As summer vacation and study abroad beckon, we’re selecting our favorite hidden treasures — mind-blowing places to visit with some new language skills. Make sure to check back for new locations!
Spanish language: Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico
When people think of vacationing in Mexico, they often think, “Cancún,” not knowing that the jewel of the Yucatán region, Mérida, is just 180 miles west of the popular seaside town. No, Mérida doesn’t have the same robust party scene. It has much more: awe-inspiring Mayan ruins, historic and regal haciendas, intriguing museums, the dazzling rock formations known as cenotes, and much more…
Serving as the capital of the Yucatán region, Mérida was founded by three Spanish Conquistadores in 1542 and is considered by many historians to be the oldest continually-occupied city in the Americas. Mérida was an incredibly prosperous town at the end of the 19th century, and so has one of the largest centro histórico districts in the Americas (rivaled only by Mexico City and Havana). Today the beautiful homes of once-powerful families line the streets repurposed as businesses and apartments. The residents of this colorful town speak Spanish with an accent enriched by the melodic Yucatec Maya language.
What to see and do
The town itself is only half the fun of visiting Mérida. There are plenty of day trips to must-see attractions! Here are just a few of the sights:
Museums & Plazas (in town)
- Cathedral de San Ildefonso: the first cathedral built on the American mainland
- Mérida Zocalo: the luscious and bustling main square
- Gran Museo del Mundo Maya: A world-class museum celebrating Mayan culture
- Palacio del Gobernador: the central courtyard is considered something of a masterpiece
- Cenotes: try a dip in the teal-blue waters of these natural sinkholes
- Chichen Itza & Uxmal: two marvels of Mayan architecture and power
- Haciendas: the estates of once prominent families, many of these have been converted into luxury hotels
- Campeche: the old Spanish fortifications make this a worthwhile visit
- Celestún: famous for its beaches and flamingos!
- Izamal: this town’s canary-yellow monastery is truly something to behold
You can’t tour on an empty stomach! Fortunately, the Yucatán cuisine, which is a unique melange of European, Mexican and Caribbean influences, never fails to satisfy. Enjoy world-class ceviche, papadzules (hardboiled egg, tortilla, and pumpkin seed sauce), and pibil (marinated meat wrapped in spices and banana leaves, then cooked in a barbecue pit), among other staples. Yum!
Be an insider, not a tourist
Whether you’re arranging a tour of the Mayan ruins or striking up a friendly conversation with one of Mérida’s market vendors, speaking Spanish is the only way to make Mérida your home away from home. Learning a new language makes your vacation a cherished experience, not just a momentary diversion.