Carnaval in 2012, when it was still held on the Paseo de Montejo. Photo: File

Mérida, Yucatán — The city’s Carnaval celebrations were once a simpler, homespun celebration leading up to Lent.

A tasteful but festive parade ran west to east from Parque de la Paz on Avenida Itzáes to Parque Mejorada.

By the 1970s, it was moved to the broad boulevard of the Paseo de Montejo as a way to attract tourists, according to historian Jorge Álvarez Rendón.

But now, it’s better for the tourist trade to have the parade miles away, in the remote fairgrounds south of the city, counters the leader of the local hotel association.

“It’s a great advantage to have the Carnival outside of Mérida,” says Héctor Navarrete Medina, president of the Mexican Association of Hotels of Yucatan.

Carnaval moved from the Centro to the Xmatkuil fairgrounds in 2014, and people have argued over the decision ever since. Some media outlets claim the parade now passes by empty bleachers, although this year organizers counted 40,000 attendees.

The move 17 kilometers/10.5 miles south was precipitated by complaints about crowds, traffic and litter — and lost business.

And hotel guests would cancel their reservations when the parade made it impossible to reach their rooms, or leave them, says Navarrete Medina.

Carnival weekend was good for hotels, many of which are on or near the Paseo. Occupancy rates reached up to 75 percent, much higher than when the boulevard was closed to traffic to accommodate the boisterous parade, he says.

“The benefit we have today is that Carnival is not in Paseo de Montejo. Years ago, when I was on that road it was very difficult because the traffic was cut in half and the hotels at the confluence of Calle 60, for example, had difficulty for tourists to enter because it closed (that street) two or three hours before and two or three hours later for the cleaning … we lost a lot of reservations at that time … many people learned that there was a carnival and they did not come anymore,” the business leader says.

Now that Carnival is in the Xmatkuil compound, he points out, tourists who come to Mérida these days, regardless of whether or not they go to the events, will get a good impression of the city.

Many hotels in the Centro are occupied by guests from the interior of the state or from Campeche and Ciudad del Carmen.

“Many people from the interior of the state come to spend the carnival here one or two days to see the artists who perform. Many of them stay in hotels of one, two, three or four stars and that helps a lot. ”

The long weekend always benefits hotels, as well, just as the previous weekend’s Triathlon did when it coincided with Constitution Day.

In the next two years, the number of hotel rooms will increase by 25 percent, reaching around 11,000, mainly in the area of the new International Convention Center.

With information from Diario de Yucatán


Lee Steele is the founding publisher of Yucatán Expat Life, which has been publishing news and information about the peninsula since 2012.