The warnings and dire consequences spoken about by the media with travel advisories have done much to put the traveller off Mexico. In fact when I began talking about moving to Mexico the Canadians I know threw up their hands in horror at what I was planning. No they screamed, what about drug cartels, dead bodies on the roadside, tourists being ripped off at all corners, bad food, unclean water the diseases.
My response was that I was not planning on running with any drug cartels; I was not a rich white person flashing cash at every corner and that yes I did plan to be very careful. In truth, I had picked the safest place in Mexico apparently, the Yucatan, Merida to be precise.
Merida is called the White city, because of all the white painted buildings and the use of limestone bricks and tiles that decorate much of the exteriors. It is located on the gulf side of the Yucatan peninsula about 45 minutes inland from the Gulf of Mexico. A glorious colonial city it has slowly seen a steady increase in tourism and immigration. However, Merida is not the home of gigantic, overwhelming all inclusive resort style hotels. Merida is a bustling city of over 1.5 million people.
Meridanos like to say Merida is a safe city because there is nowhere to run to and violent crime is virtually unheard of here. That is not to say there isn’t crime, but in an area of great poverty and a burgeoning middle class, crime is that of opportunity and businesses are more likely to be robbed than individuals and drug cartel crime is virtually unheard of. However due to some increasing crime statistics the Police force has been receiving better training and an influx of money via budget increases.
Merida is a distinct society due to its isolation from the rest of Mexico. When people think of the Yucatan they tend to immediately recall Cancun, Tulum and the trendy Caribbean coast areas. The gulf side of the peninsula is very different from the Caribbean side, but then all of the Yucatan is very different from the rest of Mexico.
Merida is a brilliantly beautiful city; the Paseo de Montejo Boulevard was home to the affluent sisal plantation owners who engaged Parisian architects to build the Paseo to mimic the Champs-Elysées. These architects then went on to build the these privileged citizens their luxurious homes.
Over the years after the sisal industry fell the rich who inhabited these homes found it necessary to sell the properties, many of which have now become international bank headquarters. There is almost a Cuban atmosphere to some of the buildings that still need an investment angel to bring them back to their former glory. Starbucks has even taken up residence in a beautiful historical building with stunning wrought ironwork and original colonial features.
The Paseo leads into the Centro Historico which is dominated by a series of parks that are beautifully laid out and within them special events are held on a regular basis. Meridanos love their culture and the squares are incredible places to see Mercado, artisans and place host to events like dance, ballet, music, opera and much more.
The Centro Historico is very safe and although there may be some trepidation about walking around the bus station or some areas the police presence can be quite reassuring.
Traffic in Merida is chaotic at best the roundabouts seem to have no rhyme or reason and sometimes just simply don’t go round. The system of one way streets is mightily confusing but taxis are cheap and abundant and there are garishly decorated whitehorse-drawn carriages that carry as many Mexican families as tourists. One always asks what the taxi will charge before getting in but for the most part the drivers are anxious to practice their English and are very kind to tourists.
Plaza Grande is the piece de resistance of Merida, located in the Centro Historico the plaza is ringed by beautiful limestone building painted a variety of pastel colours. No manicured lawns here, palm trees, wildly colourful bougainvillea trails everywhere, and the deep shade created by a variety of palms, cactus and climbing plants grants inside soothing shade.
The square is a meeting place for Meridanos of all ages. Have a world famous ice-cream of simply go shopping in the air conditioned stores to be the heat and humidity. You will see a very strong police presence in Merida and throughout the Yucatan, and by the way the vehicles you see will range from Municipal, to State to Federal Police alongside Army vehicles.
The lights on the vehicles will always be flashing and you will see many police stops at all areas of Merida, particularly on the way in and out of the City. At virtually every corner there will be a few police officers and during the daytime hours when the banks are clearing out their vaults the army with full gear including M16’s are quite visible. I have never felt safer than in Merida.