I love Mexico. Love the people, love the history, love all of it. The Yucatàn Peninsula is a huge destination for the US but flying wonderfully under the radar is a gorgeous little city called Mérida.
Mérida is very easy to get to from the US, you can fly into Cancun International Airport and take a short connection to Mérida, or upon landing into Cancun rent a car for an easy three hour drive. I actually hopped on the bus which was super cheap, air conditioned and very safe. If you do you rent a car, you must stop at Chichen-Itza. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was one of the greatest Mayan centers of the Yucatán Peninsula and throughout its nearly 1,000-year history, the Maya and Toltec visions of the universe are revealed in their stone monuments and artistic works. It's gorgeous and incredibly unique -- an absolute must-see.
Once you arrive in Mérida, find your way to Rosas & Xocolate. This beautiful boutique property has only seventeen unique rooms and trust me, you want one. The exterior is bright pink and the interior is all warm woods and cotton fabrics, with a little nineteenth century charm. Spend a lazy afternoon drinking wine and reading in their courtyard pool which feels as though it was designed solely for photo ops. Called the 'best address in Merida,' Rosas & Xocolate is only six streets away from the historical center and located on iconic Paseo de Montejo.
As you can imagine, the food here is amazing and it feels like a sin not to eat ceviche every day in the Yucatàn. My favorite was the gulf shrimp ceviche at El Marlin Azul – lots of lime, red onion and it's served with this habeñero salsa that elevates the whole dish. That salsa, or picante, is served in different iterations wherever you go and is what makes any dish traditionally yucateca. Each restaurant makes their own homemade version so don't hesitate to ask for it with every taco and ceviche dish you try. If you're looking for something a bit fancier, Nectar is Mérida's newest spot for haute cuisine. The chef, Roberto Solis, has done time in the kitchens of Per Se and The Fat Duck and at Nectar, he plays with indigenous flavors paired with French techniques. The interior is also terribly chic.
La Casa de Montejo is a gorgeous colonial mansion right in the heart of the city that has been turned into a museum. Built between 1542 and 1549 by the orders of Don Francisco de Montejo, conqueror of the Yucatán Península, It maintains the facade of the XVI century, a masterpiece of that artistic style. Today it houses a bank and museum with a permanent exhibition of renovated Victorian furnishings of the historic building.
If you're looking to get outside, skip the beach and go swimming in the cenotes instead. These little oases from the jungle heat have such a different energy than the beach and feel like they're something out of Tarzan, full of vines with deep blue water. They're these beautiful sources of spring water in the heart of the jungle and adventurous swimmers can dive in from the cliffs on the sides or swing into the water from tree roots.
You're probably familiar with Coqui Coqui in Tulum but Mérida is the brand's base of operations and source for inspiration and ingredients. The Perfumeria at Coqui Coqui's house-made scents are intended to conjure up images of colonial haciendas, overrun with the flora and fauna of the Yucatán. Their line of thirteen scents extends from candles and perfumes to bath oils, linen sprays and custom amenities for the property's four residences, each of which has a personalized fragrance. Tulum is dewy coconut, Coba is lush and green mint, Vallodolid smells of roses dried with tobacco, and Mérida is the scent of a cigar box, inspired by the surrounding tobacco plantations. Go here. You must.