As the cultural capital of the Yucatán peninsula and the largest city in the State of Yucatán, the city of Mérida has vast cultural wealth and vibrancy on display. With approximately 1.1 million people living in Mérida, the city is a colorful mix of Mayan and Spanish colonial heritage, modern cosmopolitanism, and an Old World feel steeped in hundreds of years of history.
Called La Ciudad Blanca (The White City) because of its buildings constructed of white limestone, Mérida is simultaneously a major center of commerce. One of the Mayan cultural traditions of these ancient people is widely and beautifully apparent.
Without further ado, here is our list of 21 pros and cons of living in Mérida, Mexico.
1. Culturally Vibrant
While Mérida is special in countless ways, the list topper is its cultural vibrance. Mérida developed in relative isolation from other parts of Mexico due to its location in the northwest of the Yucatán Peninsula. It has been the cultural capital of this region for at least the last 500 years.
While there is plenty of Spanish influence from the colonial days in the 16th century, the Maya tradition is equally as strong, as reflected in the traditional clothing, food, holidays, and language. Yucatecan Maya is still spoken by about one-third of the population, and the Spanish in Mérida is spoken with an accent that is distinctive of the Yucatán Peninsula.
There is so much natural beauty surrounding Mérida that it could take years to explore it all. Many cenotes close to Mérida with cool, deep-blue waters and a level of isolation you will not find in more heavily touristic areas. A cenote is a deep hole in the earth that results from limestone bedrock collapsing, into which cold groundwater has seeped.
There is a theory that the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs millions of years ago was the same asteroid that created the Chicxulub Crater, in which many of the cenotes close to Mérida can be found.
3. Mayan Ruins
The most famous Mayan ruins in the Yucatán are unquestionably Chichén Itzá and Tulum, and with good reason. Just 1.5 hours inland from Mérida, the former is a vast complex of ancient Mayan ruins, displaying the wealth and importance of the city in its heyday from 600 to around 1200 A.D. The ruins at Tulum, on a gorgeous clifftop perch overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, is a more extended three-hour trip, but it is well worth the time.
Besides these iconic ruins, and within two hours from Mérida, lies a wealth of lesser-known, and much-less heavily traveled ruins, such as Uxmal, Dzilchaltún, Mayapán, Oxkintoc, and Cobá. You might see some people at these ruins, but more than likely, you will have these ancient places to yourself, especially if you go in the morning.
4. Distinctive Food
The food in the Yucatán Peninsula is something else that has stubbornly retained its Mayan culture, with the result of unmatched flavors that you will find nowhere else in the world. For example, a Sunday meal might have cochinita pibil as its main dish. The most traditional way to slow-cook this pork is underground for a couple of days, marinated in achiote and Seville oranges, and wrapped in banana leaves.
Another traditional, seemingly simple dish is sopa de lima, which is a soup made of chicken, sweet limes that are native to the region, with fried strips of tortillas and cilantro sprinkled generously on top. This dish, which might seem like nothing special on paper, is a surprisingly complex explosion of flavor.
5. Outdoor Markets
Mérida has a wealth of outdoor markets, most of which are geared towards the locals, such as the Mercado Miguel Alemán, where locals go for their fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, and meat. Orderly and authentic, this market is also a great place to eat.
A popular handicrafts market is the Mercado Lucas de Galváz, which is centrally located in the city. Besides the rows and rows of handicraft booths, there is fresh produce and many food stands offering up delicious, inexpensive meals.
6. Low Cost of Living
Mexico has a much lower cost of living than the United States, Canada, and Europe—at least half the cost in many places, if not lower. Without rent, an individual can live on around $500 a month in Mérida. Rent might pop that up to $1000 or $1500, depending on your digs. However, without question, the cost of utilities, food, and entertainment is much more affordable in Mexico.
7. Day of the Dead
While many think of Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, as a Mexican celebration, it originated in Mayan culture and was known as “Hanal Pixan.” This celebration that honors and reveres the dead is a time during which the Mayans believe the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead are open to each other. Since the Mayans believe that death is simply another form of life, from October 31 to November 2, tradition says that the living and the dead come together to celebrate.
The Dia de Los Muertos ceremony in Mérida starts out somberly in the cemetery, with scores of people dressed in typical Mayan or Spanish colonial dress, their faces painted as fanciful Calaveras or skulls. The long procession becomes less somber once it has exited the cemetery and becomes more raucous and crowded as more people join in the festivities closer to the zócalo, or main square, in the center of town.
Mérida boasts world-class museums, as well as hidden gems that are tucked away down streets gaudy with Colonial architecture. From Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, which harbors perhaps the greatest detail about what is known of the Mayan civilization, to the Choco-Story Uxmal, which tells the story of chocolate in the region and has its own small zoo; there are dozens of worthwhile museums in Mérida itself, and hundreds throughout the Yucatán.
The Mexican people are known for being warm and friendly and patient with those who are just learning Spanish; the people in Mérida are no different. While Mérida does have a large expat population, mainly from the United States and Canada, embracing the culture and the people of Mérida will only make your time in Mexico more fulfilling and rich.
The weather in Mérida is fairly predictable, ranging from hot and sweltering in the summer to warm and muggy in the winter. If you are tired of shoveling snow, then know that the temperature rarely gets below 57 °F. It rarely exceeds 103 °F, and indeed usually remains in the 65 °F to 93 °F range. Some might consider the extreme heat to be a con, but some people love it, so pro or con on this point is a personal preference.
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As poverty grows and drug trafficking blights regions, Mérida has remained remarkably free of these scourges, and in fact, is known as the safest large city in Mexico. In all of North America, Mérida is only superseded by Quebec City in Canada as being a safe place to live.
Mérida, like virtually every city and town in Mexico, has a main plaza, or zócalo, in the middle of town. The many plazas are broad and clean, while the winding streets are narrow and clean. The architecture is heavily colonial and painted in typical Caribbean fashion in vibrant peaches, pinks, and pistachio greens. The cathedrals are typically Spaniard, with heavy, ornate facades and large, imposing presences on the plazas.
13. Tourist Town, but Not a Tourist Town
While Mérida definitely has hundreds of things to do and see, both in the city itself and in the surrounding area, it cannot be termed just a tourist town. Situated 40 minutes away from the closest beach, it is not the first place many tourists from colder northern climes first think of to visit when going to Mexico.
While the lack of a beach might seem like a detriment to some, many see it as a boon, as Mérida does not get overrun with tourists. This is a real city with economic foundations and people who make their living off of something other than tourism, so there is a greater feeling of permanence and stability.
14. Good Healthcare Services
As an international city that is only gaining in popularity, Mérida has excellent doctors and high-quality health care facilities. The city has an impressive network of clinics, private and public hospitals, and laboratory facilities and is continuously modernizing as more foreigners move to Mexico. In fact, many doctors in Yucatán go to medical school in the US and speak English fluently.
15. Beaches are Close/Beaches are Far
The closest beach to Mérida is almost directly north, in Progreso. About 40 minutes by car, it is easy to pop up for a day or a long weekend. Since Mérida is not a beach town, it is also not a city that will be overrun with tourists every month of the year. If you want to live close to the beach and have your feet in the sand every day, Mérida is not your place.
Learning Spanish, if you are going to live in Mérida, will only enrich your life. You will be able to interact with people from the area; you will gain a better understanding of the culture – because there is no way to pick up a language without picking up some culture too – and your horizons will expand the more you learn.
There are many locations where you can affordably learn to speak Spanish, such as the Ecora Language Institute, La Calle, and Spanish Center Mérida. For example, you can take private classes starting at $39 a month from The Spanish Institute or a four-week Spanish immersion class for $126.
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1. Cost of Living is Rising
While rents are still inexpensive, and there is a wide variety to meet individual needs, the cost of living is actually on the rise in Mérida. The cost of renting a home, entertainment, education, and utilities are rising as much as 8% per year.
2. The Noise Level is Different in Latin America
Not only Mérida, and not only Mexico, but all of Latin America has a different tolerance level for noise. Parties can go on to the wee hours in rowdy downtown settings, especially if it is time for a national or local celebration (see Day of the Dead).
When it is election time, people mount loudspeakers on their cars and blast a politician’s message, literally from the rooftops, without cease. While this can be disruptive, consider it part of the happy chaos that is Latin America.
When it comes to government and getting things done, Mexico has its own special brand of bureaucracy. This is just part of the experience, so if you are going to live in Mexico, you need to accept the fact that it is a different country, and not everything will go as smoothly or as quickly as it might in the United States.
Getting a temporary residence card or a driver’s license, for example, can be a weeks-long test in patience. Know that going in, and you should be fine. Just chalk it up to the experience.
While poverty is less readily apparent in Mérida, it is a real affliction throughout Mexico. It is difficult to see it and even more difficult to understand that you cannot help every person who comes to you asking for it. Poverty in Mexico is real, and in fact, nearly half of the economy is informal, so there is not much of a safety net when things go wrong.
Mexico is the largest trading partner for the United States, and our political, job and economic stability mutually impact each other. As much of Mexico’s economy is informal, crises often drive Mexicans to leave their homes in the search for a decent, dignified life.
Drug gangs are a real issue throughout Mexico, wreaking financial and emotional havoc on the larger population. Drug- and gun-smuggling issues have been mutually detrimental, and indeed neither country has found a way for Mexico to escape the vicious cycle of poverty, drugs, gangs, and violence.
While Mérida is largely insulated from these issues, Mexico is a different world, and even living in a safe place like Mérida, you can hardly avoid getting a better understanding of what is happening economically and culturally in Mexico.
While there is no way to include every single fantastic thing about living in Mérida in just one article, we hope this glimpse into the rich cultural beauty of one of our favorite places in the world has given you an idea.
As with anywhere, there are bound to be some downsides. In Mérida, that might include the heat, the mosquitoes, and the notion of Latin time, in which showing up on time anywhere is not a priority.
However, learning another language and living in another country are such enriching and rewarding experiences; we wish everyone could do it for at least a few years! If this is an adventure that is in your future, know that Mérida is one of the friendliest, most beautiful, culturally rich, and rewarding places you could choose.
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