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A friend and I spent a day in Merida after visiting Chichen Itza. We wanted to experience a less touristy location in the Yucatan. It was great to see one of the oldest cities in Mexico. For the most part we enjoyed the cultural experience and were surprised the by friendliness of the locals who pointed out several destinations for dining and shopping. Unfortunately, their intentions weren't entirely out of the goodness of their hearts. We ran into two men who both told us that their shops would be closing early that day and then be closed for the rest of the week because they were going back to their Mayan villages for a 4-day festival.
Because we wanted to be sure we got our souvenir shopping done, we rushed over to one of the shops and got a decent deal on a couple of hammocks. We strolled a little further and again were approached by a local saying we should stop by his mother's shop because they were closing early. We didn't go this time, but we began noticing that other tourists were also being told the same story.
When we went out the next day, none of the shops were closed and there did not seem to be a holiday. You can get some good deals at some of the guyaberras and artisan shops, just be careful for the extra friendly locals pointing you to specific ones. If you spend any time in Merida, you ought to see the central square - the Zocalo, or Plaza Grande. It is the essence of Merida. The cathederal is the oldest in mainland America, though a bit austere in appearance.
Opposite this you have Palacio Municipal, which has decorations that give it a somewhat wedding cake appearance. Opposite is the Casa Montejo, perhaps the most significant building since the Montejos established the city of Merida.
The facade is in tact, the interior is a bank. Besides the above, you'll see the Ateneo which was the bishop's residence. Register at the Tourism Office there by 9. The tour lasts 90 mins. There is also folkloric dancing about midday. The city has been trying to improve the image of the square in the evening, when quite a few mostly homosexual prostitutes move in. Monday night's local dancing, for example, ensures a more wholesome atmosphere prevails.