Mérida, the largest city on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, has twice been voted as the American Capital of Culture. With numerous museums and art galleries, and more than 60 cultural events every year, it’s not difficult to see why. Music is integral to its way of life: each Sunday is salsa night, where locals dance under the twinkling stars in front of the town hall. With Yucatán being the homeland of the Mayan civilisation, Mérida is also the gateway to ancient ruins such as Chichén Itzá and Uxmal.
In a city that celebrates dancing nearly every night of the week, you can learn some moves in a Merida hostel that offers free salsa lessons, as well as music performances from one of the best troubadours in town. Other Merida hostels feature swimming pools and cosy gardens complete with swinging hammocks. For a traditional stay, there's a Yucatán-style hostel set in a remodelled colonial house, with soaring ceilings and restored mosaic tiles.
Just north of Plaza Grande is Santa Lucía, with lots of restaurants as well as a public square hosting live music and traditional dancing every Thursday night. Santa Ana, near the Paseo de Montejo boulevard, is one of the more upmarket areas in Mérida. Also popular is the neighbourhood of Santiago, located a few blocks from the centre of town. Weekly dancing at the Parque de Santiago is a highlight; there's also a night market where you can sample Mexican specialities like tamales (steamed cakes made from corn dough).
Plaza Mayor is the city’s main square, flanked by laurel trees and shaded park benches. It's a great spot for enjoying a refreshing champola (a fruit and milk smoothie) or an ice cream. The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya cultural museum houses more than 1,100 Mayan artefacts, while the Cathedral of Mérida dates back to 1598, making it one of the oldest religious sites in Mexico. Popular day trips include Chichén Itzá, a sacred Mayan archaeological site that's located just under a 2-hour drive from Mérida.
Local buses run from downtown Mérida to the Paseo de Montejo, while most other major sights are easily accessible by foot. Mérida International Airport is a 20-minute journey from the Plaza Grande, and can be reached via a city bus. There are also a number of bus terminals in Mérida, with Terminal CAME connecting to various towns around the Yucatán Peninsula as well as Mexico City.