Thursday, 30 January 2014

Touring the markets of Mérida

MERIDA, YUCATAN.  If you live in, or have visited Mérida, chances are you’re aware of the markets. The region south of Calle 65, east of Calle 60 is the main market area of the city, with Mercado San Benito and Mercado Lucas de Galvéz being the best known. Perhaps you have been inside one or more of the markets, or are even a regular visitor, shopping like a local to pick up the freshest seasonal produce. Or, maybe, like many expat residents and visitors, you find the markets too confusing or even a little intimidating, and, while you would like to go in, you haven’t done so for fear of getting lost, or of not knowing what you are buying. Recently, I discovered there is a solution for anyone who is in the second group, who wishes they were in the first.

Mercado Lucas de Galvéz 

Whether you are ‘market shy’ and want to learn the ropes, or a regular market shopper who would like to gain more knowledge, “Rosa’s Market Tour” may be for you. Born and brought up in the UK, Rosa Soares has lived in Mexico for 14 years, the last 6 of which, in Mérida. As a housewife, married to a local man, and living in Mérida on a local budget, necessity initially took Rosa to the markets, where she found her pesos stretched considerably further than they did at the supermarket. Day by day, she explored further, finding she had an interest in the products on sale, the vendors, and their stories. As time went on, her knowledge expanded, as did her desire to share it. Fast forward to March, 2013, and “Rosa’s Market Tour” was officially born.

Visiting the 'molino'

Now, almost a year later, Rosa is finding ever increasing interest in her tour, both from resident expats, keen to learn how to shop like locals, and visitors with the desire to see this unique side of life. Although she hesitates to describe herself as an ‘expert’, Rosa’s knowledge of the markets, the products on sale, the vendors, their backgrounds and way of life is truly amazing, and although already a regular market visitor myself, I learned a great deal from her, when I joined her on a recent tour.

The tours generally last around 4 hours, and take place on demand on weekdays, with no more than 5 people in a group. Rosa talks about the history of the markets and the city in general, highlighting points of interest while walking around and between the markets. She includes folklore and anecdotes, as well as product and shopping knowledge, making this a fascinating tour even for those who are not specifically interested in market shopping. Tours cover all the main markets in centro, and are customized on a per tour basis according to time of day, seasonal produce, etc. Upon request, Rosa also customizes the tours further according to interests of the participants, for example bakers, or cake makers. I’d encourage any resident expat or visitor to take Rosa’s tour; it’s almost guaranteed to teach you something new. Wear good walking shoes!

Did you know that 13 types of citrus grow in Yucatan?

Rosa’s latest venture is collaborating with two locals who have developed an all-day gastronomic workshop tour, which they operate approximately once a month. The tour features a village near Izamal, highlighting pre-Hispanic cooking methods, visiting a local Maya family, and culminating in a meal, which the participants help to cook. During the day, you’ll learn how to make your own achiote / recado rojo paste, muc bil pollo, and the refreshing drink pozole. All ingredients used are sourced from the family’s vegetable patch, farm, or village. While the muc bil pollo is cooking in the pib (underground pit oven) there are options to visit surrounding attractions. Rosa is on hand as translator and to explain what is happening. It sounds like a brilliant way to spend a Saturday or Sunday (which are the only days the tour is offered), while helping to promote, preserve and sustain an authentic rural village in Yucatan. The reasonable tour price includes transportation from Mérida.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

So what does it cost to live in Mérida?

MERIDA, YUCATAN.  I often get asked this question; indeed more often since my last column mentioning the ever increasing cost of living in certain European countries (read it here: if you missed it.)

It’s not such a simple question to answer as you might think. Generally, I answer that you can live as cheaply in Mérida as you want to. Want to live like a local on a local budget? You can do it. Want to live like a movie star on a much lower budget than you would need to do so in California? You can do that too. For the purposes of answering the question, the following figures are based on my own experience and knowledge of the basic minimum costs for essential and / or mandatory living expenses, i.e. things you are required to pay, or which constitute basic living requirements for most people. Beyond these, it’s up to you. For ease and simplicity, all figures are quoted in Mexican Pesos. For conversions, I recommend – which as of press time is quoting $13.5 pesos to US$1 USD, $18.5 pesos to €1 Euro, or $22 pesos to £1 GBP. Basically you can divide the figures I quote below by 13.5, 18.5, or 22 to get the figures in USD, EUR, or GBP respectively. Or head over to and let them do the work for you with constantly updated rates.

Let’s start with housing. You can rent a house in a ‘fraccionamiento’ for $2000 - $3000 pesos a month, or less. For a shorter term stay, a house in centro, or for a larger house, maybe with a pool, you’ll pay more. Thinking about buying? Check one of the many real estate websites for an idea of what is available, at prices well below what you would pay for an equivalent property in Europe or North America. Annual ‘predial’ (property tax payable to the city) is due in January. With a discount for prompt payment, mine was $105 pesos (yes, $105 pesos…) for the year. Annual garbage collection fee (in centro) is $140 pesos if you pay in advance for the full year. In outlying neighborhoods it is slightly more expensive. If you own your house, and are not a Mexican citizen, depending on your property location, you may own via a ‘fideicomiso’ (bank trust) which involves its own fees (usually in the range of $6500 pesos per year); your real estate agent would tell you more about these trusts, which are hopefully due for abolition in the next year or so, following which they will no longer be required.

Your bi-monthly electricity bill (from CFE) will depend (obviously) on how much you choose to use. If you live in a smallish house, use your air-conditioning only at night in the bedroom during the hotter months, and cook with gas, chances are your bill every two months will not be more than $600 pesos. On the other hand if you have central air-conditioning, which you run all day, every day, at a temperature of 18°c (65°f), it’s easy to multiply your bill by ten. My bi-monthly water bill (from JAPAY) is normally $62 pesos. Gas for cooking is supplied from the many trucks driving around town, which will fill your gas canister, or sell you one if you don’t have one. A refill costs around $350 pesos, and, unless you are cooking all day every day, will last for a long, long, time.

To keep in touch, a basic phone/internet package (from TELMEX) is $389 a month, which includes 100 local calls, 100 minutes of long distance in Mexico, and unlimited fast internet. If you use Skype or similar for your international ‘keeping in touch’, you will pay little or nothing extra. Want a cell phone for emergencies? Buy one at Oxxo, using Telcel’s Amigo system, which is ‘pay as you go’. The phone will cost you around $300 pesos initially, and a monthly top up of $50 pesos is needed to keep your credit active.

Not into cleaning? While not truly a ‘necessity’, a cleaning lady is a luxury that many people enjoy here in Mérida, and approximately $200 pesos per 4 hour session is a guide price. Don’t want to do your own laundry? Chances are, your cleaning lady will do it for you as part of her duties if you wish (and if you have your own laundry machines), or head to the nearest ‘lavanderia’, where for between $7 and $9 pesos a kilo, it will be washed, dried, and folded for you, and ready 24 hours later. Fancy having someone clear the weeds from your garden? $50 - $200 pesos will take care of it, depending on the size of the garden and of the weeds!

How about getting around? This depends on where you choose to live, and on your personal style. In centro, more or less anywhere is within walking distance. For traveling out from centro, or if you live outside, the buses are frequent and cheap, at $7 pesos per ride. Metered taxis are another option, with a ride in the main part of the city unlikely to exceed $50 pesos.

Can’t survive without TV? Broadcast TV is free. I rarely turn mine on, and consequently don’t bother to contract any additional service; however a good budget option (with some English language channels) is VETV (part of Sky) which charges $169 pesos a month. The bigger satellite and cable companies charge more, have more English channels, and offer a variety of packages.

What about eating? Do you want to do all of your shopping at Walmart, Costco, and Sam’s Club? Expect to pay accordingly. Prefer to head to the markets (San Benito and Lucas de Galvez in centro or the many smaller neighborhood markets around town)? Expect to pay like a local, and enjoy the freshest and most seasonal selections. If you find the markets to be confusing or intimidating, there is a cure for that… Watch for details soon in an upcoming column! Eating out is the same. If you choose to eat in the upscale, air-conditioned restaurants in some parts of north Mérida, you can expect to pay prices comparable to those found north of the border. Or you can enjoy lunch at a ‘cocina economica’, where you will find fresh, local dishes, varying daily, and unlikely to cost more than $60 pesos including soup and a drink.

Healthcare costs – This is a biggie, and one on which you should do your own research, depending on your own situation. I pay less than US$500 (US dollars) per year for a policy with a reasonable deductible. For minor ailments, many pharmacy chains have doctors on the premises, usually free or almost free ($20 – $40 pesos per visit) who will diagnose the problem and propose a treatment).

As mentioned, these are my own observations; things change by the day, and, very much according to your lifestyle. I’ll be interested to hear your comments.

What’s happening in Merida this week? The Merida Fest (formerly known as the Festival de la Ciudad) continues, and will run until January 31, as reported in TYT here:

Over in Valladolid, the Expo Feria has just started, and will run for the next two weeks, as reported in TYT here: If you have never been to Valladolid, it’s a great excuse to make the short trip over there.

Fancy trying somewhere new and different for an evening out? This week we discovered “Boyis Bar”, on Calle 35 in Col. San Nicolás. It’s a strange location, and an interesting concept – it styles itself as a ‘Cantina Urbana’, with industrial style decoration complementing the waiters dressed in coveralls and hard hats. It all sounds a bit like ‘The Village People’, but is actually a pleasant choice for a night out in a local setting. Visit their Facebook page at for specials, directions, etc.

And finally this week, if anyone is interested, we know of a great potential business opportunity for someone interested in opening a bed and breakfast or small guesthouse in Merida, or who just wants a lot of space for inviting family and friends to visit. It’s a 6 bedroom, 4 bathroom house on the east side of centro, 20 minutes walking distance (13 blocks) from the plaza grande and cathedral. It’s unique in design, with a huge yard, event area, roof terrace, etc. It’s been on the market for a while, and the asking price is $1,500,000 pesos (US$111,500 US dollars at today’s exchange rate). Doubtless it needs some work, but could make a great project for the right person. We’re not involved in any way in the sale of the property, however are keen to see this unique property developed to its full potential. Contact to be put in touch with the seller.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Back in the Land of the Maya

MERIDA, YUCATAN. And… we’re back. I must say, it’s nice to be back in the sunshine here in Merida, which, despite the occasional cold front (norte) blowing across, still provides one of the best winter climates in the world in my opinion.

Recently, I have been hearing from various British friends who live in Spain. There is a huge British expat community in Spain, both on the mainland and the island of Mallorca. They moved there for the weather and the lifestyle, but recently are reporting growing concern about crime, and the cost of living. It seems that as the Spanish economy heads downhill, crime is rising, and new taxes and utility cost increases are affecting the lives of the residents. To coin a phrase, there is trouble in paradise.

Britain’s “The Independent” newspaper reports that two in five expats living in Spain said that the cost of eating out had risen by more than 15%, while 71% reported an increase of more than 10% year-on-year on fuel. Housing prices and tax increases also were a concern.

According to Spain’s Interior Ministry, there has been a worrying hike in crime rates over the last few years, in particular violent crimes and burglaries.

It’s sad to see Spain, a country I like very much myself, heading down this path; one which is being shared by other European countries at this time.

For those who have the ability to take advantage however, it also presents an opportunity; namely, to look across the Atlantic, to Mexico, and the Yucatan peninsula, which offers a high standard of living at a bargain price, great weather, and a language with which Spanish residents will already be familiar. One need only browse the pages of to find a myriad of reasons to consider living in Yucatan.

Winter in Yucatan

What’s happening this in Merida this week? The Merida Fest (formerly known as the Festival de la Ciudad) is now on and will run until January 31, as reported in TYT here:

Have you been to Bule Beers yet? With its “African Safari” theme, it sounds tacky, but in fact it somehow works. Beers (‘medias’) are an incredible $10 pesos each on Mondays before 9pm, which, as far as we know, is the cheapest beer in town; $12 pesos each Tuesday to Sunday before 9pm, and a reasonable $23 pesos each after 9pm. A menu of light meals is also offered. Bule Beers is located just down the road from City Center mall, not far from the periferico. For more details, visit their Facebook page:érida/1396158183935269

And don’t forget to visit our friends at Canada Burger! In addition to their regular burgers and poutine, their new mini burgers are now taking Merida by storm! Visit their Facebook page for more information and directions: