Mérida at a Glance: The Attraction & Allure of the Capital of Yucatán

colorful houses on a wet street in Merida Mexico

Considered one of the most conservative cities in Mexico, Mérida is in the biggest city in the state of Yucatan in Mexico. The Yucatan Peninsula consists of three different states: Yucatan, Campeche, and Quintana Roo as well as parts of Belize and Guatemala. Yucatan Peninsula separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea. Out of the 3 states found in the Peninsula, Quintana Roo is probably the most popular. 3 hours west of Quintana Roo, you arrive in the capital of Mérida. This article will give you some great information on Mérida at a Glance.

The colonial city of Mérida was once home to the greatest concentration of wealth in the world. 19th-century sisal barons hired Parisian architects to build opulent villas along Paseo de Montejo, the Mérida version of the Champs-Elysées.

General Description of Mérida

According to CEOWORLD, Mérida is the second safest city in the whole American continent. Moreover, it ranked #21 as the safest city, worldwide. That ranking means it even ranked above Helsinki and Copenhagen. In 2000 and 2017, it even received the prestigious “Cultural Capital of the Americas” award. Mérida is also called “The White City” and is rich in culture, history, and folklore.

Plaza Grande located in the historical center called Centro has had a UNESCO makeover with cobbled streets and manicured gardens. On any given day, you’ll find live music, street vendors, and horse-drawn carriages clip clopping through the streets.

Mérida at a Glance – Population and Demographics 

  • 2020 population of Mérida was just under 1,000,000 inhabitants
  • 51.8% women and 48.2% men
  • Estimated 10,000 expats from the U.S. and Canada
  • Largest number of migrants in the last 5 years came from:
    • United States (2.38k people)
    • Panama (721 people)
    • Cuba (670 people)
  • Main causes of migration were:
    • family (3k people)
    • living place (1.14k people)
    • economic (820 people)
  • 80k inhabitants speak at least one Indigenous language
  • Most widely spoken indigenous dialect is Maya (75,487 inhabitants)
  • Average income per household $156k mx ($7,665 U.S.)
  • Women head of household: 35.4%
  • Men head of household: 64.6%
  • Bachelor’s Degree: 28% of population
  • High School or General Baccalaureate: 21.5% of population
  • Middle School: 21.5% of population

Mérida attracts a wide variety of socio-economic levels. While, it’s been a well-kept secret for many years, it’s rapidly becoming a favorite destination for travelers from around the globe. Due to its reputation for safety, enormous cultural value, and gastronomy, it’s getting more notariety. Mérida at a Glance is a valuable resource to learn quick facts about the capital of  Yucatan. 

  • Safest places in Mexico: Mérida and the state of Yucatan.
  • Snowbirds: Approximately 50% of expats live in Mérida between November and March only.
  • Booming Economy: “Mérida is booming right now, and 10 more years of steady growth and a rising trend are forecasted for the region,” stated Aquiles González Chacón of AMPI, the Mexican Association of Real Estate Professionals.
  • International Living: The Best Places to Live in Mexico as a U.S. Expat – Puerto Vallarta, Mérida, Lake Chapala, & Tulum.
  • International Living: Mérida has long been a favorite of expats with 1.1% of all U.S. citizens over the age of 50 having established permanent residency.
  • CNN Money: Mérida is one of the top retirement destinations.

History of the Yucatan Peninsula 

The Yucatan Asteroid Theory is a scientific explanation of how the Yucatan Peninsula formed. This theory has been studied for years to explain why the geological makeup of the Yucatan Peninsula is so different from the rest of Mexico.

Approximately, 65 million years ago an enormous asteroid crashed to the earth’s surface in Chicxulub just north of Mérida . The result was the Chicxulub crater. This crater caused dramatic climate change, the end of the dinosaurs, and the creation of cenotes; underground sinkholes filled with fresh water. People still tell stories about the impact and the effect of the asteroid throughout Mexico and the world.

The Maya began as hunter-gatherers and migrated into the Yucatán around 2500 B.C. The calendar, mathematics, and system for understanding astronomy developed by the Maya civilization contributed to the Maya being one of the most advanced civilizations of their time. Built on the ancient city of Thó, a center of Maya culture for centuries, Mérida is the oldest continually occupied city in the Americas. 

History of Mérida 

During the 16th century, the Spanish Empire began to occupy Mesoamerica. Francisco Hernández de Córdova arrived on the coast of Yucatán in 1517 and implemented a rigorous program of Catholicization. The final defeat of the last of the Maya cities occurred in 1697.

In 1810, México won its independence from Spain. However, class divisions between the Maya and Spanish descendants still existed. The Mexican government finally defeated the Maya in 1901 after decades of fighting. Considered one of the biggest seeds for the Mexican revolution, the war began in 1910 and ended with the victory of the revolutionaries in 1920.

In Mérida at a Glance, Spanish colonists established haciendas on land grants from the Spanish government. At first, colonists raised agricultural products and livestock. But a natural resource was the henequen plant, a type of agave. Fibers harvested from the plant were used to make rope. The hacienda owners, called hacendados, recognized the value of the henequen and converted their plantations into henequen farms.

The rope produced from the henequen plant created a vast amount of wealth and the nickname for the henequen plant was green gold. At this time, Mérida was said to have more millionaires than  anywhere else in the world. As you drive along Paseo de Montejo and other large boulevards, you’ll see a glimpse of the immense wealth and mansions of a time that disappeared as quickly as it had begun.

Mérida at a Glance – Geography 

The city of Mérida is very flat with a maximum elevation of 9 meters above sea level. The main type of vegetation in the area is tropical plants, shrubs, and ground cover as well as the henequen fields. While there is little to no surface water in the city, underground rivers and springs run throughout the region. With a humid and tropical climate, Mérida also falls within the trade wind zone of the Tropic of Cancer. In Mérida at a Glance, many people do not know that the reason for our scorching summers is the proximity to the Tropic of Cancer.

Yucatecan Culture

Mérida is the fusion of Latin America, European, Lebanese, Asian, African, and Indigenous cultures, all mixing during the colonial period. This mixing, known commonly as mestizaje or mestizo, produced a unique cultural identity of the basis for modern-day Mérida as well as Mexico. Seen in every aspect of life from food to clothing, from art to architecture, and from music to language.

Mérida architecture is stunning, diverse, and full of history. Visit the city and surrounding areas where you can see the ruins of ancient pyramids, baroque Churches, neo-classical buildings, modern high-rise apartments, art deco homes, and gorgeous remodeled colonial style homes featuring pastel colors so well known in this beautiful city.

Holidays in Mexico

Mexico’s Independence Day is not May 5th, but rather September 16th. Celebrations begin on the eve of the holiday with fireworks, music, and dancing. The next day, parades take place in most neighborhoods. The most popular food for this celebration is Chiles en Nogada: a green chili pepper stuffed with meat and spices, topped with a creamy sauce, and pomegranate seeds. The colors of the food pay homage to the colors of the Mexican flag; green, white, and red.

Another important celebration is Day of the Dead or Dia de Muertos. A commemoration of death and a celebration of life, celebrations occur on November 1st and 2nd. People create colorful shrines or ofrendas to honor the deceased. Placed in homes, offices, churches, schools, and squares in the weeks prior to the holiday, you’ll see them everywhere. Lit with candles, graveyards are another popular spot for ofrendas. In Yucatan, it is referred to as Hanal Pixan which is in the Mayan language.

Spending time with friends and families during holidays are an integral part of Mexican culture. Many people take time off during Semana Santa or Easter week. Additionally, the Christmas season begins December 16th with Posadas. These get togethers symbolize the journey to Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus.

You’ll find a variety of posadas with some saying prayers and eating fruits with others drinking, eating, dancing, and breaking piñatas. January 6th marks the end of the season with the celebration of Three Kings Day, a holiday where the Three Wise Men traditionally bring gifts to children.

While this article, Mérida at a Glance, has provided a few of the most celebrated holidays, you’ll find a plethora of holidays celebrated here with family, friends, music, and gusto!

Music in Mérida

Different styles of music offer culture as well, such as reggaetón, cumbia, bachata, salsa, and, of course, mariachi. The traditional music of Mérida is Trova. Trova first emerged as a music genre in Santiago, Cuba at the end of the nineteenth century. Another heavy Cuban influence in the culture of Mérida is the guayabera shirt. You’ll see many men wearing these beautiful shirts adorned with 2 or 4 pockets and vertical rows of delicately sewn pleats.

Mérida at a Glance – Political System in Mexico

The federal constitution relegates several powers to the 31 states and the Federal District (Mexico City also known as DF or CDMX), including the ability to raise local taxes. Moreover, state constitutions follow the model of the federal constitution in providing for three independent branches of government—legislative, executive, and judicial.

Most states have a unicameral legislature called the Chamber of Deputies, whose members serve three-year terms. Governors are popularly elected to six-year terms and may not be reelected. Because of Mexico’s tradition of highly centralized government, state, and local budgets largely dependent on federally allocated funds.

At its most basic level, local government is administered by more than 2,000 units called municipios (municipalities), which may be entirely urban or consist of a town or central village as well as its hinterland. Members of municipio governments are typically elected for three-year terms. Mexico’s major political parties represent a wide variety of political and social perspectives. Nine political parties are currently represented in Congress.

Park Hidalgo in Merida Mexico

Parties with predominant roles in Mexican politics:

  • Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI)
  • Partido de Acción Nacional (National Action Party, PAN)

Parties with notable roles in Mexican politics:

  • Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Democratic Revolutionary Party, PRD)
  • Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional (National Regeneration Movement, MORENA)

Women were first allowed to vote in Yucatán in 1917. Elsewhere in Mexico, however, women could not vote in local elections or hold local office until 1947. By the early 21st century, women occupied about one-fifth of the seats in the Senate and more than one-fourth in the Chamber of Deputies, as well as a small number of ministerial and Supreme Court positions.

Many states require that no more than 70 to 80 percent of candidates be of one gender. Although all Mexican citizens aged 18 and older are required by law to vote, enforcement is lax. Mexicans living outside the country, including millions in the United States, are now allowed to vote by absentee ballot. This section is an important part of Mérida at a Glance to help you understand a little bit about the political system in Mexico.

Mexico Currency

The Mexican Peso is the legal tender in Mérida. Currently, the peso is issued in nine different kinds of banknotes and nine coins of different value, ranging from 5 centavos to 1,000 pesos. Banknotes of 20, 50, and 100 pesos are printed in polymer whereas the rest of notes are printed on cotton paper.

Bearing the inscription “the United Mexican States”, peso coins have experienced various changes in design over the years. Additionally,  there are special issue, commemorative banknotes for the centennial of the Mexican Revolution and the bicentennial of Mexican Independence.

Mérida at a Glance – Religion 

Mérida does not have an official religion. However, Roman Catholicism is the dominant faith and deeply culturally pervasive. It is estimated over 80% of the population identifies as Catholic. Many Mexicans see Catholicism as part of their identity, passed on through the family and nation like cultural heritage.

Predominant religious groups:

  • Roman Catholic
  • Pentecostal, Evangelical, and Mainline Protestant Christianity
  • Non-Believers
  • Jehovah’s Witness
  • Mennonites

Language in Mérida

The official language of Mérida is Spanish. However, there are still a large percentage of the population who speak Maya, one of the indigenous languages. The Mexican government uses Spanish in the majority of its proceedings; however, it recognizes 68 national languages, 63 of which are indigenous. Of the Indigenous languages spoken, two of the most widely used are Nahuatl and Maya.

Mérida at a Glance – City Layout 

  • The city is laid out on a grid system with numbered, smaller streets and named, larger avenues.
  • Larger street names include Paseo de Montejo, Av. Cupules, Av. Itzaes, Av. Colon.
  • Larger, even numbers begin in the west, reducing as you travel east.
  • Larger, odd numbers begin in the south, reducing as you travel north.
  • Each neighborhood (colonia or fraccionamiento) has its own set of address numbers.
  • The city has a loop that goes around the entire city called the Periferico.

When learning the city layout, keep this article, Mérida at a Glance, handy. It will help you remember how to navigate this sometimes confusing city.

Climate in Mérida

Since Mérida is inland and has low elevation, it is typically a few degrees hotter than in neighboring coastal areas. Located in the northwest corner of the Yucatan Peninsula, you can expect to use air conditioning for most of the year. The temperature normally ranges between 63 F and 97 F, rarely dropping below the mid-50s or soaring above 103F.

It’s important to note the most rain falls in September with an average total accumulation of 7.3 inches. Between June and October rainfall accounts for about 80 percent of the city’s 40 inches of annual precipitation. Humidity is high during the rainy season but generally does not rise above 76%. The least rain falls around March with an average total accumulation of 0.7 inches.

Final Thoughts on Mérida at a Glance

I hope you found this article both informative and interesting. There’s no lack of things to do here.