Mérida – Surroundings
Mérida’s surroundings offer interesting destinations that are suitable for a (half) day trip.
Leaving Merida to the north, the Mayan cities of Dzibilchaltún, Aké and Xcambó on the Gulf Coast are worth a visit, while you find Celestún with its mangroves and flamingos going to the west.
In the south-east of Merida you can visit several of the fascinating limestone dolines as part of a tour to the cenotes of Cuzamá.
Dzibilchaltún (“the place of the inscribed stones”) is the oldest and most continuously populated Mayan city of the Yucatán Peninsula. It owes its name to the numerous stelae found here. Stele 19 in particular is considered a masterpiece of the Mayan sculptors.
The most important building in Dzibilchaltún is the Templo de las siete muñecas (Temple of the Seven Dolls), named after the discovery of seven small stone figures made by archaeologists during excavation works in the 1950s. The building, which dates from the 6th century, is well preserved because it was superimposed by a pyramid that was later demolished. It is located at the end of a ceremonial street (sacbé), has a square ground plan and four axial stairs leading to its interior. At the roof corners there are masks of the rain god Chaac.
One of Dzibilchaltún’s attractions, along with an interesting museum, is the beautiful, open Cenote Xlacah, which is a popular bathing spot.
Xcambó (X’Cambó, sometimes also called Xtampú) is located at the Laguna Rosada not far from the Gulf Coast and today represents a curious mixture of Mayan ruins, a Catholic church and several fresh water springs. Between 100 BC and 600 AD, the Mayan city was of great importance because it supplied the centres of Izamal, Uxmal and Chichén-Itzá with salt and protein-containing food in form of fish and seafood. Salt is still extracted in the area today.
The Mayan city of Aké is located east of Merida halfway to Izamal. Most of its buildings date from the classical period of Mayan culture. The most striking building is the so-called Column Palace with its 35 columns built on a step-pyramid platform. Once they probably carried one of the largest roof constructions of the Mundo Maya.
Celestún can be reached after about an hour’s drive to the west. The mangrove biosphere reserve of the same name at the mouth of the Celestún River into the Gulf of Mexico has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. The reserve’s fragile ecosystem is famous for its flamingo colony and freshwater springs in the middle of the mangrove forest. A boat trip to the flamingos is the most popular activity on site. The birds belong to the genus of the Caribbean flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber), which otherwise does not occur in Central America.
At the beach of Celestún there are several restaurants, which offer guaranteed fresh fish. This is a good way to end the day trip.
A tour to the Cenotes of Cuzamá starts at a former Sisal Hacienda of the same name, about 45 minutes drive southeast of Mérida.
Today, the ancient horse-drawn rail vehicles of the Hacienda, on which the agave leaves used to be shipped, serve to transport tourists to three cenotes in the hinterland.
Two of the three cenotes – Bolonchoojol (“nine drops of water”) and Chansinic’che (“tree with small ants”) are enclosed in limestone caves, while the third, Chelentún (“lying rock”), is an open type cenote.