Merida is one of the most joyful cities in Mexico. Lonely Planet considered it as one of the cities to visit in the world during 2017. In fact, it is also Cultural Capital of The Americas in 2017.
Merida feels different to the rest of Mexico. It is a big city with many amenities of the modern Mexico. However, the Mayan element is present in every corner, tree and speech accent. Without doubt, it is one of the best cities in the country to eat authentic cuisine. That is one of the many reasons to simple love it. On the minus side, it has a very hot and humid weather. You might want to avoid it during May to September.
We feel happy every time we have the chance to visit Merida. We also know tourist fall under the charm of this tranquil yet culturally-rich city. With so many things to do, we want to share with you some recommendations about how to fully enjoy it during 6 days.
The main square of Merida is surrounded by some buildings worth visiting. The oldest cathedral built in the continent and the Montejo Mansion are there. Everyday, at 10am there is a free guided tour starting in the City Hall that visits this buildings and some others. It is a great way to have first look to the city.
Right in front of the Cathedral is the Turibus stop. Hop in for only 120 pesos (AUD$9) to see more of the city beyond the historic quarter. You will be driven along Paseo Montejo, a beautiful boulevard we recommend to walk later.
Be sure to be in the city on a Friday. You will not regret it. A reenactment of the old Ball Game is held in the city centre, just in front of the Government Palace. You will see how ancient Mayans and people in old Middle America celebrated this match and how hard it was.
We recommend you to have lunch at one of Merida’s many cantinas. They are bars where you get traditional food almost for free as long as you keep on ordering beers. Try Eladio’s many locations in the city.
After touring around the city centre, why not try two amazing museums along Paseo Montejo? The Great Mayan Museum and the Anthropology Museum have a rich and interesting collection and are also architectural marvels.
Palacio de Canton hosts the Anthropology Museum. It is a marvelous villa built in the early 1900s for the rich landlords that saw their fortunes rise exporting sisal fiber. In fact, Paseo Montejo is Merida’s equivalent to Champs Elysées in Paris making it a great place to walk.
If you head north of Palacio de Canton you will see many other beautiful villas. Some of them have turned into museums, hotels, banks, offices and the very few remain as private homes.
About 5 kms north, you will find the Great Mayan Museum. It is the newest addition to Merida’s cultural scene and a great place to understand the old and present of Mayan culture.
Try Ku’uk for lunch. It is a culinary marvel about 4 blocks north from Palacio de Canton.
If possible, try to spend a Sunday in Merida. Paseo Montejo is closed in the morning exclusively for bike riders and you see the joyful Meridanos enjoying sun and bike. People running with their pets, kids skating and may options to have a healthy breakfast. If you are not staying at Rosas & Xocolate, try having breakfast there.
Sunday is also a good day to attend a concert and Teatro Peon Contreras. The Yucatan Symphonic Orchestra has a varied program all along the year. The theater is worthwile to visit just for its classic beauty.
Progreso is Merida’s port located 25km north. Its long pier (5km) receives cruises in their trips around the Caribbean. The “malecón” (Corniche) is filled with sea food restaurants (cheap and good). It also has a handcraft market two blocks away from the beach.
Flamingos live very close to Merida in Celestun village. As a matter of fact in September 2017 a new bypass was opened between Merida and Celestun bringing down the road trip to only 45min. You can rent a boat to navigate the channels covered with mangle wood. This is where flamingos feed. Their pink colour is given by the proteins they get from a small crustacean that lives in these inlets.
Before leaving to Celestun, you should have a healthy breakfast at Los Toros, a Yucatecan dinner. This is a place to eat comfortably where the local Yucatecans also eat (few tourists to be seen here). It is located two blocks away from the Main Square.
When you come back from Celestun, head to Santa Lucia Square. Recently it was renovated and it houses many galleries and souvenir giftshops. It is also a great place for late lunch in one of the restaurants located around it.
Yucatan has so many archaeological sites that you could well spend a week and not cover them all. Instead, we recommend you to at least take a full day to drive along the single Puuc Route and return to Merida. Uxmal is the most well know of them all. Its Magician Pyramid is unique as it has rounded corners. Sayil, Labnah, Mayapan and Kabah are also worth considering in this route as less tourists visit them.
Entrance to all sites is around $140 (AUD$9) and Sundays are free if you are Mexican or local resident.
Since today will be your last night in Merida, we recommend you to visit La Negrita cantina for some cocktails and drinks. Mexican hipsters, local elite and some foreigners prefer this bar. Decoration is true Mexican simple style. No luxuries just Mexican kitsch parafernalia.
Cenotes are one of the most common characteristics in Yucatan. Mayans considered them sacred as they seem to be entrance to the underworld. In reality they are colapsed sinkholes connecting the surface with underwater rivers. Due to their colours and stone formations, they are quite worth to visit.
Valladolid is the best place to look for cenotes. However, it is about 2hrs far from Merida. Instead you can try Homun, a small village 45min away from Merida. There are at least 4 cenotes to visit (and swim) within the village.
You can also buy a tour to Cuzamá. You will visit 2 or 3 cenotes in a truk, a small cart pulled by a donkey over the rails of old trains used to carry sisal fiber.
If you want to dine in a very Yucatecan place, surrounded by families enjoying the last hours of the day, try Impala. It is a cafeteria located where Paseo Montejo begins. It has a 1960s charm and very good icecreams and candy bread.
If you really have more time to spend in Merida, we recommend doing a day trip to Campeche, a walled city to prevent from bucaneers attacks. En route stop at Chable Resort, named the best hotel in the world i 2017. Also consider the light and sound show at Edzna Mayan city.
Izamal is a beautiful yellow town close to Merida. Pope John Paul II held a mass in the large atrium in front of the monastery. Try some Motuleños eggs in Motul, spend a day close to Chichen Itza (one of the World’s new 7 wonders), watch rowing and canoe competitions in Progreso.
Moreover, in case you are an astronomy fan, you might want to visit Chicxulub. This town is located right in middle of the massive crater created by the asteroid that created the black cloud ending the dinosaur era. To be honest, you will not see any crater remaining as it is so wide and old. However, you can still have a photograph right here:
Where to sleep?
You will have endless options to choose from in Merida. If you want to splurge, consider the already mentioned Chable Resort (check if your latest bank statement has over AUD$1200 per night). This hotel is located in the jungle about 25 min south of Merida. There is also a great contemporary Mayan restaurant on site.
Casa Lecanda and Rosas & Xocolate are two very stylish little hotels in Merida centre. Both are our own favourites. A new entrant is intimate Coqui Coqui. It all started with a parfume store, so you can imagine the feast to your senses. If you are moderate on your budget but still want great location, choose El Conquistador.