Best Things To Do in Mérida, Mexico: Travel Tips & Info

The city of Mérida is often skipped and overlooked by visitors who make beelines straight to Yucatans’ many beaches and traveler centers. But what Mérida lacks in coastline, the city makes up for in culture, delicious Mayan cuisine, and some of the friendliest locals in all of Mexico. We think you’ll love visiting Mérida and hope this Mérida travel guide helps you get the most out of your trip to the city.

What we loved most about Mérida:

  • Delicious local & international cuisine (best Japanese food in Mexico)
  • Friendly locals
  • Beautiful colonial architecture & city parks

Why You Should Visit Mérida

We understand that Mérida lacks the name recognition of neighboring cities in the east, like Cacún and Playa del Carmen. Still, for those needing a break from the beaches and tourist crowds, Mérida offers plenty of reasons to visit.

Merida city sign in Mexico
Merida city sign

Mérida, Mexico Rated As “The Best” & “Safest” City

Did you know that Mérida ranked #3 on Condé Nast’s Best Small Cities In The World 2020 list? The city is also frequently considered Mexico’s safest city. And frankly, we have to agree! We loved every day of our 2-week stay in Mérida. With beautiful architecture, delicious cuisine, and perhaps the nicest people in all of Mexico, we think you’ll love it here, too!

The Most Wonderful and Nicest People

Throughout our 2-week stay in Mérida, we were constantly met with some of the friendliest and most hospitable locals in all our travels in Mexico. Sometimes, you can feel how oversaturated tourism is in certain cities just by how unfriendly the locals are. But not in Mérida. Locals here were welcoming and incredibly patient with our limited Spanish skills.

Top 10 Things To Do When Visiting Mérida

There is so much to do in the city that it can be hard to pare down the essential things to do and see in Mérida. But we compiled a list of our top 10 things to do in Mérida while you are here.

1. Mérida Free Walking Tour

The free walking tour is a great way to set your orientation and get a feel for any city when you first arrive. And taking the walking tour in Mérida is no exception. You’ll get the perfect introduction to all the major sites and important buildings in the center of Mérida.

We also recommend asking the tour guide for places to eat around town.

Tour Information:

  • Meeting Location: Merida Tourism Office
  • Meeting Time: 9:30 AM
  • Duration: 2-2.5 hours
  • Price: Free (a tip is appreciated, however)

2. Feast on Uniquely Yucatan-Style Tacos

Four Yucatan tacos
Tacos from Wayan’e in Merida

Food is one of the significant reasons to visit Mérida, and sampling the city’s unique tacos is a big reason for visiting the city. Head over to Wayan’e for breakfast or brunch to get your fill of some of the most delicious tacos Mérida has to offer.

The menu offers a selection of 15+ uniquely Yucatan-style tacos. Order your tacos one at a time until you’re full!

3. Walk the Paseo De Montejo to the La Patria Monument

Backside of El Monumenta La Patria in Merida, Mexico
The backside of El Monumenta La Patria in Merida, Mexico

Strolling along the tree-lined Paseo de Montejo makes for a peaceful, stress-free afternoon. Here, you can witness some of Mérida’s grandest colonial buildings in the city and relax in one of several chic cafes.

At the end of this grand avenue is “El Monumento A La Patria,” a giant stone structure that took 12 years to complete. The monument comprises 31 columns representing the 28 Mexican states, two territories, and the capital federal district.

4. Visit Mérida’s Many Museums

Modern-Museum-in-Merida

Mérida is one of the best cities for art lovers. There are varieties of galleries and museums where you can enjoy learning from ancient Mayan to modern Mexican art.

Mayan World Museum of Mérida: This striking, modern Mayan cultural museum with many art, handicrafts & history exhibits.

Museo Fernando García Ponce: Beautiful, tranquil museum in center of Merida. The entrance is free of charge for everyone, and it is an excellent place to be away from crowds after being tired of walking in the town.

Anthropology and History Museum: The museum, with stunning colonial-style architecture, traces the city through history, from its colonial Spanish plazas to the modern bustling streets of today. It’s a great option to visit here after or before seeing Merida’s landmark monument, “El Monumento A La Patria.”

5. Al-Fresco Streetside Dining

Merida_Local neighborhood

Summers can get uncomfortably hot when visiting Mérida, so it’s no surprise that much of the city comes to life in the evenings. As the day starts to cool off, street stalls set out their chairs and tables, hoping to lure those passing by for an impromptu meal.

We’ve found many of these informal food stalls to serve delicious local delicacies, such as Rellenos Negros, Salbutes, Panuchos, and Tamales Colorados. And for us, the al-fresco dining environment is just as good as the food.

For the perfect outdoor atmosphere, head to the La Ermita neighborhood and sit at the Taqueria Amecer.

6. Get Lost in Mercado San Benito

Lively local market in Merida
Source: Opinion De Yucatan

Everything you want to buy can be purchased in this gigantic local market. From fresh fruits and vegetables to spices, household products, and delicious street food, it’s all here at the Mercado San Benito.

Even if there’s nothing you’d like to buy, simply wandering the endless aisles of stores and products is an experience. The sights, the sounds, and the smells; experience the life of a local here.

7. Visit the Palacio De Gobierno

Palacio del gobernador merida
Source: Trip Advisor

Some of the best things to do in Mérida are free to visit, and the Palacio de Gobierno is one of the best examples.

Walk inside, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by beautiful murals and pictures depicting the history of Yucatán and Mérida. The building itself is a grand example of colonial-era architecture from the 19th century.

Climb to the second floor of the Palacio de Gobierno for an excellent view of Mérida’s central park, Plaza Grande.

8. Cafe Hopping in Mérida

Inside the Meriland Cafe in Merida Mexico
Inside the Meriland Cafe in Merida

Live a day in the life of a Mérida local by sampling the many, many cafes in Yucatán capital city. Sometimes, there’s no need to try so hard. Take a seat, order your favorite drink, and watch as life passes by.

Our Favorite Cafes in Mérida, Mexico

JUSTO Bread Studio – Right next to the El Monumento De La Patria on the northern end of the Paseo de Montejo. Caters to the more local and expatriate crowds: delicious baked goods and perfect outdoor seating.

Meriland Restaurante – This cozy, cute little cafe that serves excellent breakfast and lunch ( we liked that amount was not too much, just the right amount!) also offers fast WiFi, so good place to work on your laptop!

Ki Xocolatl – Perfect drinks (and hot chocolate!) on the side of Parque de Santa Lucia. Great al-fresco seating area.

Best Foods To Try in Mérida

Yucatan-style tamale with tomato sauce
Street tamale served from a vendor in Merida
  • Salbutes – This Mérida street food favorite consists of a fried tortilla topped with shredded turkey, pickled onions, and cabbage. Most easily found being sold by street food stalls.
  • Panuchos – One of our favorites. Panuchos are a step up from your regular salbutes since the fried tortilla is first stuffed with refried beans before being topped off with shredded turkey, pickled onions, and cabbage.
  • Pavo In Relleno Negro – Unlike other rellenos you might have tried elsewhere in Mexico, this dish involves shredded turkey cooked in a thick black sauce made from roasted chiles de arbol
  • Poc Chuc – A contemporary Mayan classic. Pork is marinated in citric juices, thrown onto the open flame, and served with tortillas, rice, pickled onions, and avocado. Come hungry!
  • Sopa de Lima – Perhaps the lightest soup in Mexico, but perfect to balance out the heat from Mérida’s intense summer season. It’s an ideal mid-day dish if you’re not too hungry.
  • Cochinita Pibil – This delicious pork dish is first wrapped in a banana leaf and then slow-cooked in a fire pit with citric orange juices and annatto seeds. Delicious!
  • Yucatanian Tamales – The tamales in Yucatan are the best we have tasted in Mexico. It’s one thing you must try in Merida!

Best Places To Eat in Mérida

Yucatanian Cuisine

Wayane yucatanian taco rest in merida
Streetside view of Wayan’e in Merida
  • Wayan’e – Hands down the best Yucatan-style tacos in the city. The menu consists of 15+ tacos you are guaranteed not to find elsewhere in Mexico. Best for breakfast and lunch.
  • La Chaya Maya – A local and tourist favorite. Centrally located and the best Poc Chuc we’ve had throughout our travels in the Yucatan Peninsula. Very reasonably priced.
  • Taqueria Amanecer – For a quintessential local outdoor experience, wander south to this intersection after 6 PM. Here you’ll find multiple stalls selling simple yet delicious tamales, relleno negro, and Yucatan-style tostadas.

International Cuisine in Mérida

Interior of Japanese restaurant in Merida
Interior of Miyabi
  • Tama Shokudo (Local Japanese) – No joke, this little restaurant might just be serving the most authentic Japanese food in all of Mexico. Japanese cafeteria-style only. No sushi.
  • Miyabi (High-end Japanese) – Miyabi’s nigiri sushi and chirashi bowls are extremely hard to beat for an authentic Japanese night out. Grab an Uber to get there.
  • Korean Grill & Ice Cream -This is where the Korean expatriate community comes to eat. Wonderful BBQ and Tofu Chigae. Enough said.

Where To Sleep

  • Best Budget: La Ermita Hostel – Located in Mérida’s oldest neighborhood. Quiet, safe, and beautiful local outdoor atmosphere nearby. Includes a small swimming pool.
  • Best Mid-range: Hacienda Xcanatun by Angsana – A beautifully maintained 18th-century, colonial-era building. After exploring the city, a swimming pool and beautiful grassy area make for a great cool down.
  • Best Luxury: El Palacito Secreto – The perfect example of French 19th-century architecture. Experience the life of a Mérida aristocrat in this luxury boutique hotel & spa.

Top Tips When Visiting Mérida

1. Slow Down & Take It Easy

Mérida is a big city with lots to do, but it also gets HOT by the middle of the day. Do what the locals do and simply slow down and take it easy when the sun is high in the sky. Find a cool cafe or a shaded spot in the park until temperatures begin to decline.

2. Avoid the Heat, Visit Mérida in the Winter

Located inland, temperatures in Merida push close to 100F (40C) in the summer months. And locals say it gets hotter and hotter each year. Therefore, if you can help it, visiting Merida in the winter is best.

3. Cool of With a Day Trip to the Cenotes

Beat the heat with a fun day trip to Homún, a small town roughly 45km southeast of Mérida. With dozens of cool water cenotes to swim in, you’ll have no problems cooling off from the intense Yucatan heat.

4. Avoid the Souvenir Shops

Unfortunately, we’ve found that the Mayan souvenirs sold in Mérida aren’t the best quality. If you plan on traveling elsewhere in Mexico (Chiapas or Oaxaca, for example), you’re better off buying souvenirs there.

5. Use the Public WiFi

Virtually every park in Merida offers fast & free public WiFi. Simply connect to the “Merida WiFi” signal and surf away!

Brief History of Mérida

Mérida was founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo y León and named after the town of Mérida in Spain. The city was built on the ancient Mayan site, T’ho, and many of the stones used to build Mérida’s beautiful colonial edifices were derived from the ruins of the Mayan city. Much of the colonial architecture you see today lining the city’s streets was built during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Interestingly, the city used to be walled to protect residents from the local Mayan tribes. But today, much of the walls that once surrounded Merida have been demolished. Only a few entry gates into the historic center remain.

Merida prospered in the 19th and early 20th centuries from the agriculture of henequén, an agave plant similar to that of central Mexico, which was used to make Tequila. Today, Mérida is the capital of Mexico’s Yucatan state, with a population close to 1 million people, and enjoys a flourishing economy based on investment and tourism.

Day Trips From Mérida

Uxmal

A wonderful and impressive set of Mayan ruins located just 80km south of Mérida. Many of the temples and buildings here are built using the traditional Puuc style, with lots of ornate, cubical friezes.

Uxmal is a popular Mayan ruin for visitors, so as with most archeology sites, we recommend starting your day early and getting there when the doors first open.

Progresso

The closest coastline to Mérida. Though the beach can be packed with tourists and cruise ship visitors during the day, the beach still maintains a calm vibe, especially on the weeknights. If you have your own vehicle, driving along Highway 27 towards Dzilam de Bravo makes for a wonderful round-trip journey back to Mérida.

Cenotes Near Mérida

Yuko swimming inside the Hool Kosom cenote near Merida, Mexico
Yuko swimming inside the Hool Kosom cenote near Merida, Mexico

Homun – Main Village of Cenotes

Beat the Merida heat with a day trip to Homún. You can easily access over a dozen clear water cenotes from this little Mayan village. Once in Homun, a rickshaw driver can transport you to as many different cenotes as you can squeeze in a single day.

You’ll need to pay an entrance fee (usually around 50 pesos) for unlimited access to that cenote at each cenote.

Hool Kosom – Our favorite. Head down the ladder to this clear water cenote and enjoy a brisk swim. Bonus if you have a snorkel set.

Bal Mil – A smaller cenote right next to Hool Kosom, Bal Mil displays awesome stalactite formations as you enter the cenote pool.

Santa Rosa – A little different than your usual cenote. This pool is artificially lit giving this cenote a much different vibe than the other surrounding swim pools.

Lunch plate with rice and fried meat and vegetables
Lunch at La Benidición De Dios in Homún

We visited La Benidición De Dios, a family-run establishment specializing in BBQ pork, rabbit, and wild boar for lunch. Beautiful grass garden and clean bathrooms.

What To See Beyond Merida

Outside of Merida, there are many tourist sites and traveling opportunities.

1. Chichen Itza

No visit to Mexico is truly complete without a trip to Chichen Itza, Mexico’s premier Mayan archeology site.

Chichen Itza pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Chichen Itza pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula

Best Time To Visit

Literally, hundreds of thousands of visitors come to Chichen Itza each year, mostly from tour buses that depart from Cancun and Playa del Carmen in the mornings. These buses don’t usually arrive at the ruins until 10 AM. Before then, it’s a relatively quiet-ish time.

Aim to arrive by 8 AM when the doors open if you can.

How To Get There

From Merida, it’s a roughly 2 hours bus ride to get to Chichen Itza. Grab a bus from the Terminal ADO Mérida CAME or Terminal Noreste.

2. Valladolid

Roughly 2.5 hours by bus from Merida, Valladolid makes for an excellent multi-day trip from Yucatan’s capital city.

What To Do

Walk Along The Calzada de Los Frailes

Some of Valladolid’s best architecture can be seen while walking along the Calzada de Los Frailes on the way to the San Bernardino Convent. Grab a coffee at one of the many boutique cafes lining this city’s only major diagonal road.

Bee Tour at Xkopek

We loved the bee tour at Xkopek. Did you know that there are several varieties of bees that are native only to the Yucatan peninsula? Learn more and taste all the different types of honey here.

Cenote Zaci
Pool below the ground with people swimming inside
Swimming at the Zaci cenote in Valladolid

A beautiful cenote right near the city’s historic center and a wonderful way to cool off after exploring the city. Avoid the weekends!

3. Campeche

Yuko exploring the colorful homes in Campeche, Mexico
Visiting the colored homes in Campeche, Mexico

Often overlooked by many of Mexico’s tourists, this quiet city is on the Yucatan peninsula’s western side.

What To Do

Walk Atop the City’s Walls
Stone entrance way in Campeche, Mexico
Gated entrance to the top of the Campeche city walls

At the Puerta De Tierra, you can purchase a ticket to climb the former fortifications of Campeche. From atop the walls, gaze out over the entire historic center, and perhaps you might see an iguana or two!

Visit San Miguel Fort
Canyon overlooking the ocean
San Miguel Fort in Campeche

Roughly 5km from town is the San Miguel Fort, where you can learn more about ancient Mayan culture, art, and society. Lots of great artifacts and jewelry adorn the walls of this fort. Plus, you get some great views looking out into the ocean.

4. Visit the Most Underrated Mayan Ruins – Edzna

Yuko standing in front of the main pyramid at the Edzna ruins in Mexico
Posing in front of the main Pyramid at the Edzna ruins

Although not well known as Chichen Itza, Edzna is important enough that it was named “House of the Itza” in the ancient Mayan language. The ruins are located 61 kilometers (38 mi) southeast of the city of Campeche. This is one of our favorite ruins because it is big enough to explore for a few hours, less crowds, and is cheaper to visit! (60 MX as of 2021)

Best Time To Visit

Although much less touristy than Chichen Itza, we still recommend getting an early start right when the doors open at 8 AM. It is even fewer people ( possibly you are the only one!) and less hot.

How To Get There

Collectivo (shared cabs) – Wait for a collectivo to pick you up at Calle Nicaragua & Calle Chihuahua. Leave approximately every 30 minutes. Tell the driver to go to “Ruinas” and they will know. The cost is about 40 MX, ride is about an hour.

Rental Car – Take the federal Highway 180, and at Km 45, take the turn off to Highway 261, which leads to the archaeological site.

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