Looking for the best day trips from Merida, Mexico? Look no further.
This guide has been written by a Merida local and showcases some of the best Merida day trips that the guidebooks don’t tell you about. There is something for everyone here, whatever your interests.
The cultural Yucatan capital of Merida has started to gain a lot of recognition in recent years as an up-and-coming travel destination in Southern Mexico. Indeed, even the likes of Lonely Planet and Travel & Leisure referenced Merida as being one of the best global cities to visit in 2022.
You could easily spend a month in the Yucatan capital and not run out of things to do in Merida. However, if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, there are plenty of attractions just 1-2 hours outside of town.
Best Day Trips from Merida, Mexico
Ek Balam is an Ancient Mayan city situated in the heart of the Yucatan peninsula, 175.1 km east of Merida and close to the town of Temozon. Its location makes it a convenient place to visit in conjunction with a trip to Chichen Itza.
Ek Balam means “dark jaguar” or “black jaguar” in Ancient Mayan. Fascinatingly, this site was reclaimed by the jungle after it was abandoned by the Maya and it was not discovered by archeologists until the 1980s.
The city dates back to the late Pre-Classic Period (100 B.C. to 300 A.D.) and thrived between 770 and 840 AD, during which time it was a major political hub for the Maya. Today, it has still not been fully excavated.
There are a couple of features that make Ek Balam particularly special. First of all, you can find El Torre, one of the tallest Mayan pyramids in the Yucatan here.
El Torre towers over the jungle canopy at a height of 95 feet. It is possible to climb to its peak and enjoy the view. On a clear day, you can see the temples of Coba and Chichen Itza from up here.
Equally interesting is the incredibly well-preserved tomb of the former ruler Ukil-Kan-Lek-Tok. Because Ek Balam is so close to Chichen Itza, it is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination and it does get quite crowded.
Visit early in the morning if you can. The journey from Merida to Ek Balam takes around 2.5 hours each way. If you want to break up the drive, you can consider staying in one of the gorgeous Yucatan haciendas nearby.
Mayapan is, without hesitation, one of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico. It is also massively overlooked and few international travelers take the time to visit while in the Yucatan.
The ruins here are expansive and historically speaking, they are just as important as the likes of Chichen Itza and Uxmal. Mayapan dates back to around 1000 AD and at one point, more than 12,000 people lived here.
You will note that the city looks very similar to Chichen Itza. The Pyramid of Kukulcan is almost an exact replica of the main pyramid in Chichen Itza.
When Chichen Itza started to fall into abandon, King Kukulkan II and his people moved to Mayapan. This was the last great Mayan city and Kukulkan ruled over it between 1263 and 1283 AD.
When Kukulkan passed away, the various indigenous groups that lived in the region started feuding over the land. Eventually, in the 15th century, Mayapan was abandoned.
Campeche City is the capital of Campeche state – the least visited state in the Yucatan tri-state area. Records indicate that a settlement existed here from as early as 3000BC.
Campeche was a thriving port during the 17th century. However, unfortunately, this made the city a target for pirates who were a constant threat and consistently raided and ransacked the city for several centuries.
In the 17th century, Walls and defensive fortresses were built to keep out pirates, and many of these still exist today. Campeche’s UNESCO-protected old town is incredibly well preserved.
Its pastelcolored houses, quaint churches, and cobbled narrow passageways are a Photographer’s dream. Traveling here feels almost like venturing back in time. Better still, Campeche is still a relatively off-the-beaten-path Mexico tourism destination and for now, you can travel here and enjoy far fewer crowds and significantly lower prices than what you see in Merida.
Campeche is a great destination for day trips from Merida. However, you may also want to consider spending a long weekend here if your schedule allows.
Take a tour of the city in one of the old-fashioned Campeche trolleys and then grab lunch in one of the traditional restaurants around the Zocalo (main square). For the best views over the Campeche Cathedral, head to Casa Vieja del Rio (Calle 10 No.319 Altos, Zona Centro).
There are more than 7,000 cenotes scattered throughout the Yucatan peninsula. These are natural freshwater sinkholes that are home to unique ecosystems and today, they are popular places to go swimming to escape the heat and the humidity of Southern Mexico.
The cenotes were formed some 66 million years ago when the Chicxulub asteroid smashed into the earth (in the nearby town of Chicxulub) and wiped out the dinosaurs. The impact caused a weakening of the earth’s surface and from there: cenotes were formed.
Although there are literally thousands of cenotes to choose from, not all cenotes were created equal. For the best of the best, head to the Homun Cenotes.
There are more than 30 cenotes in and around the village of Homun in what is known as a anillo de los cenotes (ring of cenotes). Some are grand caverns complete with Mayan handprints and impressive stalagmite and stalactite formations.
Others are little more than a hole in the ground with a ladder leading down into the darkness. When you arrive in Homun, you can hire a local guide for the day for 200 pesos ($9.80).
They will take you to 4-5 cenotes and wait while you swim and enjoy the scenery. You can tell your guide what kind of thing you like (i.e. no deep water, no tourists) and they will find you some cenotes to visit accordingly.
For the best cenotes in the area? Have Cenote Cholul, Cenote Hool Kosom and the Santa Barbara cenotes on your radar.
Telchac Puerto and Laguna Rosada
The pink lakes of Mexico have become a major tourist attraction in recent years after being made famous by social media posts. However, the “main” pink lakes in the Yucatan are those at Las Coloradas.
These are quite a trek away from central Merida (approximately 3.5 hours’ drive each way) and are perhaps only really worth the effort to get to if you are planning on spending some time in the nearby beach town of El Cuyo.
Fortunately, there is another, equally beautiful and less crowded alternative closer to Merida: Laguna Rosada. The Laguna Rosada lakes are located just an hour east of Merida.
They are conveniently close to the ruins at Xcambo, and the Yucatan beaches of Telchac Puerto and San Benito, making it easy to visit multiple places in the Yucatan in one day. The lakes here are pink because of the brine shrimp, red algae, and plankton that live in the water.
The lakes are actually situated on private land which is part of a salt mining complex. However, you can enter for a small fee of 20 pesos($1) per person.
Arguably watching the local men manually mine for rock salt is just as interesting to see as the pink waters. There is also a small shack at the site entrance where you can buy salt as a souvenir from your time in Mexico. This is a great gift for the foodies and aspiring chefs in your life!
El Corchito Reserve
Part way along the highway between the beach towns of Progreso and Chicxulub, you will see a little shack with giant street art paintings of raccoons. This marks the entrance to the El Corchito Reserve.
This little protected nature reserve is accessible only by taking a short 10-minute journey on a little wooden boat to an island that sits at the center of a swamp. It is a refuge for various species of birds, mollusks, and reptiles, many of which are endemic to the Yucatan peninsula.
Most notably of all, El Corchito is home to hundreds of raccoons and coatis. You don’t need a lot of time to explore El Corchito – just half a day or so.
Come in the morning or later in the afternoon if you can. The site does get busy, especially at weekends. There are a couple of walking trails that you can follow while checking out the various wildlife, along with a handful of small cenotes where you can soak your feet.
There are a number of beaches close to Merida. Most are serviced and feature a seafront Malecon lined with bars, restaurants, and cafes, along with sandy shores filled with umbrellas and sunbeds.
If you are seeking more peace and seclusion, and you want a day at the beach that feels more like you have ventured out to your own private tropical island, head to Uaymitun. This gorgeous stretch of coastline framed by coconut groves is as beautiful as many of the beaches in the Mexican Caribbean.
Very few people actually take the time to venture here. Perhaps, in part, because the entrance to the beach is not obvious.
Uaymitun beach sits just past the town of Chicxulub, as you start driving towards Telchac Puerto. It is backed by grand beach mansions and to enter the beach, you need to find a place to park up at the side of the road and then follow a dirt trail through the trees.
The Ancient Mayan city that sits at Xcambo was once an important settlement for commerce and trade. The Maya that lived here would mine salt from the nearby salt lakes of Laguna Rosa and trade them with other cities.
It is believed that Xcambo dates back to 250-600 A.D. It was eventually abandoned around 600-900 A.D.
Sadly, like many Maya sites, much of the history of Xcambo has been lost with time. Little is known about the city’s former rulers or inhabitants.
The site is small, though it is possible to climb to the top of each of the buildings and pyramids to gain a bird’s eye view of the settlement. There is a small catholic church set right in the center of the ruins that provides an interesting contrast against the Mayan Temple of Sacrifices.
This was built by locals 50 years or so ago before Xcambo was recognized as an important Mayan city and started being excavated. Unfortunately, local villagers pillaged Mayan ruins in other to gather stones and other building materials to create the church.
Misnebalam Ghost Town
If you have any interest in the macabre and abandoned places, you will love the Pueblo Fantasma (ghost town) of Misnebalam. This abandoned rural town sits on a country lane just off the highway that connects Merida with Progreso.
Once upon a time, it was a thriving agricultural hub home to a population of 170 people. However, a series of terrifying and supernatural events in the area caused the inhabitants to gradually move out of town.
The final two Misnebalam residents left town in 2005 and since then, the town has been deserted for close to 20 years. There is an eerie feeling as you drive through the jungle roads that lead to the town. There are roads to nowhere and signposts for hotels that no longer exist.
When you arrive, park up and walk around what remains of the old Misneabalm hacienda, the old roofless church, and some of the former houses. This settlement is said to be haunted by numerous ghosts – including Don Fidencio G.Márquez, the former hacienda owner, a headless priest, and the ghost of a little boy known as “Juliancito”.
You can visit Misnebalam independently or via an ATV tour that starts from Progreso. If you are feeling brave, you can consider camping overnight to see if you see any supernatural goings-on…
The little city of Izamal is one of the most popular and best day trips from Merida and for good reason: Izamal is charming. All of the houses, churches, and buildings in this little settlement are painted in the same uniform shade of yellow.
This was supposedly done in tribute to the Mayan Sun God Kinich Kakmó. You will find a pyramid in his honor in the center of town.
You can climb it, and it is one of only a few remaining pyramids in the Yucatan that were not destroyed by Spanish colonizers. Stop by Kinich restaurant for some traditional Yucatan cuisine while in town.
Then, head to the Convento de San Antonio de Padua. This beautiful porticoed building is one of the oldest convents in North America.
The Mayan City of Edzna was once a major political and commercial hub for the Mayans. Today the ancient city is so tricky to get to and frequently overlooked that if you visit on a weekday, you will often find that you have the ruins entirely to yourself!
The site was occupied as early as 700BC and was home to more than 25,000 residents. It was eventually abandoned in 1500 AD.
Edzna is a vast site, though its most notable buildings are centered around the main square. In particular, look out for the “Great Acropolis” and the Pirámide de los Cinco Pisos (Five Floor Pyramid).
To the right of the main square, you will find the small “Temple of the Masks¨. There are two incredibly well-preserved stucco masks housed within the temple. They depict the Mayan god Kinich Ahau, with one portraying him as an old man and one portraying him as a young man.
If you are renting a car in Mexico, you can reach Edzna in a 2.5-hour drive from Merida. However, if you are depending on public transport to get to Edzna, you need to first travel from Merida to Campeche and then take a bus or an organized tour to Edzna.
The beach town of Celestun sits in the westernmost part of the Yucatan state, close to the border with Campeche. Playa Norte and Playa Sur Celestun are both gorgeous places to watch the sunset but the raison d’etre for most people to travel to Celestun is to see the flamingoes that inhabit the Ría Celestún biosphere reserve.
The Ría Celestún biosphere reserve is a UNESCO-protected area. It is home to more than 1,150 species of birds and mammals, many of which are endangered or endemic to this part of Mexico.
Between the months of November and April, more than 35,000 North American flamingos flock here for the mating season before migrating east towards Rio Lagartos and The Coloradas. You need to take a little wooden boat to visit the reserve, which mostly consists of a network of rivers and mangroves.
The price is 1,800 pesos ($89) per boat and a boat can accommodate up to 9 or 10 people. Don’t worry if there are only a couple of you as you will easily be able to find other travelers to share a boat with at the site entrance.
The boat takes you up to the areas where the flamingos are nesting, while still maintaining a respectable distance. You might be lucky enough to see crocodiles, herons, and a wide variety of other birds during your excursion.
Rio Lagartos is a quaint fishing village that sits on the northern tip of the Yucatan state, close to the Gulf of Mexico. Its name means “Alligator River.”
However, there are no alligators here and Rio Lagartos is a lagoon, not a river. It was incorrectly named by Spanish Conquistadors during the colonization of Mexico and the name has stuck.
The little settlement is home to just 4,000 people, most of whom make a living from fishing and agriculture. Tourism has only just started to trickle into the area in recent years and Rio Lagartos is one of the best day trips from Merida if you are interested in nature and birdwatching.
You can take a boat trip out onto the lagoon and through the nearby mangroves to observe crocodiles and a range of colorful birds that live in the lagoon. The boat will stop at a secluded beach as well as a place where you can indulge in a Mayan clay mud bath (Baño Maya Río Lagartos).
Since Rio Lagartos and Celestun offer similar travel experiences, you only really need to travel to one destination or the other. From around March/April, you will start seeing flamingos around Rio Lagartos on their eastern migration route.
Charming Valladolid is one of four Pueblo Magicos in the Yucatan. These are touristic towns and villages that have been recognized for having a particularly special culture, history, or gastronomy.
A thriving Mayan city once existed here but with the colonization of Mexico, the Spanish took over and built the current city of Valladolid in 1543. Despite its violent origins, Valladolid today is a relatively sleepy, peaceful town with a population of just 50,000.
You only really need half a day to explore central Valladolid. However, there are also several gorgeous cenotes in the nearby vicinity where you can go swimming and relax (Cenote Xkeken, Cenote Zaci, Cenote Saamal, and Cenote Oxman).
A lot of the fun of visiting is found in simply taking the time to explore the various streets and passageways at a laidback pace. Look out for the spectacular 1545 San Servacio church that sits in the town square, and the colorful Convent San Bernadino, one of the oldest convents in the Yucatan.
It is easy to get from Merida to Valladolid as ADO buses run regularly between the two cities. Valladolid also makes a great place to stay overnight if you want to get to Chichen Itza early in the mornings as the Valladolid – Chichen Itza Colectivo bus gets you there before the crowds.
Hunucma is one of the best day trips from Merida if you want to get a glimpse into authentic life and culture in the heart of the Yucatan. The zocalo (central square) here is always teeming with life and is usually filled with couples and friends hanging out drinking coffee, and street vendors selling everything from elotes to marquesitas.
Hunucma is a nice place to stop and grab lunch en route from Merida to the beach town of Sisal or vice versa. Look out for the beautiful 16th-century church dedicated to San Francisco de Asís.
Local markets and festivities are often hosted in the churchyard which has become something of a rendezvous point for residents. From there, venture on foot to the “Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe” fruit and vegetable market.
If there were a must-see site in Mexico, Chichen Itza would be it. Not only is this one of the most impressive and expansive Mayan cities in Central America, it is also one of the “new” seven wonders of the world.
Archeologists estimate that the city is around 1500 years old and was founded in the early 400s AD. Chichen Itza became a UNESCO-protected site in 1988 and its most famous structure is undoubtedly the grand Temple of Kukulkan.
Regardless of how many times you may have seen the site photographed on social media or featured in history documentaries, nothing comes close to seeing it with your own eyes. You need to allocate at least 3-4 hours to exploring Chichen Itza as the site is huge.
Besides the Temple of Kukulkan, look out for the Iglesia, the observatory, and the sacred cenote where the Mayans would make human sacrifices to appease their gods! Get here as early as possible to avoid the crowds. If you are at the ticket office when the site opens at 8 am, you will have it mostly to yourself for the first 30-45 minutes.
You can take the bus from Merida to Chichen Itza. Alternatively, many organized tours offer day trips and excursions to the site.
It can get extremely hot in Merida, especially during the summer months. So, if you want to escape the heat and humidity and head to the coast, one of the best day trips from Merida that you can take is to visit the beach town of Progreso.
Here, you will find miles and miles of soft white sand that extends as far as the eye can see. The Progreso Malecon is lined with a plethora of international restaurants, stores, and coffee shops, and street vendors wander up and down the sand selling chicharron and ice-cold coconuts.
Progreso is not the most beautiful beach in Southern Mexico but it serves a purpose if you just want to have a day by the coast. It can get very crowded during the weekends when locals are off work, so visit during the week if you can.
El Cordobes (C. 80 38, Centro, 97320 Progreso) is a nice place to have a traditional breakfast in an old colonial building. Many of the local restaurants and bars allow you to rent sunbeds and umbrellas for the day for just a few pesos or if you meet a certain minimum spend.
The sleepy fishing village of Chicxulub sits on the northern coast of the Yucatan, just 40km from Merida and 8.5km from Progreso respectively. The town is famous for being the site where the Chicxulub asteroid smashed into the earth 65 million years ago.
You cannot see the impact site, it’s underwater. However, a small educational center (Sendero Jurasico) has been built around the place where the asteroid hit.
It makes for a fun day out if you are traveling with kids. Giant sculptures of dinosaurs are scattered around the park, providing information on the various dinosaurs that once roamed the earth.
Chicxulub is small, though it is home to a small stretch of coastline, a handful of restaurants, and ice cream parlors. If you want to check it out, you can either drive or take an Uber from nearby Merida or Progreso.
Cenote San Ignacio
If you are looking for a gorgeous cenote that is not far from the center of Merida, Cenote San Ignacio is a good choice. This underground cave cenote is bordered by an upscale traditional restaurant where you can stop for brunch, lunch, or dinner after swimming.
There is also a swimming pool on-site along with several hammocks and sun-loungers so you can really make a day of relaxing here. The nearby town of Chocholá is also worthy of a little exploration.
Pig Beach, Yucalpeten
One of the most beautiful and unique beaches close to Merida is Pig Beach at Yucalpeten. The beach takes its name from eight adorable mini pigs that were found abandoned here in 2021.
A hot, humid beach is not a usual habitat for pigs but these fellas have adapted to their surroundings here and are now cared for by the Progreso Ecological Patrol. They have a shaded pen where they can sleep in away from the sun and they are free to swim and wander around the beach as they like. Think of this place as the Mexican answer to Exuma in the Bahamas!
The beach is free to enter and there is a little gift shop where you can buy pig-themed t-shirts, hats, and other goodies. All proceeds go directly towards helping the pigs.
This is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the Yucatan. Think white sands and clear, turquoise waters.
Dzibilchaltun is a Mayan ruin that sits in the northern part of Merida. The name Dzibiltcaltun means ¨writing on flat stones¨ in Mayan – a reference to the inscribed tablets that were found on the site.
Call an Uber or Didi cab from central Merida and drivers will be happy to take you here for just a few pesos. Since Dzibilchaltun is still within the Merida city limits, it is also very easy to find a driver for your return journey back to the center.
The city dates back to around 300BC. Perhaps its most interesting structure is the Temple of Seven Dolls – an intricately designed temple that, when it was excavated, was home to seven human-sized stone dolls.
Dzibilchaltun recently opened in July 2022 after being closed for an extended period. This was due to ongoing arguments between the landowners and the Mexican government. Check online for the most up-to-date information about the site before your trip.
Many haciendas that thrived during the henequen boom fell into abandon during the 20th century. Fortunately, several have been purchased by new owners who have injected a new lease of life into the properties.
Many now function as luxury hotels, spas, and restaurants. Hacienda Teya is a gorgeous 17th-century hacienda that houses an exquisite traditional restaurant.
The food here is so good that it has won awards both within Mexico and internationally. If you want to sample the best of the best Yucatecan food, this is a good place to stop by.
The property was founded in 1683 Mrs. Ildefonsa Antonia Marcos Bermejo Calderon y de la Helguera, wife of the Count of Miraflores. Aside from the restaurant, visitors are free to explore the gardens, the old hacienda church, and a small former factory that has been converted into a free museum.
The Yucatan city of Motul is not a tourist destination in itself, but it is a place that you are likely to drive through when traveling from Merida to places like Izamal, Telchac Puerto, El Cuyo, etc. The town is not particularly beautiful.
However, the main reason to stop by is to try one of the most famous breakfast dishes in the Yucatan: huevos motulenos. This dish originated in Motul. It consists of fried eggs served on tortillas with black beans, Oaxaca cheese, ham, peas, plantains, tomato salsa, and hot sauce.
Although there are a lot of arguments today about who made it first, there are a few places that stand out among the crowd as the best places to taste this regional delicacy. One in particular is Dona Evelia Huevos Motulenos, housed inside Motul’s Municipal Market.
Her eatery is open every day until 1.30 pm. It is perpetually busy, especially on weekends, but the food is worth the wait.
Sisal was the latest Yucatecan town to be recognized as a Pueblo Magico in 2020. This little beach town has operated as a port since 1810.
Many of the local residents work in fishing and agriculture, but tourism is slowly starting to trickle into the region. This quiet, secluded beach is a great place to swim and relax, particularly during weekdays when the town is very quiet.
If you are traveling here between January and April, you may be fortunate enough to see flocks of flamingoes flying overhead. A lot of the restaurants here specialize in seafood delicacies.
However, arguably the best food is that prepared by the local street food vendors. Order yourself a portion of pescado frito, blato botanero, enpanisado de pescado or some homemade ceviche. Wash it all down with an ice-cold horchata.
Sisal is tricky to get to if you don’t have a car but worth the effort regardless. You need to take the bus from Merida to Hunucma and then transfer onto another bus bound for Sisal.
Cenote Ik Kil
Cenote Ik Kil is one of the most famous and naturally gorgeous cenotes in the Yucatan. You will probably recognize it purely from its popularity on social media.
The water here is 40 feet deep, and the cenote is surrounded by jungle scenery, with vines hanging from the walls. Dozens of different species of tropical birds inhabit this area – including toh birds, toucans, parrots, mockingbirds, hunters of flies and cardinals.
Centuries ago, the Ancient Mayans would make sacrifices here. However today, the cenote is a place to swim and relax.
Ik Kil is just 3km away from Chichen Itza. This makes it a convenient place to come to cool down and have a swim after visiting the ruins. However, it is important to note that the cenote does get very crowded, so manage your expectations accordingly if you are expecting a tranquil swimming spot.
San Crisanto is one of the more remote beaches in this region. It sits along a stretch of coastline that is known as the “Emerald Coast.” This extends from Progreso in the West, to Dzilam de Bravo in the east.
The beach is backed by incredible coconut groves and is a wonderful secluded place to escape the crowds. You can also opt to take a boat tour through the mangroves with a local guide.
The ruins at Uxmal are among the most popular and impressive ruins in Mexico and are one of the best day trips from Merida if you have any interest in history. The site dates back to 700 AD and was once home to 25,000 people.
It was recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996. Many of the structures here are incredibly well preserved.
The Pyramide el Adivino (Pyramid of the Magician) is Uxmal’s most iconic site and according to legends, its construction was completed in just one night. The Cuadrangulo de las Monjas is also a fascinating structure. It is believed that this once functioned as a school, palace, or training facility.
Today only a portion of the city has been excavated, which is fascinating given that the Uxmal complex is so vast. Who knows what other treasures could be waiting beneath the surface here?
You can take the bus from Merida to Uxmal. However, keep in mind that the services are infrequent, and traveling this way means that you will have a lot of time to kill on site before your return bus. Many local tour companies also offer day trips to Uxmal.
Best Day Trips from Merida: Parting Words
Do you have any additional questions about the best day trips from Merida Mexico mentioned here? Alternatively, have you traveled around the Yucatan peninsula and have something you would like to add?
If you are traveling to Mexico for the first time, you may also enjoy reading this list of Mexico travel tips to know before you go. Have a wonderful time exploring Mexico.
Safe travels! Buen viaje! Xo