Smack dab in the middle of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mérida has been named Mexico’s Safest City for several years running. In fact, it’s recognized as the second most safe city in all of North America. But that’s not the only thing Mérida has going for it. It’s an incredibly interesting, surprising and chill destination for visitors from all around the globe.
Tucked into the tropical jungles of Mexico’s Yucatan, Mérida is the largest city in the State. You wouldn’t know there are more than 1 million people living here, as the city spreads out nicely. It never felt crowded in any way, and Mérida is so clean! No trash on the streets, no overloaded garbage cans.
The Centro Historico in Merida is one of the largest in the Americas, with only Mexico City and Havana having larger ones. This is where our hotel was located, and where we visited some amazing restaurants and historical sites.
Where is Mérida, Mexico?
Mérida is the capital city of the State of Yucatan, better known as the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It’s located along the Gulf of Mexico directly left of Quintana Roo, where Cancun and Playa del Carmen are located. In addition to Mérida, Yucatan is home to the famous Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. Many gorgeous cenotes are dotted throughout the Yucatan jungle, where people can swim and explore in the mysterious waters. There are direct flights to Mérida’s international airport, and we flew there from Tijuana by crossing the border using CBX Cross Border Xpress to easily and quickly reach the airport from San Diego.
Why is Mérida Mexico’s Safest City?
Theories on the origin of why Mérida is Mexico’s Safest City vary, but this honor is fact. Police are visible on practically every street corner, with lights flashing to make their presence known. Crime rates are low here, and locals seem genuinely friendly. The town is not overrun with tourists, nor are there a ton of giant hotels to draw visitors here. It is just genuinely a nice place to live and visit.
A local told us a story about this permanence of safety as we boarded our flight home. He said that wealthy families in Mexico City wanted a place for their aging parents to live safely. They chose Mérida because it was already safe, and then contributed to bolster the police force to ensure it stayed that way. Truth be told, the police force is paid better in Mérida than elsewhere in Mexico. So maybe there is some truth in this story?
Whatever the reason for Mérida being Mexico’s Safest City, it’s a super charming place we cannot wait to visit again. Read on for the reasons why.
Mérida is Full of Pleasant Surprises
The Historic City of Mérida
This is a very walkable city, where visitors can easily discover interesting art, museums, shops and restaurants located in unlikely places. Once a very wealthy city, the architecture here reflects an historic colonial heritage. There are many mansions that line city streets, most of which are located along Paseo de Montejo. Few are private homes today, with many converted to museums, restaurants, galleries and businesses. But wow are they grand!
We did not have time to tour one of these mansions, so that will be on agenda for the next trip. We’re told that the Museo Casa Montejo is probably the best example of how the wealthy families lived here back in the day.
The rest of the Centro Historico appears to have been built in this same Colonial style. Buildings are positioned very close to the street, with little view into the interiors. Large wooden doors and windows with shutters block views from the street. But oh, when those doors open – it’s like a jewel inside. There are plenty of open courtyards, parks and tree-lined streets that provide a more open feel as well.
Many Interesting Sites
As I mentioned earlier, we did not have much time to explore. We did get the stroll the city streets, and Mérida’s designation as Mexico’s Safest City is well earned. Streets are clean, (relatively) quiet, well lit and constantly patrolled by local policia.
We did get a chance to see the Monumento a la Patria, which was built in 1956 as a tribute to the State of Yucatan’s Mayan roots. It sits in the middle of a large roundabout, and cannot be missed on the Paseo de Montejo.
When we visit next, we plan to talk this self-guided walking tour of Paseo de Montejo to see more of the sites.
Where to Stay in Mérida
Although I’m sure there are many great places to stay in Mérida since it is Mexico’s safest city, the place we stayed was so amazing we are most definitely staying here again. Casa Lecanda is a small boutique hotel with just eight rooms, but wow is this hotel a delight. Pulling up to the entrance isn’t much, but when the front door was opened to welcome us, it opened up a whole new world inside. Meticulous attention to detail is clearly a hallmark here. The hotel exists in a former private home built in the 19th century. The architectural detail here is remarkable, but the vibe is what will bring us back for more.
As we settled into our rooms, a blanket of relaxation made us feel at home. The ceiling heights in our rooms had to have been at least 25 feet, with fans moving the air and breezes blowing through the windows. Furnishings are appropriate to the era, and are grand without being overdone.
The grounds at Casa Lecanda are as peaceful as they are beautiful, with a swimming pool, fountains, a hammock area, seating and more. There are indoor and outdoor breakfast rooms, which is included in the nightly rate. There is also a bar, and the hotel staff welcomed us with the most delicious Tamarind Margarita. Breakfast each morning was a masterpiece of flavors – so much so that it was hard to decide which menu item to choose.
We can’t wait to go back to Casa Lecanda.
Where to Eat in Mérida
Mérida is also quite a foodie town in addition to being Mexico’s safest city. The restaurants here are exceptional, and by that I mean world-class cuisine. Here the flavors are different than most parts of Mexico, with a subtle profile that pays homage to the Yucatan Peninsula’s origins and history. Cochinita Pibil is what Mérida is known for best, which is roasted pork in a combination of spices and citrus. The dish is often wrapped in a banana leaf in the most traditional of servings, and is out of this world delicious. We enjoyed it served in tacos with pickled onions, fresh cilantro and some burning-hot salsa that I absolutely loved.
Beyond the local favorite, several restaurants are producing meals that would make any foodie swoon. At Ku’uk, we dined on ingredient combinations I never would have thought could combine so perfectly. For example, the Pib Pumpkin with frozen yogurt, piloncillo, goat cheese and sweet potato was a surprise and delight ($9.50). My main course was suckling pig with seasonal mamme, sapodilla & chocolate persimmon ($21). Dessert was perhaps the most unusual. We ordered the Honeycomb, which was a honey-flavored cookie with passion fruit, meliponin bee honey, vanilla, and freeze-dried mushrooms. ($ 6.75). Ack! I wasn’t crazy about the mushrooms but the rest of the dish was delicious.
If you want to dine at Ku’uk, reserve a table far in advance. It’s very popular, and you will see why.
Less fussy but every bit as delicious was Apoala, located in a busy square called Parque de Santa Lucia in the Centro Historico. The menu here tends towards the more traditional Mexican dishes with some definite twists and enhancements. Dare we say we liked this restaurant even better?
The shrimp ceviche with grilled local pumpkin and onion, corn kernels, avocado, bitter orange, oregano and chile pasilla was THE BOMB. Like the best we have ever eaten. Strangely, the the Green Salad was also a stand-out to remember. The menu contains many taco options from normal to local specialties, and quite a few fresh fish options as well.
It should be noted that our server was incredible, attentive and funny. Service was excellent and the ambience on the patio was just about perfect. We loved this place and will definitely be back for more.
Mexico’s Safest City and More
So all in all, yes Mérida is Mexico’s safest city and we felt totally comfortable there the whole time. There is so much more to explore, so we’re already looking at a calendar to plan a longer return trip.
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