One day in Merida Mexico isn’t a ton of time to dedicate to exploring the Yucatan’s cultured capital. But it’s enough to scratch beneath the surface if you are on a tight schedule.
The gorgeous “white city” founded by Francisco de Montejo y Leon in 1542 is one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Mexico, as well as the overall safest.
Ancient Mayan ruins, shimmering cenotes, and charming catholic churches abound in Merida. This article, written by a British expat based in the city will help you make the most of one day in Merida.
It will take you to some of the “must-see” sights in the Yucatan, as well as some lesser-known gems that most tourists aren’t even aware of.
One Day in Merida Itinerary
The entirety of this one-day Merida itinerary can be done on foot. There is no need to rent a car in Merida if you are only here for a day and you don’t have to worry about navigating the confusing local public transport network.
Grab breakfast tacos at Wayan’E
Start your day bright and early with some breakfast tacos (yes, breakfast tacos!) at Wayan’E in Itzimna. (Calle 15 X 18A and 20).
Wayan’E is a Merida institution and one of the best places in town to grab breakfast, as far as most locals are concerned.
Wayan’E, meaning “it’s here” in Mayan is a modest eatery that has been designed like a simple taco truck. You can sit on stools at the counter as you watch your tacos being prepared.
The menu is extensive and there is an overwhelming selection of tacos and tortas to choose from. Try the papas con chorizo or huevos con chaya (Yucatan spinach).
If you want to try something truly Yucatecan, you can have a cochinita pibil torta. Cochinita pibil is one of the most famous regional delicacies.
To make it, pork is flavored with citrus and achiote and cooked to tender perfection in an underground oven known as a pib. The recipe was invented by the Ancient Mayans and is still cooked in the same way today.
Grab a coffee at Parque Itzimna
When you’re sufficiently stuffed from your breakfast tacos, a short walk along Calle 20 brings you to Parque Itzimna. This little square is flanked by the gorgeous red Itzimna church. (Parroquia de Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro).
Itzimna, meaning “God of Creation” in Mayan is a truly local neighborhood that most tourists aren’t even aware of. There are some charming local businesses and stores here that are worth your attention.
If you’re not too full, or you want to pick up some snacks for later, you can quickly dash down Calle 17 to Mercado de Pan. This is a great local bakery where you can watch the pastry chefs making croissants and pan dulces (Mexican sweet bread) right in front of you.
Sembra, opposite Parque Itzimna, is a great local store selling agro products and homemade cosmetics. Just across the way, is a tiny quesaria (cheese shop) making homemade Mexican cheeses like panela and queso rancho.
For some of the best coffee in Merida, grab a hot or cold coffee to go at Caffe Latte Itzimna. (Calle 18, Av. Rotary Internacional No. 101). The store has a great selection of coffee beans from Chiapas, Oaxaca, Veracruz, and other parts of Mexico.
You can pick the ones you want and they will scoop and grind them right in front of you. The beans also make a great souvenir from your trip.
Check out the Monument a la Patria
From Parque Itzimna, it’s just a short walk to one of Merida’s most famous landmarks – the Monument a la Patria. This giant monument depicting an indigenous man sits in the center of a busy roundabout at the intersection of the Paseo Montejo and Av. Romulo Rozo.
It was designed by the acclaimed Colombian sculptor Rómulo Rozo between 1945 and 1956 and is also known as “the fatherland monument”. At its rear, are hundreds of carved sculptures depicting Mexican history through the ages.
The scenes date from the days of the Aztecs and the Mayans, through to the Mexican Revolution and the modern day.
There are also some large, colorful letters depicting the city name “Merida” right in front of the monument which makes a perfect spot to take photos. At night, the monument is illuminated in different colors.
Stroll down the Paseo Montejo
From the Monument a la Patria, walk southwards down the Paseo Montejo – one of Merida’s main promenades. If you happen to pass by on a Sunday morning, the entire street is closed off to traffic so that pedestrians can rent bicycles, walk or skate along the road.
The leafy boulevard is lined with interesting boutiques and concept stores, as well as a great deal of grandiose neoclassical and colonial mansions. Many regal-looking buildings have now been converted into stores and cafes like Starbucks and AT&T stores (!)
At the far end of Paseo Montejo, you will find the Parque “Remate del Paseo de Montejo” which hosts various events throughout the year, including the annual Merida Fest which takes place in Mexico in January.
Get lost in the narrow backstreets of historic Merida
From the Paseo Montejo, take a right turn onto Calle 47 and stop by the Parque Santa Ana, which is framed by the quaint pastel yellow Santa Ana church. This is a lovely place to stop and take some photos.
There are usually always street vendors here selling marquesitas (Yucatan crepes), elotes (flavored sweetcorn), and other sweet and savory treats.
Continuing down Calle 60, pass through the Parque de Santa Lucia before arriving at the “Zocalo”, the central square of Merida. Merida´s Catedral de San Ildefonso can be found here.
The controversial religious building was built between 1561 and 1598 using stones from a nearby Mayan temple. It is known for its tendentious images of Ancient Mayans worshipping their Spanish colonizers that can still be seen on the walls today.
Grab some street food in the Zocalo
There is always a bustling local market going on in Merida’s Zocalo. The vendors here sell all manner of handicrafts, as well as traditional Mexican clothing.
Items such as Yucatecan huipiles, guayabera shirts, and huarache shoes can be found here, as can more modern interpretations of them.
There are more colorful letters where you can take photos in front of the cathedral and plenty of opportunities to try local street food. For a quick snack on the go, treat yourself to some salbutes, panuchos, gorditas, or whatever appeals to you.
Look out for the white “you and me” chairs here. You will find these little chairs all over the city of Merida.
The two chairs that sit opposite each other have an interesting story behind them. According to local legend, they were invented by an overprotective father who didn’t want his daughter to go on a date with a local boy and get too intimate.
She reassured her father that they were meeting “just to talk”. So, he created the famous you and me chairs (“sillas tu y yo”) so that the lovers would maintain a respectable distance from each other.
Take photos at Calle 58
Calle 58 is one of the most picturesque streets in old Merida and a photographer’s dream. The cobbled street is lined with houses painted in every color of the rainbow.
Any Instagram/Tiktok reels and photos of people running down colorful streets in Merida are likely to have been taken here. The nice thing is that there are never tons of people around.
So, if you want to take some photos, you have ample opportunity to get some good shots here.
Explore the Lucas de Galvez market
There are tons of amazing local markets (“mercados”) in Merida that make great places for people watching and shopping for fresh local produce. But few give a better insight into true local life than the Mercado Lucas de Galvez.
This is Merida’s oldest and largest covered market. It extends across multiple floors.
On the ground floor, you have stall after stall of perfectly polished fruits, veggies, traditional sweets, and fresh cuts of meat.
On the second floor, you will find the artisan market. Here you can buy hand-carved wooden Mayan masks, indigenous sculptures, hats, and embroidered homewares.
If you want to try some local treats, try a raspado. This is a flavored Mexican shaved ice drink.
Alternatively, join the line for some chicharron – fried pork rinds.
Have a traditional Yucatecan dinner
When dinner time rolls around, there are plenty of excellent restaurants in Merida to choose from. For an “only in Yucatan” experience, try to visit somewhere that serves regional Yucatecan fare.
Yucatecan food is a highlight of traveling to Southern Mexico. Many of the dishes that you will find here are not served anywhere else in the country.
K’u’uk (Av Rómulo Rozo 488) is a fine dining restaurant that serves elevated local cuisine that is presented like works of art.
The restaurant is housed inside a converted colonial mansion. It also offers a tasting menu where you can sample 11 plates paired with Mexican wines, mezcals, and cocktails.
Apoala (Calle 60 #471 x 55 Parque Santa Lucia) is another nice alternative. This excellent upscale spot is headed up by Chef Sara Maria Arnaud Gómez and offers an array of Yucatecan and Oaxacan fusion dishes.
Head for evening drinks in Merida
If you want a nightcap before the end of your day in Merida, consider heading to one of the city’s historic cantinas. Cantinas are old-fashioned saloon-style bars that have been a part of Mexican culture for centuries.
Historically, they were reserved for men, but nowadays everyone is welcome. Cantina La Negrita (Calle 62 Esquina, C. 49 415, Centro) is one of the most popular spots in Central Merida and is loved by locals and tourists alike.
You can expect live music and salsa dancing here virtually every night of the week. The only problem is that now word has gotten out, the bar is often crowded and sometimes it’s at maximum capacity so you can’t get in!
Dzalbay (Calle 64 x 53, Esquina, No.443, Centro) and Cantinita El Porvenir (Esq. Calle 52, C. 53 s/n, Centro) are great alternatives. All manner of Mexican drinks are available but people typically drink beer.
A Michelada is something you should try here at least once. This beer cocktail is made by mixing beer (try a Mexican Tecate Rojo) with Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and hot sauce.
Some locals swear by it as a hangover cure! (It’s also nicknamed “ojo rojo” or “red eye” in the Yucatan).
If you’re looking for something more understated, you might also like Casa T’ho on the Paseo Montejo (P.º de Montejo 498). This is a restaurant and concept space set inside the courtyard of a converted mansion.
On weekends, you can enjoy a European-inspired aperitivo and live jazz here.
Where to Stay in Merida
If you only have one day in Merida, it is a good idea to base yourself somewhere central where you are within walking distance of the city’s main attractions and neighborhoods. There are hotels, hostels, and Airbnb to suit every budget and travel style in Merida.
Paseo Montejo, the Zocalo, and Parque Santa Lucia areas are great places to stay in Merida if you want to be close to everything. If you happen to base yourself somewhere a little further out, it is cheap and easy enough to get around using Didi or Uber in Merida.
A couple of recommendations for the very best hotels in Merida are detailed below. Book your place plenty of time in advance!
- Hotel Rosas Y Xocolate – Luxurious rooms and suites that are tastefully decorated with vintage furnishings and unique artwork, set inside a converted French mansion
- Hotel IOH Merida – Brand new modern hotel in North Merida with “work” rooms for Digital Nomads and “relax” rooms for travellers. The hotel is complete with a stunning rooftop pool.
- Hotel Boutique Casa Flor de Mayo – Quirky and colorful 8-room boutique hotel set inside an old colonial house in the heart of Merida Centro.
Final thoughts on spending one day in Merida Mexico
One day in Merida is not a ton of time to dedicate to the Yucatan capital but it can be enough to cover the main highlights. If you enjoy your Yucatan itinerary, you can always come back another time.
If your schedule is flexible and you potentially have more time, you might also enjoy this three-day Merida itinerary. With more time to spare, you can take some day trips from Merida out to some of the cenotes, Yucatan beaches, and ancient Mayan ruins nearby.
Safe travels. Buen viaje! xo