“I wanted real adventures to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.” 

James Joyce

Urban Writing Retreat
Mérida, Mexico
January 7-13, 2024


“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home.”

James Michener

Introduction | Top

The editors of Chestnut Review invite you to a special retreat in Mérida, Mexico! Escape the winter and start 2024 with a splash of sun on the Yucatan peninsula!

We believe there is a time and place for retreats off the beaten path, for solitude and reflection. But we also believe that there are times when you want to experience life and make memories and impressions that enrich your writing. This retreat is a hybrid experience with cultural immersion as well as time set aside for reflection and writing.

Mérida, Mexico is the cultural capital of the Yucatan peninsula and our base for this retreat. Its friendly streets and welcoming people will inspire you and drive away any winter doldrums. The city has numerous cultural attractions and provides easy access to several world-class Mayan ruins as well as an uncounted (literally!) number of cenotes—freshwater swimming holes—some open to the sky, others deep underground.

Of course, no destination description is complete without mentioning its food culture. Mérida has superb restaurants of all types, but particularly offers you the chance to try regional specialities like cochinita pibil or the shimmery black sauce of relleno negro. And any day you can instantly refresh with an icy piña and chaya drink.

This retreat is limited to 12 participants. We will subdivide into two working groups but there will be combined activities and for many events we will be all together. This small size will allow for intensive discussions and plenty of time for everyone’s voice (and writing!) to be heard.

All of our retreats are open to participants from any country; however, we cannot advise or assist with visas or any other legal requirements that may be necessary for you to attend. 

Retreat Leaders | Top

Maria S. Picone, Managing Editor (she/her)
Maria (she/her) is multi-genre writer and artist from Massachusetts and a Korean adoptee. She has been published in Zócalo Public Square, Fractured Lit, and Whale Road Review, among others including Best Small Fictions ’21. Maria is a Kenyon Review fellow and holds an MFA in fiction from Goddard College. She can be found on Twitter at @mspicone, on Instagram at @mspicone, and at mariaspicone.com.

James Rawlings, Editor-in-Chief (he/him)
Founder of Chestnut Review, his poetry and essays have appeared in Rattle, Atlanta Review, Gargoyle, Penn Review, Into the Void, and many others. He earned his B.A in English with a Creative Writing Concentration in Poetry from University of Maryland, College Park.

Hotel | Top

Our home in Merida will be the Luz en Yucatan, a hotel located in a former nunnery just a few blocks from the historical city center and steps from Santa Lucia park. Luz features breakfast and coffee daily, a private pool, and fourteen unique guestrooms over three levels, as well as two courtyards open to the sky—you can hear green parrots squawking in the morning if you wake early enough! Our aim is to fill the hotel with writers so that we will all form a community where nearly everyone you meet will be a writer just like you! 

What’s Included? | Top

  • Pre-trip orientation: once the group is formed, we will arrange a Zoom meeting to explain the schedule and answer any questions you may have.
  • 6 nights accommodation in private ensuite rooms in Luz en Yucatan. We will assign rooms based on preferences and on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • 6 breakfasts (provided at the hotel).
  • 3 dinners: opening (Sunday), closing (Friday), and on our excursion day we’ll order in tacos with all the fixings since everyone will be tired.
  • 1 guided excursion, including admissions and transport, to the Mayan Ruins at Uxmal as well as a post-excursion cenote swim.
  • 5 sessions of craft discussion and workshop (15 hours total, Monday-Friday). Generally held in the mornings, this will be a combination of writing exercises, craft discussion, and workshopping your writing.
  • 1 private 30 minute consultation with one of the retreat leaders about your work.

Excluded: meals/snacks outside those listed above, flights to/from Mérida, individual excursions, souvenirs.

Cost | Top

All prices are in US dollars.

$1899  early-bird rate, single room, per person 

$2099  regular rate, single room, per person 

$999     shared room w/two writers, per person

$599    shared room, non-writer friend/partner rate for second person

  • Initial deposit is $520. Deposits before July 1st earn the early -bird rate. 
  • Shared rooms are subject to availability of extra beds. Most, but not all rooms have more than one bed.
  • Non-writer partners are included in all non-writing activities listed above (meals, excursion).
  • We don’t believe in big hefty bills, so once you pay your deposit the remainder of the cost will be spread over two months (August 1/September 1).
  • For cancellation policy, see below in the FAQ.

FAQ | Top

Do I need to know Spanish?

No 😊. While as language teachers we strongly support learning languages, Mérida is very accessible to those who don’t know Spanish. The Luz staff is fully bilingual, all guides for our excursions will speak English, and many salespeople have functional English. You will find, though, that even a dozen words in Spanish will ease your way, but by all means you can get along quite well as a monolingual tourist.

What about Covid?

While we in no way want to downplay the potential seriousness of Covid, one of the advantages of our location is that all our sessions will be held in open air rooms, and we support whatever masking level you are most comfortable with. Given the temperate weather, once in Mexico you will be outside or in open air much of the time, and so we do not consider this high risk for vaccinated/boosted individuals. Feel free to contact us through our website if you have particular concerns. Masking will also depend on any local guidelines. In order to be prepared if a case arises, we require participants to arrive with two over the counter tests and at least one quality mask.

Can rooms be shared?

Yes! Simply complete a preference form for each participant and indicate the writer you will be sharing with. We do need each person to state that they will share with another, and we will confirm by email before booking two writers together.

I have dietary restrictions. Can I participate?

Most definitely. We will take into account any restrictions you have, but of course have no control over whether private restaurants can or cannot accommodate them. Extra expenses are your responsibility, but we will do everything we can to make your experience successful.

How do I get there?

Mérida has a smaller airport that we highly recommend you use, as it is just 20 minutes to the hotel and entry/exit is very easy and unstressful. You can theoretically fly into Cancun, but that then requires a 3-4 hour bus ride to get to Mérida. In our opinion, it’s not worth the hassle. American Airlines and United offer regular flights to/from Houston, Dallas, and Miami.

What is the refund policy?

Per New York law, deposits are fully refundable for three days after payment. After that point, no refunds can be issued. You may wish to purchase trip insurance. If something catastrophic occurs which makes it impossible to travel to Mexico, all writing activities will be delivered in the hours listed via online format. 

Can I plan my own activities?

Absolutely! You’ll receive the weekly schedule at orientation and can make arrangements of your own for unscheduled times. The Luz staff are excellent at providing advice and setting up private excursions, which are usually quite reasonable, and even more so if you share a taxi with two or three other guests.

Can I stay at the hotel after the retreat?

Of course! Participants may stay longer if they wish at Luz, but these arrangements are your own responsibility. You can book online, but be aware January is high season and availability may be limited.

What if I have mobility issues?

Luz has no elevator and rooms are on the first two floors, but we can assign you a ground-floor room on request. Note, however, that excursions to natural areas (ruins, cenotes) may be difficult for those with mobility issues, so you should consult with us as soon as possible. We are happy to make alternative arrangements; however, those that incur costs must be covered by the participant (e.g. extra taxi time).

Can I bring a partner/family?

Absolutely! This is a family-friendly experience. We ask as a general rule that you do not bring children under 18, who may demand more attention than you can provide while participating in the retreat. We have reserved the entire hotel, and are striving to create a quiet, contemplative space that wouldn’t work with the natural bustle of young children. If you have any doubts, just ask. Please note that not all rooms have multiple beds and will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. The signup form will collect any preferences you have regarding extra beds.

What will the weather be like?

Summery! Expect a lot of sunshine and temperatures in the upper eighties. There are usually breezes so many find it doesn’t feel as hot as the thermometer might indicate. Nights can cool off significantly, but you wouldn’t need more than a light jacket at their coldest. January is during the dry season, so expect very little rain. 

Register | Top

You can pay your deposit here. Once that is complete, you will receive an email with instructions on initial forms to gather further info, as well as a schedule for orientation and preparation leading up to the retreat. Please note that we cannot reserve places without deposits.