There are many reasons why Mexico is America’s favorite international destination.
Whether it’s the food, the amazing weather, or the pristine beaches, it simply ticks all the boxes for Americans in desperate need of some relaxation and a warmer environment.
However, not all U.S. nationals who travel to Mexico are exclusively heading to Cancun’s Hotel Zone. Some of them – a growing number – are now seeking more meaningful, deeper cultural immersions, leading to a shift in travel trends across the Yucatan Peninsula.
In fact, a lesser-known city that does not straddle the turquoise coast nor has a booming resort scene is now one of the country’s fastest-growing destinations. Here’s why:
Is This Mexico’s Most Underrated City?
Merida is the main destination in, and capital of the state of Yucatan, not to be mistaken for the wider Yucatan peninsula, which it is also a part of, and carries the same indigenous name.
According to the most recent census, it had 921,770 residents within the city proper, making it one of the largest and most important cities not only in Yucatan but also in Mexico.
Sitting about 22 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, it is not a coastal city, unlike Cancun, its Caribbean counterpart that straddles the Caribbean, though Merida is still within short driving distance of numerous swimming spots.
It may be used as a base for exploring the beautiful Gulf, as it is the regional capital, but in stark contrast with Cancun, its main appeal lies elsewhere: Merida is a world-class cultural center, having been named twice the American Capital of Culture.
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Merida Is One Of Mexico’s Cultural Hotspot
Conferred as one of the destinations in the continent with a significant historical value, the title recognizes the historical weight of Merida’s well-preserved colonial center, the third largest in the Americas, where Spanish-era civic buildings still stand.
Merida is also home to the oldest cathedral in mainland America, built with remnants from Mayan ruins.
Walking the charming streets of the Old Town, you will feel as if you have been transported to the Mexico of old, what with the rows upon rows of colorful colonial houses, family-owned craft shops, and traditional restaurants.
Merida may not be quite up to par with Cancun, at least when it comes to hotel infrastructure – do not expect to find ultra-luxurious all-inclusive resorts here – but it has a promising hospitality industry, and you will be able to pick from boutique stays and cozy hotels at more affordable rates.
Merida Is Cheaper To Visit
The four-star Suites Flamboyantes has nightly rates starting at just $39 this fall, while staying at the Hyatt Regency Merida, one of the city’s exclusive five-star offers, will only set you back by $149 per night in September.
According to Trip.com, the average cost per night on weekends for hotels with a bar in Merida is $35, much cheaper than the Riviera Maya’s staggeringly high rates or even Los Cabos’ $600 per-night average on the Mexican Pacific.
Consumer prices in Merida can be lower, as well, with the crowd-sourced Numbeo reporting an average price of $11.73 for a meal at an inexpensive restaurant and a reasonable $42.33 for a three-course dinner for two in a mid-range restaurant.
Finally, there is Merida’s status as Mexico’s safest large city to account for when analyzing its new popularity peak.
Merida Is Extremely Safe
It is the only large state capital to feature on the U.S. State Department’s Level 1 listing, meaning it is considered as safe as countries like Iceland or Finland, enjoying very low crime rates and not being as affected by corruption as other Mexican destinations.
Often considered the safest city in Mexico and one of the safest in the American continent, it lacks the hustle and bustle of Mexico City, the gang problems plaguing border zones between the States and Mexico, and the Riviera Maya’s decades-old urbanization issues.
As further proof Merida is growing in popularity with foreign visitors, as many as 24 new hotel listings have been added to the city’s portfolio since 2020, in spite of the health crisis and subsequent decrease in the number of tourists – or in Merida’s case, a slight decrease.
Last year, Merida International Airport, which serves both the city and the Gulf townships, registered as many as 3,092,951 passengers, marking the first time it crossed the 3-millionth passenger mark in history.
This year, the growth of the first half of 2023 has already exceeded year’s past. So far, 888,189 passengers have landed in Merida in 2023.
Growing Appetite For Culture
The destination’s success is attributed to the growing appetite for more cultural trips among Americans, with nearly half of them actively seeking culture when going abroad, as verified in a survey conducted by OnePoll – as you know by now, Merida has no shortage of beautiful landmarks or fascinating sights – and increased air traffic.
Viva Aerobus is the main airline operating in this hub, having carried more than 670,000 passengers to Merida.
The city hosts nonstop flights from 23 destinations, including domestic departure points and select cities in the United States and Canada.
The busiest international routes as of last year were Houston-Merida, Miami-Merida, Havana-Merida (Cuba), Toronto-Merida (Canada), and Guatemala City-Merida (Guatemala).
Merida is a beautiful, relatively affordable city and an extremely safe destination, and it’s truly no wonder it is an endless source of fascination for so many travelers.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com