There are plenty of things to do in Merida, Mexico to keep you occupied for a long weekend. The city is the Yucatan cultural capital and it is a beauty.
Merida is perhaps best explored as a stopping point on part of a wider Yucatan itinerary. However, it is becoming an increasingly popular place for ex-pats to move to.
If you are spending a relative amount of time exploring the Yucatan peninsula, Merida is a good place to base yourself and take day trips out from. Interesting places like Celustun, Rio Lagartos, and Campeche can all be reached in just a few hours’ drive from Merida.
Merida is perhaps one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Mexico. In 2022, travel bible Lonely Planet designated it as one of the best places to enjoy a city break this year.
58 of the Best Things to do in Merida, Mexico
Shop for fresh local produce at Mercado Lucas de Galvez
Mexican mercados are great places to explore during your Merida itinerary. This is particularly true if this is your first time traveling in Latin America.
There are several marketplaces scattered throughout Merida where locals shop for their groceries. But the largest and most well-known is the Mercado Lucas de Galvez in the city center.
Here, you will find rows and rows of colorful stalls piled high with perfectly-polished fruits and vegetables. The giant market consists of so many passageways that it is like a labyrinth. You can find every item imaginable here – from fruits, veggies, and meats, to faux designer goods and traditional embroidered Yucatecan clothing.
If you are staying in self-catered accommodation, this is a great place to pick up half a kilo or a kilo of fruit for just a few pesos. Even if you don’t plan on purchasing anything, the market provides a great people-watching opportunity as you see locals haggle ferociously with street vendors about the cost of their ingredients for their all-important Sunday family dinner.
There are also a few other smaller, local produce markets in Merida that you may enjoy checking out if your accommodation happens to be close to them. The Mercado Miguel Alemán, the Mercado Municipal No 2 Santos Degollado, the Mercado San Sebastián, and the Mercado Santa Ana are all very worthy of your attention.
Shop for homemade treats and deli products at the Slowfood market
Continuing with the foodie theme, if you are spending any amount of time in Merida, you may enjoy shopping at or browsing the slow-food market (C. 33ᴰ 498, Reparto Dolores Patrón). The market takes place every Saturday morning between 9 am and 1 pm and sees a number of local and international vendors come together to sell all manner of home-grown or homecooked goodies.
You can find fruits and vegetables here just like at the typical mercados, but the difference is that these are organic. Vendors here sell everything from artisanal jams, jars of honey, and salsas, to baked goods.
Cycle the Paseo Montejo
The Paseo Montejo is Merida’s main promenade, named after the Spanish Conquistador that founded the city in 1542 (Francisco de Montejo). It runs all the way from the city center up to the northern neighborhoods.
It can be fun to wander along its length, stopping here and there to grab a coffee in eclectic coffee shops, sample street foods, or browse through the wares at independent boutique stores. However, the best time to stop by is on a Sunday morning.
Every Sunday morning, traffic is blocked from entering the road so that pedestrians can enjoy it. Many of the stores along the Paseo Montejo rent out bicycles and you will see dozens of locals come together to jog, walk their dogs, or cycle along the famous promenade. Start at the Monumento a la Patria and move on from there.
Enjoy getting lost in Merida and its various districts
Mexico is safer than most people realize, but Merida and the Yucatan state in particular are among the safest places in the country. You can comfortably wander around Merida with no set plan or agenda and never have to worry about whether you are wandering into a sketchy area.
In this regard, Merida is quite different from a lot of other cities in Latin America. You will feel comfortable, even if you are exploring alone or in the evenings. 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 are interested in seeing and photographing the colorful buildings and grand colonial mansions that Merida is famous for. To experience a quintessentially Mexican neighborhood away from the city center, head to Itzimna or Colonia.
Experience Merida by night
Merida boasts a vibrant nightlife scene that offers something for every type of traveler. This rings true whether you want to find a sophisticated place to enjoy cocktails with a view, or you want to experience a typical Mexican cantina.
If you ask Merida locals one place that you absolutely must try while in Merida, they will all answer the same thing: La Negrita Cantina. La Negrita is a Mexican cantina housed in a traditional building.
From the outside, it looks like little more than an old house with saloon doors but as you step inside, you are greeted with a sprawling courtyard where live musicians perform every night and locals dance salsa. This place is extremely popular and it gets very busy on Friday and Saturday nights so it is worth getting there early if you can.
There aren’t a huge amount of rooftop bars in Merida. If you want drinks with a view, head to Sky City.
This is a sprawling rooftop at the top of an office building in the northern part of town that has been divided into several different chic bars. Nearby, Cafe Bar 500 Noches (Av. Libano 54, México Nte., 97128 Mérida) regularly hosts live acoustic and traditional musicians.
Sample the best of Yucatecan cuisine
Most people think of tacos, burritos, and fajitas when someone mentions Mexican food, but the food found in the Yucatan region is something different entirely. Many of the dishes found here follow recipes and cooking practices used by the Ancient Maya!
That makes Yucatecan food one of the oldest types of cuisine in the world! Cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork cooked underground) and pollo pibil (slow-cooked marinated chicken breast) are arguably the two most famous dishes in this region and you must try them while in town.
Fortunately, there are plenty of excellent Merida restaurants where you can sample Yucatan cuisine. Habaneros (Calle 20-A Num 302 X 5b Y 5c, Xcumpich) is a popular Yucatecan food spot that is very popular with the locals.
It is located a little way out of the center so you need to take a cab to get there. Rest assured, it is well worth the effort.
MUGY (Museo de la Gastronomía Yucateca) is an interesting concept restaurant that combines a museum experience with dining. When you eat here, you will try several small tapas-style plates of regional dishes while being given an explanation about their history.
Finally, if you enjoy fine dining, there are several fusion restaurants that combine Yucatecan food with influences from other cultures. One of the best such places is Kuuk – an elegant eatery housed inside a converted colonial mansion.
Kuuk offers a tasting menu where you can sample 11 different dishes paired with local wines, mezcals, and cocktails. Alternatively, Maya de Asia offers a unique combination of Yucatecan and Asian flavors.
Have breakfast tacos at Wayan´E
Tacos for breakfast? While that may sound like a peculiar concept, once you have tried Mexican breakfast tacos, you will likely become an advocate for having tacos for breakfast on the regular!
For a really local experience and the best breakfast in town, head to WayanE. WayanE is a Mayan word meaning “here it is“. Whichever day of the week you stop by this bustling little place, you will be met with locals queuing to be served.
There are actually three WayanE locations in Merida, although the Itzmina location (Calle 15 X 18A y 20, Itzimná, 97100 Mérida, Yuc.) is arguably the best and most popular. The eatery is designed like a modest street food truck.
Opt to sit on one of the outside stools so that you have a direct view of the chefs’ hand-making tortillas and preparing your tacos, or opt to sit in the inside section in the air conditioning. The menu is extensive so you will not be short of options to try.
The tacos are medium-sized and only 17 pesos each ($0.82 cents). 3-4 should be enough to fill you up.
Many of the breakfast options are egg-based. Try the egg with spinach tacos or the papas con chorizo (potatoes with Longaniza chorizo from Valladolid). Wash it all down with some homemade lemonade flavored with mint, or a piña con chaya (pineapple with Mayan spinach) agua fresca.
Have breakfast the Mexican way
Going out for breakfast is a big tradition in Mexico. A lot of Mexicans will start their day with a large, hearty breakfast and then enjoy a light lunch and dinner.
Of course, treating yourself to tacos at Wayan´E is a great choice for heading out for breakfast in Merida, but it is far from being one of the only options. There are many delicious breakfast dishes that are unique to Mexico or unique to the Yucatan region.
To try quintessentially Mexican fare, stop by ¨La Casa de los Abuelos¨ (Av. Correa Rachó 104, Sin Nombre de Col 3). This is a chain restaurant found throughout Mexico but don´t let that deter you – it is the go-to breakfast spot for many Mexicans and at weekends, you will see tons of people stopping by to eat here with their extended families.
Order yourself a serving of chilaquiles rojos – torn-up tortillas that are then fried in a tomato-based sauce with garlic, chili, herbs, cheese, and cream. The dish is usually served with shredded chicken but you can opt for a vegetarian option if you prefer.
Alternatively, order huevos rancheros (fried eggs served with tortillas and tomato salsa) or huevos motuleños – an egg dish that originated in the town of Motul in the Yucatan and features eggs with black beans and cheese. Order a strong Mexican coffee from Chiapas and a sweet concha pastry on the side.
If you prefer a more western-style breakfast, head for brunch at the restaurant in Rosas Y Xocolate hotel ( P.º de Montejo 480) where live jazz musicians often perform as you dine. Alternatively, enjoy fresh, warm, crumbly homemade croissants at Pan & Koffee ( Calle 43 x 58 y 60 #485, Santa Ana).
Take the bus to Playa Progreso
The little beach town of Progreso boasts a gorgeous stretch of coastline with soft powdery white sand and translucent aquamarine waters that would rival the beaches of the Mexican Caribbean. It is the most popular beach close to Merida and the go-to place for city residents when they want to escape the heat and humidity of the city and head to the coast.
Progreso does get very crowded at weekends, so visit during the week if you can. There is a convenient Autoprogreso bus that runs from Merida centro to Progreso every 20 minutes between Monday to Saturday. (Buses are hourly on Sundays).
Many beachfront restaurants and bars here allow you to rent a sunbed and an umbrella for the day for just a few pesos, or as long as you meet a certain minimum spend. Alternatively, just take a towel and plonk yourself down on a quiet stretch of beach.
As you relax, vendors wander up and down the beach selling chicharron and ice-cold coconuts. Another great place to sit is the newly opened MaryMar beach club (Boulevard Turístico Malecón) where you can enjoy the pool or relax with a cocktail or mocktail overlooking the sea.
Relax on the gorgeous beaches at Chicxulub
Chicxulub is a sleepy coastal town in the Yucatan located just 8.5km east of Progreso. It has a population of 5,000 and most residents are involved in fishing and trade.
If the name Chicxulub sounds somewhat familiar, it may be because it is here where the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs hit the earth 66 million years ago. In fact, it didn’t just wipe out the dinosaurs, it caused mass extinction and wiped out 80% of all animals.
You can’t see the impact site. It’s underwater.
However, recently a “Sendero Jurassico” has been built where you can drive around the outskirts of the crater, see life-sized models of dinosaurs and learn about the various species. If you are traveling with kids, this can be a fun and educational experience for them.
There are a few mercados, bakeries, and restaurants in Chicxulub but there’s not really a lot to see besides that. However, the beach here is less crowded than that at Progreso.
Besides, where else can you see old Mexican men drinking horchata underneath giant T-Rex statues? The best beaches are a short drive away but very isolated so you need a car. The secluded Playa Uaymitun is a particular beauty.
Go swimming in a cenote
The Yucatan peninsula is famous for its cenotes and in fact, there are more than 6000 of them in this part of Mexico! Cenotes are natural sinkholes filled with freshwater pools that were formed when the Chicxulub crater hit the earth and weakened the earth’s surface.
There are several cenotes directly in and around Merida. Cenote San Ignacio in Chocholá is a particularly nice 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.
Check out the ruins at Mayapan
Chichen Itza is arguably the most famous Mayan ruin both in Mexico and arguably, the entire world. It is one of the ¨new¨ seven wonders of the world after all!
However, it is far from being the only Mayan city that is worth your attention. Visiting several Mayan ruins in Mexico and then learning how they all fit together is important in gaining a deeper understanding of the Mayan civilization.
Mayapan is one of the lesser-known Mayan cities, situated 40km south of Merida, close to the town of Telchaquillo. It is believed to date back to around 1000AD.
In many regards, Mayapan was the last great Mayan capital. King Kukulcan II and his people moved here following the downfall of Chichen Itza. The large temple of Kukulcan found here is almost an exact replica of the Chichen Itza temple.
Mayapan is seldom busy and yet the site is just as expansive and fascinating as Chichen Itza. Entrance is 65 pesos ($3) for foreign travelers and free for Mexicans.
Visit a Mexican Ghost Town
If you have an interest in the eerie or the macabre, you will love enjoying the Pueblo Fantasma (ghost town) of Misnebalam. This abandoned rural settlement sits down a country lane that veers off from the main freeway between Merida and Progreso.
It was once home to a thriving farming community and in its heyday, more than 170 people lived and worked here. Misnebalam has been abandoned since 2005 and has fallen into a state of spooky disrepair.
Nobody knows the exact reasons why the town was abandoned but many claim that paranormal activity and ghost sightings in the area led the residents to flee, little by little. There is a grand old abandoned hacienda, a roofless church, and a few old houses that are fun to explore.
Around the town, you will see roads that lead to nowhere and wooden signs advertising hotels and businesses that no longer exist. Don Fidencio G Marquez was the former owner of the hacienda here.
He was assassinated on a road outside of the town in 1921 and residents have reported seeing his ghost wandering around his property. Similarly, there are reports of the ghost of a little boy (Juliancito) and a priest in black robes.
Shop for quintessentially Mexican souvenirs
Mexican souvenirs make a great reminder of your trip to the Yucatan or as gifts for your loved ones back at home. There are plenty of great places to shop in Merida and thoughtful items that you consider purchasing.
A traditional Yucatecan hammock is a nice choice, particularly if you have a spacious backyard at home. If you spend a decent amount of time in the Yucatan, you will notice that hammocks are a huge part of the culture and that most Yucatecan homes have hooks built into the walls for hammocks.
Because it gets so hot here during the summer months, many Yucatecans opt to sleep in hammocks rather than beds. You can buy a large, colorful handmade hammock for less than $20.
Another great idea is to purchase a traditional Mayan wooden mask. They were used to scare away enemies and during festivals, religious ceremonies, and dances. Some of them are incredibly ornate, colorful, and beautiful, and brighten up any room when they are hung on the walls.
Treat yourself to a stay at a luxurious hacienda
There are several gorgeous haciendas scattered throughout the Yucatan peninsula. Even if you have your accommodation in Merida sorted, you should consider spending at least one night in a hacienda.
Nothing says ¨luxury travel experience¨ more than opting to stay in a centuries-old colonial-era mansion. If you have never really heard about haciendas, these are large homesteads that were built by the Spanish colonizers.
They served a dual purpose: the Spanish nobility would live in grandiose headquarters in the main building of the hacienda, and the rest of the property would be used for farming or industrial purposes. Haciendas were often used to tend to livestock and, during the henequen boom, to farm agave plants and turn them into beautiful hammocks and other woven products.
Many Yucatan haciendas were abandoned during the 20th and 21st centuries. However, fortunately, many were then purchased and restored to their former glory by new owners who then turned them into tourist accommodation.
Hacienda San Jose and Hacienda Santa Cruz are two stunning options right on the outskirts of Merida. Even if you don’t want to splurge on staying overnight, it is possible to make a reservation at the restaurant of either property for breakfast or dinner.
The 1640 Hacienda Santa Cruz is particularly special. If you stop by for breakfast, a live Mexican folk band will perform and serenade you as you dine.
There are also some great haciendas situated further afield. Hacienda San Miguel is a beautiful choice close to the ruins at Ek Balam and Chichen Itza.
Catch a Pok-a-Tok ballgame reenactment
Pok-a-Tok is the name of the ancient ballgame that the Mayans would play centuries ago. When you visit Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Edzna, and other Mayan ruins across the country, you will see the remnants of Pok-a-Tok ball courts. The court at Chichen Itza is actually the largest in all of Mesoamerica!
The game was notoriously difficult to play. The players had to hit a large rubber ball through stone hoops that were mounted high on the walls.
Worse still, they were not permitted to use their hands and would typically use their hips to try and whack the ball through the hoops. Sometimes, the game was played to settle political debates and arguments, and often, the losing team was sacrificed!
The game is no longer played in Mexico today. However, you can catch a live re-enactment every Friday outside the Merida cathedral at 8 pm.
It is free to watch and it is particularly spectacular as there are often fire-dancers and the players are dressed in traditional Mayan masks and attire. Fortunately, the losing team is not sacrificed!
Take a day trip to Izamal
The little yellow city of Izamal sits in the center of the Yucatan peninsula, some 67km away from Merida. It is a popular day-trip destination from Merida and you can visit the city both independently via one of the many frequent buses that make the journey, or via an organized excursion.
This is one of the oldest continually-occupied places in the Yucatan. A settlement of some form has existed here for more than 2,000 years.
All of the houses, churches, businesses, and structures in Izamal have been painted bright yellow. This is believed to have been done in honor of the Sun God Kinich Kakmo. A pyramid erected in his honor still stands in the center of town.
Izamal is a photographer´s dream. It is pleasant to spend a day here just ambling through the narrow cobbled streets, taking photos of the bright buildings and the daily life in the Yucatan.
When you start to get hungry, dine beneath traditional palapas at Kinich restaurants. Head to the hilltop Convento de San Antonio del Padua, one of the oldest convents in Latin America, to watch the sunset over the city.
Sample handmade local ice cream on a rural highway
If you happen to be renting a car in Mexico, and driving between Izamal and Merida, you will pass by a little makeshift ice cream stand. It is a wooden hut with a handpainted sign that reads ¨helados¨ (ice cream).
Here, a local man and his daughter make homemade vanilla and strawberry ice cream and sell it by the cup for just a couple of pesos. There is often a line of cars filled with Yucatecans waiting to be served.
Be sure to stop by and try it on your journey into or out of Merida. It is delicious (the strawberry version has real fruit pieces inside it!) and is unlike anything you will have tried before.
Visit the Mayan World History Museum
If you visit one museum in Merida, make it the Mayan World History Museum. Even if you are not a ¨museum person¨, you are likely to find this place interesting.
The expansive museum complex contains a selection of Ancient Mayan artifacts that have been recovered from various ruins across the Yucatan. For instance, Uxmal, Chichen Itza, etc.
It is perhaps the second most comprehensive Mayan history museum after the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Better yet, the museum doesn´t ¨just¨ run through the history of the Ancient Maya.
Instead, it provides an in-depth look and discussion of Mayan culture and heritage. For instance, did you know that at least 6 million people still speak Mayan today? Many people in Merida and the Yucatan are descendants of the Ancient Maya.
Catch a local festival
Merida is a city where there always seems to be something going on. Have a Google for Merida festivals and see if there is anything going on during your intended travel dates.
Alternatively, check the local publication MID city beat which always shares the latest upcoming concerts, festivals, and entertainment listings. Chances are that there will be something fun taking place while you are in town.
If you are traveling to Mexico in January, you will have the opportunity to check out Merida fest. This is a cultural celebration of Merida’s history and heritage and is arguably the largest festival in town.
Various musical, dance, theatrical and cultural events are hosted in Spanish and English in more than 39 venues across town. Best of all, they are free to attend! The 2023 Merida fest will celebrate the 481st anniversary of the city.
Shop for beautiful one-of-a-kind clothing pieces
There are several wonderful independent boutique clothing stores in central Merida. Many sell traditional Yucatecan dresses and blouses that you can wear at home.
Others sell wonderful hand-woven shoes and handbags. Since many of the more traditional stores are catered to tourists, do be prepared to haggle on the prices and shop around for the best deal.
One particularly great place to shop for clothing – whether you are male or female, is Casa Tho on Paseo Montejo ( P.º de Montejo 498). This is a luxury concept restaurant and shopping experience set inside a 19th-century mansion.
The mansion was formerly owned by the noble Mier and Teran Lejuene family. It centers around a courtyard which is now a bar and 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 will find some beautiful pieces here and everything from resort wear and swimwear, to formal attire. For Tuluminati-style clothing, head to Jiwa, Coqui Coqui, or Kukul.
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, your Tour Guide is a wealth of information on Merida. 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.
You can take a Merida tour that follows a particular theme that interests you. For instance, a street food tour, a tour of Merida´s cantinas, etc.
Recommended Merida walking tours
A selection of reputable Merida tours that you may be interested in is detailed below for your consideration. Some take you around the city center and others take you beyond Merida´s limits. It is advisable to book online in advance in order to secure your place.
- 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). This unique museum is owned by Mexican paranormal Youtuber Jorge Moreno and contains more than 500 items that have been sourced from across the globe which are supposedly haunted or possessed.
You can 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 Munecas 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 Plaza Aleman
Plaza Aleman is a small park situated just north-east of Merida city center and it is one of the best places in town to visit for a local experience. By day, this is seemingly ¨just another¨ city park.
However, by nightfall, Plaza Aleman really comes to life as dozens of street food vendors set up their stalls around the park and families gather to play sports, rollerblade, or have al fresco picnics.
The street vendors here sell all manner of Mexican and Yucatecan delicacies. Be sure to try elotes – grilled corn on the cob served with mayonnaise, chili powder, and lime.
Some of the vendors serve really elaborate interpretations of elotes where they top the corn with mountains of different types of cheese, potato chips, cream, and salsa. The fresh churros with chocolate sauce here are unparalleled.
For a distinctly Yucatecan street food dessert, order a marquesita. This is a crepe stuffed with either Nutella or cheese, and then rolled up like a burrito and eaten by hand.
There are several excellent eateries that surround Plaza Aleman too. Las Brasas arguably serves the best burritos in town!
See the Yucatan’s version of Exuma Bahama
An alternative choice for enjoying a beach day from Merida is ¨pig beach¨ in Yucalpetén, just outside of Progreso. The beach is aptly named as it is home to eight adorable little Vietnamese piggies who were sadly abandoned here in late 2021.
Fortunately, their story has a happy ending as locals found the pigs and alerted the authorities. The pigs are now cared for by the Progreso Ecological Patrol.
Obviously, a hot, humid tropical beach is not the usual habitat of choice for pigs but they have adapted to their surroundings and have a sheltered pen. The pigs are free and are often seen swimming in the crystal-clear waters or taking a snooze on the golden sands.
There is a small merchandise kiosk at the entrance to the beach and the proceeds from all purchases go towards the piggies. Pig beach is a little tricky to get to without a car but you could take an Uber from Merida, or alternatively, take the bus to Progreso and then take an Uber from there.
Relax on a secluded beach unknown to tourists
There are actually more than a dozen gorgeous Yucatan beaches. The farther away from Merida you go, the fewer crowds you find at the beaches, and the more secluded stretches of coastline you can find.
Of course, not everyone likes an isolated beach. If you prefer somewhere with all the amenities, as well as a plethora of restaurants at the water´s edge, you may prefer Progreso or Chelem.
For something quieter, head along the Emerald Coast towards Dzilam de Bravo. Santa Clara is a quaint, off-the-beaten-path fishing village with a gorgeous beach. Meanwhile, San Crisanto is a paradisiacal cove surrounded by coconut groves that exude desert island vibes.
See the Monument de la Patria
The Monument de la Patria is one of the most iconic sights in Merida. It is a towering monument situated in the center of a roundabout on the Paseo Montejo.
It was erected in 1956 by Colombian sculptor Rómulo Rozo and depicts a proud image of a towering indigenous man at the front. At the rear, you will find 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 illuminated with beautiful blue lights. Sadly in 2022, someone has defaced the monument, and hopefully, it will be repaired/cleaned up before too long.
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 see many horses and carriages leading tourists along the Paseo Montejo and around the streets of central Merida. It is better not to support this kind of tourism as many of the horses are not well-treated.
However, fortunately, in 2022 a more ethical and kind solution has arisen: electric coaches! These grand coaches still look like a horse and carriage fit for a Queen, they are just electric-powered and sans-horses.
Your driver sits in the front of the carriage while you and your partner, family, or travel buddies can enjoy a magical ride around the city. For the best experience, do this at Golden hour or in the evenings just before sunset.
Visit the Charrería
A visit to the Charrería is one of the most authentic things to do in Merida and a place where you are not likely to see any other international tourists. The Charrería is the Mexican version of the rodeo and 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. Be mindful that some of the events are quite rough in their treatment of horses and bulls and may not be something that everyone enjoys watching.
The Mayan settlement of Dzibilchatun sits within Merida´s city limits and can be found in the northern part of the city. Dzibilchatun reopened to the public in July 2002 after a period of extended closure. This was due to ongoing disputes between the landowners and the Mexican government.
Hopefully, this will change soon but do check in advance whether the site is open or not before you make the journey. The name ¨Dzibilchatun¨ is Ancient Mayan for ¨writing on the flat stones¨.
This makes reference to the inscribed tablets that were found when the site was excavated. Dzibilchatun is believed to date back to around 300BC and has currently only been partially excavated.
The highlight of the site is its ¨Temple of the seven Dolls¨. Here, seven obscure, human-sized figures were found. The Dzibilchatun Museum is also very worth visiting.
Catch a live concert at Foro GNP
Merida has good nightlife but it is also worth checking to see if there are any concerts or live musical performances going on during your trip. Famous Mexican and international bands often perform at the Foro GNP stadium.
What could be a more uniquely Mexican experience than joining the locals and watching a famous banda or Mexican singer perform?
Travel to the ancient city of Uxmal
The ancient city of Uxmal is one of the most spectacular Mayan cities in the Yucatan. You can get from Merida to Uxmal by bus, or opt to participate in an organized excursion.
The city dates back to 700 AD and was once home to 25,000 people. It has been extensively and lovingly restored and today it is one of the best-preserved Mayan ruins in all of Mexico.
The intricately-carved buildings and the layout here are stunning. The city has been designed in the Puuc-style of Mayan architecture. If you travel to Uxmal independently and you want more information on the various buildings, you can hire a guide at the entrance for 200 pesos.
Learn about the history of chocolate at Choco-Story
Did you know that chocolate was invented in Mexico? The first cacao plants were found here and the Olmec, one of the earliest civilizations in Latin America, was the first to turn the plants into a hot cocoa beverage.
Choco Story is a small museum dedicated to the history of chocolate. It is set inside Hacienda Uxmal, directly across the road from the Uxmal archeological site and it is a nice place to visit to pass the time while waiting for your bus back to Merida. The exhibits tell you the history of chocolate and at the end, you can sample a delicious Chokoj Ha drink.
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. Ki’Xocolatl is arguably the best place to venture to.
This store sells chocolate and cocoa drinks of the highest quality and there are three branches in Merida. The central one in Santa Lucia ( C. 60 No. 471-Local 5, Parque Santa Lucia, Centro) is perhaps the best one to get to.
Mexican hot chocolate is richer, thicker, and more indulgent than hot chocolate beverages you will have tried elsewhere. Order a cup of hot cocoa prepared with milk, rather than water, for a creamier taste, and buy a few bars of their dark and milk chocolate as gifts for your friends/family at home.
If you want to indulge your sweet tooth further, head to Mina Kim (C. 61, Centro, 97000 Mérida). This is a quaint store in central Merida that sells a selection of traditional Mexican sweets and candies.
Tour Casa Gemela
Casa Gemela is a small museum on the outskirts of central Merida in the Itzimna district. This beautiful house dates back to 1946 and its first occupants were the Rodríguez family.
Today, the house contains a small art exhibition which is worth browsing if you are in the area. (For instance, if you are walking back from having breakfast at Wayan´E!). Events are often hosted here at weekends. For instance, intimate classical music performances and theatrical shows.
See the Merida Cathedral
Merida´s Catedral de San Ildefonso was constructed between 1561 and 1598. Today, it is one of the most famous sights of the city and you will probably pass it countless times when you are exploring centro.
The cathedral was built on the site of an old Mayan temple and some of the original stones from the temple were used to create its facade. It is worth heading inside and observing some of the fixtures, statues, and paintings in the interior that have caused controversy over the years.
The large Cristo de la Unidad crucifix behind the altar symbolizes a good relationship between the indigenous Maya and the Spanish Christians. There are also paintings of the indigenous people paying respect to Francisco de Montejo, the colonizer of Merida. Many other paintings were destroyed during the Mexican Revolution and you can understand why the natives were not happy about them!
Take a Yucatan cooking class
Learning to cook traditional Yucatecan recipes is a great way to delve further into the culture of this part of Mexico. Many Merida cooking classes pair a tour of a traditional market where you will purchase ingredients, with a cooking class in a local home.
When you return home, you will be able to impress your dinner guests with your new recipes! Click here to find out more information on Merida’s cooking classes.
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.
You will also find a smaller Merida sign on Paseo Montejo, just across from the Monument de la Patria.
Meander through Merida’s parks and plazas
There are several parks and open spaces in Merida where you can enjoy birdwatching and greenery while you sit with a book and a take-out cup of coffee. Plaza Grande is the most central and famous.
However, virtually every district in the city has a park at its center. Most are surrounded by restaurants, stores, and churches.
Itzimna park, adjacent to the beautiful bright red Itzimna cathedral, is one of the most tranquil. Parque de las Americas in Colonia Garcia Ginerés is impressive. It boasts unique Mayan-inspired architecture – a library, impressive pools and fountains, a large band shell, and monuments dedicated to each nation of the Americas.
Check out the Domingo (Sunday) market
The Domingo (Sunday) market 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 find unique boiled egg empanadas stuffed with chaya (Mayan spinach) that should not be missed.
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 (largely in Chiapas and Veracruz).
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.
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.
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, Enroco 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.
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.
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 a ¨anillo de los cenotes¨ (ring of cenotes). There are more than 20 cenotes here.
You can drive or take a bus to Homun. 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 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 such place.
However, it is important to note that most people 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 that are not available anywhere else. Ojo Rojo is arguably the most fun to sample!
Ojo Rojo, meaning ¨red eye¨ 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!
It is an acquired taste, for sure. However, you may be surprised by how much you enjoy it! This drink is found across Mexico and is only really known as ¨ojo rojo¨ in the Yucatan.
Elsewhere, it is called a michelada. You will find that virtually every bar sells it.
Check out Merida’s shopping malls
If you want to indulge in some retail therapy while you are in Merida, there are plenty of malls where you can shop. Liverpool and Gran Chapur are Mexican department stores that sell cosmetics, accessories, apparel, and home interiors.
You will find several branches of these stores scattered throughout the city and they showcase various international and Mexican high street and higher-end brands. La Isla and Galleria are two of the best malls in the city and they are situated in the northern part of town so you will need to take a bus or a cab to reach them.
Treat yourself to a luxury hotel stay
Staying in nice accommodation can really complement your travel experience. Sure, you may only spend a limited amount of time in your hotel room when you are exploring a new city.
However, it is nice to know that you have somewhere pleasant to come back to at the end of the day. If you can relax by the pool, on a rooftop bar with a glass of wine, or in a giant bathtub, it can really help you unwind.
Even if you stay in budget accommodation for the majority of your trip, consider treating yourself to a night or two somewhere spectacular. Rosas Y Xocolat (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.
Admire world-class art pieces at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Ateneo de Yucatán
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.
Spend a morning in Valladolid
Valladolid makes a great day trip from Merida and it is worth staying overnight if your schedule permits. The town is one of four ¨Pueblo Magicos¨ in the Yucatan.
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.
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!
Take a day trip to Chichen Itza
No trip to the Yucatan peninsula would be complete without a trip to Chichen Itza. Take the first bus from Merida to Chichen Itza to get to the site as early as possible.
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 comprehensive than you may realize and necessitates several hours of exploration.
Aside from the infamous temple of Kukulcán, there are several structures to look out for. Just in front of the main temple, there is a small stone platform decorated with carved skulls.
This is known as the ¨Tzompantli¨ and 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.
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.
Explore off the beaten path Mayan ruins
There are many lesser-known ruins a short distance from Merida that are seldom (if ever) visited by tourists. Yet they can be some of the most interesting places in the Yucatan to visit.
Kabah, Labna, and Sayil are considered by many archeologists to be high points of Mayan art and architecture. In 2022, the remains of a Mayan city known as Xiol were discovered when construction workers were clearing the ground to construct an industrial site.
Go to the movies
Going to the movies may be something that you can do anywhere in the world but it can be a nice way to relax and unwind on an evening or a rainy day in Merida. There are several movie theaters scattered around the city so you will not have to venture far to find one close to where you are staying.
Movie theater tickets are much cheaper here than what you may be used to in your home country too. Adult tickets are only 85 pesos ($4) a person.
Have you visited Merida, Mexico? What did you think?
You may also enjoy reading this article on Mexico travel tips to know before traveling to Mexico.
Do you have anything else that you would add to this selection of the best things to do in Merida? Have a wonderful time exploring Mexico!