The big trip

Trip of the week: fine food and high culture in Mérida

The Mexican city’s gastronomic scene is lively and distinctive

Most tourists visiting the Mexican city of Mérida use it as a base for exploring the nearby Caribbean coast and the “big-ticket” Mayan sites of Izamal, Ek Balam and Chichen Itza. But Mérida is “one of the most cultured cities in the Americas”, says Chris Haslam in The Times – and it repays much deeper acquaintance.

It grew rich on henequen, the fibrous part of the agave grown on the region’s plantations, which was used to make rope for the world’s shipping industry. In the late 19th century it was reputed to be home to more millionaires than any other city, and although the development of synthetic fibres strangled the trade, the city’s historic grandeur has been well preserved.

Mérida is home to 20 or so theatres, and 18 museums, including the “magnificent” Museum of Anthropology in the Palacio Cantón, “where lithographs by the British explorer Frederick Catherwood offer thrilling snapshots of the Yucatán peninsula’s lost cities and temples as they were in the mid-19th century”.

And the city’s gastronomic scene is lively and distinctive. At its huge food market, the Mercado Lucas de Galvez, a vast array of Mayan ingredients is on sale, including the chocolate-pudding fruit, which looks like “a mutant tomato”.

The “poshest” of the city’s “grandiose” restaurants is Kuuk, where the ten-course tasting menu includes rabbit with pibil broth, and mezcal with Malabar gourd. And at Huniik, the Mérida-born chef Roberto Solís offers what he calls “the nueva cocina Yucateca”, with specialities such as snail sashimi.

There are good boutique hotels, too, not least Rosas y Xocolate, where the rooms have “exquisitely tiled” floors and hot tubs, and Casa Puuc, a 1914 house with six “understated, deeply stylish” guest rooms. Tourist numbers in Yucatán now exceed pre-pandemic levels, so it is wise to book well in advance, perhaps with a tour operator such as Journey Latin America.

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