Yucatan’s Western Cities Offer Adventurous, Immersive Activities

The Yucatan Peninsula’s largest city and capital, Merida, is also one of Mexico’s most beautiful, vibrant places. It’s located on the western side of the Yucatan Peninsula, a three-hour, 20-minute drive from Cancun.

Merida boasts a rich Mayan and colonial heritage. Since the Spanish conquest, it has been the cultural capital of the entire peninsula. Blending the provincial and cosmopolitan, it is steeped in colonial history. Merida is a great place to explore, with narrow streets and broad central plazas.

Boutique by the Museo hotel offers Yucatan cooking classes led by chef Esteban. The class begins with a trip to the central market to pick up special spices and fresh produce that will be used during the class. Participants then return to the hotel to cook a five-course meal that they enjoy with beer, wine or a seasonal fruit beverage.

Bicycle excursions are popular among groups visiting Merida, and many opt for La Bici Ruta, a bicycle route that is a Sunday family tradition there. Entire extended families pedal down the street of Paseo de Montejo and enjoy fun and laughter amid the majestic, historic mansions of the tree-lined avenue. The bike ride is special to Merida families, and combines the Yucatan’s emphasis on respect and pride.

Groups staying in Merida can choose from among several fascinating days trips, including two to very significant historical sites.

Located 40 miles southwest of Merida, Uxmal was an important Mayan city, probably built around 700 A.D., that now features some of the most magnificent ancient pyramids, buildings and temples of the ancient world. The 120-foot-tall Piramide del Adivino (Magician’s Pyramid) stands majestically above the other buildings, and a climb to its summit rewards groups with spectacular views of the entire half-square-mile ancient city.

Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza—located along the route from Merida to Cancun—is an easy day trip from either city, and many tour operators offer visits. Designated as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the archaeological site served as the political and economic center of the Maya civilization from 750 to 1200 A.D. Impressive structures that remain standing demonstrate the Mayans’ extraordinary use of architectural space, vast astronomical knowledge and keen sense of artistry.

Among the highlights at Chichen Itza is El Castillo, dedicated to Kukulkan, the plumed serpent. Every year on the fall and spring equinox, the sun strikes the side of the building, making a play of light and shadow that appears as a snake slithering along the steps of the building.

Yucatan Siglo XXI Convention Center, situated in the northern area of Merida, boasts a design inspired by Mayan civilization. It offers 224,869 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Hyatt Regency Merida, located on Paseo Montejo—which features 19th-century mansions—provides 289 guest rooms and 11,384 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Read more about Mexico’s East Coast in Dan Johnson’s story, “The Really Great Outdoors,” in the upcoming December issue of Smart Meetings magazine.