By Maria Saldarriaga and Pedro Mejia
For centuries, holding a job was tied to one’s ability to physically show up for work to execute the role’s requirements. However, as technology has evolved over the last decade, this requirement has begun to change. Forward-thinking companies have realized that focusing on deliverables, not time spent-in-seat, sends a message to employees that they are actually trusted to complete the work they’ve been hired to carry out, in turn making them more proactive, motivated and committed.
Despite this, Latin America has been a bit slower in the transition due to some limiting factors. As highlighted by the Harvard Business Review, countries in LatAm such as Colombia, Brazil and Argentina are highly resilient to internet traffic surges, yet are lacking a robustness of digital platforms, thus face additional obstacles in the journey towards virtual operations.
Although the preconceived notions around office work were already beginning to change at a slow pace, ultimately COVID-19 became the single most important factor in accelerating this change. In a matter of days, the world was placed on lockdown. Buildings with rocketing rent prices that housed thousands of employees sat virtually empty. Many employees were left unable to complete work outside their office without access to a secure portable computer. Companies that never planned for this scenario had their operations completely disrupted.
Enter remote work.
Remote work, defined as work that can be done without commuting to an office, is not a new concept. Some companies, like Basecamp and Bunny Studio, were built to operate like this from inception. Others, like Unilever, practice flexible working and have a healthy mix of remote & in person work. But prior to 2020, most companies hadn’t ever considered making remote work an option before being suddenly forced into it. Now, after more than 100 days in lockdown, it looks like remote work is not going to be a temporary phenomenon. Last month Twitter announced it will allow its employees to work remotely ‘forever,’ and shortly after, Quora announced its ‘remote first’ policy.
As companies adjust to Zoom meetings instead of in-person “meetings that could have been an email” and learn how to use effective virtual collaboration tools, the realization that remote work has both productivity and financial benefits has started to sink in. The forced change, although disruptive at first, has been welcomed by companies. So much so that 34% of companies in LatAm will opt for remote-first policies post-COVID as highlighted in a recent survey from Search Lationamérica.
We spoke to organizations in the region to see how their experience in shifting to remote work has been, how prepared they were to embrace the change, and what the future of work looks like in LatAm:
Coca Cola’s biggest bottler, FEMSA, has operations in 10 countries in LatAm. For inter-office communication purposes, the company already had video conferencing tools installed for easy and efficient communications. However, the software was strictly office-based and the company had to act quickly to allow employees to use the tools regardless of location.
Working from home was completely new for the organization and it took some time for them to understand that the same productivity and results could be achieved with no employees physically present at their offices. As teams learned to collaborate virtually and processes and results were not affected, FEMSA is now considering implementing work from home policies for all employees once confinement is over.
As part of a global sustainability strategy implemented over a decade ago, Unilever began to implement flexible working policies called ‘Agile Working.’ There are no personal desks, comprehensive technology infrastructure is in place to enable remote work from anywhere and awareness campaigns encourage workers to go to the office only if absolutely necessary.
The plan has been a complete success for both sustainability and culture. Because of this, the sudden closure of offices did not affect Unilever in any way. In fact, instead of focusing on adapting to remote work, they were able to focus on dedicating resources to help alleviate the effects of the pandemic by donating essential items and making €500 million of cash flow relief available for smaller suppliers and customers in LatAm and the world.
As lockdowns began in Europe, the Argentinian Edtech startup was quick to understand the same measures were headed their way. They made the decision to go 100% remote both operationally and administratively almost immediately.
Based on the SCRUM methodology principles they were able to quickly and smoothly transition to working from home. Acámica will work this way throughout all of 2020 and hope to begin 2021 with a new office concept that defines the physical space as a place to make connections with co-workers and the Acámica community.
Bunny Studio and its sister companies, founded by the renowned Colombian entrepreneur Alex Torrenegra, was initially created with remote work in mind. Employees have the option of working either from an office of their choice, if there are several employees in the same city that can share the space, or from home. Because of this, the sudden lockdown had no effect on the company’s productivity or operations as all processes were virtual from the start.
The company has always differentiated itself by offering a remote work structure to current employees and interested applicants. The attractive added benefit allows them to have access to great talent regardless of location. Their next step: testing out the 4 day work week.
Generally speaking, LatAm has always played catch-up with North America, Europe and Asia when trying to achieve similar tech, trends and infrastructure. However, because of the pandemic, it is now clearer than ever that remote work will set a more even playing field for the region. Regardless of company size, industry or culture, work as we know it has completely changed and the ‘virtualization’ of offices will now be the norm, ultimately benefiting all. An even more connected world with access to the best talent, an ultra diverse workforce and safe employees will hopefully create balance during this unique part of history.
Welcome remote work, and please, do overstay your welcome.
Remotely Working: Merida, Mexico Guide for Digital Nomads
Though we’d never heard of Merida, Mexico before we decided to come here, Merida is becoming one of the most talked about destinations for digital nomads in the western hemisphere. The combination of rich local culture, big city comforts, and exciting things to do ensures that you won’t quickly become burnt out and start searching for someplace new. Merida is the kind of place that tempts you to stick around for a while.
It’s impossible to be bored here, that’s why so many digital nomads are making it their home base. There is always something going on, whether it’s a religious festival, cultural exposition, or just one of the many weekly fiestas that happen around the city. You’ll never be short of exciting things to do and enjoy in Merida.
When we arrived, we had no idea how long we would end up staying. After one month we thought about leaving, even packed up our stuff and set out on the road. But three days later, we ended up turning back. Merida wasn’t done with us yet. At the time this guide is written, we’ve spent three months living in Merida and six months total in Mexico.
WHAT DOES MERIDA OFFER DIGITAL NOMADS?
First World Living.
Merida is a sprawling Mexican metropolis of more than one million people. Though you will see poverty, Merida is still one of the most affluent places in Mexico. The Yucatan is the safest part of Mexico and is therefore a very attractive place to live for Mexicans and foreigners alike.
Room to Grow.
There has been a lot of development in Merida over the past 10-15 years. The city keeps growing larger and larger as more and more people and businesses migrate to the city. People here are very entrepreneurial, and will love to talk with you about business ideas.
Merida is super rich in culture, and I don’t just mean Mayan, Mexican, and Spanish. If you’re into live music, theater, art, dance, tattoos, or all kinds of weird stuff, you’ll fit right in.
Merida has it. Like all places, the quality of your internet will depend on many factors. We’ve never had a problem finding houses with adequate internet, even hotels are usually pretty decent here. We have been occasionally burned by the wifi in cafes though.
Having a garden to work from is amazing as a remote worker. Almost all of the houses in Merida have gardens in the back. Many cafes and restaurants do as well. We love sitting out in the garden and working in the fresh air. It makes work feel less like… work.
WHERE TO STAY IN MERIDA
Choosing a Neighborhood
If you’re coming to Merida for a short visit, we’d definitely recommend staying in Centro, the center of the city. There are lots of neighborhoods, barrios or colonias in Centro, usually named after and represented by the central church in the neighborhood. Each barrio has its own history and culture that make it unique. If you’re staying for a bit longer, shop around and get to know the different neighborhoods. You’re bound to find your own little slice of paradise in Merida.
Our first month in Merida was spent in San Cristobal, southeast of the Plaza Grande. San Cristobal is home to one of the most famous cathedrals in Merida. We were lucky enough to witness some of the festival of the Virgin Guadalupe in December. San Cristobal is also conveniently located next to the big Lucas De Galves Mercado. San Cristobal is a very local neighborhood. We rarely saw any other gringos here, and did deal with a bit of culture shock at first, but after one month here we decided to extend our stay in Merida for two more months.
The remainder of our stay in Merida was spent living in the barrio of Santiago. Santiago is one of the favorite neighborhoods among expats, and was quite a change from San Cristobal. There are lots of beautifully renovated colonial homes that leave you guessing what’s behind their walls. Santiago has a central park with a great local market, a movie theater (there used to be seven), and dancing in the square a few nights a week. The market has great food stalls around the outside, sit down at a plastic table and order some panuchos!
For more information about these neighborhoods and many more, check out this amazing article from Yucatan Living.
Short Term Accommodations:
Although we spent the majority of our time in Merida living in long term housing, we also like to visit some of the local hotels so that we can recommend the ones we like for travelers passing through. We always seek out unique accommodations with a personality. You won’t find any cookie-cutter Hiltons or Holiday Inns in this guide. We prefer eco friendly properties, and places with an emphasis on art and local culture.
Full disclosure, occasionally we pitch properties we’re interested in for complimentary stays. Sometimes when they say no, we pay to go stay there anyway. Please be assured that we will always give our 100% honest opinion and would never recommend a hotel we wouldn’t go back to again ourselves. We also receive commission for bookings made through our referral links, thanks for supporting us in our work ?
We had a lovely 4 night stay at Hotel Medio Mundo. The hotel is a huge colonial house with a beautiful garden and pool area which doubles as a vegan restaurant in the evening. The rooms were comfortable, and working beside the pool each morning as we ate our vegan breakfast reminded me of what I once thought digital nomad life would be like all the time. Originally we booked just 2 nights, but decided to stay for an additional 2 nights because we liked it so much.
I could write a whole blog post about how much we loved Kuka y Naranjo. This small boutique hotel has 7 rooms, and each one is based on a different neighborhood in Merida. They’re super eco friendly, socially conscious, and really focused on the local culture. The hotel is beautifully decorated, and nearly everything from the rugs, to the pillows, and the drinking cups are handmade artisanal crafts which they source directly from the producers at a fair price. Kuka y Naranjo is the kind of place you can feel good about staying knowing that you are supporting such a great initiative with little negative impact on the environment.
Hotel Urban is a sleek modern hotel situated right in the heart of Merida Centro. We were attracted to this place based on it’s ultra hip design which contrasts so nicely with the many, many colonial hotels this city has to offer. The rooms are basic, but comfortable. There’s no breakfast or restaurant, but there are oodles of great food options within one to two blocks. Our favorite thing about this place was the amazing view of the city life from the rooftop pool.
FINDING AN APARTMENT IN MERIDA
After nearly 3 years of digital nomading, we’ve gotten into a routine of finding accommodations upon arrival. We typically book an AirBnB for a few days while we get settled into the city, then look for a long term accommodation once we’re on the ground. This allows us to look at several different places before making a final decision.
There are a lot of houses in Merida, but not a lot of traditional apartments. We spent about a week looking for a suitable long term accommodation on arrival. Over the course of 3 months, we tried 2 houses in different parts of the city.
Our first house was in the San Cristobal neighborhood. We were happy to be living in a super local area with few expats, but definitely felt a little bit of culture shock in the first couple of weeks. There are a lot of abandoned houses and buildings in disrepair in this neighborhood, but the area is quite safe with an amazing friendly local population. The Plaza de San Cristobal seems to have something going on every night from religious festivals, to night markets, and dancing.
The house itself was a small, one bedroom/ one bathroom with a kitchen, dining room, small living room, and back yard. We really enjoyed drinking our morning coffee in the backyard, and saying hello to the local cats passing through. We paid about $500/month through airbnb for this property.
The second place we stayed in Merida was a large one bedroom in the Santiago neighborhood. Santiago is a hip neighborhood with both expats and locals. In the plaza, next to the Santiago Market you’ll often find people eating, dancing, or swapping some saliva on the benches. Santiago used to be Merida’s theater district. Today, you can still visit the last of what was once one of Santiago’s many cinemas.
Our house in Santiago was huge and spacious. We’ve never rented a place this big before. It had one bedroom, one bathroom, a large living room, kitchen, dining room, and a garden in the back. The back garden would be great for a garden work space, but didn’t have a table or chairs. The host, Carlos, was super friendly and was ready to help us with anything we needed. We booked this place through Airbnb, but we liked it so much we talked to the owner and decided to stay here for an additional month. Rent was about $600/month.
HOW TO GET TO MERIDA
We’ve traveled back and forth from NY to the Yucatan twice now, and both times we flew into Cancun and took the ADO bus (about 4 hours) from the airport to Merida. You can fly into Merida, but it’s not an international airport, so you’ll have to make a stop in Mexico somewhere along the way. Also worth noting, flights into Merida are usually more expensive with similar travel time.
From Cancun Airport
We always recommend skipping Cancun on your trip to Mexico. However, Cancun airport is a necessary evil (unless you can find a cheap flight into Merida Airport).
Don’t take a taxi anywhere from the Cancun airport. Taxi rides from the Cancun airport start at 500 pesos (about US$25), and that’s just to the next terminal over.
Uber doesn’t work in Quintana Roo so that’s out of the question. If you need to book transportation out of the airport we suggest at least going through Supershuttle. A ride to the Cancun Central Bus Terminal from the airport, a 35 minute ride, was 650 pesos (about US $35).
ADO Bus System
The service tends to be consistently decent and very reasonably priced. You can get from Cancun to Merida for about US$20-30. If you’re taking the ADO from the airport, be sure to check the terminal number you’ll be flying into before booking your bus tickets. You’ll need to book a bus from the proper terminal. Tip: Book online or on the ADO app for better prices than at the airport.
Booking your bus to the correct bus station:
The first stop in Merida from the airport is likely going to be ADO Altabrisa, which is great if you’re staying in Norte, but likely you’ll want to get off at Paseo 60 (near Paseo Montejo’s hotel zone) or at the CAME bus station in centro. This station is pretty far south, but a quick taxi or uber ride will get you where you need to go. When booking a bus out of Merida, you’ll likely leave from CAME.
Pay attention to the different ADO classes when booking your bus.
- Connecta: Mini busses aka vans. You can take these to get to and from the smaller towns. We took a connecta back to Merida from Valladolid.
- Oriente: We’ve never taken an Oriente bus. From what I understand they make a few stops along the way and usually don’t have a bathroom on board.
- ADO: Standard direct bus from point a to point b. Bathroom in the back of the bus. Try to sit near the front…
- GL/Platino: These are the luxury class of ADO. We took a GL bus from Cancun to Merida on our way back from Isla Mujeres. The seats were a lot more comfortable and they served drinks (water, and coffee or tea) and snacks. It was only a few bucks more and was definitely worth it for us for the four hour ride.
Uber in Merida
Uber doesn’t work everywhere in Mexico (I’m looking at you, Cancun…), but it does work in Merida. Uber service works well with few hiccups and the occasional day when the gps isn’t functioning and thus confusing the shit out of your driver. Good luck explaining to your uber why you weren’t waiting where the app said you should be…
DO I NEED A VISA TO VISIT MERIDA?
Citizens of 87 countries can enter Mexico without a Visa. As Americans or USA People, we were able to enter visa exempt for 180 days at a time. Check out this post to see what the visa requirements are for your country.
NOTES ON WORKING REMOTELY IN MERIDA
Usually Merida and Cancun are both on USA Central time, but things can get a little tricky when it comes to daylight saving time. Merida, and the entire State of Yucatan observe Mexican Daylight Saving Time while the state of Quintana Roo (where Cancun is) doesn’t. Therefore, Cancun will be one hour ahead of Merida during this time. Be sure to check the dates of DST in Mexico because they are different from the USA.
Being in Merida is perfect if your business is somewhere between the East and West Coast of the Americas. You’ll be 1-2 hours ahead or behind at most. Meeting with clients in London or another European city? You’ll be 6-8 hours behind. Chatting with your students in Asia? Beijing time is 13 hours ahead.
We never had problems with Wifi while we were living in Merida. All of the places we stayed had strong connections capable of sustaining video chats and my online classroom.
In Centro, there are lots of free Wifi access points around the various parks and plazas should you feel like spending a few hours working in the fresh air among the people.
We’ve found that far more places offer free wifi than in the United States.
We’re digging deep into the Merida co-working scene this week, (7/2/2019) Check back here for updates and reviews.
Local Sim Cards
We picked up an ATT sim card at Walmart on Paseo Montejo, you can also pick them up from convenience stores like Oxxo or 7/11. At that time, ATT was running a holiday promotion, 200 pesos for 30 days fully unlimited. Telcel is another popular network. Once you’ve got your sim card, you can recharge them at any Oxxo.
MERIDA CAFE SCENE
As digital nomads, and coffee lovers, we find ourselves working from cafes quite frequently. We like to try as many as we can, but always end up going back to our favorites again and again and never end up seeing them all. Please don’t think of this as a completely inclusive list.
When choosing a cafe in Merida the first question you must ask yourself is air conditioning or fresh air? Many of the cafes in Merida have beautiful gardens with outdoor seating to work from, these are best in the early morning or evening. Save the air conditioning for the heat of the day.
When choosing a cafe in Merida the first question you must ask yourself is air conditioning or fresh air? Many of the cafes in Merida have beautiful gardens with outdoor seating to work from, these are best in the early morning or evening. Save the air conditioning for the heat of the day.
Get out your black rimmed glasses and mustache wax. Manifesto wins the award for hipsteriest cafe in Merida. All jokes aside though, we find that Manifesto has the best combination of coffee and working environment in Merida. It’s located on Calle 59 in Santiago neighborhood where we used to live, so we found ourselves here frequently. There aren’t many tables at Manifesto but people are pretty cool with coworking tables.
Estacion 72 is located on Avenue Reforma, close to, Paseo Montejo, a really decent Vietnamese Place (PhoMX), and our favorite natural food store (bonus)! The staff is friendly, they have plugs, air conditioning, and a variety of tables with different heights. They even have a window bench you can sit on with little wooden tables that go over your legs if you want to eat or work from there. Be sure to check out the food menu here, we love their crepes!
Kadus is another cafe with awesome food as well as drinks. Last time we were there Gabby had a bagel with avocado and sprouts, and I had a ham and cheese panini. If you’re into chocolate, try their mayan mocha. They use the Mexican hot chocolate (like Abuelita) so it’s super smooth and creamy, and they go for the full diabeetus with the whipped cream and chocolate rim… A great indoor working spot in the North of Zona Paseo
Quattro Sette wins the award for most comfortable chairs! We only visited them once, though we had a lovely time. The layout of this place makes it easy to strike up conversation with the people around you, so you can make new friends easily. Unfortunately the internet wasn’t working well when we visited so we didn’t go back ?
We typically avoid Starbucks like the plague while we’re traveling after too many times leaving there burnt as bad as their coffee. That being said, neither of the Starbucks in Merida are terrible for working. We prefer the shop on Paseo Montejo which stands alone in a beautiful restored house. They have tons of seating upstairs, and super cold air conditioning. They even have a big meeting room. We usually reserve Starbucks for a day when we have A LOT of work to do and wouldn’t feel comfortable taking up space for so long in a smaller cafe…like today.
(Not to be confused with Maralago), this is a non-starbucks alternative on Paseo Montejo that is good for working. Usually a few laptops around. Their coffee was good, the chai frappe was rich, tables were comfortable and a full food menu was available. On weekends this place can get pretty crowded though.
Toesto is the place we go to pick up fresh roasted coffee beans. Jose at Toesto roasts his beans with love, and even gave me his phone number so I could let him know in advance when I’d need coffee so I could get the beans roasted the same day. They have a nice social vibe, with board games around you can play, and occasional live music. They’re open from 9am-2pm and 6pm-11pm daily. We like to drop by in the evening.
FOOD IN MERIDA
Merida is the food Capital of the Yucatan as well as the state capital. You won’t just find Yucatecan food here, you can find delicious cuisines from all around the world. If you’re here for a short visit, we recommend you dive head first into the regional dishes. Once you’ve been here for a while and you just can’t face another taco, that’s when you go for Mediterranean, Japanese, Lebanese, and others.
Yucatecan Dishes to Try
Panuchos and Salbutes | Tacos made with fried corn tortillas. Usually with chicken or pork. Panuchos are stuffed with black beans inside the crisped tortilla.
Tamales Coladas | Corn tamales with vegetables, and chicken or turkey steamed in a banana leaf. (we always eat these too fast to take a picture.)
Huevos Motuleños | A regional egg dish. Corn tostadas, topped with beans, poached eggs, jam, peas, covered with tomato sauce and cheese. Served with plantains on the side. Honestly, there are so many egg dishes to tell you about all of them, this is our ultimate favorite.
Relleno Negro | Relleno means filling in spanish. Relleno negro is a kind of turkey soup with egg and black broth that you eat with tortillas. The black color comes from the blackened chilis they use to make the broth.
Sopa de Lima | The go-to soup if you’ve got moctezuma’s revenge, or just craving something comforting. The blend of regional spices, limes, chicken, and tortilla strips make this a perfect substitute for chicken noodle soup.
Horchata | Horchata is a refreshing rice milk drink that is super popular in Mexico. You can order a horchata in almost any restaurant in Mexico. Unfortunately 90% of the horchata served here is concentrated imitation horchata. If you want to try the real thing, visit Maiz, Canela, y Cilantro.
Agua de Jamaica | “Ha-My-Ka” aka Hibiscus juice. Every restaurant has Jamaica, and isn’t served quite as sweet as we’ve found it in places like Thailand. You can usually order it without sugar too (sin azucar)
Chaya | Chaya is a leafy green that is special to the Yucatan. You’ll see chaya all over Yucatecan menus, mixed into eggs, tortillas, and even in the drinks. Yeah, that’s right the yucatan has its own green juice! Try a refreshing Chaya with lemon, or Chaya with pineapple. Note: You can usually order fresh juices and drinks with no sugar, a little sugar or even a lot of sugar. Pick your poison.
Marquesitas | Is it or is it not a crepe, you decide. Marquesitas are made like crepes, but cooked until crispy and rolled into a tube filled with a variety of toppings, and just to make it more interesting, the local favorite is Nutella and Queso de Bola! Chocolate and Cheese? I am a convert. The complexity of flavor is out of this world and of the earth all at the same time.
Cajeta | Caramel made with goats milk. You can have it as a chewy caramel or in between 2 wafers or even as an gooey ice cream topping.
Favorite Regional Restaurants
This is our go to for gourmet Yucatecan cuisine. They have handmade tortillas, a many as you want, and they food is consistently amazing. We haven’t tried the whole menu yet, but we definitely recommend the panuchos, tamales coladas, brazo de reina, and the lomitos de Valladolid.
Our favorite place for Yucatecan breakfast. You must try the Huevos Motulenos and the horchata. This place feels like you’re walking into someone’s house for breakfast. The kitchen is wide open in the back, and the ladies who work there are so so sweet. If you’re vegan, just let them know and they’ll make something special for you.
Our newest favorite breakfast spot. It’s right near Paseo Montejo, has bangin’ drinks, a variety of egg dishes, great music selection and an all around chill vibe.
Super local spot for cheap, no frills, straight up yucatecan food on Paseo Montejo. The salbutes and panuchos are great, and we always finish with a flan napolitano for dessert.
This place serves a lot of great regional dishes with a super friendly atmosphere. Their namesake dish is well prepared, but what we find interesting here are their daily specials. They have a rotating menu with something different featured each day.
Vegetarian & Vegan Recommendations in Merida
Mexico isn’t the most vegan friendly place on the planet, but with some research you’ll be able to find plenty to eat. We’ve found some amazing vegetarian and vegan options at the following places:
One word, Mole. This place has it, and according to a local Mexican friend, it’s some of the best mole in all of Mexico. It’s not solely vegetarian, but they do have lots of great options for you! Apapacho’s garden also doubles as a great spot to work from if you’re looking for a more natural feeling environment within the city.
Sukra has the meatiest veggie burger on the planet. It’s made from beet root and practically bleeds when you cut it open. We crave this burger and come back for it again and again. They do have meat options as well as vegetarian food. Try the chai frappe!
It took us a few tries before we were able to score a table at Lo Que Hay. If your schedule is tight, we recommend making a reservation. Trust us, this place is 100% worth it. Lo Que Hay is 100% vegan, and they serve a complete set menu inspired by regional and international cuisines that changes each night. So far we’ve tried the Japanese, Caribbean, and Thai menus.
A bit of a trek from Merida Centro, Nümen is totally worth the 20 minute drive for 100% vegan food. I probably wouldn’t end up here every other day, because it’s so out of the way, but their veggie burger rivals any other (except Sukra’s of course), and their veggie bowl made us feel nourished. The place itself was upscale, quiet and ultra modern looking.
There comes a point in every expat’s life when he or she can no longer face the regional cuisine, at least for just one meal. When that time comes, Merida will satisfy you with all kinds of international bites. We appreciated this aspect of Merida much more when we came back after living in Valladolid for 2 months.
Here are some of the places we’ve tried (and liked):
Pizza | La Tratto Santa Lucia
Pasta | Napoli Mia Restaurante
Bagels | Kadus Bistro
Asian Fusion (aka fast food noodles) | Wok Yeah
Mediterranean | Pita
Cuban | La Cubanita
Vietnamese |Pho MX
Japanese | Tama Shokudo
Ice Cream in Merida
If you know us, then you know that ice cream is our #1 weakness and we’ll always find ourselves trying out the ice cream shops everywhere we go. Here in Merida we have a few favorites to share.
Paletas: Paletas are Mexican popsicles. They’re made from fruit (and lots of sugar). You can buy them on almost any corner in a wide variety of flavors. If you’re feeling like tasting something new try one of our favorites, rice “arroz” or guanabana aka Soursop.
Santa Clara serves great ice cream, but it’s a corporate chain, and is a little more expensive than some of the local places we liked a lot better. Still hits the spot on a super hot day. Note: Santa Clara also produces boxed (shelf stable) milk that tastes good. Many other brands of UHT boxed milk just don’t taste like fresh milk.
Pola is known for their unique flavors and their amazing handmade cones. If you’re feeling adventurous visit on a Monday to try the pork and beans flavor!
Think the Ben N Jerrys of gelato. Super yummy ice cream with big chunky mixins and a vibey psychedelic atmosphere. Come here at night and bring your camera to capture all of the madness.
MARKETS AND GROCERIES
One of the great joys of living in Mexico is the freshness of your food. If you shop from the local markets, you’re guaranteed to get real food from local farms. The mercadoscan be a little intimidating at first, especially if you don’t speak Spanish, but keep at it and you’ll begin to feel more comfortable with experience.
Here are a few questions that you may find useful in the mercado:
¿Qué es esto? | What is this?
¿Como se llama esto? | What is this called?
¿De que es? | What is it made from?
¿Es dulce? | Is it sweet?
¿Quanto es? | How much is it?
What to expect in a Mexican mercado
The market is the center of daily life for many people in Mexico. Locals go to the market every day to get fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs and many other daily necessities. Each mercado is different, some are small and simple, some are like massive labyrinths.
Merida has a few different markets, all with their own features. Some are more touristy, some are more local. The touristy ones are easy to spot with lots of handicrafts or artisanias. You should try to visit one of the local neighborhood markets while you’re in Merida to get a clearer idea of how the locals go about their daily shopping.
We find the markets to be equal parts fascinating and overwhelming. I love getting lost in the big market. I find I have the best time in the market when I’m free to wander on my own. That way I can be more tuned into the people and products around me. We usually split up and browse the market at our own paces then meet back up to make final decisions.
The energy of the market is intense. There’s a lot in there to see. Don’t rush right in and buy the first tomates that you see.Walk around, ask for some prices, and see who has the best tomates. Look out for fruits that you’ve never seen before. Pick one up and say “¿Como se llama?”
This is the “Big Market” in Merida. It’s a massive sprawling maze of food stalls, vendors, flowers, restaurants, and so so so much more. Go there, eat lunch, get lost, buy some stuff, get overcharged, who cares? Just enjoy the experience. For an extra level of madness, go at night when the borders of the market and the rest of the city become blurred. Wander around, look at the people, the lights, take in the smells. There are street vendors everywhere. Stop and have a bacon wrapped hot dog, you only live once.
Every Saturday from 9am-2pm you can go to the slowfood market to get guaranteed fresh, fairly priced, clean, nonGMO food. Slowfood is a farmers’ market along the sidewalk outside of the Vietnamese restaurant, Pho MX. You can buy fruits, veggies, honey, soaps, cakes, kombucha and so many other great products there.
C Natural is a natural foods store in Centro close to the slowfood market and Pho MX. We go there to buy Bragg’s apple cider vinegar, jars of tahini, essential oils, raw cacao, coconut oil, you know all the really important stuff. The owner Ricardo is a traveler, and can chat with you all day about cycling in Latin America.
When it comes to supermarkets in Merida, there are a few to be aware of:
- Super Aki
- Bodega Aurera
The supermarkets in Mexico are similar in style to the supermarkets in the USA. You’ll find produce, as well as packaged foods, and frozen items. There’s a deli counter, bakery, etc. The biggest difference will be that when you walk the aisles you’ll find Mexican products and Mexican brands.
If you’re looking for specific, imported items, there are a few specialized places you can check.
You’ll need a membership to shop at these places, but they often carry those difficult to find items. We have a Costco card, so we go there for maple syrup, almond butter etc. You can also find housewares there like bed sheets or mattresses if you need something like that. Our expat friends in Valladolid constantly take turns making trips to Costco in Merida for everyday things.
Liverpool is a huge department store that has food, housewares, electronics, clothes, basically anything you’d find in a Sears or Macy’s. The big standout for us was that Liverpool had an amazing asian food section with different kinds of noodles, sauces, snack crackers, etc.
ON THE GROUND INFO
When is the best time to visit Merida?
Now! Just kidding…but seriously though.
November – April is always said to be the best time to come. That’s when the temperature is the coolest and there’s little chance of rain.
During the summer months the weather gets insanely hot, and days are mostly spent hiding indoors where there’s air conditioning or in a pool, not ideal for hiking around on pyramids.
If you do decide to come in the summer, the rain in the Yucatan isn’t anything to be afraid of. It’s nothing like the monsoons we’ve become accustomed to seeing in Southeast Asia.
Getting ’round in Merida
If you’re a walker like we are, then you’re in luck! Merida centro is super walkable, just pay attention to the often uneven sidewalks. That being said, Merida is actually much larger than just the centro area and if you’re planning on doing some shopping at Costco or Best Buy then you’ll likely want to take a car.
Taxi and Ubers usually use the magic of air conditioning, which makes your ride feel so luxurious you may not want to get out once you arrive at your destination. Uber works just fine in Merida, but don’t get too used to it, because Uber is a luxury often taken for granted here. If you go to Valladolid or Cancun, Uber does not exist and you’ll have to take taxis.
Is the taxi driver going to rip me off?
Taxi drivers in the Yucatan don’t typically use meters. Instead there is a set fare. We’ve taken lots of taxis in Merida and Valladolid and have never had any problems with being overcharged.
A few things to know about transportion around Merida:
- The evenly numbered streets run North/South, the oddly numbered streets run east/west.
- You can take the ADO bus to practically anywhere in Mexico.
- The AutoProgresso bus goes directly to and from progresso every day at regular intervals.
- There are smaller busses called collectivos that can transport you to many places around the city and surrounding areas.
One thing we love about living in Mexico is having our laundry done at the lavanderia. In our former lives this would have felt so boujee to have someone else wash our laundry. In Mexico, that’s just how it’s done.
Bring your bag of dirty laundry to the lavanderia, and have it weighed. They’ll give you a slip of paper with the price on it, and tell you when to come back. When you return your laundry will be washed, dried, and neatly folded. Just like magic!
To have Laundry done for the two of us, we pay between 75-150 pesos depending on if we had towels too.
As you’ve probably been told, don’t drink the water in Mexico.
Nobody drinks the water. Everyone has big refillable jugs of water in their homes and restaurants called garafones. You don’t need to be afraid of being served contaminated water or ice. It’s not likely going to happen.
Foreigners often have some stomach discomfort or diarrhea shortly after arriving in Mexico. Our second day in Mexico is one we wish we could forget. Just be sure to drink plenty of water, and avoid foods that may aggravate the condition. We always take activated charcoal pills for upset stomach. You should be able to pick them up from the farmacia.
Mosquitoes are a legitimate concern in the Yucatan. We have heard some reports and seen some propaganda warning about dengue and other mosquito transmitted diseases. If you’re especially attractive to mosquitos, wear light clothes that cover as much as possible.
The likelihood of contracting a disease from mosquitoes is very small. If you are bitten, there is no need to be concerned unless you develop a fever or other symptoms.
Merida is known to have excellent health care. Lots of Americans come to Merida to have surgeries and medical treatment because the care is good and the costs are low comparatively. Dental work is also quite popular here. We’ve heard many stories from fellow Americans who are shocked and amazed by the level of treatment and care and attention they receive from Mexican doctors.
We have been to StarMedica private medical center in Merida and received great treatment.
Gabby was so pleased that the doctors at StarMedica told her much more about her condition than her doctors in the US ever had. Not all of the doctors will speak English perfectly, but you should be able to find someone with enough English who can help you there if you can’t speak any spanish.
For more recommendations on medical care or dental work we would recommend searching through some of the Merida Expat facebook groups for recommendations.
Check out these Facebook Groups and Resources to help you answer your questions. Be sure to use the search function in the group before asking questions.
- Expats in the Yucatan
- First Merida Amigos
- Merida Coffee Club
- MID City Beat
- Yucatan Today
- Yucatan Adventure
SHOPPING IN MERIDA
Merida is a very modern city with lots of shopping malls and markets to choose from. We tend to shop out of necessity, not out of enjoyment, but when we need to buy something in Merida, it’s almost never a problem. You’ll find lots of familiar American and international brands in these malls including places like H&M and VS mixed in with more local or Mexican brands.
But you’ll have way more fun shopping around the Guayaberas shops in Centro and trying on the regional clothes. Huipils are traditionally white, tops and dresses with embroidered flowers. You’ll see tons of different styles. For the guys a pair of linen slacks and a button down guayabera top. Pleated or unpleated is up to you. We stumbled into Bukinte, a modern twist on the regional attire looking to buy a couple outfits for going out in Merida.
As a digital nomad, buying electronic equipment like laptops, cameras, cell phones, etc. should be avoided if possible. Prices for these items are often much higher than they are in the states. If you have the ability, buy your electronics elsewhere before coming to Mexico.
We understand that sometimes you just can’t get to the border to make electronics purchases. In that case you’ll need to do some shopping around to see where you can get the best prices.
Recently we tried to order a drone on US Amazon. It didn’t make it through customs. Ordering big ticket items for delivery from outside of Mexico can sometimes get dicey with customs and import taxes.
In the event that you break your phone, (which we also did while living in Valladolid) you have some options to replace it in Merida. Looking for Apple Products, Check the IShop in Altabrisa first.
Best Buy Uptown Mall
Best Buy had the best selection of electronics in Merida, even a few different models of drones. The main downfall with Best Buy is that they also had the highest prices of all the places we checked. However, they do price match! So if another store is out of a certain phone model, you can probably get it for the same price at Best Buy.
Costco has a basic selection of electronics, and their prices were average compared to the others. The difficulty with Costco is that while they carry a nice variety of electronics, there’s not a large variety of options for each. Costco is a middle to upper class luxury in Mexico, expect to see some well dressed people and nice cars there.
Liverpool has the smallest selection of electronics, and when we were there, their electronics dept was pretty chaotic to say the least. But they did have the phone we needed, and also a half decent deal that day.
After lots of shopping around, and trying to order a drone online. Here’s what we learned:
- Amazon does ship to Mexico, but not all vendors do. That means that not every item can be shipped here. Be aware of possible customs issues when ordering big ticket items from outside of Mexico.
- You can use Amazon.com.mx the Mexican version of amazon as well. You may find that the prices are cheaper for some things, but not all.
- Mercado Libre is a Mexican alternative to Amazon or Alibaba.
- You can have items shipped to any OXXO if you don’t have a mailbox
THINGS TO DO IN MERIDA
Hang out at the Parks and Plazas
At first we were blown away by the presence of the parks and plazas all over Merida. These are dedicated public spaces where people can sit, relax, and let their kids play. You’ll see romantic couples enjoying each other on benches, food vendors selling their goods, and lots of general merriment. Hanging out in the plaza is one of the most local Mexican activities you can do. Grab yourself a marquesita (a crispy Mexican crepe) and immerse yourself. The regional fave is Nutella and queso de bola, yeah that’s right… chocolate and cheese.
The plaza grande is the center of everything in Merida. Here you’ll find the Cathedral de San Ildefonso, the icon of Merida. Merida’s citizens love to relax in the plaza, listen to music, enjoy a paleta or marquesita, and just enjoy life. You can join in on the fun, too. Browse the many vendors around the outside, find something delicious to snack on, and plant yourself in a chair. Some of the best people watching in the world can be done here.
Often times there will be scheduled events, like dancing, in the plaza on certain nights of the week. Check out this guide by Roaming Around the World for weekly recurring events.
Stroll the Paseo Montejo
The Paseo Montejo is one of the most famous streets in Merida. People say that it was modeled after the Champs Elysses in Paris with huge colonial mansions and wide sidewalks. It’s perfect for walking with your lover or just people watching from a bench. Go in the evening to see lots of couples out strolling. Have a bowl of ice cream or sorbet from the legendary Colon Dulceria y Sorbeteria.
Feed your brain at Art & Anthropology Museums
We’ve been to both of the big Mayan museums in Merida. The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, and the Palacio Canton on Paseo Montejo. If you don’t speak spanish you will miss a lot, but it’s still worth it to see the mayan art and artifacts up close. We thought that the Palacio Canton on Paseo had an incredible collection of artifacts displayed throughout a large colonial house. While the Mundo Maya had a lot more information about the region and cultural history spread out through the exhibits with dioramas, it seemed to have fewer artifacts in its collection.
There are tons of small art museums, galleries and exhibits around Merida, including occasional photo installations in the plaza. Get inspired by Mexico’s most famous artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, or by the local artisans who create a variety of Mexican folk art.
Take a free walking tour
Get some clarity and historical context while exploring Merida centro with a knowledgeable tour guide. Don’t forget to tip your guide. We may or may not have wandered around the plaza grande and attached ourselves to a tour group one day because we were late to the meet up… in this case…don’t do what we did.
Get lost in the markets
As mentioned earlier in the markets section, you could spend an entire day wandering through Merida’s markets eating yourself into oblivion. This is an activity all on its own. Get lost in the sights and smells. Have something to eat, try something new. Practice some Spanish. Ask some questions. The energy is so alive in the market. You never know what’s going to happen.
Suit up and experience the theater or the symphony
The beautiful Peon Contreras theater, modeled after the Paris Opera House, is a must visit in Merida. Stop by the theater box office or check the website to see what will be on the schedule during your stay. We saw the Yucatan Ballet perform there.
The Yucatan Symphony Orchestra is a real treat if you’re into that sort of thing (we are), and is indicative of the kind of culture you’ll find here. The Symphony isn’t for everyone, but for us there’s something so real about listening to unimpeded music coming straight off the instruments and into our ears.
Rent a bike and explore the city during Bici Ruta
Spend a Sunday Morning riding down the Paseo Montejo with no cars or check the schedule for other nights of Merida’s bici ruta to see where and when they close down the city streets for cyclists to explore Merida Centro.
Explore the Public Buildings
Many of the public buildings around the outside of the plaza grande are open to the public. Don’t be put off by the armed security outside, you can just walk in and look around. If you see stairs walk up them. Don’t be afraid, if you’re doing something wrong they’ll let you know. You can get a glimpse behind this walled city, take in some historical art, and get amazing views of the plaza grande from the terraces of these buildings. You can even see the restored Montejo House right on the plaza.
Catch a VIP Movie
Sometimes you just need to go to the theater sit in the air conditioning, eat nachos, drink a beer, and watch a movie. That’s right, in Merida Norte they have VIP Movie theaters where you can sit in recliners and they’ll serve you food and beer during the movie. That’s one more point for Mexico.
Pay your respects at the Cemetery
Mexican cemeteries are very different from the ones we’re used to in America. They’re very colorful, and the graves and mausoleums are covered in and ornately decorated with flowers and statues. We highly recommend visiting the Merida municipal cemetery in the south part of town. The cemetery is open daily from 8am to 5pm, however you can take the free night time cemetery tour on Wednesday nights at 8:00pm.
Carriage rides are a popular tourist activity in Merida. For a few dollars you can have a horse drawn ride around the city. There are some ethical concerns surrounding the treatment of these horses, and some horses have even died in the street from exhaustion. We urge you to make your own informed decisions when choosing your activities.
There are bullfights in Merida. We’ve often struggled with and discussed the moral dilemma of attending these events. The cruelty of bullfighting can’t be overlooked, and in Mexico bullfighting is still very popular. We still have a lot of curiosity to see that aspect of this culture, not only the beautiful things. Eventually we decided not to attend a bullfight in Merida for personal reasons. That doesn’t mean we’ll never go, but for now, you won’t be hearing about it from us.
Take a Class
Why not take the opportunity while living in Merida to learn something new. We sometimes like to take classes to learn new skills and cultural art techniques while traveling. Here are some ideas for classes you can take in Merida. Gabby always wanted to learn salsa, so she signed up for a class at Black Studio, and ended up learning some Spanish at the same time. At the time, the first class was free, and an 8 class card cost 300 pesos.
- Spanish or Maya | Learn one or both of the local languages.
- Dance | Salsa, bachata, tango, cumbia, pole dancing. There are a ton of options if you want to get your booty on the floor tonight.
- Art | Ceramics/Pottery, Macrame, etc. keep an eye out on instagram for local artists posting about events or even on MID City Beat or Yucatan Today.
- Cooking | Learn how to make tamales or your favorite Yucatecan dish.
DAY TRIPS NEAR MERIDA
Mayan Archaeological Sites
The temple of Kukulkan at Chichen Itza is the most famous of all the mayan ruins. It’s about an hour and a half to the east of Merida by car. We’ve been there twice already once at night, and once for the equinox.
On the spring and fall equinoxes you can see the perfect shape of Kukulkan, the feather snake, descending the staircase of the pyramid.
This place is huge and you could easily spend a whole day there looking at all of the buildings.
They also do a night time video mapping light show called “Nights of Kukulkan.” which you need a separate ticket for. It’s really cool to walk around and see the buildings lit up with color at night. The videomapping on El Castillo (the main pyramid) really helps to imagine what it actually would have looked like when they were painted in full color.
Uxmal is our favorite Zona Arqueologico that we’ve visited so far. It’s two hours south of Merida by car.
At Uxmal, the details and figures in the carvings are much clearer and easier to see than at Chichen Itza. You can actually climb on some of the structures and smaller pyramids there too, the main pyramid is blocked off from climbing, but is a sight to behold. It’s rounded edges make it quite unique. Uxmal was founded on an area with no natural water source. It’s inhabitants relied solely on the rain for water collection. You’ll see the face of the Rain God all over the structures.
They also do a night time video mapping show at Uxmal, though we haven’t seen it yet.
Ek Balam, the temple of the Jaguar, is actually closer to Valladolid, but has some very interesting Mayan sculptures and carvings to see. Parts of the pyramid are still being excavated, and there are some sections that are covered by palapas or thatched roofs to provide shade to the workers, and protect the well preserved sculptures.
In addition to a pyramid that you can climb to the top of, the ruins at Ek Balam have an added bonus of a swimmable cenote next door (you can’t swim in the one at Chichen Itza). After a morning of climbing ruins, you can cool off in a natural swimming hole.
There are several structures around Ek Balaam to look at. We spent about 2 hours exploring on our own. Drive through the small pueblo of Ek Balaam, to catch a glimpse of a modern day Mayan village. Keep an eye out for tiny hammocks meant for toddlers and aluxes alike.
Do I need to take a guide?
If you want to take a guide with you to explain everything you can hire one at the entrance of the park. The guides are super knowledgeable and certified by the tourism authority. You don’t have to go with a guide, but you’ll definitely learn a lot more by taking one. You can also hire guides in Merida who will drive you out there and give you a tour along the way. We did this when we went to Uxmal and had the BEST time!
Beach Town Progreso
Progreso is the port that serves this part of Mexico. It’s also the closest beach town to Merida. You can take the Autoprogreso bus from Merida Centro straight to the beach in under an hour. Progreso is a sleepy place with not much to do but sip cocktails and enjoy the beach. If you just really need a beach day, Progreso is a nice option. You can take the Autoprogreso bus from the Autoprogreso station in centro or pick it up along the route. The ride is about 1 hour with all the stops and costs ~$25 Pesos one way.
The Mexican government has designated many of the small towns around Mexico as Pueblos Magicos. These pueblos magicos all have some sort of cultural significance or heritage to be remembered. We love Valladolid, which is just 2 hours drive from Merida. But have also visited a few other pueblos magicos including Bacalar and Puerto Morelos on our Yucatan Road trip and always find them charming.
Valladolid is a smaller city about two hours to the East of Merida by car. Valladolid was founded in the same year as Merida, and has many similarities in style. You notice the colonial Spanish influence immediately, but don’t be surprised if you hear a lot of Mayan language being spoken among the locals. There are local specialty foods to try including panuchos, longanitza sausage, and lomitos. Valladolid has a cenote right in town called Cenote Zaci, and there is one on the outside of town called Cenote Oxman.
After living in Merida for three months, we decided to spend the next three months living in Valladolid and have really appreciated the tranquility of the pueblo magico living.
The Golden City. A sleepy Pueblo Magico to the Northeast of Merida with iconic yellow buildings and Mayan Ruins
Swimming in Cenotes is our favorite outdoor leisure activity in the Yucatan. Cenotes are huge natural pools deep down in the Earth’s crust. Cenotes were very important to the mayan civilization who used them as fresh water sources. We’ve been to more than 10 cenotes now, and they’re all different and exciting. The first time you swim in a Cenote is a lifechanging experience.
The surface of the Yucatan peninsula is like a sponge, covered with cenotes that are connected to one another via underground rivers. There are thousands of cenotes around to go swimming in. Some are more touristy and developed, some are literally in people’s back yards.
Haciendas are an important reminder of the history of this region. The haciendas were huge plantations for producing “hennequin,” a fiber that made many people rich in the Yucatan, but at a great social cost. Today, the haciendas are no longer in operation, but many of them have been beautifully restored and converted into hotels and guest accommodations. Some haciendas even have cenotes on the property you can swim in!
Celestun is a quiet beach town, and ecological reserve, whose local population includes over 18,000 flamingos. Celestun is just a short 90 minute drive from Merida. The most popular activity there is to take a boat tour to get an up close look at the flamingos in their natural habitat. The best time to see the flamingos is from November-March.
Las Coloradas/ Rio Lagartos
The pink salt lakes of Las Coloradas is about a 3 hour drive from Merida. You can take tours there from town, or rent a car and drive there yourself. Just know that you can no longer get into or touch the water at the pink lakes. If you’re going to make the trip, try to pair it with a boat tour on Rio Lagartos to see the flamingos and crocodiles up close.
For more things to do in Merida check out Mexico Cassie’s guide. Cassie lives full-time in Merida and has an amazing section on festivals to experience.
NIGHTLIFE IN MERIDA
Gabby and I aren’t huge nightlife people. Our “nightlife” usually includes typing up blog posts or editing videos over several bowls of salad, or going out for pizza! That being said we did manage to venture out at night a few times during our three months in Merida.
Merida has a few great bars and restaurants in Centro that serve great cocktails, food, and often have live music. Our favorites are:
Our go-to for rock and roll cover bands and local craft beer in the garden. Try the stout by Cuerno Del Torro. The brewery is just outside of Merida.
Craft cocktails, sweet garden, and a dj a few nights a week.
Large Garden Setting, alternative vibes, some of the tables are street signs, artsy with great food and cocktails.
A garden market with lots of food and drink options and salsa dancing or live music at night.
THE DIGITAL NOMAD COST BREAKDOWN
Visa| Visa exempt visits for 90-180 days: Free
Accommodation | Approx. 1 Million Pesos (~$550 USD) and up
Coworking Space | Approx 3,000 pesos per month (~$160 USD)
Transportation costs | Taxis in centro (~30 pesos) Uber in Centro(30 – 50 pesos) Uber to Merida Norte (75- 100 pesos)
Avg coffee price | 35-50 pesos
Avg beer price | 50-55 Pesos
Avg taco price | 20-30 pesos