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Looking for a home base for beaches and cultural trips in Mexico? Look no further than Merida! Located in the Yucatan peninsula, Merida can be reached by flights through Cancun from the US and Canada. Whether you’re looking to visit the Pueblos Magicos, like Valladolid, or UNESCO sites, like Chichen Itza or Uxmal, or explore cenotes, Merida has it all without the crowds. Here are the 12 best things to do in Merida, Mexico.
Guest post by Shelley of Travel Mexico Solo
Looking for the best things to do in Merida, Mexico?
This Yucatan Peninsula travel destination is quickly landing on the top of many bucket lists. While there’s so many things to do in Merida itself, there are also many amazing day trips and things to do just outside of the city.
Located not far from Cancun, Tulum and the Riviera Maya, Merida offers a different experience than these nearby beach destinations. This beautiful, colonial city gives travelers to the Yucatan Peninsula a more authentic Mexican cultural experience, while still having those fun, tropical vibes.
Centrally located in the Yucatan, Merida is the ideal place to use as your home base to explore this part of Mexico. With so many noteworthy places not far, including Chichen Itza, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and Bacalar Lagoon, known as the “Maldives of Mexico,” Merida offers so much for travelers.
Let’s take a look at some of the amazing options you have for things to do in and around Merida, Mexico.
Things to do in Merida, Mexico: a Complete Travel Guide
1. Stroll the Paseo de Montejo
The Paseo de Montejo (Montejo Street/Walkway) is a 2-mile-long (3.2km) walkable street, lined with trees and beautiful bougainvillea bushes. There are plenty of things to do and see along Montejo, and some amazing cafes, restaurants and bars.
Paseo de Montejo is the most famous street in all of Merida, where wealthy aristocrats from year’s past once lived in giant mansions. Three of the most beautiful mansions along Paseo de Montejo are Palacio Canton, Quinta Montes Molina and Las Casas Gemelas.
The largest and most visited, and most photographed, of the Paseo’s buildings is Museo Palacio Canton (Canton Palace Museum). Step inside this mansion-turned-museum to see its classical European design and a small collection of ancient Mayan artifacts.
Similar in classical European design, Quinta Montes Molina is a smaller mansion with similar decor and design elements. They do offer tours, but by appointment only. Las Casas Gemelas (The Twin Houses) are privately owned, so you’ll have to admire and photograph them from the outside.
2. See the Monumento a la Patria
As you stroll the Paseo de Montejo, you’ll notice its numerous monuments in the middle of the street. Of all monuments along this street, the Monumento a la Patria (Monument to the Mother/Fatherland) is the most impressive.
Unlike most monuments, you can walk right up to this to admire all its artistic details! The Monumento a la Patria, done by Colombian sculptor Rómulo Rozo, features more than 300 hand-carved figures.
It chronicles several centuries of Mexico’s history; from the 1325 establishment of Tenochtitlan, which is now Mexico City, through the 1950s. There’s also figures that pay homage to the native Mayans of the Yucatan Peninsula, including a carving of the Rain God, Chacmool.
Even if you don’t make it to see the Monumento a la Patria during the day, it’s also quite beautiful to visit at night. When the sun goes down, the monument lights up with multi-colored lights that illuminate all the beautiful carvings.
3. Take a Free Walking Tour of Downtown Merida
Downtown Merida offers so much to see and do. One of the best ways to get to know it is by strolling around with no agenda. Merida is a safe, beautiful city, with colorful Colonial architecture to photograph.
For a more in-depth understanding of this part of the city, check out the free walking tour. The Merida Tourism Office offers one-hour walking tours that show visitors downtown’s highlights. Tours begin at 9:30am, and depart from the Palacio Municipal, the large pink building in Plaza Grande (Main Plaza).
Pro tip: Tour guides are bi- or milti-lingual and do all speak English. Though technically free, it is customary to tip your guide about $100 pesos ($5/€4) per person, at the end of the tour.
4. Head to Plaza Grande (Main Plaza/Central Square)
You may hear Merida’s main or central plaza, Plaza Grande, referred to as the zocalo. The zocalo is basically that city’s central meeting point, where you’ll find the main church, a beautiful park, and many of the city’s important, historic buildings.
The San Ildefonso Catedral, the oldest church on the Americas Continent, is located in Plaza Grande/zocalo, as well as the colorful sign with the Merida letters. You’ll find a similar large-lettered sign in many of Mexico’s cities and historic towns.
Located just next to the cathedral, take a moment to stroll down the Pasaje a la Revolución (Revolution Passageway). This walkway features an ever-changing lineup of art installations by both Mexican and international artists.
One of the most beautiful buildings in Plaza Grande, don’t miss seeing the Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace). This minty green building houses Yucatan state’s government offices, and several murals painted by Mexican artist Fernando Castro Pacheco, depicting the state’s history.
5. Relax in Merida’s Parks
Downtown Merida’s parks make the perfect place to take a break and relax for a bit. Head to Parque Santa Lucia for a photo on the large Tú y Yo (You and I) chairs. Not far from this park, also check out Parque de la Madre (Mother’s Park) and Parque Hidalgo (Hidalgo’s Park).
At Parque Santa Ana, you’ll get the best of both worlds; a beautiful park where you can eat in a traditional mercado (market). The mercados give you a chance to eat all of Merida’s traditional foods, in the same place the locals do.
6. Visit the Museums
The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya (Mayan World Museum) is Merida’s biggest museum, with the city’s largest collection of Mayan artifacts. Though you’d need to catch a taxi or an Uber to get there, it is worth the trip.
In downtown, the Casa Museo Montejo (Montejo House Museum), has free entry to check out the rotating art exhibits inside. Located next to the Cathedral in Plaza Grande, the Fernando García Ponce-Macay Museum houses works by modern and contemporary Mexican artists.
7. Do Some Shopping in Downtown Merida
Though largely off the tourist radar, the Fundación de Artistas (Artist’s Foundation), is a hybrid museum-shop-cafe concept. It features Mediterranean-style outdoor cafe and unique pieces by local artists, making it the perfect place to buy some unique art.
Head to La Casa de Los Artesanos (The House of Artists), one of Merida’s best artisanal shops, if you’re looking to take some authentic souvenirs home. For those who want to try (and buy!) traditional Yucatecan chocolate, stop by Ki’Xocolatl in Parque Santa Lucia.
Want to shop like a local? The Bazaar de Artesanías and Bazaar García Rejón are two traditional mercados (markets), meaning they don’t look fancy but they do have authentic local products and offer you an unique Merida experience.
8. Eat at the Best Restaurants in Downtown Merida
La Chaya Maya sits high atop so many travelers’ lists of the best places to eat in Merida. This gorgeous restaurant offers traditional Yucatecan foods like cochinita pibil (slow-cooked sucling pig), sopa de lima (chicken soup with lime), and papadzules (egg enchiladas) for vegetarians.
If you want more of a snack than a full meal, head to Los Platos Rotos De Frida (The Broken Plates of Frida Kahlo) and Alma Calm (Calm Soul). Though tacos al pastor is not a traditional Yucatan food, those wanting to sample Mexico’s most famous tacos can head to Los Trompos.
When it comes time to eat a nice dinner, Bikiak Enoteca Gastro Bar is perfect for wine and tapas, and 500 Noches in Parque Santa Lucia is the perfect al fresco option. Merida’s hip food hall, Mercado 60, comes alive at night with live music and plenty of food options.
9. Visit the Pueblos Mágicos & Colonial Cities
Located within two hours or less from Merida, you’ll find a few other beautiful colonial cities to visit. Among these, the colorful cities of Campeche and Valladolid, and the “Yellow City” of Izamal.
One state over from Merida, you’ll find the walled city of Campeche. This UNESCO World Heritage Site sits right on the Gulf of Mexico, making it very susceptible to pirate attacks. Now that pirates pose less of a threat, visitors can stroll the ramparts of this historic and colorful city.
Did you know Mexico had magical towns!? That’s right, there’s 120 pueblos mágicos, a prestigious distinction given to certain special small towns, or pueblos, by the Secretary of Tourism. There are two in Yucatan state: Valladolid and Izamal.
Valladolid has one of the oldest convents on the continent, Convento de San Bernardino de Siena. Besides that, stroll its colorful streets, visit the beautiful zocalo, and tour the amazing folk art museum, Casa de los Venados (House of the Deer).
Izamal, known as “Yellow City,” is well, yellow! That’s right, the whole city is one color. If you’ve never seen a monochromatic town before, here’s your chance. Head to the zocalo and take one of the city tours on a horse-drawn carriage to see this magical town.
10. Cenotes Near Merida
So just what is a cenote? In a nutshell, cenotes (pronounced sen-no-tays) are freshwater, swimmable sinkholes — that just so happen to be gorgeous. These natural pools are found in very few places on Earth, with the majority of them in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Several companies in Downtown Merida offer cenote day tours, as some are found in rural areas you’d need a car to access. Many tours go to the Houman cenotes, a group of several cenotes located in the city of Houman.
Located about 45 minutes by car from Merida, Cenote X’Batun, lets you experience two cenotes in one. There’s both one above ground, and one located in a cave underground.
Since cenotes are technically sinkholes, these pools were once completely encased in the area’s natural limestone. Over time, the rock collapsed or eroded to reveal the water beneath. Depending on the amount of limestone that’s fallen away, some cenotes are above ground, and some are underground.
Headed to Valladolid for a day trip? Some of the Yucatan’s best and most photogenic cenotes aren’t far from this pueblo mágico (magic town). For an above-ground experience, Cenote Ik-Kil and Cenote Oxman are two must sees. For an underground experience, head to Cenote Suytun.
11. Have a Beach Day in Progreso
Puerto Progreso, at about 30-45 minutes away, is Merida’s closest beach. Head there by car or on the Auto Progreso, a luxury class bus that travels to/from Progreso all daylong. As the name puerto (port) in the name may have alerted you, Progreso is a cruise port and does turn into a party town when the ships dock.
If you want a quieter, more natural beach day, head to Sisal, Chelem, Telchac Puerto and San Crisanto. All three towns are located within one hour of Merida, and have beautiful beaches, a few oceanfront cafes, and little else.
12. Mayan Ruins Near Merida
The most visited and most well-known site is, of course, Chichen Itza. As one of the Seven Wonders of the World, about 2.5 million visit this ancient Mayan archeological site each year.
The second most visited is Uxmal. Just like Chichen Itza, Uxmal is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Though Chichen Itza is the more popular choice, many head to Uxmal for a more authentic experience at this off-the-tourist-radar destination.
Visitors driving to Uxmal have the option to also explore the entire Ruta Puuc (Puuc Route), a 19-mile drive with five distinct Mayan archeological sites. Besides Uxmaul, you’ll also see Sayil, Labna, Xlapak and Kabah, which all have a similar style of carved stone structures.
Located only about 30 minutes from Downtown Merida, head to the Dzibilchaltun (pronounced zee-bee-shall-tune), if you’re short on travel time. Though small in size, this site also has a Mayan museum and Cenote Xlach to cool off and swim in after you explore the site.
Things to Know Before Traveling to Merida, Mexico
Ready to travel to Merida, Mexico now? Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about the Yucatan Peninsula city of Merida.
How to get to Merida:
The most convenient way to travel to Merida is by flying into Merida International Airport. The airport is only about 25 minutes by car from downtown Merida, so it’s quite easy to travel to.
Your other travel option is to fly to Cancun International Airport and then drive or take a bus to Merida. Flights into the Cancun Airport are often cheaper, though the drive to Merida does take about 4-5 hours.
Where to stay in Merida:
For first time visitors to Merida who aren’t familiar with the lay of the land, opt for one of the two most visitor-friendly areas of town: Centro Historico and Paseo de Montejo.
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.
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.
Shelley is a former Miami travel magazine editor who ditched the office for the world! After traveling solo to 14 states in Mexico, she decided to live in Merida, Mexico full time. Shelley now helps other women cross Solo Travel and Mexico Travel off their bucket list through her Travel Mexico Solo blog and Dream To Destination podcast.
Looking for more Mexico content? Check out these posts:
- 16 Top Destinations in Mexico
- 12 Fun Things to Do in Mahahual
- The Best Things to See and Do in Guanajuato
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