Surprising and Gay-friendly Merida

Cancun might seem like the obvious pick for gay travelers to eastern Mexico, thanks to its flashy gay discos and hedonistic reputation. But 200 miles west in Merida, the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan, offers a welcome alternative for gay visitors who appreciate a serious dose of Mayan culture with their cocktails.

BY Advocate.com Editors

April 11 2008 12:00 AM ET

Checking In
During the past decade a number of
gay-owned/gay-friendly guesthouses have spread across
Merida. The properties were typically large, private
homes in Merida's historic center abandoned when their
owners move to the suburbs. Now owned by expatriates,
the houses have been restored and upgraded with air
conditioning and Internet. Casa Santiago offers
four bedrooms, each with its own bath, a swimming pool
and well-landscaped courtyard. Los Arcos has
two private poolside garden guest rooms separate from the
main house. The main residence is filled with the
owner's extensive private art collection with many
pieces from local artists. For a full-service hotel,
look to Hyatt Regency, which consistently earns
high marks for its gay-friendly corporate policies; the
modern 300-room Merida location is in the business
district.

Dining Out
It may have taken 1,000 years, but today's top
chefs from Douglas Rodriguez to Bobby Flay are paying
homage to Yucatecan cooking. However, just as Merida
has been influenced by other cultures, so has its food. At
the beautiful downtown hotel Villa Maria, a gay
chef from Austria not only makes tasty Yucatan lime soup for
patrons of its atrium terrace restaurant but also a
great Wiener schnitzel. Nectar, a five-star
restaurant located on the northern end of the city
(near the Plaza Fiesta shopping mall), serves amazing
Yucatecan dishes with strong European influences. Other
gay-popular choices: Trotter's, where steak, tapas and wine
is a winning formula, and La Pigua, a fabulous seafood
restaurant.

Dancing the Night Away
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are when the gay crowd
comes out to play. (Thursdays draw the largest local
crowd because it's often the night without a cover
charge.) Although signs of gay life are visible
throughout Merida, the city's gay nightlife is still
relegated to the outskirts of town; to the south are
Pride and AngeLuz, and to the north is
Scalibur -- each a 30-minute cab ride from
downtown Merida. The setting is similar at all three: tables
and chairs surround a stage that plays host to drag
shows and male dancers for the first half of the
evening. Between and after the performances, the stage
doubles as a dance floor. As with any city, the popularity
of the clubs change often but they each have their
fans and attract regular crowds. Don't plan to arrive
before midnight.

Cultural Immersion
Schedule a walking tour or horse-drawn carriage
ride through downtown Merida to take in the Cathedral
of San Ildefonso, the oldest cathedral in the
Americas, and the Paseo de Montejo, often called Mexico's
Champs Elysees, which is lined with opulent colonial
mansions. Merida's location in the middle of the
Yucatan also makes it an ideal departure point for
excursions to the Mayan ruins at Uxmal, a tour of the
ancient, cavernous underground Cenotes of Cuzama or a
boat ride among the flamingos at the Celestun nature
preserve.

Tags: Travel

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