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.
This article has been written by a British Travel Writer that has spent the last 18 months living in Merida. (Me!) It aims to give an unfiltered perspective on what living in Merida is really like and discusses the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of full-time life in Southern Mexico.
Useful Things to Know about Living in Merida
Merida is very safe
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.
In reality, the Yucatan is just culturally very different from other parts of Mexico. (Although other parts of Mexico are great too, and the country, on the whole, doesn’t deserve the “dangerous” reputation it is often slammed with).
People are very respectful of each other, the police here are well-paid and take their responsibilities seriously. You can feel comfortable walking to the convenience store in the evening as a woman alone or running around a park by yourself.
This is a feeling that you don’t have in other parts of Mexico and Latin America. 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.
Plenty of opportunities to travel around the Yucatan and wider Mexico
Merida’s location makes it a great base for exploring the wider Yucatan peninsula. There are dozens of incredible Mayan ruins and gorgeous Yucatan beaches that are just an hour away from the city center.
You could take different day trips from Merida each and every weekend for a year and still not have seen everything that the Yucatan has to offer. That’s before you even get to domestic travel within Mexico!
If you like history and learning about the ancient Mayan civilization, you will delight in taking road trips out to the cities of Mayapan, Uxmal, Dzibilchaltun, and the Ruta Puuc, and learning how each settlement fits into the tapestry of the Yucatan’s story. If you love spending time at the beach and by 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. They make for great indulgent staycations in neighboring towns or in rural areas.
Better still, although some upscale haciendas and resorts come with higher price tags, the cost of an overnight stay here is still substantially cheaper than an equivalent stay in the US or Canada. A stay at a four or five-star property in the Yucatan will often cost between $80-$200 a night maximum.
Elsewhere in North America, you wouldn’t be able to get an equivalent experience for less than $300 a night.
Merida exposes you to authentic Yucatecan culture
Some parts of Mexico that are popular among expats (Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Chapala, etc) have become very gentrified. It is hard to find authentic Mexican culture and cuisine and you have to actively seek it out.
Merida, for now, remains largely unchanged from the effects of tourism. There is always something going on here – from festivals and events to cultural celebrations.
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 motulenos” 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.
Yucatecan food is incredible
Yucatecan food is a highlight of living in Merida in itself. The cuisine here differs from the cuisine in other parts of Mexico and some dishes can only be found in this region.
Many of the recipes were invented centuries ago by the Ancient Mayans and the same cooking methods are still used today. Cochinita pibil is arguably the most famous regional dish.
Think of it as the Ancient Mayan answer to pulled pork. To make it, pork shoulder is marinated in a blend of spices, achiote, and orange and then cooked 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.
Areas 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, and Poligono are also perfectly safe. 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.
- Expats in the Yucatan
- Merida Mexico Expat Community
- Merida Expats and Meetups
- Expats in Mexico
- Merida Casitas for Rent (for finding houses and apartments to buy/rent)
- Merida Friends
- Merida Food Hunt (If you want recommendations on where to find certain groceries)
Uber and other ridesharing apps exist in Merida
Although navigating the local bus networks and public transport can be a headache, the good thing is that Uber and other ridesharing apps exist in Merida. Taking Uber in Merida is affordable and is generally considered 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.
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. Locals also use an app called “In Drive”.
This is the cheapest of the bunch – 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.
There are fewer safety measures in place on this app though. So, Uber/Didi are usually the best options unless you are taking a cab with local friends.
Merida has a great convenience culture
Merida is super convenient when it comes to ordering food and other necessities. Uber Eats exists here, as does Didi Eats.
One of the best apps to have on your radar is Rappi. Not only can you order food via this app but you can also order items from local stores.
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 and dental 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. Good insurance is imperative if you live in Merida.
Health and medical bills may be cheaper than in the US and Canada but if you fall ill or are involved in an accident, they can quickly mount up. Numerous insurance packages are available, with Amexcare being one of the most popular.
You should shop around and decide which is the most suitable for you and your needs. If you go to the Doctor without insurance, it is just $2.50 to visit one of the small walk-in clinics that you will find scattered around the city.
To go to a bilingual doctor at the private hospital Faro del Mayab, it costs around $25 per appointment. The good thing about seeing a doctor in Merida is that you can generally get an appointment to be seen immediately.
In my experience, it’s worth it to pay slightly more for a doctor at a private hospital. Doctors and specialists at Faro del Mayab speak a good level of English which makes everything easier. (Even if your Spanish is decent, it can be overwhelming trying to communicate about medical matters).
It is easy to find certain home comforts
You will find it easy to find a lot of home comforts in Merida, particularly if you are from the US/Canada. Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco, and other Merida supermarkets import and sell a lot of American goods.
Stores like Carls Jr, Dairy Queen, IHop, Office Max, Home Depot, and other American stores can be found all over North Merida. If you are European like me, you might find it more difficult to find certain things.
However, Hennessy’s Irish Pub on Paseo Montejo sells British/Irish cuisine and there are a few European-inspired eateries around the town constantly opening up that can give you a taste of home.
Cons to living in 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.
However, the current Tren Maya construction project makes journey times substantially longer than they are ordinarily. Not to mention, not everyone wants to travel 6-7 hours overland by bus.
Merida is one of the hottest places in Mexico
Merida has a humid, tropical climate and the city is hot all year round. Seasons don’t exist here.
It is either hot or ultra-hot. The mildest climes are to be found in the “winter” months between December and March.
A lot of “snowbirds” only live in Merida during this season and they promptly leave in April/May each year when things start heating up. In the “winter” season, you can expect daily averages between 82° and 93 ° Fahrenheit.
Things really start heating up from mid-April onwards and temperatures often soar above 104°F. It’s not unheard of for them to sometimes reach as much as 115°F either!
Temperatures in Merida don’t ease up at night either. Plus the high humidity can make it feel even hotter than it is.
Merida is located inland, not on the coast. Progreso, the city’s closest beach town is 40km north of Merida.
So the Yucatan capital doesn’t enjoy any sea breeze as a respite from the heat as you have in Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen. June through October marks the “rainy” hurricane season in the Yucatan.
Sometimes, the rainfall can provide some relief from the heat but the storms can be powerful and knock out the internet or electricity for several days at a time. In the summer, it can often feel so hot that spending any amount of time outdoors is unbearable.
It’s impossible to walk around the streets or the parks without feeling too hot and most of your time is spent traveling from one air-conditioned place to another. The only form of walking that you are able to do most of the time is pacing around an air-conditioned mall.
Merida may or may not be walkable depending on where you live
If you live in central Merida, you can easily get around the city on foot. But if you base yourself in the north, you will find it difficult to get around without a vehicle.
North Merida resembles an American city – with wide, multi-lane roads without sidewalks, sprawling strip malls, and industrial facilities. You will isolate yourself if you live here without a car and in most areas, you won’t have any coffee shops or stores that you can get to on foot.
(Plus it’s too hot to walk any further most of the time and the roads aren’t paved!) The local bus network can be overwhelming to navigate and it doesn’t service all areas.
Hard water can dry out your skin and hair
The water in Merida and the wider is pretty grim on the whole. Not only can you not consume it, but 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?! A few expats have reported skin irritation and problems after washing with the water and it’s for this reason that a fair few people choose to install water filters on their taps.
That might not really be an option for you if you’re living in an Airbnb or when you just arrive in Mexico. But to combat irritation and dry skin, you might want to consider washing your face with bottled water.
(Yes it sounds boogie but it’s honestly necessary sometimes). By the same token, you might also want to rinse your hair with a splash of water from a garafone after washing it because the hard water here can really damage it.
You can’t drink the water
You can’t drink the water in Merida (or anywhere in Mexico for that matter). Although it is purified at the source, it often gets contaminated en route to your tap.
Even Mexicans don’t drink it. Instead, you should buy large garafones of water from your local OXXO. 7/11 or another convenience store.
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.
(And you will often hear water trucks driving around the various neighborhoods and blaring out a tannoy advertising their water sales). Cooking with tap water is generally okay if you boil it, but many people prefer to use bottled water for everything.
Fruit and veg may contain pesticides
The ultra-high temperature and humidity mean that many fruits and veggies don’t grow well in the Yucatan state. Many tropical fruits thrive – including a number of interesting ones that are native to the Yucatan like mameys and sapotes.
But many crops like potatoes, tomatoes, etc struggle and are not of the best quality. Not only that but harmful pesticides are often used to spray crops.
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. It isn’t enough to just rinse them in water.
¨Microdyn¨ and ¨BacDyn¨ are well-known brands that you can find in the supermarket. You can also prepare your own white wine vinegar solution if you prefer.
Many people prefer to shop for organic fruits and veggies at the Slow Food Market that takes place at Garcia Gineres (C. 33ᴰ 498) every Saturday morning. Most of these vendors don’t use any insecticides etc on their food but it’s worth double-checking. You can get some great pan dulces, loaves of bread, jams, and other condiments and treats at this market too!
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.
Bureaucracy can be a major issue in Mexico. Everything from getting your appointment at the INM immigration office to opening a bank account and purchasing a car is made unnecessarily complicated.
When people have their appointments at INM immigration, they are often lined up outside for an entire day. It’s gotten so bad that people will often hire locals to stand in line for them to save their place for part of the day.
One thing that you need to pack if you are considering moving to Mexico is a ton of patience.
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? After 18 months of living in the Yucatan full-time, I have decided that the heat and humidity are too much for me.
So for the next couple of years, I will live here seasonally – spending the winter in Merida and the summer traveling elsewhere.
I plan to buy a plot of land and build a house in the Yucatan. Although I’ve heard some horror stories from people dealing with contractors and builders in Mexico, my partner is Mexican and we both speak Spanish fairly fluently.
Hopefully, I will be able to share some insight with you on the realities of buying/building a home here depending on how it all goes.
Safe travels and enjoy the Yucatan! Buen Viaje! xo