Living in Merida Mexico: What is it REALLY Like – A Local’s Guide

Living in Merida is a dream for many people who hope to relocate or retire to sunnier climes in Southern Mexico. Although Merida has not yet hit the mainstream as a tourism destination, the word is slowly getting out about the cultured Yucatan capital.

Merida is one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Mexico. Its historic center is filled with narrow cobbled streets, grand, neoclassical mansions, charming plazas, and pastel-colored colonial buildings that have been converted into hotels, restaurants, and artisanal stores. 

The city’s central Yucatan location makes it a great base for exploring world-famous sites like Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, and Cancun, and there always seems to be something going on in the Yucatan to keep you entertained each weekend. 

Like anywhere, there are pros and cons to moving to Merida that you need to think about carefully before committing to making the move. 

You are in good hands here because I have been living in Merida since January 2022 and after obtaining my Mexican residency, I sold my business in the UK and bought a house here at the end of 2023. In this post, I hope to give you an honest, unfiltered perspective of what it is actually like to live in Merida so that you can decide for yourself whether or not this is the place for you. 

If at the end you have any questions, you are welcome to drop me a comment or an email or connect with me on social media. 

The Paseo de Montejo on a Sunday morning

The Realities of Living in Merida, Mexico

My move to Merida was a little random and unanticipated. In late 2021 I was visiting my friends in Atlanta, US when I decided that I also wanted to visit Mexico while I was “in the area”. I hate long-haul flights (I am from the UK) and figured that I wouldn’t likely come back any time soon otherwise. 

After traveling around the Yucatan with a friend, I decided to stick around in Merida for another month or two. I met my Mexican partner on a dating app and he was a big factor in influencing my move.

He had relocated from Sinaloa to Merida to work as an engineer on the Maya train and after a lot of back and forth between Mexico and Europe, it just made sense to permanently relocate to Mexico.

Living in Merida: Itzimna neighborhood
Living in Merida: Itzimna neighborhood

Merida is very safe

A major plus point for living in Merida is the safety of the city.

Merida is not only the safest city in Mexico, but it is also widely regarded as being one of the safest cities in North America on the whole. So yes, Merida is considered safer than most towns and cities in the United States and Canada!

There are a couple of widespread theories as to why the city is so safe. A particularly compelling one is the idea that many narcos and their families live in Merida and they have declared the city as neutral ground. 

I don’t really know if there is any merit to that claim or not, but in reality, the Yucatan is just culturally very different from other parts of Mexico. On the whole, I often feel that Mexico doesn’t deserve the “dangerous” reputation it is often slammed with but some parts of Mexico are safer than others, and the violent things that happen in some parts of the country simply don’t happen in Merida.

People are very respectful of each other, locals greet you with a “buenos dias” or a “buenos tardes” when you walk down the street and the police here are well-paid and take their responsibilities seriously. I feel very comfortable walking to the convenience store by myself in the evening, or going for a jog around Parque a la Plancha or Parque Lineal after dark. (There are alawys tons of people around).

I wouldn’t even do that in my hometown in the UK. There really are no “no go” areas in Merida that you shouldn’t go to and this is not a city where you have to be constantly looking over your shoulder. 

Mani pueblo magico
Mani pueblo magico

Merida provides amazing travel opportunities

One of my favorite things about living in Merida is all of the travel opportunities that you have in the Yucatan peninsula. There are dozens of incredible Mayan ruins and gorgeous Yucatan beaches that are just an hour away from the city center. 

There are more than 200 Mayan ruins scattered throughout the Yucatan peninsula, and as a history nerd, I have been making my mission to try and visit them all. Of course, there are well-known places like Chichen Itza, Mayapan, the Uxmal Ruins and Ek Balam, but there are also plenty of off-the-beaten-path spots like Dzibilchaltun, Oxkintok, Ake, Acanceh and the Ruta Puuc, where you will often find that you are the only person there. 

If you love spending time at the beach and the sea, you will be charmed by the coastal villages of Chuburna, Chicxulub, San Bruno, and Telchac Puerto. There are also tons of gorgeous haciendas that have been converted into hotels scattered throughout the state that make for a wonderful, indulgent staycation experience. (Another expensive pastime I have is trying to stay in all of the haciendas!)

Cultural events take place every Saturday at Casa Gemela
Watching a classical music recital at Casa Gemela, Merida

Merida exposes you to authentic Yucatecan culture 

Unlike popular expat destinations like Playa Del Carmen, Cancun and Tulum, Merida has thus far managed to escape gentrification and remains largely unchanged from the effects of tourism. It seems like there is always something going on here – from festivals and events to cultural celebrations.  

Every Thursday in Parque Santa Lucia, groups of locals meet to dance to salsa and cumbia music, while various bars in Merida host live music and salsa dancing virtually every night of the week. (Check out Dzalbay cantina or La Cantina Negrita for salsa classes and Mercado 60 and Casa Gemela for live musical performances).

Merida Fest takes place every January in Mexico. The 2024 celebration will mark the 482nd anniversary of the city’s founding.  

During the festival, hundreds of musicians, folk performers, and artists from across the Yucatan, Mexico, and the world perform free concerts in more than 40 venues across town. Exemplary Meridians are recognized, and locals celebrate the heritage of their city. 

In February, you can experience the Merida carnival. In July, there is the “Huevos Motuleños” festival in the nearby city of Motul, and in November, there’s Hanal Pixan, the Yucatan version of the Day of the Dead.

Basically, there’s always something fascinating happening in Merida, and the events are not catered to tourists, though everyone is always welcome to join.

Cochinita pibil
Tucking into a delicious plate of cochinita pibil

Yucatecan food is incredible  

Most people think of things like tacos, burritos, and enchiladas at any mention of Mexican food, but in actuality, different parts of Mexico boast their own unique regional cuisine and Yucatecan food is nothing like anything you will have tasted before.

Many Yucatecan recipes were invented by the Ancient Mayans thousands of years ago and the same cooking methods are still used today. A lot of these dishes can only be found in this part of the country.

Arguably the most famous regional dish is cochinita pibil. You can think of this as the Ancient Mayan answer to pulled pork as it is made by marinating pork shoulder in a blend of spices, achiote and orange rind and then cooking it overnight in an underground oven known as a “pib”. 

The result is a soft and tender meat dish that melts in your mouth. Pollo pibil (marinated chicken breast), Huevos Motuleños (eggs prepared with ham, beans, tortillas, and fried plantains), and papadzules (boiled eggs rolled in tortillas with a pumpkin salsa) are other popular regional foods. 

Pork is used in a lot of Yucatecan recipes which may not be everyones cup of tea, but you will find plenty of other Mexican restaurants and western/international eateries too for when you fancy a change.

Dining out at Pueblo Pibil in Tixkokob

Mexican bureaucracy is not as bad as you think

Before I moved to Mexico, people often warned me about all of the bureaucracy and red tape that I would have to deal with when doing simple tasks like opening a bank account, visiting the immigration office, paying bills, etc. In reality, most things have been a breeze. 

Although I grew up in the UK, I lived in Greece for five years prior to moving to Merida, and often doing the most simple administrative thing in Athens felt like banging my head against a wall. I will say that getting an appointment at the INM immigration office in Merida is a bit of a pain and you usually drive past and see people queuing down the street for an entire day for their appointment. 

Everything else has been surprisingly breezy. When I bought my house, my lawyers in Merida were excellent and I closed in 6 weeks. 

When I moved in and called TotalPlay to set up my internet connection, they came out later that same day, and when I opened a bank account with Banco Intercam, I had a card and an account set-up four days later. 

You should definitely prepare yourself for experiencing some differences in Mexico, compared to how things may function in your home country. However for the most part, Mexico is not as chaotic or disorganized as people may have you believe. 

Parque a la Plancha, Central Merida

Public transport is improving every year 

When I first moved to Merida a couple of years ago, I would have told you not to bother with the public transport here because it was too badly organized and confusing. However, the local government have been investing huge sums of money into improving transport links in the city and the wider Yucatan recently, largely to attract more tourists. 

While some of the older Merida buses are a little run down, you can take the new blue Va-y-Ven buses to different parts of the city. You can purchase a Va-y-Ven card from any Oxxo for just 25 pesos and a journey on board costs just 12 pesos each way. 

The bus schedule posted online often does not reflect reality and getting the hang of using the buses and knowing their stops here takes a bit of getting used to (download the Va y Ven app to check routes, schedules and prices). Still, they are a low cost and convenient way to get around. The new Merida IE tram is also a great option, although some routes are not fully functional yet. 

This electric bus connects the city center with the Tren Maya train station in Teya, and when lines 4 and 5 are rolled out later in 2024, it will connect you with Merida airport too.

A little alleyway in Central Merida filled with hair salons and tiangui-style beauty parlors

Uber and other ridesharing apps exist in Merida 

Uber, and a couple of other local ridseharing apps (Didi and Indrive) exist in Merida and can be an affordable way of getting around. Mexicans usually consider Uber to be safer than taking local taxis. 

Obviously, there is more accountability via the app as you have the driver’s name, past reviews, and license plate/vehicle details. You simply don’t have that when you get into a random street car and it is generally not recommended to get into a random taxi in Mexico because of all the scams and tricks you are likely to be subjected to.

You can get a ride from one side of the city to the other for just a couple of dollars. If you want to go to Progreso, Yucalpeten, or Chelem, you can usually grab a car for between $15 – $25 each way depending on the demand.

Didi is a local alternative that works in the same way, is also safe, and is often cheaper, but I sometimes find that there are fewer cars available on Didi. Locals also use an app called “In Drive” which is the cheapeset of the bunch.

To use it, you simply enter your location and where you want to go, and then offer how much you want to pay for the journey. Local drivers will then “bid” for the chance to take you and you can choose the cheapest one.

My boyfriend and our Mexican friends always use this app, though I find that some of the drivers drive a bit crazy, or the seatbelts dont work in their backseats, etc, so I still generally prefer Uber when I am by myself.

Walking in the historic center of Merida

Merida has a great convenience culture 

Merida is super convenient when it comes to ordering food and other necessities. You can use Uber Eats, Didi Eats and Rappi to order from a bunch of local restaurants and stores, the delivery guys will even travel to areas just outside Merida, like Cholul, Conkal and Dzitya, and you will find options as late as 23:00pm.

Rappi is one of the best apps to have on your radar as it enables you to order items from local stores as well as food.

Feel unwell and can’t get to the pharmacy? A Rappi can go pick up your meds for you. 

Need some extra pots and pans for a dinner party and don’t have time to run to the store? Order a Rappi. It is super convenient and you will probably wonder how you ever lived without it. 

Medical care in Merida 

Medical and dental care in Merida are generally excellent – so much so that the city has started establishing itself as a medical tourism destination. I have been sick a few times since arriving here – both due to Montezumas revenge and as a result of existing health problems I had before moving here.

I typically go to the private Hospital Faro del Mayab and get seen by an English-speaking doctor five minutes later. This costs me $25 for a consultation, around $25 for blood work, and more detailed tests cost a little more. (Example, I paid $250 USD for a CT scan when I was screened for colon issues recently but the doctors were excellent and took me for a scan less than 20 minutes after arriving at the hospital).

When I have had bloodwork done, I arrived at the hospital for tests early in the morning, and then I was emailed a confidential link with my results earlier that same afternoon.

You will find smaller walk-in health clinics scattered around town in strip malls or next to “Farmacia Similares” and an appointment costs $2.50. I have personally not had good experiences with these (I was once told my gastritis would be cured by eating a lot of chicken) and since you never want to risk your health, I would usually advise paying a bit more for an appointment at a reputable clinic.

Good insurance is imperative if you live in Merida because even though medical bills can be cheaper than the US and Canada, they can quickly mount up if you get sick. Amexcare are one of the most popular insurance options here.

It is easy to find certain home comforts 

Embracing a new country and culture is a big part of moving abroad but we all get homesick from time to time and its nice to have home comforts around when you do.

You will find it easy to find a lot of products from your country in Merida, particularly if you are from the US/Canada. There are plenty of international restaurants that serve American and European fare scattered throughout the city and when you want to prepare things at home, you can find international products in Costco, Sam’s Club and Walmart.

(Costco is probably the best option for this, and the added bonus is that in Mexico, a membership only costs $25 USD a year).

Cons to living in Merida

Living in Merida Mexico
Living in Merida Mexico

Nowhere is all sunshine and roses all of the time and unfortunately that includes Merida. Some aspects of living here (like the incessant, furnace-like heat) can be really difficult to adapt to which is why I would strongly recommend that you spend a few months here basing yourself in Airbnbs in different areas to see if you like it and you are comfortable with the ultra-hot summer months before you commit to moving here permanently.

The good thing is that you are usually granted 180 days to spend in Mexico on a tourist visa, so try and spend a little time here during the summer if you can.

The Temple of the Dolls at Dzibilchaltun ruins, North Merida

The heat

By and large the most challenging aspect of living in Merida is coping with the heat. The city is one of the hottest places in Mexico and because it is located inland and not close to the sea, there isn’t even a slight breeze that offers respite.

Merida has a humid, tropical climate and seasons just don’t exist here so it’s either hot or ultra-hot. The city is at its coolest between December and early March when you can expect daytime temperatures between 82° and 93 ° F.

April and May are the hottest months of the year and temperatures often soar above 104°F. This can make it unbearable to even walk 5-10 minutes down the street to the convenience store so you wind up having to do everyting in the early mornings and evenings, or driving from one air conditioned place to another.

Since June to September marks the rainy, hurricane season and the extreme humidity can add to the struggle. I lived in Greece for five years before moving here and this is still something that I struggle to get accustomed to – even locals dread the summer months.

The only form of walking that you are able to do most of the time is pacing around an air-conditioned mall.

Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes in the Yucatan are more of an annoyance than something that you need to worry about as a real danger or cause for concern. Dengue Fever and Zika virus do exist here, but since I get eaten alive on a near daily basis and as of yet *knocks on wood* have not fallen unwell, I wouldn’t say that a high percentage of mosquitoes carry the virus

Still, it is a massive annoyance when your entire body is basically a dot-to-dot map of mosquito bites.

Yucatecan mosquitos are a different breed. They are so sneaky and stealthy that most of the time, you never see them or know that you have been bitten until you notice some horrendous scab or intense itching later.

In my experience, the usual tricks like spraying with DEET, using a repellant lotion or wearing long sleeves and trousers dont work here. I would strongly recommend purchasing the plug-in repellants which you can pick up from Walmart or Amazon for a couple of dollars and they last for about 30 days.

I can usually enjoy a bite-free existance when I have them plugged into every single room in my house. Then, I know when its time to buy a refil because the bites start materializing again!

Calle 47, Central Merida

You may need a car

Merida may or may not be walkable depending on where you live. While the historic center is old, cute and quaint, Merida on the whole is actually a sprawling urban city that is home to over one million people.

You can get around the city center on foot but if you base yourself in the suburbs, you will find it difficult to get around without a vehicle. The more modern parts of the city are reminiscent of cities in the US – with wide, multi-lane roads without sidewalks, sprawling strip malls, and industrial facilities.

They are simply not built for pedestrians. My partner and I have lived in Itzimna, Dzitya and Cholul before I purchased a home in East Merida last year and since he works for Tren Maya, we had a free company car for 2 years which we kind of took for granted.

When he had to return it, it was eye-opening how difficult it was to get around without a car. Getting to where you need to go often isnt possible without multiple changes on buses and Uber can quickly add up – to the extent of paying $8 each way to get to the mall.

If you think you are going to travel and take day trips from Merida regularly, buying a car is a worthwhile investment.

Hard water can dry out your skin and hair 

You can’t drink the water in Merida (or anywhere in Mexico for that matter) because although it is purified at the source, it can get contaminated en route to your tap and make you sick.

Frustratingly, it can have a less-than-desirable effect on your hair, face, and body too. 

Fill up a saucepan with tap water to boil an egg, some pasta, etc and you will notice that the pan gets stained with whatever white sediment is present in the water. Shower and you will find that your stone or wooden flooring is stained with the white sediment too. 

If it can do that to solid objects, what is it doing to your skin and hair?! I noticed that I was getting acne breakouts like a 14 year old after washing my face with the water so we installed a filter on our taps.

I had also spoken to a few expats that have experienced skin/scalp irritation as a result of using the water so if you are in long-term rental accommodation or you buy your own home, a filter is a good investment. If you have particularly problematic dry or sensitive skin, you might also want to consider washing your face with bottled water in the short term. (Yes it sounds boogie but it’s honestly necessary sometimes).

You need to buy garafones of water

Following on with the water theme, you will need to buy large 20L garafones of water to drink at home. You can buy these from OXXO, 7/11 and other convenience stores and supermarkets for around 30 pesos each.

The bottles are recyclable so when you’re finished, you take the plastic bottle back to the store and they clean it and fill it up with water again for the next customer. If you can’t carry the large bottles, you can have them delivered to your home. 

(We have a Cristal water truck that drives around our neighborhood three times a week so we tend to buy a couple of garafones from him, and give him back the old ones to recycle.

Cooking with tap water is generally okay if you boil it, but many people (myself included) prefer to use bottled water for everything.  

Fruit and veg may contain pesticides 

The ultra-high temperature and humidity mean that certain fruits and veggies don’t grow well in the Yucatan state. Things like potatoes, tomatoes, etc struggle and are not of the best quality to begin with, and to add to that, Mexican farmers often spray harmful pesticides onto crops to keep insects away which can make you sick if you consume them.

If you head to the Merida Slow Food Market in Garcia Gineres (C. 33ᴰ 498) on Saturday mornings, you can buy organic fruits and veggies that are safer to consume and are not sprayed with insecticides. (You can get some great pan dulces, loaves of artisinal bread, jams, and other condiments and treats at this market too!)

I often try and avoid fruits that you eat the skin of as much as I can and opt for “safer” tropical fruits like pineapples, papaya, mameys and sapotes instead but it isnt really practical to never eat a tomato or a carrot.

If you buy products that you plan on eating the skin of (e.g. tomatoes, apples, strawberries), you need to soak the items in an anti-microbial solution for a few minutes.

¨Microdyn¨ and ¨BacDyn¨ are well-known brands that you can find in the supermarket or you can also prepare your own white wine vinegar solution if you prefer. 

The cost of living is rising year on year 

The cost of living in Merida may be cheaper than the cost of living in certain US and Canadian cities but by Mexican standards, it errs on the side of being more expensive. Costs are continually rising year on year too as more and more people start to relocate to the Yucatan from elsewhere. 

As a foreigner, your biggest challenge will be finding rental accommodation at a reasonable price. A lot of people charge foreign expats inflated prices assuming that they have plenty of money at their disposal and they do not know the correct going rates. 

You can rent a one-bedroom apartment in Merida for as little as 5000-5,500 pesos a month. (Circa $300-$350 USD). Theoretically, you should be able to find a 2/3 bedroom house with multiple bathrooms and a pool for a maximum of $1,200 – $1,500 a month all-in.

Beware of “Gringo tax”. You will see a lot of ads on Facebook groups of people asking for upwards of $2,500 for 2-bedroom properties.

While it might seem cheap compared to the US, it is far more than you should be paying in Southern Mexico.

Parque Santa Ana, Central Merida

Limited transport links to elsewhere in the country 

Merida has its own international airport (MID) which is conveniently located in the city center. You can easily get a bus or an Uber here from Centro for just a few dollars. 

The airport offers frequent daily flights to Mexico City and Guadalajara and a limited number of very early morning flights to Oaxaca and Tuxtla Gutierrez. However, if you are heading elsewhere (Puerto Vallarta, Sinaloa, Guanajuato, etc, expect to have to change in Guadalajara or Mexico City). 

Volaris, Viva Aerobus, and Aeromexico are the main Mexican airlines that service Merida Airport. The airport provides direct routes to Guatemala, Toronto, and a few US cities but its international flight routes are massively limited. 

If you are heading to Europe or elsewhere in Latin America, you generally have to travel overland to Cancun and take a flight from there. ADO buses make traveling overland to other Mexican cities in the Yucatan peninsula and Chiapas comfortable and affordable. 

Things to Consider Before Moving to Merida

Choosing where to live in Merida

A lot of expats in Merida tend to live in either the city’s historic center or the northern part of the city. (The neighborhoods of Montes De Ame, Temozon Norte, Montecarlo, Francisco de Montejo, and Diaz Ordaz are all places classed as “North” Merida.) 

Living in the city center or thereabouts means that you can easily explore Merida’s downtown on foot, shop at local traditional mercados like the Lucas de Galvez market, and have a plethora of excellent Merida restaurants right on your doorstep. 

However, the demand to live in a charming historic colonial home has driven up prices in central Merida substantially. You will find that you get a lot more bang for your buck if you are willing to move to residential areas that are a little further out. 

Recently, a lot of new developments have started popping up in Dzitya, Cholul, Conkal, and Caucel and are worth looking into. There are also a lot of “privadas” emerging around the outskirts of Merida – gated communities with brand-new modern houses. 

Although North and Central Merida are the main areas where expats choose to live, there is nothing wrong with the East or West neighborhoods either. Itzimna and Colonias are particularly charming. 

Las Brisas, Chuminópolis, Pacabtún and Poligono are also perfectly safe. I have bounced around a bunch of neighborhoods during my time here but bought my house in Los Reyes, where I feel very comfortable despite being the only “gringo” in the barrio.

The only place you want to avoid (where you might find extremely cheap properties in your search) is Kanasin. This is a small industrial town south of Merida. Crime has been on the rise here in recent years and break-ins are not unheard of. Generally, it’s best avoided. 

Where to search for homes in Merida 

Most people rent their properties on Facebook in Mexico and they often do this rather than involving a real estate agent. So, the Facebook Marketplace is a surprisingly good place to look for long and short-term rentals. 

Of course, you have to use some common sense and be careful when doing anything this way as there are definitely a lot of scams in Mexico. “Merida Casitas” is a good Facebook group to search too, but be mindful of the prices as people often try and charge foreigners a premium and assume that they do not know the correct going rates. 

There are a couple of property websites in Merida and the Yucatan but they tend to be mostly used for property purchases rather than rentals. If you are looking to buy a home rather than rent, you can start your search with Point2homes and Merida Living Real Estate. 

In some of the privadas outside the city center, you can often find 2-4 bedroom properties with 2-3 bathrooms and a pool for between $110,000 and $140,000 USD depending on the exact specs. When it comes to rentals, a lot of people tend to move into an Airbnb in the short term and then look for a longer-term rental. 

Airbnb comes with additional fees – Airbnb services fees, cleaning fees, and Yucatan tourist tax. This can add to your cost but it’s the price you pay for not having a deposit, any admin fees, or any contractual obligation.

The social scene in Merida 

It’s estimated that around 10,000-11,000 American and Canadian expats live in Merida, as well as expats from other countries. There are lots of useful and active Facebook groups where you can ask questions or organize meetups with other people. 

The average expat age in Merida tends to be 40-50 plus. Basically, there are a lot of families and retirees that move here.

Younger Digital Nomads and Erasmus students in their 20s and 30s often pass through to travel or work remotely for a month or two. But it can feel very transient and very few younger people seem to stick around long-term. 

Some of the Facebook groups also have Whatsapp group chats where people arrange weekly nights out and meet-ups at the beach. Everyone is pretty friendly (since they all know what it’s like to be new in a foreign country). 

Useful Facebook groups for living in Merida

Some useful Facebook groups for living in Merida are listed below. They are great places to ask any questions you may have about the city and life in Mexico in general. 

The Merida Mexico Expat Community is perhaps the most active and welcoming.

Final thoughts on the realities of living in Merida Mexico

Do you have any further questions about living in Merida, relocating to Mexico, or traveling around the Yucatan? As I mentioned, my partner and I have been living here for over 2 years.

Sometimes I wonder whether the heat is too much for me to consider being here permanently, especially if we start to raise a family, but for now Merida is home.

If you have any questions or concerns about moving to Mexico or the realities of living here, please dont hesitate to reach out to me and I will do my best to get back to you as soon as I can,

Safe travels and enjoy the Yucatan! Buen Viaje!

Melissa xo


Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer based in Merida, Mexico and the Editor-in-Chief of Mexico Travel Secrets. She has over seven years worth of experience in working in travel media and has travelled to 57 countries, mostly solo. Throughout her career, Melissa has produced written content for several high-profile publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, the Huffington Post, Rough Guides, and Matador Network.

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