Considering a trip to Merida, Mexico? This up-and-coming Yucatan Peninsula destination is quickly heading to the top of many people’s travel bucket lists.
Not far from Mexico’s top destinations of Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen, Merida is a gorgeous colonial city that offers a different experience to the more typical beachy Yucatan destinations.
Located more or less in the center of the Yucatan Peninsula, Merida also makes a wonderful home base to explore so much of this part of Mexico.
As far as things to do in Merida, there’s no shortage of amazing sites within the city limits. There’s also a seemingly endless number of great Merida day trips, including to Chichen Itza and other Mayan ruins, and to the nearby cenotes and haciendas.
Let’s take a look at some of the amazing options you have for things to do in Merida, Mexico. However, first, we’ll clear up all the basics you need to know for your Merida trip.
- 1 How to Get to Merida, Mexico
- 2 Where to Stay in Merida
- 3 Best Things to Do in Merida, Mexico
- 3.1 Along Paseo de Montejo
- 3.2 Merida’s Centro Historico
- 4 Best Day Trips from Merida
- 5 Is Merida, Mexico safe?
How to Get to Merida, Mexico
The easiest way to get to Merida is to fly into Merida International Airport (code: MID).
From there, you can rent a car; however, this really only makes sense if you plan to do several day trips as Merida is quite walkable and there are taxis and Uber. Also, while Mexican car rentals seem inexpensive online, those price quotes never include car insurance, which can sometimes double your price.
If you aren’t renting a car, you can call Uber as soon as you exit the airport, or take a taxi.
In Mexico, you negotiate the taxi price before getting in the cab. As the airport is only about 30 minutes from downtown Merida, this should cost about $300 pesos ($15USD/€12); however, the taxi driver has to agree to this price.
The other option is to fly into Cancun International Airport (code: CUN). Flights into this airport are often cheaper, though Cancun is about 4 to 5 hours from Merida. You can rent a car at this airport, or take an ADO bus to Merida. One-way bus fares fluctuate, but you can plan for about $500 pesos ($25USD/€20).
Where to Stay in Merida
Merida, especially for first-time visitors, really boils down to two places you’d want to stay in: Centro Historico (historic downtown) and Paseo de Montejo (Montejo Street/Walkway). Both of these areas have plenty of hotel, hostel, and Airbnb options, lots of things to do and see, restaurants, cafes and bar options, and walkability.
Anywhere on a map within Colonia Centro (downtown) should be a good choice for lodging For Paseo de Montejo, anywhere within 5 to 6 blocks of that street makes for a good, safe choice.
Whatever area you choose, make sure to always check ratings before booking.
Prefer to go the Airbnb route? Merida has some awesome, stylish Airbnbs for a great stay. Check out the best Merida Airbnbs here!
Best Things to Do in Merida, Mexico
Now, let’s get into all the best things to do in Merida. I’ve categorized these based on area so that you can easily make sure you catch everything note-worthy while you’re there.
Along Paseo de Montejo
Paseo de Montejo is a 2-mile/3.2km tree-lined, walkable street, with plenty of things to do, see and eat. It runs north to south, and there are beautiful things to see if you walk the whole thing.
This is one of Merida’s most famous streets, where the wealthy aristocrats once built their giant mansions. Some of those mansions have since been turned into museums or other public spaces.
Admire the European Mansions of Merida
Three of the most beautiful mansions along Paseo de Montejo are Palacio Canton, Casas Gemelas and Quinta Montes Molina.
The largest, most picturesque of all Paseo Montejo’s buildings is Museo Palacio Canton. This palace-turned-museum has a gorgeous classical European design aesthetic and also features a nice collection of Mayan artifacts.
Quinta Montes Molina is a smaller mansion, though also has many classical European design elements and decor. They offer tours by appointment only. The last of Montejo’s large mansions, Casas Gemelas (Twins Houses), are privately owned so you have to admire them from the outside.
Check Out Monumento a la Patria
Paseo Montejo has several monuments to admire, which you’ll find in the middle of the street. Its most famous is the Monumento a la Patria (Monument to the Mother/Fatherland), located at the northern end of Montejo.
Unlike all the other monuments, you can go right up to this one to check out the details! On the Monumento a la Patria, you’ll find more than 300 figures, hand-carved by Colombian sculptor Rómulo Rozo.
This monument chronicles hundreds of years of Mexican history, from the establishment of Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City), through the mid-20th century. There’s also several figures that spotlight the Yucatan’s Mayan culture, including a Chacmool (god of rain) sculpture and more.
If you can’t make it during the day, the Monumento a la Patria is also beautiful at night. This monument gets lit up with beautiful multi-colored lights after the sun goes down.
Merida’s Centro Historico
There’s so much to see and do in downtown Merida. One of the best things to do is really just walk around with no agenda. Merida is a beautiful, colorful city, with Colonial architecture and an overall cool vibe.
Take a Free Walking Tour of Merida
For a more structured look at the city, take the free walking tour. The Merida Tourism Office offers daily, one-hour, free walking tours to show visitors the highlights of downtown. The tours begin at 9:30am, and depart from the Palacio Municipal in Plaza Grande (Main Plaza).
Tip: Tour guides all speak English. Though free, it is customary to tip at the end of this tour; consider a gratuity of at least $100 pesos ($5USD/€4) per person.
Head to Plaza Grande (Main Plaza/Central Square)
This is the main plaza, also known as the zocalo of Merida. In the center of all Mexican towns, you’ll find a zocalo, where the main church is, as well as many of the city’s notable buildings and a park to hang out in.
In Merida’s Plaza Grande, you’ll find the San Ildefonso Catedral de Merida, the oldest church on the Americas Continent, and the sign spelling out Merida’s name. These large, colorful letter signs are found in many of Mexico’s well-known cities and towns.
Here, you’ll also find some of Merida’s prettiest colonial buildings, including the Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace). This green building houses government offices, as well as beautiful murals painted by Yucatan artist, Fernando Castro Pacheco, that depict the area’s history.
Relax in Merida’s Parks
Merida has several parks downtown that are both pretty and make a nice place to take a break from walking around. If you want to check out a traditional mercado (market) to sample some street food, head to Parque Santa Ana, where you can eat in the park.
Don’t pass up the opportunity to take a photo on the large, white Tú y Yo (You and I) “kissing chairs” in Parque Santa Lucia. Not far from here, check out Parque Hidalgo and Parque de la Madre.
Visit the Museums and Art Exhibits
The largest museum in downtown Merida is the Casa Museo Montejo (Montejo House Museum). Entry is free to check out the rotating art exhibits of mostly classical art.
Right next to the cathedral in Plaza Grande, you’ll find the Pasaje a la Revolución (Revolution Passageway), a walkway with a changing lineup of large-scale art installations by Mexican and international artists. The Fernando García Ponce-Macay Museum is next to this walkway, and features works by Mexico’s contemporary and modern artists.
There’s also the Fundación de Artistas (Artist’s Foundation), a hybrid museum-shop-cafe, featuring unique pieces by local artists and a Mediterranean-style outdoor cafe. The Artist’s Foundation is slightly off the beaten path but provides the perfect place to shop for local art.
Though not located downtown, Merida’s largest museum is the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya (Mayan World Museum). You’d have to take an Uber or taxi to this one, but this gorgeous, contemporary building houses Merida’s largest collection of Mayan artifacts.
Shop Till You Drop at Downtown Merida Shops
If you’re looking to take some souvenirs home with you, head to La Casa de Los Artesanos (The House of Artists), considered the best artisanal shop in downtown Merida. There’s also Artesanaria and the Miniaturas Folk Art, where you’ll find smaller art pieces.
Want to shop where the locals do? Check out the Bazaar de Artesanías and Bazaar García Rejón. Note these are local markets, meaning they won’t be super fancy, and many people won’t speak English, though they will have genuine products and offer an authentic experience.
The Coqui Coqui Perfumeria is a unique Merida store where you can create your own perfume in a beautiful setting. If you’re curious about traditional Yucatan cacao and chocolate, buy some at Ki’Xocolatl, located in Parque Santa Lucia.
Eat at the Best Restaurants in Downtown Merida
High atop many lists of best places to eat in Merida, is La Chaya Maya. This restaurant is gorgeous and offers traditional Yucatecan foods; don’t forget to say muchas gracias to the women outside hand-making your delicious tortillas.
Looking for a smaller meal? Check out Los Platos Rotos De Frida (The Broken Plates of Frida Kahlo) and Alma Calm (Calm Soul). Though not a traditional Yucatan food, those needing a taco fix can head to Los Trompos to sample Mexico’s famous tacos al pastor.
When it comes to nighttime dinner spots, 500 Noches in Parque Santa Lucia and Bikiak Enoteca Gastro Bar are great options. Mercado 60 is a fun food hall that comes alive at night with its hip atmosphere, funky decor, and live music.
Best Day Trips from Merida
Want to get out of the city for a day? Merida has so many great options.
From cenotes to swim in, and haciendas to explore, to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and even one of the Seven Wonders of the World, there’s something for everyone with Merida’s day trip options.
Cenotes Near Merida
Never heard of a cenote? In a nutshell, they are swimmable sinkholes with freshwater — that also happen to be gorgeous. These natural pools are found in only a few places on Earth, with the largest concentration of about 6,000 in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
There are companies in downtown Merida that offer tours to the cenotes, as they are often found in rural areas you’d need a car to access. The tours often go to the Houman cenotes, a group of cenotes in the nearby city of Houman.
Cenote X’Batun is about 45-minutes from Merida by car. There are two cenotes here, one above ground and one underground and inside a cave.
As cenotes are sinkholes, they were once totally encased in the native limestone. Over time, the rock has eroded to reveal the water beneath. Depending on how much limestone has fallen away, some cenotes are completely above ground, and some are accessed by entering a cave; these are known as underground cenotes.
If you’re looking for just an above-ground experience, Cenote Ik-Kil and Cenote Oxman are two of the best known. For an underground experience, head to Cenote Suytun. Note that to get to these three cenotes, some of the most famous in the Yucatan, you’d need a car.
A cenote tour can be a great way to visit more than one cenote. This tour, which uses public transportation like the public minivan and 4-seater motorbikes, will take you to three cenotes and you’ll end the day with a local lunch.
Beaches Near Merida
Puerto Progreso is the closest beach to Merida at about 30-45 minutes away. You can get there by car or on the Auto Progreso, a luxury bus that goes to/from Progreso all day. This town is a stop for several cruises, so it does have a big of a party vibe, especially when the ships dock.
Looking for a more laid back beach day? Sisal, San Crisanto and Chelem have beautiful, calm beaches, a few seafood cafes, and little else. All are located within about an hour of Merida.
Haciendas Near Merida
The grounds of the 18th century Hacienda Mucuyche have been kept in a semi-ruin state, but that’s just part of its appeal. Head here to tour the hacienda estate, and then cool off in the two cenotes here, Cenote Carlota and Cenote Azul Maya.
Located in a more remote part of the Yucatan, Hacienda Yaxcopoil was built way back in about 1650. It has been fully restored, and is known as one of the most beautiful haciendas near Merida.
The inside of the main house is basically a museum showcasing how Merida’s wealthy class lived. Outside, walk the gardens and grounds and head to the Machine House to see the large-scale machinery used to make Merida’s most lucrative export, sisal, a thick plant fiber used for rope twine.
About 30-minutes from Merida, the 17th century Hacienda Santa Cruz is the perfect place to see a traditional hacienda, eat brunch overlooking the beautiful grounds and have a spa day. After enjoying your meal, head to the spa for a massage, facial, and traditional Mexican temazcal (sweat lodge) ceremony.
Mayan Ruins Near Merida
The most well-known Mayan ruin site is, of course, Chichen Itza. As one of the Seven Wonders of the World, about 2.5 million people visit each year. It is located about 1.5 to 2 hours from Merida, and easily accessible by car and bus. You can also opt for a full-day tour.
The second most visited site is Uxmal. Like Chichen Itza, this is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and located about 1.5 to 2 hours from Merida. Though Chichen Itza is the obvious choice, many say Uxmal provides a more authentic experience because it’s further off the tourist radar.
Those driving to Uxmal can also explore the entire Ruta Puuc (Puuc Route), a 19-mile drive with a total of five sites to explore. Besides Uxmal, there’s Labna, Kabah, Sayil, and Xlapak, which all have similar carved stone buildings.
For a guided experience, check out this full-day tour of Uxmal and Kabah.
Short on time? Head to the Dzibilchaltun (pronounced zee-bee-shall-tune), the closest ruins to Merida. Though small, this site also has a museum and Cenote Xlach to swim in after exploring the ruins.
Is Merida, Mexico safe?
The short answer is yes. Merida and the Yucatan Peninsula are considered very safe areas of Mexico. In fact, Merida consistently ranks as one of the safest cities on the Americas Continent.
Following general safety guidelines — don’t wear flashy jewelry, don’t carry around wads of cash, be alert of your surroundings, listen to your intuition above all, don’t walk alone at night, etc. — will surely suffice on your Merida vacation.
Though English is widely spoken within city limits, once you venture out off the beaten path and into the pueblos (small towns), you’ll find less and less English. It is both good for safety and good travel etiquette to learn some basic Spanish before you visit Mexico.
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