all have something unique about them, such as natural beauty, cultural richness, cuisine etc.

Mérida and Valladolid both have well-preserved architecture in the colonial-style which makes them picturesque though, for me, Mérida has more to offer the traveller for a longer stay. Valladolid is a lovely place to stay for a night or two to explore the stunning cenotes (pronounced sin-o-tays) in the area (you can do a cenote day trip from Mérida but it can be pricey) but it’s worth allocating at least three nights to Merida to explore the town and any trips you may want to do.

Mérida

Day 1 – explore the town. Key sights include the cathedral, the main plaza Plaza de la Independencia, which is a great spot for people-watching and the venue for traditional dance shows Monday to Friday at 9pm, Parque Santa Lucia, and the Paseo de Montejo, which is where you will see some glorious architectural gems. You could also visit a museum – the contemporary art museum (MACAY) or the Mayan museum are highly recommended (both closed on Tuesdays when I visited unfortunately).

Day 2 – a day trip to the fishing village of Celestún is a lovely trip out of the town and has the star attraction of flamingos. An trip with a tour company can cost you upwards of 900 pesos – expensive for what the trip includes so I would just find your own way there (see the photos below with a list of how to get to various places from Merida provided by my hostel).

Day 3 – Some travellers like to visit Chichen Itza from Mérida but again, an organised tour is pricey and it’s cheaper and easier to visit Chichen from Valladolid.

Some recommendations:

  • La Negrita – cool Cuban bar with live music 6 – 9 pm every night. Closes at 10 pm.
  • Chaya Maya Restaurant – good place to try local speciality dishes. Two venues.
  • Mercado Santiago – decent choice for local eats in a less touristy area. I spent a nice evening here having dinner with a friend watching various local dance groups practise their moves.
  • Restaurant El Trapiche – located near the main plaza but offers tasty food at decent prices.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

Valladolid

Day 1 – Take the 10 am tour at Casa de los Venados. An American couple bought an old casa, renovated it and over the years have created an impressive collection of Mexican art which they open to the pubic daily between 10 am and 1 pm. The tour is insightful as the guide didn’t just discuss the art on display (which includes a Frida Kahlo themed room) but talked about various aspects of Mexican culture. The tour is free but the suggested donation is 100 pesos and this goes to local charities. After the tour, grab a coffee and a snack before hiring a bike to cycle to some of the stunning cenotes in the area. The Zaci Cenote in the centre of town is actually one of the prettiest to photograph and only costs 30 pesos to enter. The other cenotes tend to cost 70 – 80 pesos to enter. Each one is unique – for example the Uxman Cenote has a rope for swimmers to swing on to jump into the water – so it’s worth visiting a few. You will need swim clothes and a towel. If you are not a strong swimmer, you will be able to hire a lifejacket to allow you to access the water safely. Other cenotes you could visit are Samulá and X’Kekén.

Day 2 – Many travellers choose to visit Chichen Itza from Valladolid. It’s easy to get a collectivo to take you there. Instead of paying for a guide, you can download the smartphone app instead. The entrance fee is 250 pesos.

Another recommendation for Valladolid is to catch the nightly light show which is projected on to the convent at 9.20 pm in English (the publicised time is 9.25 pm but we went it began earlier). The show is free and explains a bit of Mayan history as well as the history of the town. It lasts about 20 minutes.

*note about safety: the cenotes close at 5 pm and we found that it got dark very quickly when we left the last cenote. The bikes we hired did not have lights on and the route we were supposed to cycle back on was not lit. We ended up finding our way back to a cenote and asking security there to call us a taxi to take us into town. We felt like stupid tourists but were told that it happens all the time. If you are cycling back, make sure you leave in plenty of time or check that your bike at least has lights on it if you don’t mind cycling in the dark.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

Frida Kahlo Museum, Mexico City

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Frida Kahlo, the celebrated Mexican painter, icon and visionary with ideologies about gender and sexuality that were ahead of her time, was born and died in La Casa Azul – the Blue House – located in the Coyoacán area of Mexico City. So-called because of its bright blue exterior, the Blue House was a place of great love, passion and creativity for Frida and her husband Diego Rivera. When Frida passed away, Diego instructed that their personal belongings be locked away until 15 years after his own death and upon reaching that time, a wealth of items were found and shared with the public. Today, the house is a museum that pays tribute to Frida’s life, allowing us to take a glimpse into what her life – as a painter living with crippling physical disabilities after a nearly catastrophic Tram accident when she was 18 – was like and to see a selection of her paintings in her home.

As a Frida fan, a visit to the Museo Frida Kahlo was an absolute must when I was in Mexico City and I had an excellent experience. This museum is incredibly popular so if you intend to go, I would recommend buying your ticket online. If you just turn up at the museum and wait in line to get a ticket, you can be waiting up to two hours to gain entry as visitor numbers are restricted. If you buy your ticket online, you can choose a time slot to enter which suits you. My ticket cost 230 pesos as I visited on a week day (tickets cost 250 pesos on the weekend) and I didn’t have to print the ticket, I just had to show it on my phone. Even if you buy your ticket online, you will still have to line up to gain entry but you are guaranteed entry within half an hour of your booked entry time. If you want to take photographs whilst in the museum, you will need to pay 30 pesos at the ticket office and you will be given a sticker to wear that confirms your permission to photograph. Photography without flash is permitted everywhere on the site. Bags and backpacks have to be left at the cloakroom but this is free.

Inside the museum site, you will find a tranquil garden, a temporary exhibition of Frida’s clothing, permanent exhibition of a selection of Frida’s work, personal photographs, a Day of the Dead ofrenda, and gain access to Frida’s day and night bedrooms (the day room displays Frida’s death mask, the night room contains Frida’s ashes in an urn), Diego’s bedroom, their kitchen and studio. Restricted visitor numbers mean that despite the museum’s overwhelming popularity, the museum does not feel overcrowded during your visit and allows visitors to have a peaceful experience. Only Frida’s bedrooms felt crowded during my visit but that’s mainly because they are quite small and people want to see where she died and where her ashes are displayed.

The museum is well-organised, staff were polite and the exhibits all have explanations in Spanish and English. You can hire an audio guide to enhance your experience but I didn’t feel this was necessary as everything is clearly labelled and explained. Die-hard fans of Frida would no doubt appreciate the extra information though.

*Note: Something for Frida fans – the Brooklyn Museum has just announced a major exhibition “exploring the life and work of the Mexican artist”. Titled ‘Appearances Can Be Deceiving’, the exhibition will open on 8th February 2019 and run until 12th May. Featuring Frida’s paintings, drawings, photographs, clothing etc, this is the first time personal items from La Casa Azul will be on display in the US.

Selection of pictures from my visit in November 2018: