Merida is the largest city on the Yucatan Peninsula. It attracts visitors interested in historic sightseeing, shopping for Mayan art and relaxing. Though a bustling city of about 700,000, Merida retains its colonial charm and has a laid-back tempo that delights visitors. It makes a good base from which to explore the Mayan archaeological sites of Chichen-Itza and Uxmal. Pink flamingo sanctuaries and swimmable crystal-clear cenotes (sinkholes) are some natural attractions that are easily accessible from Merida. Some of the cenotes are found in caves with centuries-old stalactite formations.
Isolated from the rest of Mexico, and lacking good transportation, the city's inhabitants became quite affluent, traveling and trading with European countries, particularly France. With much of Europe's culture being adopted in Merida, the city became known as the "Paris of the West." European influences can be seen in the grand mansions, parks and statues from the era.