We got to Merida from Tulum hitchhiking, which was quite easy and felt safe, waited on the road for one or two hours average between the rides but easy made it in one day. We decided to skip Chichen Itza and visit Uxmal ruins instead and didn’t regret about our decision.
By the way we hitchhiked everywhere around Yucatan peninsula and never had any safety issue or felt in danger. I wouldn’t recommend to do it in the rest on Mexico but Yucatan is different, touristy and quite safe.
Merida, beautiful colonial city
Merida is a nice city, quite big and bustling compare to Tulum or Valladolid with street markets, historical buildings, some tourists but notably less than at The Riviera Maya. We were there in March during some kind of celebration or public holiday so we could join the party. Local music and dancing, traditional street food, where even ice-cream is spicy, vendors of all sorts of curiosities etc. By the way our favorite street snack in Mexico was marquesita, some sort of pancake-waffle with different fillings; cheese, jam, cream, ice-cream. You can find stands selling them in Merida at Plaza de Armas.
Sights of Merida
Merida is the capital of Yucatan and very important city for the region. At the end of XIX and beginning of XX century Merida was a very prosperous city, according to some sources the concentration of millionaires here was higher than in any other city in the world and all these thanks to agave plant. Nowadays it’s famous as an ingredient for tequila but a hundred years ago used for manufacturing ropes, cords, packthread etc. Today beautiful mansions with gardens in the city center (most of them along Paseo de Montejo) remind about the brilliant past of Merida.
Already mentioned Plaza de Armas (Weapons Square) with the city cathedral is one more popular tourist area. Especially impressive the square looks at night time with many lights and street food stands, carriages and street musicians. The cathedral is one of the oldest on North American continent; it was finished in XVI century and like many other buildings in Merida was built over the Mayan ruins.
At the main square you can take a ride around the historic center in a carriage with horses, it looks especially romantic at night time.
Where to stay in Merida
We stayed at Zocalo hostel right in the city center at Plaza de Armas. Every single city or town in Latin America has its own Plaza de Armas. The hostel was great, clean and safe, with info desk and wifi. The best was the breakfast which is included; huge bowls with different fruit, yoghurt, scrambled eggs, fresh bread, cheese and sweets. After that breakfast we weren’t hungry till dinner. For the private room with shared bathroom we paid MXN 300/$16. Rooms are quite small and dark but good enough for sleeping.
It was our third Mayan ruins in Mexico and the most impressive out of three, before we’d visited Tulum and Ek Balam ruins. Entrance fee for foreigners is MXN 100/$5.
The complex is quite big with two pyramids, a temple, court for ball game, palace and some other buildings. Archeologists consider Uxmal being one of the most important complexes on Yucatan peninsula. There are some tourists here but a lot less than in Chichen Itza or Tulum. The other good thing is that there are no vendors inside the complex if you want to buy a souvenir you can do it in one of the shops at the entrance. We walked there for three hours without a guide but listened to some guides’ explanation for nearby groups. You can hire a licensed guide at the entrance if you are really into the ruins it’s definitely worth.
The construction of Uxmal was between VII and IX centuries and at one stage about 25 thousand people lived here. Originally Uxmal was a small settlement but due to its favorable location became an important trade center of those times. In X century for unknown reason people abandoned Uxmal. It’s difficult to find real reasons and important events that influenced Mayan civilization due to lack of scripts or any other written evidences. The main source of information about that period is bas-relief carvings on the walls of the ruins. What really fascinates me about all Latin American ruins in general how people could build such a great constructions without using the wheel!
Main buildings of Uxmal ruins
The Pyramid of Magician/Dwarf
One of the few buildings in Uxmal that you can’t climb or enter. It’s the highest building in Uxmal, 35m height. The surface is covered with ornamentation and images of gods, particularly god of rain; drought was a big problem for Maya. There is a local tale about the building of the pyramid that explains its name. According to the tale it was built overnight by a dwarf with the help of his mother-witch to fulfill the governor’s challenge.
A court for playing the Mesoamerican ball game. The game was popular all over peninsula and according to some historians developed far before Uxmal times or even the Mayan empire in XV BC and always had a ritual meaning. Of course the details and rules of the game modified during the centuries but the main idea stayed the same. The game was a kind of mix between the modern football and basketball. The main attributes a leather ball quite heavy, that could break a skull and a square court with rings that players had to put the ball through like in basketball. The main difficulty was that they couldn’t use their hand for playing like in football.
According to some theories based on bas-relieves captain or even a whole defeated team was sacrificed after the game. Of course a team consisted of 2 or 3 players not 11 like nowadays but still!
The Governor’s Palace
One story building on the platform with wonderful bas-relieves representing mythological creatures and gods. From the platform you have a beautiful view on the Pyramid of Magician. To be honest palaces in Mayan architecture are less impressive than pyramids.
Quadrangle of the nuns
Several buildings in the shape of square with a yard in the middle. Of course Maya didn’t have nuns the name was given by Spaniards because its rooms reminded them nuns’ cells. Façades of all buildings are beautifully decorated with images of animals and gods. One of the buildings is covered with images of snakes that in Mayan culture were sacral and symbolized sky.
Quadrangle of the turtles
A small one story building between the Pyramid of Magician and the Palace. The name was inspired by hundreds of turtles that cover the walls from the outside. The turtle symbolized rain in Mayan mythology.
House of the doves
Not much left from this building only one wall. The logic of the name is similar to Quadrangle of the nuns, it reminded dove house to Spanish.
The Great Pyramid
Our favorite we especially liked it because you can climb to the top of it and observe the ruins and surroundings for many kilometers due to flat landscape with no mountains or hills.
How to get to Uxmal from Merida
You can get all the way by public bus that leaves from Merida bus terminal, with is not far from Plaza de Armas. Buses leave quite regularly in the morning. One way ticket MXN 65/$3,5. Once at the ruins find out return bus timetable to plan your visit. There is two-hour gap between buses in the afternoon. Hitchhiking is also possible; we did it on the way back (didn’t want to wait for 2 hours for the bus) to get to the nearest town, from where we took a bus to Merida.
Progreso, Mexican gulf
From Merida we went to the gulf of Mexican, small town Progreso. Don’t expect from Mexican gulf crystal clear turquoise water nice for swimming. Water here is a bit muddy because of strong wind and currents. The beach is nice and clean with soft white sand. The place is not ideal for swimming but very good for kite surfing due to consistent strong wind. Except for this in Progreso you can enjoy eating local fish and seafood that can be found here in abundance and unlike at the Caribbean for not expensive.
Progreso is a popular holiday destination for locals so accommodation and food aren’t expensive. Here you rarely see western tourists, big hotels and international franchises. The town has nice local fiesta vibe with street food stands, mariachi (street musician), carousels etc. The only negative thing is that after 7 pm everything is closed so don’t wait till late with dinner, you risk going to bed hungry. Since there are not many foreign tourists if you don’t speak Spanish it can be a bit difficult to communicate with people.
If you like bird watching Progreso is a place for you. Here you can see many sea birds and first of all pelicans that come quite close to the beach waiting for fishermen to though away some fish guts. By the way you can buy fresh fish from fishermen on the beach and ask to cook it for you in one of the restaurants.
A must try dish here is Mexican ceviche that you can order in local restaurants for MXN 70/$4. What is ceviche? Dish from fresh raw seafood or fish with lemon juice, chopped onion, chili and herbs. We love it, it’s delicious! Why Mexican ceviche? Because there are Ecuadorian, Chilean, Colombian and Peruvian ceviche, for me they all taste very similar but each country claims their one is the best.
Where to stay in Progreso?
There are many hotels and guest houses though not that many hostels. We stayed at Zocalo Beach hostel a younger brother of Zocalo hostel in Merida. Good place, near the beach, away from the busy part of the town, with kitchen, breakfast and very friendly staff. For our double with shared bathroom we paid MXN 300/$16.
How to get to Progresso?
From Merida bus terminal by direct bus to Progreso. Buses leave regularly, price MXN 20/$1, so cheap no need to hitchhike.
From here we hitchhiked back to Tulum and made it in one day.
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