State capital of the Yucatan, Merida is a charming colonial city founded by the conquistador Francisco de Montejo in 1542 on the site of the Mayan centre T’ho (“city of five hills”). Sadly, the complex’s original pyramids were destroyed by the Spanish and today provide the foundations for the colonial townhouses, churches and monuments that now adorn the historic centre. For years, thick stone walls guarded against Mayan revolts and even pirate incursions yet it was in the late 19th century that the city leapt to prominence as a centre for henequen production. Huge fortunes were made – it was said that Merida once housed more millionaires than any other city in the world – and the surrounding countryside dominated by huge estates, many of which have since been converted into sumptuous boutique hotels. Today, modern Merida has spilled over the city walls yet at its heart, the colonial architecture of the original “white” city has been beautifully preserved and provides a wonderful base for exploring the northern Yucatan. Close by, Uxmal is one of Mexico’s most impressive sites rising high out of the landscape. Travel further and golden beaches, “cenote” sink-holes and the Celestun wildlife reserve compete with picture-postcard towns such as Izamal and Valladolid, all in easy reach.