México’s Federal Board of Tourism recently announced that the area in Mérida’s Centro that is bordered by La Ermita, San Sebastián, and Xcalachén is Mérida’s first Barrio Mágico (Magical Neighborhood). Until now, this distinction had been reserved for only eight urban gems throughout the Mexican territory. This title is granted in recognition of neighborhoods with defining elements such as their traditions, cuisine, artistic expressions, architecture, history, and other attributes that set this area apart from the rest—and make it worth visiting.
Let us take you on a tour of some attractive locations within the defined area, a stretch that spans from the grand San Juan Arch to the Cementerio General (public cemetery); destinations you should include in your itinerary for your next adventure.
Located at the intersection of Calle 64 x 69-A and built in 1690, this remarkable yellow arch (Arco) marked the beginning of the Royal Road to Campeche. Noted for being the largest arch of its kind that still stands, the arch is home to a figure of Saint John the Baptist that can be observed in the niche at its top. The San Juan Arch is positioned southwest of the park—not that you could miss it.
San Juan’s park is a charming area to spend a peaceful morning or a magical evening. It’s surrounded by a lovely garden, lush trees, playgrounds, and tempting food stalls offering various types of local snacks.
At the heart of the park, the church dedicated to the St. John further embellishes the environment. It’s a modest gem with beautiful details adorning its façade, a sight that captures your attention from the first moment. Apart from the church, you’ll find a statue paying tribute to Benito Juárez (president of México and one of the most influential figures in the history of the country), as well as the captivating La Negrita fountain.
Upon arriving in this picturesque area of the city, you’ll be captivated by the colorful houses that adorn its French cobblestone streets. However, what will likely seize your attention is the grand yellow church located in front of a marvelous park that comes alive at night. This park features a beautiful gazebo in the middle, perfect for capturing all the photos you desire.
La Ermita de Santa Isabel (Saint Elizabeth’s Hermitage), located at the intersection of Calle 66 x 77, was constructed by Gaspar González de Ledesma; while the exact dates aren’t documented, we know it had been finished by 1749. It’s dedicated to the mother of Saint John the Baptist, and her image is enshrined here. However, it was initially called Ermita de Nuestra Señora del Buen Viaje (our Lady of the Good Journey), an evocative title granted during Colonial times. At that time, this sacred gem lay on the outskirts of the city, alongside the Royal Road, where devotees came to pray or express gratitude upon arriving in Mérida.
Back to the park, in addition to its charm, this area is also home to the Panucho Festival, which celebrates this classic Yucatecan dish. While traditionally scheduled for October, as this issue goes to print the festival dates haven’t been announced. Keep an eye on our social media accounts to find out if you’ll have the chance to experience it this year.
But don’t think for a second that this is all there is in the area. Adjacent to the park is the Instituto Municipal para el Fortalecimiento de la Cultura Maya (Municipal Institute for the Strengthening of Maya Culture), where courses and workshops are offered to learn about the Maya language (even to become an interpreter) and other aspects of this culture. The home of General Manuel Cepeda Peraza is another interesting place to visit (Calle 64A x 73 y 75). Cepeda Peraza was a liberal politician and state governor, a renowned defender of the republic against the imperialism that prevailed in the country during the mid-19th century.
This lively neighborhood is known for the various religious and trade Gremios (guilds) that come together in the early days of August; during these days, the San Sebastián Mártir Parish hosts a grand celebration where people of all ages gather to parade around the park’s perimeter. If you’re looking to be part of a never-ending fiesta, San Sebastián Park is the ideal place to be at. In addition to these dates, the square is also a focal point of the celebrations that take place during the Mukbilpollo Festival in October and Janal Pixan in November.
On the other hand, San Sebastián Market (Calle 70 x 77) stands as one of the city’s oldest and most renowned municipal markets. Its fame lies in being a culinary hub, renowned for the flavors of its regional dishes such as Panuchos, Empanadas, tortas, Cochinita Pibil, Lechón al Horno, and other Yucatecan delicacies.
Located to the south of the city, this barrio welcomes you with a sea of colors and immersive images, framed within a series of murals spread across its main streets. In fact, the first mural you’ll see is on a large wall painted in bright red with purple and pink letters displaying the name of this area.
Each artwork tells a different story and represents key elements of Yucatecan culture, such as Maya symbolism, animals (deer, jaguars, snakes, and birds), and people wearing traditional garments. As you’ll quickly notice, this is a perfect spot for pictures that many will envy you for.
One of the most interesting and standout works is dedicated to the icon of Mexican cinema, Pedro Infante. In this area, they hold a deep affection and respect for him, as he tragically passed away in a plane crash a few streets away in the 1950s. In his honor, on Calle 62 at the “cuchilla de las cinco esquinas”(five corners’ intersection), you’ll find a huge statue of him on a horse, along with a plaza with benches where you can take a little rest.
If you’re curious and want to learn more about his history and legacy, visit Parque de La Paz on Calle 87. This charming park features resting areas, a children’s playground, posters with the history of beloved Pedro, lines from his most famous songs like “Amorcito Corazón,” and a bench with a statue of him sitting alongside his guitar and hat; it’s as if he’s just finished singing.
The most important and well-known attraction of Xcalachén is the “Chicharra,” a delicious delicacy that almost no Yucateco can resist. A curious fact is that this barrio is known as the “birthplace” of this dish, so you’ll find several “Chicharronerías” (places that offer Chicharra). Among the most famous are “La Lupita,” “Los amigos de Xcalachén,” and “La flor de Xcalachén.” The first two are located in front of the red mural that welcomes you to the neighborhood, and the third is just a few meters away.
If you’re planning to spend your morning wandering around here, it’s best to arrive early. Around 9 or 10 am is an excellent time, since the sun isn’t too harsh (allowing you to walk and explore leisurely) and there will be good lighting for your photos.
If you’re eager to enjoy Chicharra as soon as possible, try not to arrive after 12 pm, as demand is high and the product sells out quickly. Also, remember to carry cash (since several establishments don’t accept card payments) and a reusable bag for your purchase. If you prefer to go in the afternoon, bring sunscreen, a hat or cap, lightweight clothing, and water bottles.
This place, known as one of the oldest cemeteries in the country, welcomes you with its impressive arch of red and yellow colors. The arch is adorned with intricate details that showcase Neomaya style. As you start your journey through the cemetery, a grand view of mausoleums unfolds, with styles ranging from neo-Gothic to neoclassical and art deco.
Right next to a majestic mausoleum with neo-Gothic touches, you’ll find a uniquely adorned tomb with Sillas Confidentes. Undoubtedly, it’s impressive to see how the differences in styles and cultures harmoniously complement each other to create a unique experience on this journey to the beyond.
At the end of the cemetery’s main avenue (Avenida Mausoleos), you’ll come across a mansion that currently serves as the headquarters of the Museum of Death. This small yet significant space aims to promote an understanding of death as a part of life. In this space, exhibitions on funeral practices in Yucatán have been held, as well as photographic exhibitions related to the theme of death. Unfortunately for this article, when we visited the museum, it was preparing for its upcoming exhibition (expected to open in late September) and therefore temporarily closed. We suggest staying tuned to our social media channels to learn all the details about their next exhibit.
It’s best to visit the cemetery early to avoid the hottest hours of the day. However, the place has several areas where you can take a break during your journey. The lush trees not only provide shade but also offer a pleasant breeze that will help you cool down. It’s worth mentioning that you should always show respect and avoid touching things in the area. My aunt used to warn me not to even pick fruits from the trees there, as it’s believed they could cause harm. I’ve never confirmed how true this is, but I also think it’s better not to take any risks.
Keep in mind that we are very close to the biggest event held in this place: the famous “Paseo de las Ánimas” (Walk of the Souls) that starts from the General Cemetery and goes to the San Juan Arch. During this event, the souls’ journey is recreated according to ancient beliefs. Here, you’ll see people of all ages wearing traditional costumes. You can also enjoy a regional food showcase, a Maya ceremony, and a “Vaquería” (traditional dance) of souls.
The General Cemetery is open from 8 am to 5 pm, and admission is free.
What do you think? Are you ready to discover the magic that radiates from these places? Don’t hesitate to explore this fascinating Magical Barrio; you’ll undoubtedly be entranced by the unexpected surprises that await around every corner.
Photography by Sara Alba, Brenda Avila, and Carlos Guzmán for use in Yucatán Today.
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