We had our fair share of drinks during our half-month in the Yucatan as we visited Valladolid, Merida, Campeche, Celestun, Tulum, and a few other smaller villages in between. Here, we document our highlights and discoveries, drinking around the Yucatan.
Drinks Around the Yucatan
Margaritas in the Yucatan
Being that this is Mexico we expected to find a fair amount of tequila and margaritas, and although we did, it was perhaps a bit more understated than anticipated. Also, I had always thought a true margarita came on the rocks. But whenever ordering a Margarita in the Yucatan, we always received a frozen blended drink.
Margaritas tended to be less sweet (and better) than the blended concoctions I’ve drank in the US. You can taste the fresh lime juice instead of whatever syrupy margarita mix that is typically used in the US. Overall the frozen margaritas were pretty tasty here. Interestingly, never once did I receive my drink in a margarita glass; rather it was always in a regular highball or lowball glass and always with either a fully or partially salt-rimmed glass.
Daiquiris in the Yucatan
Daiquiris were prevalent too, but I don’t mean strawberry daiquiris and such. In the Yucatan a daiquiri is a blended drink with rum, lime, and sugar, somewhat similar to a margarita except with rum instead of tequila and no orange liquor. We had our fair share and even started to gravitate more towards these limón daiquiris over margaritas.
Tequila in the Yucatan
Although some bars and cantinas would feature a handful of tequilas, there wasn’t as big of a focus to them as I had imaged there would be. Yet tequila was used to accompany a variety of mixers, much more so than in the US. Tequila & Coke and tequila & grapefruit juice, known as a “paloma”, were common, among other tequila-based drinks.
I was hoping to find specialty tequila bars in which I could perhaps do some tequila sampling, learn more about the liquor, and discover some great anejos or respados to rival tequila such as Patron that we’re familiar with. I’ve seen such places in the resort areas of the Riviera Maya on previous trips to Mexico, but perhaps those catered more to the resort-tourist crowd. During this journey in the heart of the Yucatan we unfortunately never stumbled across such placse during our two weeks there.
Perhaps this is because the Yucatan is not a tequila-producing region. That occurs more in Central western regions of Mexico like such as Jalisco and Guanajuato. This may explain the lack of specialty tequila places in the Yucatan and will give us reason to one day visit the tequila-producing regions of Mexico. Nonetheless, while in Valladolid we did come across Pancho Vila Tequileria, a small tequila store with a very knowledgeable owner who helped us select a small bottle that was right for us.
Mezcal in the Yucatan
Although we were unsuccessful getting schooled on tequila while in the Yucatan, we did get a first hand lesson with its cousin, mezcal, a unique find in Mexico. Mezcal is made from the maguey plant, which is in the agave family (what tequila is made from). Similar to tequila, it comes in white (or claro), anejo (aged in oak barrels for less than a year), and respado (aged in oak barrels for more than a year). We set out to a mezcalaria in Merida to give the liquor a shot (pun intended).
We were served the mezcal in a shot glass, yet it is traditionally sipped and not shot all at once. No salt or lime wedges either. Instead it was brought to us with green-rind sour orange slices covered in some sort of tasty, salty and spicy powder. We later found out that this was “sal de gusano”, (translation: worm salt), which is a mixture of ground fried larvae, ground chili peppers, and salt. It sounds gross but it somehow worked with the stong liquor. I’m glad I didn’t know what it was at the time.
The mezcal is traditionally not mixed with anything nor chilled. You drink it straight and commonly with a beer back. It clocks in at about 55% ABV, higher than the typical 40% found in tequila and most other liquors. We started with a white mezcal, which was rather harsh. Next was a respado of which its oaky flavor helped to get it down.
The mezcalaria also had something called crèma de mezcal that came in about a dozen different flavors such as mocha, cocoa, coffee, vanilla, and even peanut butter! We sampled a few of those, which was served over ice in small glasses with a straw. They were quite delicious and dangerously easy to drink. I’m not sure exactly how potent these liqueurs were though. The alcohol was either masked extremely well or it may have been on the weak side, but smooth and delicious nonetheless. It did not taste anything like the mezcal we’d been drinking and instead was creamy and desert-like.
Also unique to Mexico are chelada, micheladas, and rojo ojos. A chelada is a beer mixed with a pretty healthy amount of lime juice and served over ice. Its up to you to chose what type of beer you’d like it with. I first tried it with a Corona, which I’m not a fan of, but chose it because I’m familiar with how it should taste. You’re brought a salt-rimmed glass filled about a fifth of the way with lime juice and a few ice cubes. You pour the beer in yourself, which usually fit about three-quarters of the bottle.
Now I’m a purist when it comes to beer and do not like the idea of mixing beers with other things or putting them over ice (blasphemy!), so I was fairly surprised to find that I really enjoyed the cheladas here. It’s the first time I actually liked a Corona. Who knew, you just needed to mask it with a ton of lime juice. The concoction tasted almost like a delicious sparkling limeade, than it did anything resembling beer. Extremely refreshing! I could definitely suck a few of these down on a hot Mexican afternoon.
A mechelada is the same concept, but there are also a variety of spices and sauces mixed in with the lime juice and beer, again served over ice in a glass. The Mechelada mix they used was premixed but I believe it contained hot sauce, Worcestershire, soy and perhaps a few other things. I asked what it was and the bartender just replied “salsa” (sauce). The Mechelada seemed to be extremely popular with the locals in Yucatán, as this is what I most commonly saw them drinking when we were in the cantinas.
Also, contrary to what I had thought, there is no tomato juice in a Mechelada. Rather, a Rojo Ojo contains the lime juice, the spices & sauces, and Clamato juice, with beer served over ice. So if you want a bloody beer, order a rojo ojo not a mechelada. Personally, I like spicy things but I did not care much for the mechelada or the rojo ojo as I did the chelada.
Beers Around the Yucatan
Beers were abundant throughout the Yucatan, particularly pale lagers followed by amber lagers. There’s much more to beer in Mexico than Corona and Dos Equis and even some burgeoning craft beers. For an in-depth review of the beer around the Yucatan and what the Top 5 Mexican Beers you need to try, see our Yucatan beer review here.
Where to Drink Around the Yucatan
Cantinas Around the Yucatan
We loved visiting the cantinas throughout the Yucatan. Cantinas were informal refuges that we would duck into during the late afternoon and poorly attempt to mix in with the locals who frequented them. Cantinas all seemed to have those wild-west style swinging doors, which is sometimes how we spotted them and always fun to walk in through. The cantinas tended to have live or recorded Mexican music, although one cantina had sports on a few TVs instead.
When drinking at cantinas, we were always served very plentiful complimentary snacks and appetizers with our meals. Sometimes it was something simple like peanuts, popcorn, or chips & bean dip. Other times we received tacos, enchiladas, and fried fish fillets. These heavy appetizers that we never expected, would often turn into impromptu meals for us. Some places would just keep bringing us more and more food until we were entirely stuffed and have to politely ask them to please stop delivering the delicious freebees.
We loved the cantinas throughout the Yucatan, but were a bit puzzled in their hours. They tend to be more of a day-drinking place. They typically opened around Noon or earlier and would close sometimes as early as 6:00 pm and always before 10:00 pm, when restaurants and bars would begin to open.
Happy Hours Around the Yucatan
The Yucatecos tend to go out late, perhaps starting their night as late as midnight. Therefore, happy hour throughout the Yucatan tends to start at about 6:00 and lasts until 9:00, 9:30, or 10:00. Two-for-ones and other specials were quite common during the 3-4 hour block.
This timing worked out great for us, as we aren’t much of night owls these days and would need a decent night sleep for the day the followed. But it was rather strange that we’d go to a bar around 7:00 in the evening and it would be virtually empty. Happy hours lasting until 10:00 pm can be dangerous but we really enjoyed it and made the most of the timing as it stretched our drink budget.
Note: the late happy hour timing was not the case for Tulum (and likely the entire Riviera Maya area), which tended to follow more typical happy hour times, as in the US.
Our Top 3 Places to Grab a Drink in the Yucatan
1) La Negrita Cantina, Merida: Or really any cantina in the Yucatan, yet La Negrita Cantina was our favorite of them all. It had live Mexican music, a fun atmosphere, friendly staff that speaks decent English yet it was still filled with mostly locals looking to have a good time. They also have over a half-dozen or so decently priced local Mexican craft beers (cerveza artisanal), a rare find in these parts. Get a bucket of beers and chow down on the complimentary appetizers coming your way.
2) Batey, Tulum: This place has incredible mojitos. They use fresh sugar cane and split it right there on the spot. We watched the bartenders artfully craft these delicious drinks. Despite the extremely heavy hand on the rum pours, these drinks tasted deceitfully mild and wonderful. It was a happy accident when I first got there, asked the bartender if “the mojitos were good here?” and she mistakenly thought I asked for “a mojito with ginger.” So I received a mojito complete with fresh ginger and it was the most delicious mojito I’ve had in my entire life. Go here and get a ginger mojito, a classic one, or a Maya mojito, which includes a mixture Mayan spices unique to the area! All of them were great.
3) La Fundacion Mezcaleria, Merida: We liked being able to try the various different mezcals at La Fundacion. The evening started pretty quiet as we snagged a table in the back but as the night progressed, the place became jammed packed and was rocking. It was a pretty young crowd of both backpackers and locals alike all imbibing on the namesake liquor, complimenting it with beers, all while reggae, rock, and pop tunes blasted through the speakers that surrounded.
I think all the mezcal was doing its trick because it got pretty rowdy. This place seemed to be just as much (perhaps more) about the partying as it is about liquor, so if you’re looking for a party, you’ll find it here. If you simply want to try some mezcal, get here early, definitely before 11:00 pm.
So whether its tequila, margaritas, daiquiris, mojitos, mezcal, chelada, or a beer; just don’t have too many, or else you may end up like my friend here…
Bill Nevins says
Thanks for a great article which confirms my own current observations here in Merida in late 2018. I would just add Patito beers and Hennessy’s Pub and Hermana Republica. Salud! Please come try La Cumbre Elevated IPA on me when you are in Albuquerque, my home town in New Mexico.