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Merida-Akumal trip at Christmas

We're traveling to the Yucatan Peninsula finally - Yea! (been waiting 20+ years.) Coming from Portland, Oregon. Will be two nights and a day in Playa, then five days in Merida including Christmas, I know someone in Progresso so we'll visit there for a day, then on to Akumal for a week. Will do a day trip or two from there. Can't wait! We hope to spend a day learning, cooking and eating with David Sterling at Los Dos in Merida

Here are some things I am wondering about:
Are things open, celebratory and special on Christmas eve and day, or more closed - better to be with friends/family? - like this friend in Progresso.

How long to drive or bus from Merida to Campeche? We've read that it's great, but I'm afraid there's not enough time.

Is it reasonable to drive from Merida to Akumal, stopping at Chichen itza and Valladolid along the way? or would that be too much?

Any restaurant recommendations anywhere along the way of course! We love the smaller and off-the-beaten road finds, but we're not adverse to mid-town or even (gulp) touristy - though that's usually not the preferred meal.

Muchos Gracias-
signed,
so-excited

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  1. Christmas eve and Christmas day will pretty much be business as usual. In Progresso, your friend will show you the spectacle of the flamingos in winter. Almost equal to the roseate spoonbill in flight. Five days in Merida is a big slice of your trip, I suggest working a Chichen Itza trip around your David Sterling session. Chichen Itza is a world class destination, deserving of a full day. Valladolid is, respectfully, a good place to have lunch, buy ice and beer, and move on. The highway from Valladolid to Tulum is called the Coba highway, and the ruins at Coba are extraordinary, and the last you can climb. (You can't climb Chichen Itza, and you can't touch in Tulum) . Axumal is among my favorite places on the MexRiv; Cueva del Pescador is my favorite restaurant there. Whole boquinette, conch ceviche, good as it gets. They have their own fisherman. Buen provecho!

    4 Replies
    1. re: Veggo

      Thank you Veggo. It looks you live in the area part-time - how great.
      Yep, 5 days is a lot for Merida, but I figured on day trips.
      Now to gather some ideas and recommendations for Merida eating. I have read that the central square marcado is full of good stalls and such. We will be with teen boys, but all of us love culinary-exploring!
      thanks much

      1. re: dougdude

        Merida is the best place to buy a real sisal hammock, made from cactus fibers, and the all -cotton (algodon) pleated men's shirts. Most other areas are peddling nylon and polyester.
        When I live in Playa, half of us are so lazy that wearing out a hammock is sort of a badge of honor, and the requisite trip to Merida for a replacement is all in a day's work.

        1. re: Veggo

          Oh Yeah, we also have one day and two nights in Playa - that was added for logistical reasons, but is sounding like a pretty cool town

          1. re: dougdude

            Very cool town with great restaurants. There are lots of posts. Where are you staying in Playa? Your teenage boys will likely notice that topless sunbathing is commonplace. I'll be there in 2 weeks so I will update then.

    2. use the bus system, they are first class! As far as restaurants in Merida there is one called Los Almendros in town that is usually pretty good, and there is Hacienda Teya, which is a cab ride out of town, that is very good but closes early as the main meal in Mexico is late lunch

      1 Reply
      1. re: barb1

        Los Almendros is a tourist trap as is Portico del Peregrino.. a pretty restaurant to have a few beers in between meals. Go to the markets and ask the locals what place is currently good.

        Campeche where you can have dinner at La Pigua is a must (full day trip), as is Uxmal (half day... but if you add other Puuc Route locations it becomes a day trip)...

      2. Hey Dougdude,I drove from Cd. Del Carmen a few years ago to Playa Del Carmen.We left around 10AM, made it to Chichen Itza and stopped briefly in Merida before arriving in Playa before midnight.We took the carretera libre and went through Valladolid as well. If I have an earlier start I could have done a little better, rent a car issues, and I had worked late the night before.After a couple of days in Playa we went down to Tulum, and drove back to Campeche by night, and the next day caught our plane from Cd. Del Carmen.So, I think you can cover a lot of ground by car, and by bus as another poster stated.

        Campeche is beautiful, btw.

        4 Replies
        1. re: streetgourmetla

          Thank you all for the tips and thoughts. Street, thanks - nice to hear what your Yucatan road trip took in and how long it took. Veggo, I am sure my boys will be fogging their facemasks plenty. I am SO excited. Still, I am curious that there is much here about eating in Playa, Akumal, Tulum, etc., and not much for Merida - often a reference to the food stalls for food (duh) and for referrals. We love finding those places favored by locals and expats.
          We will be doing a combo of rental car and bus. Am going to try to see Campeche and/or Balacar, but can't do everything.

          1. re: dougdude

            Merida is largely unexplored by knowledgeable Hounds. The local oligarchy doesn't eat out much... they have their own cooking staff... so there aren't many Fine Dining places outside of the Touristy ones at the Haciendas which will ebb & flow with the kitchen talent (The good ones are stolen by restaurants in Cancun & Playa del Carmen). The local upper middle class are suckers for the unremarkable - often chain - places along Mansion Row.

            So the best way to eat in Merida is to ask locals.. and they will end up taking you to unmarked places on streets off the beaten path... you will have a fabulous meal & not pay any attention to how you got there.. and then will not be able to give a concise recommendation next year when another Hound posts a thread on this board.

            The other way to eat in Merida is to rent a place from an Agent & ask the agent to supply a local cook. If you are interested the local cook will take to the mercados they shop in.. you can go around & pick whatever is in season & interests you... and they will build meals around that...

            Even in Mexico City.. which has the best restaurant culture in the country... you will still generally eat better if you hire a cook & go to the mercado to choose your ingredients and then let them prepare whatever is their inspiration... you will likely eat stuff that you aren't going to find on a menu anywhere.

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              Thank you Eat Nopal for the reasonable sounding explanation - makes sense when laid out in context. We'll hunt around/look around, chat and try to spend one day at Los Dos with David Sterling, maybe some ideas will come of that too.

            2. re: dougdude

              DD, FYI, Highway 307 is now a good, safe highway from Cancun to Chetumal. Drive time from Akumal to Bacalar would be under 3 hours, taking it nice and easy. Aside from the beauty of the lagoon (60 KM long) with all its hues, the cenote azul in Bacalar is said to be the largest and deepest in the Yucatan. It is crystal clear and basically bottomless, and the restaurant on it's edge serves good coconut shrimp. (Half of cenotes are named cenote azul, but this one is the real deal). It's a sleepy little town so nature and the old naval fort are the attractions. If one of your sons falls in love, the art deco Hotel Bacalar has a cute little chapel...:)

          2. My wife and I spent 3 weeks in Merida earlier this year and are going back again in two months. We know Mexico pretty well and Merida is one of our favorite restaurant towns.
            The best this year were Muelle 8 and La Pigua, both for seafood, Nectar and Entre Tangos.
            La Pigua is a branch of the famous restaurant by the same name in Campeche. We both liked the shellfish there but Muelle 8 did everything well, especially paella on Sunday afternnoon.
            Nectar is a sophisticated, smart spot doing creative, modern food with a few Yucatan touches.
            I usually avoid non-Mexican restaurants and Entre Tangos is Argentine but the chicken and meat there was pretty spectacular. Apps also very good and wine list was the best in Merida. They have free tango demonstrations once a week.
            Eladio's is a bar with live entertainment - one of those Merida institutions where you get four or five free apps when you order a drink. But it is also a good place to order Yucatan specialties. The musical entertainment is fun.
            Los Almendros and Gran Almendros are fanatics about serving only authentic, traditional Yucatan food and they do it well. We only tried it once but we will return.
            We tried several other places in town, including the usual ones in tourist guides, but the ones above were our favorites. Hacienda Teya is pretty but the food is a bit boring.
            Have fun.

            1 Reply
            1. re: beebee

              I have been to Teya many times and you just have to catch it right, It can be spectacular or make you feel you never want to return. PITY.... I guess it depends on how the chefs are feeling that day! Thanks for the info on the restaurants,

            2. Just got back from a couple weeks in Merida. We actually met David, but were not participating iin his class. I thought Almendros was ok, not at all blown away. Really liked Restaurant D'Al at Calles 53X54. Very small, inexpensive. Loved the shrimp cocktail. There is a new place, La Choperia, on Calle 56 between 53 and 51. Lots of good grilled meats and an attractive space. Fabio, the owner, was there and he is a very gracious host. Invited us to the Grand Opening, etc. Had a great grilled fish lunch at La Playa in Chelem, the water not more than 15 feet away. Carlos is the owner there, speaks excellent English, used to run a restaurant across the street from one of Rick Bayless's places in Chicago. If you are in town on a Saturday night, be sure and go to the fiesta at the romate at the base of Paseo de Montejo. There are several excellent food stalls there, including the Taco Lady. If you go, you'll know who I'm talking about. Have a great trip--were heading back for a month in February.