In the early 1500's Merida was the site of a large Mayan ceremonial center. The actual city of Merida was founded by the Spaniards in 1542 to celebrate a victory over the Mayan inhabitants. The Mayans were then forced to destroy all of their palaces and temples. The materials were then used to build the new city for the Spaniards, using the Mayans as slaves to do all of the labor. Merida's magnificent cathedral is just one example of the results of this building campaign. The colonial ambience of this enjoyable city, in the heart of the Yucatan peninsula, has been maintained throughout the centuries.
Merida today is a large modern city and the center of commerce for the entire Yucatan peninsula and is also the capital of the state of Yucatan. Merida is surrounded by antiquity, the Mayan cities of Chichen Itza, Mayapan, Dzibilchaltun and Uxmal, to name just a few, are all close. The architecture of the colonial period is quite evident in downtown Merida, many of the elegant government buildings, churches, charming plazas, private mansions and expansive haciendas date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Some of the more opulent haciendas, in the outlying countryside, have been turned into elegant hotels allowing visitors to get a small taste of what life may have been like (for the rich) in the early days on the Yucatan peninsula.
The shady plaza dominates the center of Merida and the everyday life of the locals. This is where everyone gathers to enjoy the cool of the evenings and perhaps enjoy a light meal in one of the many sidewalk cafes. Many of Merida's elegant colonial buildings are located around the plaza. There are many museums and art galleries near the plaza and a variety of concerts, cultural events and exhibitions are scheduled seven days a week in and around the city center. The central market is also close by and deserves a look if only to enjoy the atmosphere that comes with local tradition. Other attractions include day trips to the Cenotes, open pools of refreshingly clear water from the underground rivers that crisscross the peninsula. Day trips to Rio Lagartos National Park, an ocean inlet that is home to over 30,000 pink flamingos, multitudes of other bird species, some very rare, and a few crocodiles. There are also some interesting caves in the area to explore.
Many people who arrive in Merida are there solely because of the tours to the nearby ancient Mayan cities, Chichen Itza being the most popular. Merida is in the heart of what remains of the Mayan civilization and makes a great place for a stop over. Merida is a stop over that will surely capture the hearts of many travelers, inviting a return trip devoted especially to enjoying this captivating city.