If you are looking for the best things to do in Merida Mexico during your upcoming trip to the Yucatan, I have got you covered here.
I am a British Travel Writer who has been living here in Merida for the last 2.5 years and recently bought a house in the eastern part of the city. During my time in Southeastern Mexico, I have made it my mission to get to know my new home as much as possible, and can safely say that I know this charming city as well as the back of my hand.
You are in good hands here. I am not someone who has briefly passed through Merida once, unlike most of the travel guides to the city you will find on Google.
Best Things to Do in Merida in 2024 and Beyond
The “White City” of Merida is an underrated gem in the heart of the Yucatan state that is only finally starting to get the recognition and attention it deserves. I have seen the city change and develop a lot in the past couple of years of being here and I believe that it is only a matter of time before tourism to the region explodes.
Merida as it stands today, was founded by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Montejo in 1542 and like many cities during the colonial period, it was built on the grounds of an old Mayan settlement. Merida stands on the site of the Mayan city of Toh and controversially, many of its churches, buildings, and ornate colonial mansions were constructed using building materials pillaged from Mayan temples and shrines.
Its historic center is widely regarded as being one of the most beautiful colonial cities in all of Mexico, and the city makes an excellent base for taking day trips out to Ancient Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, gorgeous beach towns along the Gulf of Mexico, and charming pueblo magicos throughout the region.
In this post, we will explore 58 of the best things to do in Merida. These include everything from the “must-see” tourist sites, to the hidden gems that Yucatecans have been keeping to themselves.
Go for brunch in Cholul
Cholul is a charming little pueblo just northeast of the city of Merida that most tourists aren’t even aware exists. Its main central plaza is flanked by the gorgeous 17th-century pastel-yellow church of San Pedro Apóstol and an adorable flea market is hosted in the church grounds every Sunday morning, when locals come to sell their unwanted clothing, antiques, children’s toys, and bric-a-brac.
The brunch restaurants, coffee shops, and boutique stores that encircle the main square attract a well-heeled crowd of Yucatecans and it is absolutely worth making the journey out here, if your schedule allows, to grab breakfast in an authentic and charming Yucatecan pueblo.
Casa Mango (Calle 23 100 Por Calle 20) is a chic restaurant set inside an old Yucatecan house that serves regional cuisine with an international twist. (It is also great to stop by here at night, as live musicians perform jazz, Mexican pop, and blues music out in the garden on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights).
Meanwhile, Al Modar is another elegant breakfast cafe that specializes in European fare. They do excellent Spanish omelets and giant mugs of cappuccino the size of your head!
Stop for coffee in Itzimna
When you visit Mexican cities like Guadalajara and CDMX, you will note that they are made up of dozens of different neighborhoods (barrios) that are like little villages in themselves and each have their own distinct personality and charm. Merida isnt quite the same in this regard, and is largely a modern urban sprawl outside of the historic center.
There are exceptions though, and Itzimna is another charming, ungentrified and underrated area. Itzimna, named after Itzamna, the Mayan God of Creation, was once its own independent village until the urban expansion of Merida saw it become engulfed by the Yucatecan capital.
Parque Itzimna is its central square and a popular rendezvous point among locals. It is flanked by the 1710 burgundy “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” church. Several charming location businesses encircle the square and are great places to pick up souvenirs from your Merida trip.
Sembra (Calle 18 98-B entre 21 y 19) is a charming artisanal store selling homemade cosmetics, soaps and condiments, while Caffe Latte Itzimna (Calle 18, Av. Rotary Internacional No. 101) is widely regarded as being one of the best coffee places in the city, and sells bags of roasted coffee beans sourced from across Mexico.
Eat your way through Merida’s new gastronomic corridor
There are some excellent restaurants to be found in Merida serving everything from traditional Yucatecan fare to Mediterranean and Asian-inspired delicacies. Slowly but surely, the Yucatan capital is establishing itself as quite the gourmand and can give many of the award-winning restaurants in Mexico City and Guadalajara a run for their money.
In late 2023, the local tourism board loving restored and renovated Calle 47 in the historic center, transforming it into Meridas “Gastronomic Corridor”. The colorful colonial houses here house a selection of excellent restaurants.
For brunch, check out “Te Extraño, Extraño” and Marmalade 47, while Baretto Espresso Bar and Latte Quattro Sette are the best spots for coffee. Catrin, known for its weird and wonderful skeleton sound and light show, is a Merida institution, while Micaela Mar & Leña with its elevated Yucatecan fare with a Creole twist, is one of the best loved eateries in town.
Enjoy an evening walk at Parque a la Plancha
Parque a la Plancha, on calle 46 in Central Merida, is a newly opened park that was inaugurated in late 2023. The park, with its gorgeous manmade lake and contemporary installations and water features, sits on the site of an old abandoned train station.
Until recently, the abandoned station was a dilapidated eyesore surrounded by huge walls. There was a plan to transform it into the Merida train station for the new Yucatan Tren Maya, but after locals protested, the station was built in Teya, on the outskirts of town, and Parque a la Plancha was born.
Lots of local families come to walk around the park and hang out here in the evenings. One of the most special aspects is how old, rusted train station carriages have been given a lick of paint and turned into quirky souvenir stores or snack bars selling marquesitas, raspados and other treats.
At the center of the park, there is a huge food court where you can buy everything from tacos to ice cream and pozol de chocolate. The original old station building is still being renovated and is set to house some boutique stores and restaurants.
Search for vibrant street art murals
At first glimpse, Merida might not appear to have the same volume of street art as other Latin American cities like say, Medellin and Cartagena in Colombia, or areas of Mexico City and Tijuana. However, if you know where to look, there are some great pieces here.
Up-and-coming Yucatecan artists like Datoer and Ackon have painted impressive murals across town depicting scenes of life in the Yucatan. There are some pieces in San Sebastian, La Ermita, calle 47, and Itzimna close to the city center but some of the best Merida street art is out in residential areas and local malls that tourists dont really venture too.
Setting out on a self-led hunt for street art can help you discover new and exciting parts of Merida that you may not have otherwise found. Some of the best murals can be found at the below locations:
Where to find the best murals in Merida
- Colonia Manuel Avila Camacho/Pacabtun, East Merida
- “Mural street” on calle 20, East Merida (hundreds of murals in one spot)
- Gran Plaza Merida mall
See a show at Casa Gamela
The Casa Gemela is a gorgeous art museum and exhibition space set inside a grand manor that was built in the early 21st century and was once home to the noble Rodrigez family. It hosts both permanent and temporary art exhibitions of pieces produced by international and Mexican artists and every Saturday, a different cultural event is hosted here.
We caught a wonderful traditional music recital where two local Yucatecan musicians played folk songs from across Latin America. You can catch everything here from jazz pianists to poetry recitals and comedic theatrical performances played to an intimate audience of 20-30 people.
See the Merida Cathedral
Of all of the various churches and religious buildings in Merida, the Catedral de San Ildefonso that flanks the Plaza Grande is one of the most detailed. It was constructed between 1561 and 1598 on the site of an old temple and many of the stones quarried from the Mayan temple were used to create the building facade.
The cathedral is quite controversial because there are several centuries-old paintings inside that depict indigenous Mayans praising Francisco de Montejo, the Spanish colonizer. You will see such images in various churches around the Yucatan peninsula as you travel here, and understandably, many were destroyed during the Mexican Revolution.
The large Cristo de la Unidad crucifix behind the altar symbolizes a good relationship between the indigenous Maya and the Spanish Christians.
Take a Yucatan cooking class
Taking a cooking class overseas is always a great way to delve deeper into the local culture and there are several classes that you can do here in Merida. Many also include a trip to a local market to source fresh ingredients before you cook, and your host will talk to you about the background and traditions associated with each dish.
You should expect to pay upwards of around $70 for a 5-6 hour class that sees you make multiple dishes. You might find it tricky to find some of the ingredients used in Yucatecan cooking at home if you decide that you want to replicate the dishes, but you can always make adaptations!
Check out a local festival
I have been living in Merida for 2.5 years and there always seems to be some sort of event or festival going on with free, live musicians, dancing, and food. Some notable dates to look out for are:
- Merida Fest – Celebration of the heritage of the city – 5th to the 24th January 2024
- Hanal Pixan (The Yucatecan version of Dia de Los Muertos) – late October/November
- Merida Restaurant Week – Discounted offers and special degustations at restaurants around town – late September/October
- Fiesta tradicional in Colonia Los Reyes – Celebration of the Los Reyes neighborhood with jarana dancing and live music – late December/January
- Carnaval Merida – Mexican mardi gras – 7th to the 14th February 2024
- La Noche Blanca – artistic events hosted around the city – Late October
Admire the Palacio de Gobierno
The Merida Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace) dates back to 1892 and houses the political offices of the Yucatan state officials. The building is an architectural marvel in itself, but if you are able to venture inside, you will see some gorgeous art work pieces and photographs of Merida through the years.
Shop for fresh local produce at Mercado Lucas de Galvez
There are some great local marketplaces (mercados) in Merida where locals come to shop for fresh fruit and veg, meats, and other grocery items. Mercado Lucas de Galvez and Mercado San Benito are two that stand out among the crowd.
Passing through these markets can offer an interesting glimpse into local life, particularly if you haven’t been to a Latin American mercado before. In Mercado Lucas de Galvez, you will find perfectly polished fruits and vegetables piled high on makeshift wooden tables, vendors selling raspados and chiccharon, and even a large, rewarding artisanal market where people sell things like henequen bags, hand-carved Mayan masks, etc.
Listen to cuban music at Mercado 60
Mercado 60 is a super fun place to hang out in Merida when the sun goes down. This contemporary street food market is made up of 7 different restaurants serving American, Argentine, and Mexican food, as well as a cocktail bar and a wine bar. The tables are set within a beautiful garden overgrown with bougainvillea and fragrant flowers, and live musicians from across Latin America perform cumbia, salsa, and Cuban music almost every night of the week.
Shop for homemade treats at other Merida markets
If you are staying in self catered accommodation, you can pick up some produce at Merida mercados for a fraction of the price that you would pay in a supermarket. Some other notable markets to check out in Merida are:
- Mercado Miguel Alemán
- Mercado Municipal No 2 Santos Degollado
- Mercado San Sebastián
- Mercado Santa Ana
- Merida slow food market
Cycle the Paseo de Montejo
The Paseo de Montejo is the main promenade in Merida that has been named after the city’s founder, Francisco de Montejo. It runs all the way through town, but the most interesting stretch can be found between calle 47 and calle 27A.
This leafy cobbled promenade is lined with grandiose, ornate mansions from the days of the henequen boom, many of which have been converted into exquisite restaurants, coffee shops and bars.
There are a couple of museums that are worth checking out here – notably the Museo Regional de Antropología, Palacio Cantón, which contains a small collection of artifacts recovered from the region, the restored 1902 Quinta Montes Molina Mansion, and a small chocolate museum.
On Sundays, the road is closed to traffic so that people can walk, cycle, or rollerblade down the street. You will see tons of people offering bicycles and trikes for rent, and local artists set up their easels to paint the scenes of Merida and sell their wares.
I bought some gorgeous paintings for my house here.
Admire the Monument de la Patria
One of the most notable structures on the Paseo de Montejo is the towering “Monument de la Patria” (motherland monument). The monument can be found at the center of a roundabout close to Av. Rómulo Rozo and depicts a proud indigenous man.
The sculpture was created by Colombian sculptor Rómulo Rozo in 1956 (whom the adjacent street is named after). At its rear, it contains more than 300 hand-carved figures that depict the history of Mexico.
The scenes depict everything from the founding of Tenochtitlan, the Mexican Revolution, and present-day Mexico. By night, the mural is beautifully illuminated in different colors.
There are also now some small letters displaying the word “Merida” and some “you and me” chairs on the Paseo de Montejo, opposite the monument, where you can take photographs.
Enjoy getting lost in the historic center of Merida
The historic center is a beautiful place to simply take the time to get lost. In the historical center, you are greeted with colorful buildings and charming little churches at virtually every turn.
In particular, be sure to visit Calle 59 and the Avenida Del Deportista if you want to see and photograph the colorful buildings and grand colonial mansions Merida is famous for.
Hang out in Parque Santa Lucia
Parque Santa Lucia is one of the main plazas in the historic center of Merida and a short walk away from the Plaza Grande. It was inaugurated in 1878 and quickly established itself as one of the main meeting points in the city.
Take a photo on the giant “tu y yo” (you and me) chairs, and indulge in elevated Mexican fare at the restaurants that encircle the plaza. Restaurant Chaya Maya is a favorite among locals and tourists alike, while Apoala serves Oaxacan-Yucatan fusion food.
A column dedicated to Colonel Sebastián Molas, martyr of the liberation sits in the center of the square and every Thursday night, you can enjoy the “Serenata Yucateca” performances of traditional music and dancing.
Experience Merida by night
There are a great selection of bars in Merida that cater to every taste and budget. While the city may not have the same nightlife scene as CDMX or Cancun, more and more tasteful spots are constantly opening up as more tourists come to the area.
Casa Toh is a gorgeous concept store, bar and restaurant set in two old converted French mansions on the Paseo Montejo. Here, you can indulge in delicious mezcal and tequila infused cocktails at the aperitif bar, or enjoy live jazz in the courtyard on a Saturday night.
If you want to experience an old-fashioned Mexican cantina with swing doors and rustic interiors that reminds you of something from a movie, check out Cantina El Porvenir, or Cantina La Negrita. The latter is something of a Merida institution and hosts live salsa music and dancing most nights.
Finally, Patio Petanca is a super fun spot and outdoor bar where drinks and bar snacks are prepared under a thatched palapa hut, and you can play jenga, lawn bowls and other games with new friends.
Sample the best of Yucatecan cuisine
Did you know that different areas of Mexico are famous for their different regional specialties and that food in the Yucatan is completely different from that which you will find in many parts of Mexico? Many Yucatecan dishes were invented by the Ancient Mayans thousands of years ago.
Yucatecan cuisine is one of the oldest in the world and is even older than most European food cultures. Impressively, dishes are still cooked using the same recipes and cooking methods that were used all those milenia ago. (For instance, many dishes are cooked in an underground oven known as a “pib”).
Cochinita pibil is arguably the most famous dish in the area. This is a type of slow cooked pork marinated with orange and achiote that falls apart in your mouth and is essentially a type of ancient pulled pork.
You will find tons of “comida Yucatecas” around Merida specializing in this type of regional food. My favorites, and the ones I would recommend are Habaneros (a little out of town but worth the effort to get to), and Katun Comida Yucateca.
MUGY (Museo de la Gastronomía Yucateca) offers an interesting culinary experience whereby you can sample several small, tapas-style plates of Yucatecan food to learn about the regional food culture. Meanwhile, Kuuk offers elevated Yucatecan food that is so beautiful, that the dishes are almost like works of art.
Have breakfast tacos at Wayan’e
The best tacos in Merida are not found at the tourist spots in the center of town but in a humble little eatery in Itzimna known as Wayan’e. Wayan’e, meaning “it’s here” in Yucatec Mayan, is the breakfast taco spot of choice for most Yucatecans.
There is often a queue to be seated and served on weekends but rest assured, this place is well worth the wait. You can opt to sit inside or pull up a stool around the open kitchen so that you can watch the chefs hard at work.
The taco menu is extensive, and each one is only around 20-22 pesos. The pollo con mostaza, papas con chorizo, tinga de pollo, castacan and huevos con chaya (Yucatan spinach) are great choices for breakfast.
You can also get delicious (and giant) crusty cochinita pibil bread rolls. Wash it all down with an ice cold horchata, piña con chaya (pineapple and Yucatan spinach), or another flavored agua fresca.
Try huevos motuleños and other Yucatecan breakfast dishes
As far as most Mexicans are concerned, breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day. People here will usually eat a hearty Mexican breakfast, often paired with fruit and pan dulces (sweet breads).
Chilaquiles and egg dishes like huevos divorciados and huevos rancheros are popular. In the Yucatan, you can also try the regional breakfast dish huevos motuleños.
This yummy delicacy hails from the pueblo magico of Motul (where you should sample it at Doña Evalias place if your schedule allows). It consists of two deep fried tortillas slathered with frijoles (refried beans), two fried eggs, ham, peas, and a healthy amount of spicy tomato salsa.
There is a specialty restaurant called Huevos Motuleños & Mas in both East and North Merida, but to be honest, most restaurants here serve the dish.
Snap a photo in front of the colorful Merida sign
Be sure to snap an obligatory selfie in front of the colorful Merida sign in Plaza Grande. These large, colorful letters exist in virtually every Mexican town and city and make a great addition to your photo album.
Sometimes the sun’s glare can make it awkward to get a good photo in front of the letters during the day. Head here early in the morning or evening if you can, in order to get the most favorable lighting conditions.
Shop for quintessentially Mexican souvenirs
There are tons of great “recuerditos” (Mexican souvenirs) that you can buy during your time in the Yucatan that will help you remember your trip for years to come. If you are interested in Mayan history and ruins, you might like to buy one of the brightly painted, hand-carved wooden masks of animals and deities that you see sold throughout the peninsula.
In particular, you will see them in various artisanal stores throughout La Ermita, Centro and San Sebastian, or sold by vendors at ruins like Chichen Itza and Uxmal. (There seems to be more selection at better prices at the ruins).
Soft, woven Yucatecan hammocks are another great investment and you can buy them for your garden. Since it is so hot here, locals often use them instead of beds!
Treat yourself to a stay at a luxurious hacienda
One of my favorite (if most expensive) hobbies here in Merida is trying to stay in all of the haciendas in the Yucatan. Yucatan haciendas are old, grandiose homesteads that were built by the Spanish conquistadors between the 16th and 20th centuries.
The main building usually acted as a living quarters for Spanish nobles, while the rest of the hacienda served an industrial or agricultural purpose. Many thrived during the henequen boom, and they cultivated the henequen plant (sisal) to sell natural fiber products.
Unfortunately, many of these properties were abandoned during the 21st century, but many have been renovated and transformed into indulgent luxury accommodations. Since there are only often between 8 and 12 rooms in a hacienda, staying in one is an intimate experience that often feels like you are in your own elaborate palace.
A stay doesnt have to break the bank either. Many haciendas around Merida cost less than $120 a night, especially outside of the peak season.
Which haciendas to consider
Some of the best haciendas to consider if you want to splurge and treat yourself are:
Catch a Pok-a-Tok ballgame reenactment
The Plaza Principal, aka the “Zocalo” is the main square in Merida, and the home of the Merida Catedral de San Ildefonso. This lively spot is always filled with street vendors, musicians and performers but on Saturday nights at 8pm, it is the site of the weekly Pok ta Pok ball games in Merida.
Pok ta Pok is the name of the Ancient Mayan ballgame that people used to play across the Yucatan peninsula. Players had to whack a sturdy rubber ball through stone hoops mounted high on the walls using just their hips.
This was difficult enough as it was but there was added pressure as the losing team was often sacrificed. The reenactment is completely free and fun to watch, and there are also fire eaters and dancers. (Fortunately the losing team is not sacrificed!)
Admire world-class art contemporary art
The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Ateneo de Yucatán (MACAY) is a free museum housed inside a former colonial palace. It showcases the works of modern and contemporary Mexican artists, both emerging and well-known.
Sit on the “you and me” chairs
As you meander around Merida, you will often see pairs of little white chairs facing each other. These are known as “sillas tu y yo” or “you and me chairs” and they are only really found in this part of Mexico.
These chairs were installed around Merida in 1915. Nobody knows exactly why they were built in this style but local legend has it that a Merida resident was concerned about his daughter dating boys and sitting too close to them on park benches.
So, he designed the “sillas tu y yo” so that young lovers would sit and face each other rather than sit inappropriately close!
Check out the Domingo (Sunday) market
The Sunday market (Mercado Domingo) is hosted every weekend without fail at Plaza Grande. You can pick up all kinds of artisanal products and handicrafts here.
However, arguably the highlight of the market is the various street food on sale. Make sure that you come hungry and sample some local treats like salbutes, kibis, tortas, panuchos, empanadas, and tacos.
Everything is incredibly cheap so it is worth ordering several different things and trying them all. In this part of Mexico, you will also find unique boiled egg empanadas stuffed with chaya (Mayan spinach) that should not be missed.
Visit the Mayan World History Museum
If you only visit one museum in Merida, make it the Gran Museo Del Mundo Maya (the Mayan World History Museum.) You will likely find this place interesting even if you don’t consider yourself much of a “museum person”.
The expansive museum complex contains a selection of Ancient Mayan artifacts that have been recovered from various ruins across the Yucatan.
It is perhaps the second most comprehensive Mayan history museum after the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Better yet, the museum doesnt only focus on the history of the Ancient Mayans, but provides an in-depth look and discussion of Mayan culture and heritage, and how the Mayan people live today.
While away an afternoon in a quirky coffee shop
Did you know that Mexico is one of the world’s largest organic coffee-growing regions? More than 50% of the world´s organic coffee is grown here so it makes sense that there would be several excellent coffee shops in Merida.
One of the best local places is JCs Tree Coffee and Gallery. (C. 39 449B, López Mateos). This charming cafe is housed inside an old colonial home and boasts gorgeous azulejo tile floors and high ceilings. It doubles as an exhibition space so you will often find the works of local artists adorned on the walls.
Nearby, Latte Quattro Sette (Calle 47 #465, Zona Paseo Montejo, Centro) is a beautiful shabby-chic cafe that serves strong coffee and international brunch options, while Baretto Espresso Bar (Calle 47 478-por 54 y 56, Zona Paseo Montejo) and Cafe Latte Itzimna (Calle 18, Av. Rotary Internacional No. 101) are great for take out coffee.
Shop for beautiful one-of-a-kind clothing pieces
There are several wonderful boutique clothing stores in Merida that are owned by independent designers.
Casa T´HŌ is a luxury concept restaurant and shopping experience set inside a 19th-century mansion that was formerly owned by the noble Mier and Teran Lejuene family.
The central courtyard features a restaurant serving Mediterranean-inspired fare by day, and live jazz and aperitivos by night.
The rooms that center the courtyard have been converted into boutiques showcasing the creations of independent Mexican designers.
You can find everything from resort wear and swimwear, to formal attire. Aldrin Ayuso is another Yucatecan designer to be aware of who designs modern contemporary versions of traditional clothing like huipils and guayaberas.
Take a walking tour of Merida
Opting to take a walking tour is a great way to get your bearings in a new city. Exploring with a local also means that you will obtain more information and context into the various buildings and neighborhoods that you see than you would ever be able to get independently.
Better still, exploring with a Merida local means that you have a city expert on hand. You can ask them for their best recommendations for things to see and do in the city, where to eat a particular type of food, where to hang out, etc.
Recommended Merida walking tours for 2024
A selection of reputable Merida tours that you may be interested in is detailed below for your consideration. Book your place online in advance to avoid disappointment!
- Merida cantinas walking tour
- Three-hour food tour of Merida, Mexico
- Merida street food walking tour
- Cooking class and shopping tour in Tekit, Merida
Have a scare at the Paranormal Museum
One of the more unique things to do in Merida Mexico is the Paranormal Museum (Calle 63ᴮ 230 x8 y 10, Cortés Sarmiento). Mexican paranormal Youtuber Jorge Moreno owns this unique museum which contains more than 500 items sourced from across the globe that are supposedly haunted or possessed.
Think of this place as the Mexican version of the Warren House in the United States. It is the only museum of its kind in Latin America. Highlights include dolls made using the same cut of fabric as the notorious Anabelle doll, dolls retried from the creepy Isla de la Muñecas in Mexico City, and voodoo items from New Orleans.
Admission to the museum is 80 pesos per person. When you arrive, one of the staff members will give you a tour in either Spanish or English.
Spend an evening at Parque Aleman
Parque Aleman is one of the best places to experiment with regional street food in Merida, particularly if you want to experience a truly local area away from tourist hordes. During the day, the park really isn’t that much to write home about, although there are some cute cafes that encircle the main plaza.
It is at night that Parque Aleman really comes to life. Street vendors set up their stalls selling elotes, tostilotes and churros, and families and groups of friends have al fresco picnics on the benches and the grass.
There are also fairground games and rides, and the park has a really fun atmosphere if you want to do something a little different in the evenings.
Take a salsa class
Many cantinas in Merida offer salsa classes, including the popular Dzalbay bar (Calle 64 x 53, Esquina, No.443, Centro). Since La Negrita cantina mostly plays salsa music and hosts live salsa musicians, you can go along there and simply try to join in with the locals too if you prefer not to have a formal dance lesson.
Take an electric carriage tour of Merida
You will find little horse and carriage stations situated every few paces down the Paseo de Montejo. While the Merida horses look healthy and well cared for, I do not support animals being forced to carry heavy loads in this way.
Fortunately, a more ethical alternative was introduced a couple of years ago and you can now take electric carriages around Merida. This is a great way to see all the impressive mansions on the Paseo Montejo and the Avenida de Deportista, especially when its hot and you dont feel like walking.
Your driver will also be able to give you more history and context to the various architectural marvels that you see, and most are bilingual.
Visit the Charrería
Did you know that the “national sport” of Mexico is the charreria? This is the Mexican version of the rodeo and a great place to see bullriding, horse taming, and other equestrian activities.
The sport has even been recognized by UNESCO. You will find events hosted regularly at the Lienzo Charro Los Laureles (Av. Temozon 18260, Temozon Norte, Temozón Nte, 97302) near Temozon, just north of Merida.
It is free to come along and spectate and the atmosphere is fantastic. Local men dress up like charros (cowboys) while women wear beautiful Adelita dresses.
Head out to the Dzibilchaltun ruins
Depite being frequently overlooked, the Dzibilchaltun Mayan ruins are actually within the confines of Merida’s city limits and are one of the best archeological sites in the region. Local buses do run to the area, although the easier option is perhaps to take an Uber or an Indrive which will get you there in 10-15 minutes for just around $5-$6 or so.
Dzibilchaltun means “writing on the flat stones” in Mayan – perhaps a nod to the old stone tablets found around the site, although time and the elements have seen their inscriptions worn away. The site is actually pretty large and dates back to 300 BC.
The most notable structure within the complex is perhaps the “Temple of the Dolls” dedicated to Yum Kax, the Mayan God of Corn. Seven crudely made dolls with exaggerated genitalia were excavated from the area and believed to have been used in some sort of harvest ritual.
Admission to the Dzibilchaltun ruins includes admission to the Dzibilchaltun museum where the dolls and some other artifacts are stored. You should dedicate at least half a day to this site.
See a performance at Teatro Peon Contreras
The Teatro José Peón Contreras is the home of the Yucatan Symphony Orchestra. It was inaugurated on December 21, 1908, and was designed by the architects Pío Piacentini, Enrico Deserti, and Fernando Ceicola.
Theatrical shows, operas, and classical music performances are often hosted here. You can check their schedule online to see if there is anything that interests you that corresponds with your travel dates.
Try a typical Mexican hot chocolate
Since Mexico was the birthplace of chocolate, it makes sense that there would be plenty of shops and cafes where you can sample hot cocoa and other chocolate products in Merida. To sample a thick, rich, dense and sinful cup of thick Mexican cacao and other chocolate treats, check out the Ki’Xocolatl store in Santa Lucia or Mina Kim on Calle 61.
Spend a day at a ranch
There are several ranches around Merida and the wider Yucatan peninsula that you can contact in order to explore their properties or take a horse ride. Rancho Don Chencho near Dzununcán village is one place I would recommend as the horses are well cared for and the owners are very nice.
Do note that most people in Merida do not speak English so it is helpful if you have some Spanish language skills. Be careful about riding horses if you are not an experienced rider as you do not know the temperament of the horses.
Try an Ojo Rojo
There are many Mexican drinks that you ought to try during your time in the country. One of the best-loved and fun to experiment with is the “michelada”, known as an “ojo rojo” in Mexico.
This is a beer cocktail that is made by mixing beer with tomato juice, soy sauce, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lime, and spices. Mexicans swear by it as being an effective hangover cure!
Make dinner reservations at Hacienda Teya
While many haciendas have been converted into hotels, Hacienda Teya is a beautiful property that purely functions as a restaurant and an event space. It is one of the most sought-after locations to host a wedding or other forms of celebrations in the Yucatan.
Their lunch and dinner menus are unparalleled and if you consider yourself as being a foodie traveler, this is absolutely one place that you must stop by while you are in town. The hacienda was founded in 1683 by Mrs. Ildefonsa Antonia Marcos Bermejo Calderon y de la Helguera, wife of the Count of Miraflores.
It operated as a place to raise cattle and then became a henequen hacienda before being abandoned in the first half of the 20th century. Today, it is a symbol of the Yucatan and its cuisine has won several awards both domestically and internationally.
Tour the Museo Casa Montejo
The Museo Casa Montejo is a grand colonial house that was built shortly after Merida was founded in 1542. It has been modified and restored throughout the centuries and today, it exists as a cultural space to demonstrate what life was like as a Merida noble in the 16th and 17th centuries.
It is free to enter and worth a look inside. Sometimes, other temporary arts, culture, and history exhibits are also hosted here.
Admire beautiful Merida churches
The vast majority of the Mexican population is Catholic. So, it makes sense that there would be an abundance of beautiful churches scattered throughout Merida.
Even if you are not religious, you can appreciate their charm. A good way to explore the city and discover new neighborhoods is to search for old, historic churches on the map and make your way to each one, seeing what you stumble upon along the way.
The Iglesia de Santa Lucia is a magnificent church that dates back to 1620 and sits beside the central park of the same name. The Iglesia de la Tercera Orden is a baroque-style church with indigenous influences that is quite unlike anything you will find elsewhere.
Heading south from the city center, the pastel yellow Rectoría de la Ermita de Santa Isabel sits beside the park of the same name. A grand parade starts here during the Dia de Los Muertos festivities and the little adjacent park is a great spot for sampling different street food delicacies.
Treat yourself to a luxury hotel stay
Opting to stay somewhere luxurious can really complement your travel experience. There are some gorgeous properties in Merida set in old mansions that seemingly transport you back in town.
Rosas Y Xocolate (P.º de Montejo 480) is one of the best luxury boutique properties in town.
The hotel sits inside two exquisite, restored French-style mansions. Each of the seventeen rooms has been decorated differently and boasts jacuzzis on the balconies and designer furnishings.
El Palacito Secreto Boutique Hotel is another great choice. This gorgeous 19th-century property has been decorated with ornate, authentic 19th-century furniture to give you the feeling of being royalty while staying in a secret palace.
Day Trips That You Can Take From Merida
There are dozens of wonderful day trips that you can take from Merida to various cultural and archeological sites and truthfully, you could easily spend weeks/months here and barely scratch beneath the surface. (Heck, I have been living in Merida for 2.5 years and I am still constantly finding new things to love about the city!)
Travel to Uxmal and the Ruta Puuc
In many ways, it can rival Chichen Itza in terms of its size and the number of impressive structures within the complex. In particular, keep your eyes peeled for the Temple of the Magician (which has a fascinating legend behind it), the Governor’s Palace and the Nunnery Quadrangle.
Namely, the cities of Kabah, Labna, Sayil and Xlapak.
With a car, you can also stop for ice cream in the charming village of Santa Elena, or swing by Mani, Muna, and Sacalum.
Learn about the history of chocolate at Choco-Story
Did you know that chocolate was invented in Mexico? Just across the road from Uxmal is the Choco Story museum which offers an interactive experience that teaches you about the history of chocolate.
There are, of course, free samples to try, including chunks of chocolate and a delicious Ancient cacao drink known as Chokoj Ha. If you take the bus from Merida to Uxmal and need to wait for the bus back, the museum is a great place to kill some time.
Take the bus to Playa Progreso
The beach town of Progreso is the go-to spot for most Merida residents when they want to spend a day by the sea. While it can get busy on weekends, the waters are cerulean and the sands are soft, white, and powdery.
It is pleasant to walk, cycle or skateboard along the beachfront Malecon, stopping here and there for drinks along the waterfront. Vendors wander up and down the coast selling everything from chicharon to meringue (Yucatecan candies).
You can lay down your towel wherever takes your fancy, or you can opt to spend a day relaxing at one of the local beach clubs. Slicer Beach Club is an upscale spot where you pay to rent a cabana for the day, while Marymar, is my favorite, that offers sunbeds, hammocks and a pool that are free to enjoy as long as you buy a couple of drinks and snacks.
Check out the ruins at Mayapan
The Mayan city of Mayapan is massively overlooked from most people’s Yucatan itinerary, despite being just over an hour south of Merida. Historians consider the city to be the “last great” Mayan settlement since King Kukulkan II and his people moved here after abandoning Chichen Itza.
Many of the structures at Mayapan were built as replicas of the buildings at Chichen Itza and the large pyramid here is a copy of “El Castillo”. However, archeologists have noted that they were very much inferior copies, and that many buildings in Mayapan were built hurriedly, marking the beginning of the end for the Mayans.
The site is seldom busy and you can climb most of the structures here and get some great photos. Entrance is 65 pesos for foreigners and free for Mexicans.
Visit a Mexican ghost town
If you have an interest in the eerie or the macabre, or you like doing things that are a little different when you travel, you will love visiting the off-the-beaten-path ghost town of Misnebalam. This “pueblo fantasma” was once a thriving farming community, complete with a grand hacienda (also now dilapidated and abandoned).
In its heyday, more than 170 people worked here, but a number of reported hauntings and eerie goings-on over the last couple of centuries saw the residents gradually move away. It started when the former hacienda owner, Don Fidencio G Marquez was murdered in 1921, and people reported seeing his ghost wander around the grounds.
There have also been reports of a mischievous child ghost known as “Juliancito” and the ghost of a headless monk. The last Misnebalam residents finally left in 2005 and the town has been in a state of spooky disrepair ever since.
When you head to Misnebalam today, you will see roads leading to nowhere, overgrown cemeteries, and signs advertising hotels that no longer exist. Even paranormal series like “Most Haunted” have been filmed here.
Explore the beach towns along the Ruta Esmerelda
The spectacular Yucatan beaches found here could definitely give the better known beaches of the Riviera Maya a run for their money, and are characterised by their soft, powdery white sands and translucent turquoise waters.
Progreso beach town may be the most popular spot but some other great beaches near Merida to consider are detailed below.
- Yucalpeten/pig beach – comparable to “Exuma” in the Bahamas where you can swim with adorable pigs
- Chicxulub – quaint fishing village that was the site of the Chicxulub meteor crash that wiped out the dinosaurs
- Playa Uaymitun – gorgeous tropical beach framed by palm trees that most people arent aware of
Take a day trip to Izamal
The “yellow city” of Izamal is one of the prettiest pueblo magicos in the Yucatan peninsula and a steady trickle of tourists have finally started coming here in recent years. Everything in the city is painted in the same uniform shade of yellow – supposedly in honor of the Mayan sun god Kinich Kakmo.
A pyramid dedicated to this deity sits at the center of town and is one of only a handful that were not torn down by the Spanish. The hilltop Convento de San Antonio del Padua is one of the oldest convents in North America and is still in operation to this day.
It makes a great spot to watch the sunset and capture some photos from above the city.
Oh! If you decide to drive to Izamal, look out for the man selling ice cream from a thatched palapa hut on the side of the Merida-Izamal carreterra. You will see that someone has painted the word “helados” onto a giant stone.
This Mayan man makes mouthwateringly good strawberry, vanilla and elote (corn) flavored ice cream. There is usually a line of cars parked at the side of the road and people waiting to try it!
Take a tour of Homun cenotes
While there are several cenotes that are right on your doorstep in Merida, they are not necessarily the best ones to visit in the area. For the best cenote-hopping experience, spend a day in the little village of Homun.
Homun is located in an “anillo de los cenotes” (ring of cenotes) and there are more than 20 in the area. You can reach Homun by car or bus and once you arrive, you can hire one of the local tuk-tuk drivers and have them take you to 4-5 cenotes.
The cost is 200 pesos ($10) for half a day per person, and tips are always appreciated. It is worth paying for a guide rather than ambling around independently as many of the best Homun cenotes are spread out or located down rural roads and dirt trails.
The Santa Barbara cenotes, cenote Cholul, and cenote Hool Kosom are all worth adding to your list. You can tell the guide what kind of cenotes you like (e.g. places with platforms for people who cannot swim, cenotes that are not crowded with tourists, etc).
Spend a day in Valladolid
Valladolid makes a great day trip from Merida and is one of Mexico’s “Pueblo Magicos“.
The city dates back to 1543 and was developed by the descendants of Spanish Conquistadors. It was originally built close to a lagoon but then relocated inland, to its current location on the site of a Maya town.
This led to several violent clashes and fights between the Spanish and the Maya that would last for centuries. Modern-day Valladolid is sleepy and tranquil – a stark contrast to its violent origins.
Stop by the church of San Servacio, and the convent of Convent San Bernardino – one of the oldest convents in the Yucatan. There are several cenotes just outside the town that are worth visiting if you have access to a car.
Take a day trip to Chichen Itza
It opens at 8 am daily and if you are able to arrive before 8.30 or 9, you will be able to avoid most of the crowds. The site is actually more expansive than you may realize and you should definitely allocate at least half a day to your visit.
Aside from the infamous temple of Kukulcán, there are several structures to look out for. For instance, just in front of the main temple, is the “Tzompantli”, a small stone platform decorated with carved skulls.
The Ancient Maya would stack the skulls of dead enemies here in order to scare enemy tribes. A ten-minute walk past Kukulcán leads you to the sacred cenote where the Mayans would sacrifice men and children in order to please the gods.
Final thoughts on the best things to do in Merida
Do you have any further questions about the best things to do in Merida, or planning a trip to Southeastern Mexico in general? This article has wound up far longer than I intended it to be but as you can see, there are so many wonderful things to do and experience in this city.
This is, without hesitation, one of the most interesting places in the Yucatan to visit.
As Merida continues to change and develop and as I discover new wonderful things in my home, I will add them to this list. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you need anything.
Safe travels and enjoy Mexico!
Buen Viaje! Melissa xo