462 views 10 min 0 Comment

The Art Enthusiast’s Guide To Mérida—A City On The Cusp Of A Creative Resurgence

- March 30, 2023

The legend of henequen—an agave plant once known in Mérida as “green gold”—is still chronicled as a miraculous accident. Locals will tell you that Zamná, a Mayan god and storied herbalist, was pricked by the plant’s spiky tip on an expedition to cultivate healing remedies. Out of misgivings for his god, one of Zamná’s trusted courtiers began to strike the agave with a stone. Hidden beneath the surface, string-like sisal fibers began to reveal themselves.

The discovery of sisal brought extraordinary wealth to the Yucatán Peninsula. These fibers were ideal for making rope, and their uses were plenty. In the 19th century, they became an essential commodity in building ships and grain-farming equipment. But like all success stories, periods of trial would follow. The arrival of Spanish conquistadors led to the eventual exploitation of the henequen plant and locals in the region. When the Mexican Revolution began in the 1920s, the new regime’s land reforms disbanded the estates controlled by conquistadors. And with the eventual development of newer technologies, the Yucatán lost its dominance in the henequen industry, and its era of wealth came to a close.

Casa Museo Montejo 495Montejo 495

Decades later, once-abandoned haciendas and rusted facades are becoming spaces for creative expression. While an unchanging dense breeze still combs through Mérida’s cobblestone streets and courtyards, formerly deserted mansions have transformed into hotels, restaurants, galleries, and museums. Somewhere between past and present, glimpses of Mayan influence and Spanish colonialism are being met with contemporary styles. Mérida’s newcomers are drawing inspiration from a history threaded throughout the region in their quest for creative endeavors. So much so that the city was named the American Capital of Culture for a second time. It appears that the lost gift of henequen is giving once again.

Where To Stay

Chablé YucatánKenny Vise

Formerly Hacienda San Antonio Chablé, a vast sisal estate, Chablé Yucatán has revived a 19th century structure that the jungle took over years ago. The nature-capped resort, which presides over 750 acres, exists today as an oasis for spa lovers equipped with pre-Hispanic-style temazcales, sprawling green lawns lit at night by fireflies, and a hydrotherapy playground with its very own cenote. Some 26 kilometers from Mérida, this secluded paradise comes alive with a bee sanctuary, pristine golf course and pool, and artful yet modern interiors, whether in one of their 40 casitas or in their Ixi’im Restaurant, home to the world’s largest private tequila collection.

CIGNOTamara Uribe

Within the city’s center, design enthusiasts will be spoiled for choice on where to stay. CIGNO, a restored 19th century mansion where mosaic tiles and ornate roofs remain, the ambiance is decidedly modern. In the quiet neighborhood of La Ermita, just a 15-minute walk from the Plaza Grande, CIGNO is a true boutique hotel. It keeps its charm with 10 well-appointed rooms, furniture handcrafted by local artisans, two plunge pools, and a chukum stucco adorning the walls that resembles techniques Mayans once used inside their pyramids.

Casa Vagantes in La ErmitaCasa Vagantes

Casa Vagantes, an Airbnb also in the neighborhood of La Ermita, highlights the building’s original architecture that dates back to the 1800s. The high ceilings and stonework are imagined as scars from the passage of time. In this small but photo-worthy stay, adventurers will have everything they need to make them feel at home, and nothing they don’t. The options are endless, and a few other beloved boutique stays include Coqui Coqui, Casa Olivia, and Casa Puuc.

What To Do

Casa T´HŌ Concept HouseCasa T´HŌ Concept House by Raul Curmina

From the nostalgia of once-decaying interiors to the joys of tropical sorbet on a steamy day, there are several ways to spend your time in Mérida. Casa T´HŌ, a multi-concept space highlighting Mexico’s creative talent, is a great place to start. Located on the historic Paseo de Montejo, Casa T´HŌ is considered an architectural monument. Step inside the eclectic 19th century mansion, and find design studios, fashion shops, and a charming restaurant ideal for leisurely brunches. A skip across the street, Montejo 495 is your chance to get an up-close-and-personal look at the vestiges of Mérida’s henequen age. This palatial time capsule built in 1911, is filled with furnishings from France brought to the Yucatán during its period of riches.

Plantel Matilde Archivo fotográfico Javier MarínVerónica Gloria

While you’re in the city center, you’d be remiss to miss the vintage furnishings at Casa Mo Gallery, the collective Mexican designs formed by artisan social enterprises at Taller Maya, and the contemporary exhibitions and cultural events at Fundación de Artistas. Venture outside the city, however, and find Plantel Matilde, a three-dimensional sculpture studio and residence on a former agave field in the Yucatán jungle. Forming part of the Fundación Javier Marín, a non-profit art association founded by the Mexican sculptor from which it gets its name, the arts complex and natural observatory rises in the middle of a low-vegetation clearing. Integrated into the landscape, Plantel Matilde is planned as a square and centered by a reflecting pool. Marín’s abstract sculptural pieces, which are crafted from cast bronze, are dotted along the structure’s open arcades and vast interior hallways. Situated in the sleepy town of Sac Chich, Plantel Matilde has become a pillar for the community.

Make a day of your visit to Plantel Matilde and take the road less traveled to Cenote Kankirixche. A 50-minute drive away, this cenote is one of the largest at 90 meters in diameter, and to submerge into its fresh, crystalline waters, you have to descend 15 meters by a staircase or take a leap of faith from a jumping pad high above.

Where To Eat & Drink


As with most regions in Mexico, the Yucatecan culinary arena is steeped in history. An expression of the region’s cultural identity, the techniques and flavors date back to the early days of the Mayan empire. While true to their roots, Mérida’s restaurateurs are introducing bold, new approaches to the culinary landscape, reclaiming abandoned facades and filling them with present-day eateries. Salon Gallos, a laid-back outpost serving up a fusion of Lebanese and Yucatecan dishes, features a cinema, wine bar, and gallery with contemporary art. Offering modern takes on traditional dishes, both Kuuk and Nectar have been named in The World’s 50 Best. A local staple, Apoala has become infamous for its blend of Oaxacan and Yucatecan cuisine hosted in a lively venue with a terrace on Parque de Santa Lucía.

The terrace at ArcanoArcano

New to the scene, VANA boasts a wine bar, speakeasy, and live music in a candle-lit setting marked by romantically decaying details. An ideal place to start the night, continue the festivities with drinks at the trendy Arcano terrace, salsa dancing at the classic Mambo Cafe, and several nightcaps at Mezcaleria La Fundación. Of course, a trip to Mérida would be incomplete without strolling the streets with a dripping sorbet in hand. Helados Colon, a no-frills ice cream parlor on Paseo de Montejo, has been scooping sweet sorbets for more than 110 years. Before your time in Mérida comes to a close, make one last pit-stop to pick up a pastry at Soco, an authentic bakery with artisanal breads and freshly-brewed coffee.

Source: Forbes