While you might think that the beach vacation destination hotspot in Mexico is Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen or even Los Cabos, based on growth in visitor counts you may want to be thinking somewhere else.
This year belongs to Mérida, the jewel of the Mexican Yucatan, located on the Gulf of Mexico.
Record Numbers in Mérida
Tourists in Mexico are flocking to the Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport (MID) in Mérida.
In fact, according to numbers from Grupo Aeroportuario del Sureste, S.A.B. de C.V., the publicly traded owner of the airport, through the end of September, more than 2.6 million passengers have used the airport in Mérida this year. This is a 25.8 percent increase over the more than 2.1 million passengers for the same period last year.
The international visitor count alone in Mérida this year is up 26.7 percent over last year.
To compare, Cancun dominates the visitor traffic in the region with more than 24.6 million passengers using the Cancun International Airport. However, from a growth perspective it is up only 10 percent from last year, although it was starting from much larger numbers.
What’s Behind The Boom in Mérida?
There are a number of different factors contributing to the appeal of Mérida for international travelers, especially those from the United States.
Most likely, one of the major reasons might be the rapid acceleration in hotel prices in Cancun. It is not uncommon to see resort prices averaging more than $400 per night during the busy peak travel season.
Mérida is often a much cheaper beach travel destination for more budget-oriented travelers to Mexico.
Another big reason may be the additional focus on the destination by the airlines.
There are currently two airlines flying directly from the United States to Mérida. American Airlines flies to the destination from Miami and Dallas/Fort Worth and United Airlines adds a flight from Houston-Intercontinental.
However, more flights are coming soon.
Aeromexico Connect plans a flight from Atlanta starting in March 2024. Mexican airline Viva Aerobus will directly compete with American Airlines adding a flight from Miami, along with a new flight from Orlando, in July of next year.
What is There To See in Mérida?
According to Forbes, there are plenty of things in Mérida to appeal to every type of traveler.
First and foremost, ancient history buffs will love the archaeological ruins that surround Mérida.
About 75 miles east of Mérida is one of the most amazing ancient archaeological sites in all of Mexico, the Mayan Pre-Colombian city of Chichén Itzá.
Mérida is also well known as a destination city for foodies. The gastronomy scene in Mérida combines some of the fantastic flavor of traditional Mexican food with a fantastic blend of the Mayan culture.
Tourists who love great food should not leave Mérida without trying the Mayan inspired cochinita pibil (pork marinated in achiote chile) and papadzules, a local twist on Mexican enchiladas.
Finally, put on your bathing suit and find a cenote to swim in. These traditional fresh-water cave sinkholes are what draw many people to the Yucatan region and Mérida.
Once considered sacred by the Maya, today visitors from all over the world can enjoy a closer connection to nature by taking a dip in an ancient cenote.
Tips for Travelers
As Mérida gets more popular, and more flights are added with service from the United States, the hotels and resorts in the area are sure to increase in price.
Be sure to book in advance and reserve the different excursions and day trips well before traveling as well.
It might not have all of the bells and whistles of Cancun, Tulum, Isla Mujeres or Playa del Carmen. However, Mérida has a much more traditional Mexican and Mayan feel that’s obviously been attracting a lot of travelers on its own.