Destinations - Mexico

Travel writer Dave O. Dodge finds that Merida, Mexico, has an appeal for LGBT baby boomers looking for a retirement place.

By Dave O. Dodge


South of the Border

Merida attracts expatriates with a climate that's warm and welcoming

The mere mention of Mexico can conjure up images of dusty border towns that have a history of drug violence, too many T-shirt shops and long lines at any crossing.

But our neighbor to the south is more than a sound bite on the local news. Mexico is fast becoming an alternative destination for aging gay baby boomers that are seeking value, climate and comfort.


One destination is Merida, known as "the White City," which is the capital of the Yucatan, a Mexican state that takes up most of the peninsula that separates the gulf and the Caribbean Sea.

It's a diverse region teaming with Mayan ruins, colonial architecture and many expatriates living large on retirement dollars secured to the north.

Located only a few miles inland and hundreds from any border crossing, Merida was founded in 1542 by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Montejo.

With painstaking accuracy, the Spanish used the materials and stones from the Mayan city of T'ho to construct buildings along streets that have been sustained over centuries.

Today, with its white colonial buildings, narrow cobblestoned streets and welcoming attitude, Merida is on the radar of the older LGBT community looking for a place to retire that is warm, affordable and safe.

The center of Merida is the downtown Plaza de la Indepencia (1), also known as the Zocalo. This tree-lined square is a melting pot of local residents, street vendors and strolling tourists.

A walk around the Zocalo will have visitors thinking they are in an ancient European city.

It is nearly impossible to get lost here. With the streets laid out in a grid, walking is the way to go because parking is next to impossible.

Like any city from the Old World, when the sun goes down, the city wakes up. Streets around the Zocalo are closed off and cafes and restaurants create the ultimate in alfresco dining.

There is a general feeling of being safe and welcome here. Tourists, expats and locals are out to all hours, with most establishments serving dinner until midnight and bars open to the wee hours.

Many gay expatriates are attracted to this city for its colonial buildings. Most colonial buildings are restored and are lit at night from the ground creating a nightly walking architecture exhibit.

Another attraction is the value of housing, with countless neighborhoods to choose from with prices of just under a million.

Bargains can still be found in the popular Santa Ana neighborhood, which is a short walk from the Zocalo.Mex3

The typical home has three bedrooms and is built with living spaces opening to a courtyard.

From the street these homes are not much to look at, but inside there's an attention to detail. The columns, tile and floors can all be original under the layers of paint and dust.

Like the homes that are being rehabbed, the gay vibe here is still under construction. There are more than a dozen gay bed and breakfasts in the downtown area. There are gay owned cafes and many bars, where the crowds can be mixed.

Nearby there are countless Mayan ruins, including the impressive Uxmal (upper left).

The Biosphere Reserve of Celestun (3) is a day trip away where you can get up close to thousands of American Flamingos along the estuary. Close by are remote beaches for anyone in search of solitude.

Merida is no longer considered a side trip from nearby Cancun, but is a true destination in its own right.    -E

Dave O. Dodge is a freelance travel writer based in Phoenix.


Getting there

Merida is located about 200 miles northwest of Cancun. Driving time about three and a half hours. US Airways offer non-stop flights to Cancun from Phoenix.

United Airlines offer connecting flights through Houston to Cancun. Aero Mexico has seasonal non-stop flights and daily connecting flights through Mexico City.

Where to stay

  • Casa del Maya: A warm and friendly gay-owned establishment in the heart of Santa Ana with a pool. The renovated historical property features private baths, homemade breakfast and an international clientele.

  • Gran Real Yucatan: An authentic downtown stay in a private residence (above) that is a historic property and now a full service hotel.


  • If Mayan ruins and ancient cultures are your thing, then hiring a guide is the best bet to see and experience this diverse region.

More about it

  • Check these websites for listings of what is happening in Merida:

Photo courtesy of Joe Eats World

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