An Inside Guide to Mérida
The creative renaissance of Mérida continues, with a burgeoning community of artists and artisans turning the Mexican city into one of the hottest travel destinations of the moment. We checked in with the owners of La Tropical Villa—fragrance developer and architect Carlos Huber and his husband, plastic surgeon Andrew Timberlake—to find out what makes the capital of Yucatán so special.
What do you love about Mérida?
Mérida is a super-friendly city with a lovely, slightly gritty charm, in the heart of Yucatán. It's easy to feel completely secluded at home, or when visiting nearby haciendas, but it maintains the energy of an open city. It’s Caribbean—easygoing, friendly, sultry and colorful.
What’s the one thing everyone should do there?
While you should dedicate a few days to exploring the city itself, set aside a day to drive about 40 minutes north to the beaches of Sisal. There are stunning beach clubs that offer day passes, such as El Palmar, where you can enjoy the sun and nibbles before returning back to the city for dinner. We also really recommend visiting Yaxcopoil, San Pedro Ochil, or Sotuta de Peon to learn about the Yucatecan haciendas, the henequen “green gold” rush, and to bask in their decayed beauty.
What food should everyone try?
Cochinita pibil, recado negro, and sopa de lima—all specialties of Yucatán. Cochinita is perhaps the most well known, a traditional Mayan slow-cooked pork dish, where the pig is marinated in citrus juice and annatto seed, then wrapped in a banana leaf before being roasted underground in a píib, the Mayan word for an earth oven. Recado negro is a black stew made traditionally with turkey. It’s incredible and so unique, and sopa de lima is a citrusy, floral soup made with a local type of citrus, lima ágria (sour lime). Most restaurants in Yucatán serve these, with different restaurants serving slight variations on the classic dish.
Where are the best places to eat?
For a unique taste of Yucatecan heritage and regional cuisine, for lunch we like Ramiro Cocina, Museo de la Gastronomía Yucateca or Manjar Blanco. On the other side of Plaza Santa Ana, and totally revolutionizing, Huniik offers a tasting menu that will blow you away. It’s our favorite restaurant for a special night.
Do you have a favorite market?
The markets are especially great for tropical fruit and street food. I like the Mercado de Santiago for fruit and food, and Mercado de San Sebastian for La Poderosa, aguably the best street food in the city. It specializes in panuchos and salbutes, which are Yucatecan specialties of fried corn tortillas stuffed with delicious fillings like cochinita, and recado negro.
When you’re at the markets, ask for what’s in season. Mangos are incredible here, as are mamey fruit, and all the citrus. Melipona honey is also some of the best in the world!
Architecturally, what are your favorite buildings?
Las Casas Gemelas on Paseo Montejo are a pair of architecturally stunning French-style mansions built in the early 20th century during the economic boom brought to the region by the cultivation of henequen, known at the time as “green gold.” It’s a piece of Paris in this tropical corner of the world.
We also love the Renaissance facade of the Casa Montejo, on the main square, which belonged to the conquistadores who founded the city. There’s a lovely contrast of the austere 16th-century stone churches and the candy-colored facades of 19th-century French-style mansions. Almost every corner in the city center has examples of this.
Best place to shop for design treasures?
You have to visit Casa T’ho, one of the best concept shops in Mexico, with great Mexican brands like Carla Fernandez, and fellow fragrance brand Xinú. We love Taller Maya in Plaza Santa Ana for beautifully crafted home goods. And we’ve found amazing antiques, sculpture and art pieces in Santo Remedio on Calle 72 and Calle 41. Coqui Coqui is such a beautiful store—it really immerses you in the colonial soul of Mérida. It’s very evocative.
What's your soundtrack to Mérida?
We always play classic boleros and trio guitar music. They evoke mid-century Mexico very vividly. Los Panchos, Los Macorinos, Toña La Negra, Agustín Lara and, of course, local legend Armando Manzanero are what set the tone of our days and nights in Mérida, at La Tropical.
Photography: Mérida photos courtesy of Carlos Huber & Andrew Timberlake. La Tropical Villa photos by Tamara Uribe. Top: Carlos & Andrew at Montejo 495, one of Las Casas Gemelas, built by French architect Gustave Umbdenstock in 1911.