Merida is a good base to start a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. First, it’s very accessible with its airport that serves both local and international flights and buses that go to different cities of Mexico. Next, it was also relatively cheaper to fly in compared to Cancun (at least for me). And most importantly, this beautiful vibrant city is a perfect introduction to the history and culture of the Mayan and Spanish colonial heritage.
Oh and a bonus, there’s a nearby beach for a refreshing dip if you can’t wait until you get your feet into the Caribbean!
Without further ado, here are some things that you can do in (and beyond) Merida.
1. Explore the Colonial Center of Merida.
*At leisure, this can be explored in 1 day.
Used to be the center for the town’s social gatherings, this park is the central square that now serves as the historical heart of Merida. The Cathedral, Casa de Montejo, Governor’s Palace, and Ayuntamiento are located around the park, which makes the Plaza Grande a good base to explore the historical Merida. It’s an even better place to rest because benches, wifi, and electric sockets surround the area. On Sundays, the streets around Plaza Grande are not closed (not passable by vehicles) to accommodate food stalls for the day’s festivities.
Cathedral of San Ildefonso
Built during the Spanish colonization period, a Maya temple used to stand here. Some of the stones from the ruins of the temple were used in the Cathedral’s construction. It is said that your sins will be forgiven if you enter the Cathedral via its central door, which is only opened during Sunday’s mass.
A good place to get acquainted with the Maya history, murals that portraying historical events are displayed in the building. Entrance is free.
Casa de Montejo
Currently a museum, this used to be the home of the Montejo family who have conquered and founded Merida. There are also elaborate sculptures in the doorway and at the facade of the building. Entrance is free.
This is the Old City Hall of Merida. From the balcony upstairs is a view of the Plaza Grande and the buildings surrounding it. Entrance is free.
El Paseo Montejo
This long street is lined with trees, restaurants, and mansions that can be explored by walking or with a calesa (horse drawn carriage).
Other things to do in the colonial town:
- Explore the old town on your own and walk along the harmoniously painted buildings, plazas, and old churches as locals go on their daily routine.
- Look for local food spots and indulge.
- Join Dance at the plaza where locals
- Get an overview with a FREE walking tour (meeting point at the Ayuntamiento – check the tourism office for updated schedule).
2. Visit the Mayan Ruins
*Here are two of my highly recommended Ancient Maya city based on proximity and charm.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Uxmal is a well restored ancient Maya city located approximately 80 km south of Merida. Often skipped by tourists, a visit here allows you to see Uxmal standing mighty and yet beautiful without the swarming crowds at any given time of the day.
To get to Uxmal, take the public bus at Calle 69×68-70 TAME Bus station. The bus is approximately 1.5 hours. *At leisure, this can be explored in 2 hours. Best if seen with a knowledgeable person or a guide.
One of the largest Maya city, the well preserved ancient ruins of Chichen Itza is also the most popular archaeological site visited in the Yucatan State of Mexico. The grounds are big, which also accommodates shops along the path to its different structures. It’s best to visit by opening time because as big as it may seem, large tour groups seem to continuously flow until closing time.
To get to Chichen Itza, take the bus at ADO station. The bus is approximately 2 hours. *At leisure, this can be explored in 3 hours. Best if seen with a knowledgeable person or a guide.
3. Have a beach day at Playa Progreso
Just a stone’s throw away from the colonial city of Merida, along the Gulf of Mexico is Progreso beach, which offers a nice break from the sunny days’ of sightseeing the colonial town and the nearby Maya ruins.
It’s an easy 40-minute bus ride from the center.
4. Visit a Museum
*There are a lot of museums in Merida. Other than Casa de Montejo, below are two that I’ve seen and recommend.
Gran Museo del Mundo Maya
Home of a large permanent collection of Maya sculptures and artifacts, this museum gives its visitor a more comprehensive walk through of the Maya history and culture. Reachable by public bus located at Calle 58×61.
Entrance to the museum is a bit expensive. 150 MXN. *At leisure, can be explored in 1.5 to 2 hours.
Museum Fernando Garcia Ponce-Macay
A former colonial palace, this building is the only museum in the Yucatan Peninsula that is exhibits modern and contemporary art by different Mexican artists.
Entrance is free. *At leisure, can be explored in 1 to 2 hours.
5. Explore other nearby cities
*Colonial cities nearby that are good for day trips if you have extra days to spend.
Another UNESCO World Heritage, this fortified city has narrow cobblestone streets, pastel-colored buildings, beautifully restored mansions and old churches dating from the Spanish colonization period. Waves breaking as you walk by the Gulf of Mexico adds to the charm of Campeche.
The bus is approximately 2.5 hours. To get here, take the bus at the TAME bus station located at Calle 69×68-70. *Best explored the whole day for a leisurely visit.
The yellow city of Izamal is another charming town located near Merida. The facade of buildings and houses in every corner is painted with the same yellow color. Walking around, you would see ruins of Maya pyramids in different parts of the city. Visitors can climb the largest pyramid (free of charge) and get a panoramic view.
The bus is approximately 1.5 hours. To get here, take the bus at Noreste bus station located at Calle 67×50-52. *At leisure, can be explored in half a day.
This quaint city is home to different colonial houses and churches and is just a few kilometers away from Chichen Itza. It’s also surrounded by a lot of cenotes and even has one within walking distance from the town’s center.
The bus is approximately 2.5 hours. To get here, take the bus at the TAME bus station located at Calle 69×68-70. *Best explored the whole day for a leisurely visit to the cenotes.
6. Go farther and take an extra trip to the Cenotes
A visit to a cenote is definitely a MUST. You should try your best to make it a part of your trip.
There are approximately 6000 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula. The cenote closest to Merida is the one at Dzibilchaltun ruins.
If you have a few days to spend, explore the cenotes near Valladolid, Tulum and Playa del Carmen for a refreshing swim or even a thirst quencher for diving.
I hope you enjoyed this post and find it a bit informative. Give me a wave whenever you feel like it. 🙂 And just because I love diving the cenotes in Mexico, here’s from one of my favorites, Cenote El Pit.