Cholul is a charming upscale pueblo that sits just northeast of the city of Merida in the Mexican Yucatan. Spending an afternoon here is one of the best off-the-beaten-path things that you can do while visiting the Yucatan’s cultural capital but for now, at least, Cholul flies largely under the radar.
Like many Mexican towns and villages, Cholul is centered around a main plaza (zocalo) that is flanked by an impressive Catholic church. The area attracts a crowd of well-heeled Yucatecans that spend their weekends brunching at chic Cholul eateries like Sabor a Mango and Al Modar and browsing the elegant boutique clothing stores that encircle the main square.
It is only a matter of time before word gets out about Cholul but for the time being, you are hard-pressed to find any information about it online at all. You are in good hands here because I live in a gated community right outside of Cholul and have been based in Merida for the last two years.
I have explored my new home in the Yucatan extensively, dined at every restaurant in Cholul, and feel well-poised to provide you with advice on exploring the area that you cannot find anywhere else.
Visiting Cholul Yucatan
Cholul is one of 12 commissariats in the Merida municipality and it is the second-largest in size after Caucel, in western Merida. The little town takes its name from the Mayan word for a tree that is native to the region (Apoplanesia paniculata) and it is believed that the region has been inhabited since as far back as pre-historic times.
During the henequen boom of the 17th and 18th centuries when Spanish conquistadors were opening up Yucatan haciendas left right and center to capitalize on the “green gold” used to produce natural fiber products, Cholul was a residence of choice for many of the servants and farmhands. It is only in recent decades that the area has started to expand, as more and more Mexicans and foreigners are drawn to relocating to Merida, the safest city in Mexico.
While Merida has seen an ever-increasing trickle of international tourists in recent years, Cholul has managed to maintain its unique culture and charm.
Points of interest in and around Cholul Yucatan
Most of the activity around Cholul is centered around the vibrant yellow catholic cathedral in the center of town, which dates back to the 17th century and was built in honor of San Pedro Apóstol. The church is still very much in use for Catholic mass, and other ceremonies, and Sunday schools for children are hosted here at weekends.
It is worth stepping inside, if the church is open during your visit, to admire the colorful murals and religious icons that depict scenes from the bible inside.
A local flea market is hosted in Parque Cholul and the grounds of the vibrant yellow church every Sunday and it is worth passing through just to observe the atmosphere and the scenes of local life. Tianguis (stalls) are set up selling second-hand clothing, knitted goods, children’s toys, games, and beauty products and the little town really comes to life.
The market targets locals rather than travelers, so you won’t find any tourist tat or gentrification here. People usually start setting up their stalls at around 8 a.m. and the market starts winding down around midday.
Shop for one-of-a-kind clothing pieces and souvenirs at Cholul boutiques
There are some charming boutique stores that line Calle 23, one of the main promenades in Cholul. Arbol House Boutique and More is a particularly nice clothing and accessories boutique because the lady who owns it sells gorgeous dresses and skirts that are essentially modern interpretations of traditional Mexican clothing.
For example, a cute summer dress version of the Yucatecan embroidered huipil or formal guayaberas for men. You will also find lots of fun playsuits, dresses, beach cover-ups, and handbags that are perfect for hanging out at a beach resort in Mexico or visiting the stunning beaches of the Yucatan.
A couple of doors down, Mexicanos is another independent boutique store whose owners pride themselves on sourcing and selling high-quality garments made with cotton and linen.
Meanwhile, while not clothing-related, Puerta 23 is a quaint little bakery and coffee shop where you can buy cookies (galletas) and Mexican sweet bread, as well as bags of excellent artisanal coffee. At around 250 pesos per 500g, their specialty roasted coffee blends don’t come cheap, but they make excellent gifts or souvenirs from your trip to Mexico.
Visit an abandoned hacienda with a dark past
If you are fascinated by the Yucatan’s history of haciendas or you just like exploring creepy abandoned places, you will enjoy paying a visit to Cholul’s Hacienda de Cancabchén de Casares.
The hacienda, which thrived and served as a place of work for hundreds of people during the, is said to be haunted after the owner was murdered by his employees.
The exact history of the place seems to have been lost in time and if you ask any Cholul resident about the place, they will all tell you something a bit different. However, the most popular legend states that the hacienda owner was nasty and abusive to his staff, constantly demeaning and undermining them.
They eventually got so sick of it that they showed up to work one day and hacked him to death with their tools. His restless ghost has been said to roam the grounds ever since and from then on, the hacienda fell into abandonment and disrepair.
A second version of the story claims that the hacienda owner assaulted the wife of one of his employees who then sought out to get revenge. Either way, the hacienda has a dark past, and there is an eerie quiet about the place when you visit.
The hacienda can be reached from the main road of Calle 23A, so it is safe enough to visit and isnt in an overly isolated location. On one side of the road, you have the main hacienda building whose second level is no longer accessible due to a dilapidated staircase.
On the other side, you can cross an overgrown field to one of the former factory buildings and the sunbleached remains of a roofless church whose inscriptions bear the date “1900”.
Where to Eat in Cholul Yucatan
There are some excellent places to head for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner in Cholul, whether you are looking for traditional Yucatecan cuisine or more contemporary dining options. A selection of some of the best eateries in the area is summarised below.
Sabor a Mango, Cholul
A personal favorite is Sabor a Mango (Calle 23 100 Por Calle 20, Cholul) which serves elevated Mexican and Yucatecan dishes with an international twist. The establishment features indoor and exterior courtyard seating and the restaurant interiors have been designed to look like a traditional Yucatecan homestead, complete with Mayan masks, handpainted trinkets, and even one little room that is designed to look like a bedroom.
Live music is hosted in the courtyard on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, and reservations are highly recommended if you want prime seats with views of the stage. Thursday nights are for Jazz, Friday nights are for Blues, and Saturday nights are for Mexican and international pop.
An excellent local entree is the guacamole del pueblo (guacamole of the town) which features smashed avocados, with pico de gallo, a splash of squeezed lemon, sauteed corn, aioli, tortilla pieces, and pork belly.
Of the many delicious dinner choices, the jerk de pollo (Mayan-style jerk chicken) and the Mayan twist on Thailand’s red curry served with the fish of the day sourced from local waters are standout favorites.
Al Modar is an excellent breakfast and brunch spot that sits on Calle 20, just across from Sabor a Mango in the central square of Cholul. This little place is tiny – essentially just the size of someone’s living room, so reservations come highly recommended at weekends.
The decor is simple yet tasteful; there is an inviting all-white interior with powerful aircon that is much appreciated on a hot, humid day in the Yucatan (of which there are many), while the exterior garden is a beautiful leafy green space. Al Modar’s menu is a blend of Mexican and international breakfast favorites.
Think Mexican chilaquiles served with salsa rojo or salsa verde (red sauce or green sauce), or hearty portions of Spanish omelets served with a side salad. The coffees and cappuccinos here are served in giant mugs the size of your head (a great way to start the day) and their fresh fruit smoothies and pressed juices are to die for.
For an authentically Mexican breakfast experience, head to Gelina 22 (Calle 22, Cholul) just a short walk away from the Zocalo. The humble greasy spoon-style eatery is operated by a local mom-and-daughter duo that serves traditional regional and national dishes.
The service here is unparalleled and by dining here you are helping to support a small, female-owned local business. Consider starting with a fresh fruit plate, and then eggs made to taste (al gusto).
Huevos rancheros (eggs served sunny side up on a bed of tortillas slathered with refried beans and a spicy homemade tomato sauce) are a popular choice. As are huevos a la Mexicana (scrambled eggs prepared with chopped fresh tomatoes, onions, and green and red bell peppers).
Wash it all down with a steaming hot cup of cafe de olla – Mexican coffee flavored with cinnamon.
El Carnes de Monterrey Cholul
If you are renting a car in Merida and happen to be in the Cholul area in the evenings, consider stopping by El Carnes de Monterrey Cholul (Calle Sexta s/n x 21B y 21 C Comisaría) for some authentic Northern Mexican barbeque cuisine (carne asada).
Choose from a selection of steaks, hamburgers, and other cuts of meat and have them cooked to perfection to your liking right in front of you. If you are staying in central Merida, there are honestly other better options for this kind of grillhouse food (like Carne Regias San Juan on the Paseo Montejo) but El Carnes de Monterrey isnt a bad choice near Cholul either.
Pro tip: order a serving of salsichas para asar (sausages for the grill) to go on the side. These delicious, fat juicy red pork sausages are comparable to British saveloys and are flavored with a delicious array of herbs and spices.
El Carnes de Monterrey is a real local place, that is a favorite among Cholul and Conkal residents.
Final thoughts on visiting Cholul Yucatan
Even if you are not staying in this particular part of the Yucatan, and your time in Merida is limited, spending a morning in Cholul is a great alternative option for your Merida itinerary especially if you appreciate local culture when you travel and you want to see the “real” Yucatan. If you take the time to travel here, you will likely be one of the only extranjeros (foreigners) here.
The only reason that foreigners are aware of Cholul’s existence at all is because urban expansion in Merida has seen the lines blur where the city of Merida ends and Cholul begins. The appeal of Cholul is obvious and the personality and charm of the area is such that the pueblo feels ripe for gentrification.
As such, the time to visit is now before things change too much. Do you have any further questions about planning a trip to the Yucatan or Mexico in general?
As I mentioned, I have been living in the Yucatan capital of Merida since early 2022. These Mexico tips might come in useful in helping you organize your trip but for anything else, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Safe travels and enjoy the Yucatan!
Buen Viaje! Melissa xo