Looking for a perfect Merida itinerary? Look no further.
The Yucatan capital of Merida has been gaining a lot of recognition in recent years as an up-and-coming Mexican tourist destination. The gorgeous city dates back to the 16th century.
Its cobbled streets, quaint churches, and pastel-colored houses combine to make it one of the best-preserved colonial cities in Mexico today. In 2022, the likes of Lonely Planet and Travel and Leisure identified Merida as being one of the best global cities to visit 2022. That’s no mean feat!
2-3 days is a perfect amount of time for an initial Merida itinerary. Ideally, you would stay in Merida as part of a wider Yucatan road trip.
If you enjoy slow travel, you can also use Merida as a base for a couple of weeks/months to explore more of the Yucatan. With more time to spare, you can venture out to lesser-known ruins along the Ruta Puuc, gorgeous Yucatan beaches along the Emerald Coast (e.g. San Bruno and San Crisanto), and hidden cenotes (sinkholes) across the peninsula.
Still, 2-3 days is a perfect amount of time for an initial Merida itinerary and will allow you to get an initial feel for the city and its culture. A suggested route is detailed below.
It has been written by someone who has lived in Merida for over a year (me). So rest assured, a lot of consideration has been put into ensuring this Merida itinerary is the best of the best.
Merida Itinerary Day One: Merida Highlights
Day one of this Merida itinerary focuses on exploring the historic center of Mexico’s “white city”. Provided that you choose somewhere central when choosing where to stay in Merida (e.g the zocalo, Parque Santa Ana, etc), you can get around most of the city on foot.
Stroll down the Paseo Montejo
The Paseo Montejo is the main promenade that runs through the center of Merida, all the way up to the periferico that heads towards the beach town of Progreso. In the historic center, it is lined with a plethora of neoclassical mansions that have been converted into quaint coffee shops, international eateries, and chic cocktail bars.
It is pleasant to walk the length of the Paseo Montejo, admiring the buildings as you go. The Museo de Antropología e Historia can be found here, housed inside a spectacular building. However, the exhibits inside are scarce with limited information in English.
You should also look out for Casa T´oh. This is a gorgeous concept shopping and dining center housed inside a 19th-century mansion on Paseo Montejo that was previously owned by the noble Mier and Teran Lejuene family.
The courtyard area of the mansion is home to a gorgeous restaurant that serves Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. In the evenings, you can stop by here for an aperitivo and enjoy live jazz music.
The various rooms and annexes that surround the courtyard have been transformed into boutique stores that showcase the works of independent Mexican designers and artists. This is a great place to shop for souvenirs from Mexico, unique accessories, and one-of-a-kind clothing items.
Admire the Monument de la Patria
The piece de resistance of the Paseo Montejo is the Monument de la Patria. This towering monument of an indigenous man was constructed by Colombian sculptor Romulo Rozo in 1956 and has quickly become an iconic image of the city.
At the rear of the statue, there are more than 300 smaller sculptures that depict the history of Merida through the centuries. It depicts everything from the founding of Tenochtitlan, the Mexican revolution, and present-day Merida.
In front of the statue, you will also find the city name written in large colorful letters. This makes the perfect spot for a photo.
Explore historic Merida
Most of central Merida can be explored on foot. You can use the various parks and plazas in the historic center to help yourself navigate.
Start at the Parque de Santa Ana and admire the gorgeous pastel-yellow church that frames the square. Construction of this church started in 1729, by Don Antonio Figueroa y Silva, Lazo de la Vega, Ladrón del Niño de Guevara.
From here, walk towards the Parque de Santa Lucia. The streets in this part of central Merida are a photographer’s dream and are home to some of the best examples of colonial housing and architecture.
Calle 59 is particularly picturesque. The old colonial houses of Merida have been painted in different vibrant colors, and many now house independent art galleries, artisanal coffee shops, restaurants, and guesthouses.
Some look deceptively small from the outside but reveal grand courtyards and swimming pools within. Continue onwards to the Parque de Santa Lucia, a bustling square that often hosts live music and dancing events, and is filled with a diverse selection of restaurants and street vendors.
Parque a la Maternidad takes its name from the statue at its center depicting a woman taking care of a baby. Here you will also find the impressive Rectoría El Jesús Tercera Orden church and if you are lucky, a Mexican wedding taking place outside.
Hang out in the Zocalo
The central squares of Mexican cities are usually referred to as the ¨Zocalo¨ and Merida’s is an impressive one. You will find Merida’s Grand Catedral de Ilfonso here, and it dates back to the 16th century.
Controversially, the cathedral was built on the site of an old Mayan temple and many of the original stones and building materials were plundered in order to build the Catholic cathedral. There are also some controversial images and materials inside the structure.
For instance, there are paintings of indigenous people paying respect to Francisco de Montejo, the Spanish colonizer who founded Merida. Many other paintings were destroyed during the Revolution and it is understandable why!
The square itself is a nice place to take a stroll or hang out on the benches with a marquesita or a takeout cup of Chiapas coffee. On Friday nights, you will find reenactments of the ancient Mayan ballgame Pok-a-Tok here.
Experience Merida by night
There are many wonderful ways to spend a night in Merida, and it all depends on the time that you visit and what you like to do. If you are interested in hanging out in a traditional Mexican cantina, you can consider heading to Dzalbay (Calle 64 x 53, Esquina, No.443, Centro).
La Cantina Negrita is a go-to hangout for many locals and expats and they host live salsa music and dancing most nights. But it is often crowded beyond belief and reaches maximum capacity.
La Cantina El Porvenir is a nice alternative option to avoid crowds. (Esq. Calle 52, C. 53 s/n, Centro).
Stepping through the swinging saloon doors into the cantina feels like stepping into a movie set. If you order yourself a beer or a michelada, you can buy some botanas for 20 pesos (around $1).
These are little tapas-style dishes that are served alongside your drink. Popular botanas in the Yucatan are often things like spiced Yucatecan sausage, spiced potatoes with salsa, beets, and bread, or nachos with dip.
Pipiripau (C. 62 461, Parque Santa Lucia) is a popular hangout spot on Friday and Saturday nights. The bar has a large garden that often hosts live DJ sets.
Meanwhile, if you prefer evening entertainment that doesn’t involve bars and loud spaces, you may want to consider seeing a show at Casa Gemela. This converted mansion has been transformed into an art gallery and cultural space. On Saturday nights, they often host live classical and folk musicians, or theatrical performances.
Merida Itinerary Day Two: Mayan History & Ruins
Day two of this Merida itinerary focuses on discovering the Mayan ruins and history that this part of Mexico is best known for. Ideally, you should wake up early to head for breakfast so that you arrive in Dzibilchaltun before the crowds. However, since this is one of the lesser-known Mayan ruins in the region, it is seldom ultra busy.
Stop for breakfast tacos at Wayan’E
Wayan’E is a Merida institution. This little taqueria is the go-to place for breakfast tacos on a weekend. It is so popular that you will often see Merida residents queuing down the street to enter (and not a gringo in sight!)
Rest assured though, it’s worth the wait. The taqueria is set up like a taco street stall.
You can dine inside, or on one of the little wooden stools that run along the outside of the kitchen and give you a great view of the chefs at work. The extensive taco menu here serves up mouthwatering tacos loaded with every filling imaginable.
A great breakfast choice is the papas con chorizo (sauteed, spiced potatoes with chorizo) tacos. Alternatively, order yourself the eggs with spinach and green beans, or eggs with longaniza sausage.
(Longaniza is a spiced sausage, similar to chorizo that hails from Valladolid and is loved across the Yucatan). You will also find a lot of Yucatecan delicacies here.
For instance, cochinita pibil tacos, pollo pibil tacos and poc chuc tacos. Whatever you order, be sure to load it up with frijoles (beans) and a dash of guac or habanero sauce.
There are now several Wayan’E branches in Merida. However, the original and best choice is the restaurant in Itzimna.
It is only around 17-20 pesos per taco. Wash it all down with one of their homemade agua frescas or horchatas. (Mexican drinks made by blending fresh fruit with water and sugar). When you’re done, you can walk up to the adorable burgundy church in Parque Itzimna and browse some of the little independent food stores that encircle the plaza.
After you’re sufficiently stuffed, take an Uber to the ruins of Dzibilchaltun. This ancient Mayan city dates back to 500 BC.
Its name means “writing on the flat stones” in ancient Mayan. This is presumably after the inscribed stone tablets that can be found around the site (though unfortunately, most inscriptions have faded away with time and the elements).
Dzibilchaltun sits within the city limits of Merida, in the northern part of the city. So, it only takes around 30 minutes to get here by cab.
There are several residential structures and pyramids that were used for spiritual purposes here. It is possible to climb them, for a birdseye view of the Mayan city and the jungle canopy from the top.
The highlight of visiting the site though is the Templo de las Siete Muñecas (Temple of the Seven Dolls). The temple awaits at the end of a long white Sacbe (Mayan ceremonial road) around 10 minutes walk from the main section of the city.
It wasn’t found by archaeologists until the 1950s and has a design quite unlike anything you will see at other Mayan sites. Seven crudely made clay dolls were found inside during the excavations and archeologists believe that they were used in some sort of ritual when locals would pray for a good harvest.
The temple is believed to be dedicated to Yum Kax, the Mayan God of corn. For reasons unknown, around the year 800, the building was filled with stones and the Maya built another, larger temple over the top of it.
The Dzibilchaltun Museum
Dzibilchaltun is pretty large and sees a fraction of the tourists that you see at more popular historical sites such as Uxmal or Chichen Itza. Entrance is 282 pesos ($14) and includes admission to the on-site museum.
Do be sure to stop by the Dzibilchaltun museum while you are visiting the ancient city. It helps to provide more context to the things you are seeing.
Visit the Gran Mundo del Maya museum
The Mayan world museum in Merida is arguably the best museum in Yucatan. If you only visit one museum during your trip (even if you don’t consider yourself to be a “museum person”), make it this one.
The museum tells the chronological history and culture of the Mayan people. It contains incredibly well-preserved artifacts recovered from several ruins across the Yucatan peninsula.
It also provides a deeper insight into the Mayan people and their culture and takes a look at the impacts of the violent Spanish colonization of Mexico.
When you mention the Mayans, many people think of an ancient civilization that hasn’t been around for centuries. However, the reality is that over 7 million people still speak Maya across Latin America today.
Many Yucatecans are of Mayan descent and many of them work in every field from hospitality to agriculture and admin. While the Mayan World Museum pales in comparison to the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, it gives a great insight into the regional history of the Yucatan. Even if you have visited the Mexico City anthropology museum, it is still worth visiting both places.
Have dinner at a Yucatan hacienda
For a truly unique experience during your Merida itinerary, you should consider staying in a Yucatan hacienda. Haciendas are grand mansion-like houses that were built by the Spanish conquistadors during the 18th and 19th centuries.
A family of nobles would often live in the haciendas, while they built a business based on agriculture and farming around the premises. During the henequen boom, an abundance of ornate haciendas popped up around the Yucatan.
Today, many of them have been converted into luxury hotels or restaurants. Several haciendas are located on the outskirts of Merida.
Hacienda San Jose and Hacienda Santa Cruz are both gorgeous hotel properties now, where you can spend a night and feel like royalty. You can still make a dinner reservation at any Merida hacienda, even if you don’t choose to stay there.
Best haciendas for dinner
After you’ve eaten, you are free to explore the grounds. For fine dining in a hacienda, head for dinner at Hacienda Teya or Hacienda Ya-axka.
Hacienda Ya-axka is one of the best fine dining restaurants in Merida and it’s not somewhere you would find unless you specifically knew about it. (So there are no tourists!)
The menu serves elevated Yucatan delicacies with a modern, contemporary twist. Live musicians often perform here every night of the week, singing songs in both English and Spanish.
Alternatively, Hacienda Teya is one of the best places to try authentic Yucatan dishes in Merida. It has been recognized in various Mexican national and international media for the quality of its food.
Consider starting with some papadzules (steamed egg tacos drenched in tomato salsa and delicious pumpkin sauce). To follow, the X’catiques chiles stuffed with ground beef and pork are a local favorite.
So too are the fillet tips with X’catic. These are seasoned beef fillet tips, stewed with tomato sauce and chile X’catic, accompanied by rice and ripe plantains. Yum!
Merida Itinerary Day Three: Local Life in Merida
Day three of this Merida itinerary will have you experiencing the city like a true local. You will see markets, parks, and plazas that most tourists overlook.
Visit Merida’s marketplaces
Mercado Lucas de Galvez is the oldest marketplace in Merida that operates today. It was first established here in 1884 and was demolished and rebuilt several times before the current marketplace was set up in 1948.
Today, thousands of locals pass through the marketplace every day to shop for fresh Mexican fruits, vegetables, and household items. The top floor of the marketplace is dedicated to artisanal goods and traditional Mexican clothing.
If you are interested in purchasing a traditional Yucatecan dress (a huipil), you can find some beautifully embroidered items here. Heading down the stairs and into the main marketplace, you will experience some interesting sights and sounds.
There is usually a snaked queue throughout the market for chicharron (fried pork rinds). Other stalls sell traditional Mexican candies (which are worth a try), spices, herbs, homemade salsas, and raspadas (drinks made with ice).
The porticoed archways that run along the streets beside Mercado Lucas de Galvez on Calle 56a and calle 65a are filled with clothing and toy stores. One of the alleyways that veer off from here is dedicated entirely to hairdressers and beauty stores.
From here, continue onwards to Mercado San Benito. This labyrinth-like covered market is filled with hundreds of vendors selling everything from ingredients to electrical appliances.
Hang out in Parque Aleman
Parque Aleman is a truly local place in Merida. You won’t see any tourists here.
It’s a little out of the city center but well worth the effort to get to. By day, the park is a pleasant place to take a stroll or have brunch at one of the cute cafes that encircle the square.
However, it is by nightfall that Parque Aleman really comes to life. Dozens of street vendors set up their stalls and sell a plethora of weird and wonderful snacks.
There is a little fairground with games like hook a duck and coconut shy, as well as dodgems and carousels for the kids. Parque Aleman is where local families and groups of friends come in the evening to enjoy an al fresco picnic, rollerblade or play basketball.
Elotes and esquites (sweetcorn served with different salsas and toppings) are one of the most popular street foods in Mexico. However, the elotes in Parque Aleman are something else entirely.
For $1, you can enjoy a mammoth serving of loaded elotes. Fresh sweetcorn is poured on top of Tostitos potato chips and paired with several types of cheese, fresh cream, jalapenos, Cheetos, and salsas.
Marquesitas are another Yucatecan street food snack to look out for. These are sweet crepes that are usually stuffed with Nutella or caramel sauce and then rolled up like a cigar.
FAQs about this Merida itinerary
Do you still have any burning questions or concerns about planning a trip to Merida? Hopefully, you will find the answers you are looking for below.
How many days do you need in Merida?
2-3 days should be enough for an initial Merida itinerary. Of course, if you have more time to spare, there are plenty of things to do in Merida to keep you occupied for a week.
Is Merida worth visiting?
Merida is well worth visiting. The cultural Yucatan capital is bursting at the seams with history, culture, and gastronomy.
The historic city itself is considered one of the best-preserved Spanish colonial cities in Latin America (perhaps second only to Campeche city). You can spend days simply walking around Merida with no fixed plan and enjoying getting lost among its narrow streets and passageways.
Some of the most notable Mayan ruins are nearby, including Mayapan, and Uxmal. If you consider yourself a foodie traveler, you will be impressed with the gastronomical scene in Merida.
Is Merida a walkable city?
Merida is a sprawling mass of a city and it is actually larger than most people realize. However, most of the main tourist attractions are located in the historic center.
So, you can easily get around purely on foot. The only exceptions to this are perhaps the Mayan World Museum and Dzibilchaltun which you need a cab to get to.
Local buses do run around Merida but they can be confusing to navigate as a tourist and they do not always run on schedule. Distances in the city center can still be large (e.g. from the zocalo to the Paseo Montejo) and so, you may want to take an Uber or a Didi.
Didi is the local alternative to Uber and is often slightly cheaper. Both apps are very safe and reliable to use, and they arguably offer more accountability than just hailing a random street taxi.
Why is Merida so popular?
Merida has soared in popularity in recent years as both a tourist destination and an ex-pat city. Merida is the safest city in Mexico, and for that reason, it is at the top of many people’s lists when they consider relocating to Mexico.
(Since safety in Mexico is a big concern for a lot of people). From a tourist perspective, not only does Merida have plenty to offer, but it is also located in a very culturally rich part of the country.
Some of the best places in the Yucatan can be reached within a couple of hours from Merida. This includes the nature reserve at Celestun, the lagoon at Rio Lagartos, and charming towns and villages like Izamal, Kikil, and Hunucma.
Which is better Valladolid or Merida?
Valladolid and Merida are two Yucatan cities that are each charming in their own right. Merida is the largest of the two and the Yucatan capital.
It arguably has much more to offer and you could easily spend as much as a week in Merida exploring its various attractions. Meanwhile, Valladolid is a relatively compact city.
You can easily explore Valladolid’s historic center, markets, convents, and churches in a day. Then, you can allow a second day to explore the cenotes in and around Valladolid.
Where is the best place to stay in Merida?
It can be overwhelming to try and decide where to stay in Merida as a first-time visitor. If you are renting a car in Mexico, you may enjoy staying in a more rural area and considering one of the haciendas near Tixkokob or Teya.
Otherwise, it is better to stay as central as possible so that you can get around on foot for most of your Merida itinerary.
What is the best month to visit Merida Mexico?
The best time to visit the Yucatan peninsula in general is between late October and April. Temperatures here get unbearably hot and humid during the summer months, and June to November is both the hurricane season and the wet season.
The peak season tends to run between December and March. So, if you travel just outside of this (e.g. November or early April), you will be able to avoid the crowds.
Final thoughts on this Merida Itinerary
What are your thoughts on this Merida itinerary? What about the city of Merida appeals to you the most?
If you are spending a little longer in Merida, you may be interested in reviewing these day trips from Merida. They offer a little something for every interest and travel style.
If this is your first time heading to Mexico, you may find this list of facts about Mexico interesting. You may also want to look at these Mexican travel tips to know before you go.
Have a safe trip! Buen Viaje! Xo