I first visited Mérida as a layover stop earlier this year and somewhere in those 5 hours discovered Kuka & Naranjo. While the inner explorer in me was certainly curious to see what Mérida had to offer, I decided to rest somewhere shaded and pretty and full of the kind of food you double up on for the long journey. In my quest for local vegan food close to the bus station, the Happy Cow app showed me that my best bet would be the restaurant La Kombuchería, adjacent to the humble, lush green cultural hotel.
True to the Yucatán flavors and deeply proud of it, the restaurant quickly impressed me. From the quirky, vintage design that gave the cozy restaurant an air of a 1950s Latin American past to the perfectly plated calabaza flautas, as well stacked as they were flavorsome, I liked it all. I quickly filled my camera roll with images of this new favorite spot of mine. I was curious, amongst the vinyl players, the rustic though warm plant-infused restaurant vibe and the inviting modern design, I wondered what the hotel experience would be like.
A few months later on my return to the heart of the Yucatán region, I returned straight to Kuka & Naranjo and wasn’t let down at all. Thankfully I was arriving from the Caribbean and so the intense Yucatán heat wasn’t an unbearable surprise to me, but what did strike me was how smooth, cool and almost paradoxically tranquil the hotel was, even while the noise and excitement of Mérida did its thing in the busy San Juan neighborhood.
Sustainable travel in Mérida: Kuka & Naranjo
A little history of the hotel
Kuka & Naranjo is a boutique hotel that is so clearly invested in sharing the honest realities of hospitality and tourism. Being hyper-aware of the negative effects that tourism can have on a community, the hotel created a new sustainable tourism model so to reverse and transform the effect of tourism on the territory, hence preserving the natural, cultural and social environments.
This works even more seamlessly because Kuka & Naranjo are dedicated to promoting Yucatecan culture through all sustainable and cultural practices found on the premises. They don’t miss a thing. As a lover of boutique and locally-invested eco-hotels, I knew that there was something expressly authentic about Kuka & Naranjo; there is a much appreciated pride for Mexico and the Mexican identity. The dedication to a healthier tourism model for this particular overly frequented section of the Yucatán peninsula is evident from the moment you step through the doors.
As I arrive, Xiomav, the hotel receptionist, greets me with a bottle of fresh Kuka & Naranjo’s own Jamaica water (hibiscus, or sorrel for us Jamaicans). I enjoy it while I’m given a tour of the hotel, trying to keep my eyes off the stairway of dreams; failing. I did pay attention enough to learn that each room is named after an aspect of the region’s history, encouraging guests to be conscious of and open to learning about the pockets of history that formed Mérida.
As always, I seek out accommodation that cares for the environment above all and is proudly a part of the community, rather than exploitative of it. This is obvious from the visuals — the hotel is covered in art, phrases and affirmations from local artists — but it is also evident behind the scenes and in the small but crucial practices. For instance, guests are encouraged to refill their own water bottles and are provided with larger containers for hot and cold water, both refillable options on site.
I especially appreciated that guests are invited to use the hotel’s natural soaps and conditioners as opposed to others which typically contain chemicals that the hotel actively avoids so to not contaminate the water supply in the region. This is what I mean when I say that there is a wealth of practices to learn from, all of them make you fall in love with the simple life. This level of care while staying in an Edenic space results in you wanting nothing more than to protect it.
Final thoughts on luxury sustainability
Firstly, this is surely the definition of luxury as far as sustainability goes. It is the picturesque low-waste haven for those looking to both sleep good and do good. Kuka & Naranjo offers what many fail to; heart. There is a small kitchen whose size is not to be mistaken for inadequacy, but rather the type of intimacy that makes Mexican food so world-renowned. The food is prepared fresh, seasonal and if you are kind enough, it is tailored to your dietary requirements with ease. Breakfast time was a treat; every dish came out of the kitchen different, everyone wanting to know what the other had ordered.
You get to know the staff very intimately, you see herbs growing in the gardens, later recognise them in your dishes and in doing so you grow a relationship with the space, and with Mérida itself. This feeling, this closeness to the land that feeds and homes you for this short while follows you when you step out to explore. The way you interact with the city is different, it is slower, more receptive and so the only kind of tourism that is note-worthy.
When I think about my time in Mérida, Kuka & Naranjo had a huge amount to do with my joy. I naturally connect it to the place that has provided me comfort to enjoy what I consider most luxurious; beautiful views and minimal environmental impact.