The capital of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Merida has been quietly flying under the radar until recently. Located about 3 hours away from the Cancun International Airport, this city is starting to see more tourists who often come here as part of their Yucatan trip.
While Merida is not the most famous city in the region, it offers a great taste of Yucatan culture, rich colonial history in addition to many Mayan ruins in the area, and beautiful cenotes – caverns filled with crystal-clear blue water.
During my tour of the Yucatan Peninsula, I spent three days in Merida (which was just enough to see the city’s highlights), and absolutely loved it.
Now I want to share my experience with you guys 🙂
Merida is located on the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula, and if you are coming from Cancun, it will take you about 3 hours. The cheapest way to travel around the Yucatan Peninsula is by taking ADO bus, but if you want to travel faster, you can rent a car at the airport in Cancun.
You can also take a bus from Merida to Tulum, Valladolid, Playa Del Carmen, and other places in the Yucatan Peninsula. ADO buses run regularly, so all you need to do is check the schedule online ahead of your trip.
And finally, not many people know that Merida also has an airport. Although it is pretty small, you can catch flights to Merida from other cities in Mexico as well as from Miami and Houston in the United States.
1. Merida Plaza Grande (Plaza De La Independencia)
Your visit to the Yucatan capital should begin with a walk around the Merida Plaza Granda, the heart of the city. In the middle of the plaza, you will find Zocalo, the green park with a huge Mexican flag and the colorful Merida sign.
The square is surrounded by many historical landmarks such as Casa De Montejo, the Governor’s Palace and Municipal Palace, and Merida Cathedral. Inside the Governor’s Palace (Palacio de Gobierno), check the famous political and historical murals by Fernando Castro Pacheco that show the interactions of Mayans with the Spaniards.
2. Watch Pok Ta Tok
If you happen to be in Merida on Saturday, head to Plaza Grande to watch an incredible spectacle that reenacts Pok Ta Pok, the ancient Mayan game in front of the Merida Cathedral. During the game, players try to hit the ball with their hips and try to hit the post.
Po Ta Tok was popular across many parts of Mesoamerica, and you can find the remains of the fields that were used for this game in many ancient Mayan ruins such as Chichen Itza and Uxmal.
The game begins at 8:30 p.m., however, make sure to come early to get good seats. This incredible show is free and does tend to attract quite a few spectators!
3. Take a FREE walking tour of Merida
If you are visiting Merida for the first time, it’s a good idea to take a FREE walking tour of Merida. To do that, you need to register here ahead of your visit. The tour is a great way to get a crash course in Merida’s fascinating history, culture, and traditions.
While this tour is free, don’t forget to tip your guide! A gratuity is expected 🙂
4. Walk along El Paseo De Montejo
El Paseo De Montejo is a wide boulevard that was home to many wealthy residents in the 20th century. Today, it’s a beautiful street with many historic buildings and a great place to take a breather, thanks to the tree coverage above the street.
One of the most prominent buildings along El Paseo De Montejo is Palacio Cancion, a gorgeous mansion that got its name after Francisco Canton Rosado, a prominent politician who built it.
Other buildings that are worth your attention are privately-owned Casas Gemelas, and Quinta Montes Molina.
PRO TIP: If you want to ride a bike along Paseo De Montejo, come over on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. when half of the street is closed for traffic. During these hours, you can rent a bike and enjoy the fun ride along one of the most beautiful streets in Merida!
5. Admire Monumento a La Patria
One of the most beautiful monuments in Merida is Monumento a La Patria (Monument to the Fatherland), located in the middle of the busy roundabout of the Paseo De Montejo.
Created by the Colombian artist Romulo Rozo, this monument features many intricate carvings woven together. This complex ornament tells the history of Mexico from the establishment of the country in Tenochtitlan through the middle of the 20th century.
The monument which also features some elements from the Yucatan culture has become an important part of the city and is beloved by both tourists and locals.
It’s a popular place to take photos, so make sure to arrive early!
6. Visit The Great Museum of Mayan World
One of the most fascinating facts about Merida is that nearly 60 percent of its population are of Mayan descent! The Mayan culture is alive and well in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and Merida is one of the best places to see it. During my trip to Yucatan, I happened to talk to a few Mayan people which was a fascinating experience!
When you visit Merida, make sure to visit The Great Museum of Mayan World where you can admire a big collection of Mayan artifacts. Unfortunately, the museum is a bit of a distance from the city center, and you can get here either by Colectivo (a small shared van that is typically quicker than a bus) or by taxi.
Another option is to get on a bus headed toward Progreso and hop off when you pass the museum, as it’s located on the same road.
PRO TIP: Many museums in Mexico are closed on Mondays, something that I didn’t know during one of my first visits. Make sure to check open hours before you plan your trip.
The Great Museum of The Mayan World is located at Calle 60, 299 E. The entrance costs 150 pesos.
Not many visitors who come to Merida, Mexico have heard about Dzibilchatun, and this is exactly why you should visit it! The highlights of the Dzibilchaltun Ruins is the Temple of the Seven Dolls that aligns with the sun during the equinox every year.
Located just a bit north of Merida, Dzibilchaltun is one of those places off the beaten track, so if you are looking for a special experience beyond the world-famous places like Chichen Itza, you should check it out!
PRO TIP: Don’t forget to bring a swimsuit, as Cenote Xlacah is right near Dzibilchaltun.
8. Parque Hidalgo
Just a block away from Merida Plaza Grande sits Parque Hidalgo, a quiet space with plenty of greenery and benches. Here you will find the Iglesia de Jesus, a prominent church that was built in the 17th century by Jesuits. One of the most interesting, and perhaps sad facts about this piece of architecture is that it was built from the rocks of the destroyed Maya temple that used to occupy the spot where the church now stands.
9. Museo Casa Montejo
Located on the south side of Plaza Grande, Museo Casa Montejo dates back to 1549. Built by the Don Francisco de Montejo, who conquered the Yucatan Peninsula, it was later purchased by the National Bank of Mexico in 1981.
Unfortunately, there’s very little remaining from the original construction, since the building was renovated several times, however, this museum is still a nice place to visit for a quick tour.
Inside the museum, you will find rooms where you will find several rooms with colonial artifacts as well as furniture that belonged to the Montejo family. It also offers rotating exhibits, so make sure to check ahead of your schedule.
Museo Casa De Montejo is free to the public.
10. Mercado Lucas De Galvez
Mercado Lucas De Galvez is one of the most colorful markets in Merida where you can buy food, crafts, and fresh veggies and fruits. Here you can grab some inexpensive food, chat with vendors, and get a taste of the Yucatan gastronomy. A must-visit for anybody who comes to Merida!
Take a Day Trip From Merida
When you travel to Merida, Mexico, you should spare some time for a day trip. Merida is located on the Eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula and sits near many cultural and historical wonders. While you can catch a bus or colectivo (a small van) to many of these places, renting a car in Merida will save you tons of time!
Here are some of my suggestions for day trips from Merida.
One of my favorite places in the entire Yucatan Peninsula, Izamal is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site, that also has the title of Pueblo Magico.
What makes Izamal stand out from hundreds of small towns around the Yucatan Peninsula is its incredible yellow architecture. Roaming around Izamal is an experience like no other, and I strongly recommend you venture there!
The most famous Mayan site along the Ruta Puuc (Puuc Route), Uxmal sits about 45 minutes away from Merida. If you have a spare day, I suggest you visit not only Uxmal but all of the five sites (Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak, and Labna) located about 50 miles south of Merida.
But what makes the entire Puuc Route worthy of your attention? Not only it’s mostly off-the-beaten-track, but it is also very rich in Mayan history and provides a great insight into the culture of the region.
A trip to Celestun from Merida is a must in my opinion, as you will get to see flamingoes, take a boat ride through mangroves, and also make a stop at one of the beaches.
You can book a tour of Celestun online via Viator.com
Hotels in Merida, Mexico
Similar to other places in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Merida is very affordable. You can easily find a hotel that costs between $20-30 a night, and even less, however, if you go too low, the quality tends to be on the lower side.
Still, Merida has a good variety of accommodations from modest budget stays to colorful luxury hotels. So, whatever your fancy, you will find it in the beautiful Merida!
Budget: Hotel Plaza Mirador
Hotel Plaza Mirador is a simple hotel located a few minutes away from the city center. The main advantage of this hotel is that it is just a few blocks away from Merida’s ADO bus station which is super convenient for hopping around to places like Uxmal ruins, Mayapan, and others.
Mid-range: Ibis Merida
Ibis Merida is a great mid-range hotel a short distance away from the center of Merida. It offers breakfast, restaurant, and bar, and gets great reviews from guests on many booking platforms. It is a great stay if you are looking for classic amenities at a great price.
Luxury: Rosas y Xocolate
Rosas y Xocolate is perhaps one of the most famous luxury hotels in Merida. This colorful boutique hotel is an excellent place to take photos and relax amid the colonial-style decor. It’s an excellent place if you have extra money to spend.
Another great high-end hotel in Merida is Casa Lecanda Boutique Hotel. This quiet property features a gorgeous colonial style and lush gardens and is located only 0.6 miles away from Merida’s charming old town.
Is Merida, Mexico safe?
Safety is one of the main questions that tourists who come to Mexico tend to have. As with the entire Yucatan Peninsula, Merida Mexico is very safe for visitors, and it even has been ranked as one of the safest cities in North America.
This, however, doesn’t mean that you should let your guard down. Always be aware of your surroundings and try to dress more casually, not to attract any unnecessary attention. Merida is a beautiful city and is perfectly safe to walk around and stay out and about at night.
If you would like get some extra tips on how to prepare for your trip to Merida, check out my guide to Mexico travel tips.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I might earn a small commission if you make a purchase through the links in this article.