If you are planning a trip to southeastern Mexico, the “White City” of Mérida ought to be high on your bucket list of places to visit during your travels. The city, known as the cultural capital of the Yucatan, is home to some of the most beautiful colonial-style architecture in all of Latin America, spectacular Mayan ruins, and an increasingly wonderful gastro scene.
In this three-day Merida itinerary, we will take a look at all of the best things to see and do in Mérida with a limited amount of time – from the must-see sights to the local highlights that the Yucatecans have been keeping to themselves.
You are in good hands here because not only have I been living in Mérida for the past few years, but as a Travel Writer, I have made it my priority to explore every corner of my new home and now I know Merida as well as the back of my hand.
Merida Itinerary Day One: Merida Highlights
Start your first day in Mérida by treating yourself to some breakfast tacos at Wayan E. There are a couple of Wayan E locations in town but for the best experience, head to the original branch in Itzimna (Calle 15 X 18A y 20, Itzimná).
Have breakfast at Wayan E
Wayan E (Calle 15 X 18A y 20, Itzimná) is a Mérida 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 and you can opt to 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. Try the papas con chorizo lightly spiced potato tacos prepared with chorizo from Valladolid, the tinga de pollo (shredded chicken with chipotle and adobe), or huevos con spinaci (eggs with spinach). Wash it all down with a refreshing agua fresca and then set out to explore Itzimna.
Itzimna: an off the beaten path neighbourhood in Merida
Itzimna, named after the ruler of the Mayan Gods, Itzamna is one of the most charming and traditional barrios in Merida but, at least for the time being, it is completely overlooked by most tourists. Centuries ago, Itzimna was a little town of its own, but urban expansion in the Yucatan has led to it becoming engulfed by Merida.
Most of the activity and points of interest in Itizmna are centred around the zocalo (central square) which is flanked by the red-painted “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” Roman Catholic church which dates back to 1710.
You will usually see plenty of street vendors and tianguis around the square selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to cochinita pibil tortas, and bottles of horchata. The little garden here is a nice place to sit, and you can take a peek inside the church to admire the decor and the religious icons within.
There are many charming stores that encircle the square which are worth browsing. In particular, Caffe Latte Itzimna sells some of the best fresh roasted coffee in town and sells bags of fresh beans sourced from Chiapas, Veracruz and Oaxaca.
Just across the way, Sembra is a nice artisanal store selling homemade soaps, cosmetics and hair products, as well as food stuffs, while Mercado de Pan is an excellent bakery where you can watch the pastry chefs hard at work behind a glass window.
See the Monument a la Patria
From Itzimna, you can walk to the center of town via the Paseo de Montejo, one of Merida’s main promenades. It’s a bit of a trek, so if you are traveling during the hotter months (between May and October), you might want to consider taking an Uber or a Didi cab part of the way.
From Parque Itzimna and the church, you can reach the monument by strolling along Calle 21 and then Av. Rómulo Rozo. When you reach the Paseo Montejo, you will be greeted by the spectacular Monumento a la Patria – a towering sculpture representing an indigenous man that was created by the Mexican-Colombian artist Rómulo Rozo in 1956.
This sculpture has quickly become an icon of the city, and after sunset, the statue is illuminated in different colors. The rear side of the statue contains 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.
Stroll along the Paseo de Montejo
From here, continue southwards down the Paseo de Montejo towards central Merida. The boulevard is lined with grand, neoclassical-style mansions, many of which have been renovated and repurposed to house elegant restaurants, coffee shops and boutique stores.
It is interesting to see some of the “regular” high street stores some of these former mansions now house. One is now a Starbucks and another is an AT&T store!
There are usually free, temporary artwork exhibitions scattered along the the sidewalks which are nice to check out. In October 2023, we had an exhibit called “Through her eyes” which contained a series of portraits of notable indigenous women from across Mexico, and discussed their lives and achievements.
If you want to stop for a coffee or a drink, check out Casa T´HŌ – a converted French-style mansion that was previously owned by the noble Mier and Teran Lejuene family. The chic space now contains a Mediterranean-style restaurant and bar, and a sequence of rooms that sell gorgeous original garments created by local independent designers.
In the evenings, you can stop by here for an aperitivo and to enjoy live jazz music. This is a great place to shop for souvenirs from Mexico, unique accessories, and one-of-a-kind clothing items.
The Museo Regional de Antropología can be found nearby housed inside a spectacular building. Unfortunately, the exhibits here are not extensive and they are displayed only in Spanish.
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 colours, 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 (Plaza Grande)
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 inside that depict indigenous people paying respect to Francisco de Montejo, the Spanish colonizer who founded Mérida.
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.
You will find reenactments of the ancient Mayan ballgame Pok-ta-Pok here every Saturday night at 8pm.
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 Yucatan 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.
Visit Dzibilchaltun and the Temple of the Dolls
After you’re sufficiently stuffed from breakfast, 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 where the mysterious clay dolls are kept, among other artifacts.
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 in the ruins (and stepping into an air-conditioned building is always welcome in the Yucatan!)
Visit the Gran Mundo del Maya museum
The Mayan World Museum of Mérida (C. 60 299 E, Unidad Revolución) 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 such as the Uxmal ruins, other cities along the Ruta Puuc and the world-famous Chichen Itza.
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.
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 raspados (drinks made with flavoured 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 or more.
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 Mexico (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 centre so you can easily get around here 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. There are lots of excellent Merida luxury hotels that do not break the bank along the Paseo Montejo, and close to Plaza Grande and Parque Santa Lucia.
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
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 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.
You are also more than welcome to reach out to me if you have any questions and I will do my best to get back to you as soon as I can. As I mentioned, I have been living in Merida for the past few years and I even bought a house here this Fall.
Have a safe trip and enjoy the Yucatan! Buen Viaje! Melissa Xo