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
Table of Contents
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, but for those needing a break from the beaches and tourist crowds, Mérida offers plenty of reasons why you should visit.
Mérida, Mexico Rated As “The Best” & “Safest” City
Did you know that Mérida ranked #3 on Condé Nast’s list of Best Small Cities In The World 2020. 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, yes, 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 nicest 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 put together a list of our top 10 things to do in Mérida while you are here.
1. Mérida Free Walking Tour
Taking 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 recommended places to eat around town.
Meeting Location:Merida Tourism Office
Meeting Time: 9:30am
Duration: 2-2.5 hours
Price: Free (a tip is appreciated, however)
2. Feast On Uniquely Yucatan-Style Tacos
Food is one of the major 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. Simply order your tacos one at a time until you’re full!
3. Walk The Paseo de Montejo To The La Patria Monument
Taking a stroll 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 great avenue is “El Monumento A La Patria”, a giant stone structure that took 12 years to complete. The monument itself is comprised of 31 columns, representing the 28 Mexican states, 2 territories, and the capital federal district.
4. Visit Mérida's Many Museums
Mérida is one of the best city 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: Striking, modern Mayan cultural museum with many exhibits of art, handicrafts & history.
Museo Fernando García Ponce: Beautiful, tranquil museum in center of Merida. Entrance is free of charge for everyone, it is nice place to be away from crowds after being tired 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
Summers can get uncomfortably hot when visiting Mérida, and 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 over to the La Ermita neighborhood and take a seat at the Taqueria Amecer.
6. Get Lost In Mercado San Benito
Everything you could ever want to buy can be purchased in this gigantic local market. From fresh fruits and vegetables to spices, to household products, to 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 in itself. The sights, the sounds, and the smells; experience the life of a local here.
7. Visit The Palacio de Gobierno
Some of the best things to do in Mérida are completely free, and the Palacio de Gobierno is one of the best examples of this.
Simply 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
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. Simply take a seat, order you 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 more of the local and expatriate crowd. Delicious baked goods and perfect outdoor seating area.
Meriland Restaurante – Cozy cute little cafe that serves great breakfast and lunch ( we liked that amount was not too much, just a 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
- 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 marinated in citric juices and thrown onto the open flame. Served with a side of 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. A perfect 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 seed. Delicious!
- Yucatanian Tamales – Tamales in Yucatan is by far the best we have tasted in Mexico, one thing you must try in Merida!
Best Places To Eat In Mérida
- Wayan’e – Hands down the best Yucatan-style tacos in the city. Menu consists of 15+ tacos that you are guaranteed to not 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 teh Yucatan Peninsula. Very reasonably priced.
- Taqueria Amecer – For a quintessential local outdoor experience, wander down south to this intersection after 6pm. Here you’ll find multiple stalls selling simply, yet delicious, tamales, relleno negro, and Yucatan-style tostadas.
International Cuisine In Mérida
- 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) – For authentic Japanese night out, Miyabi’s nigiri sushi and chirashi bowls are extremely hard to beat. 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 In Merida
- 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. A swimming pool and beautiful grassy area make for a great cool down after exploring the city.
- Best Luxury: El Palacito Secreto – The perfect example of French 19th century architecture. Experience 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, it’s best to visit Merida in the winter months.
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’re planning 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 actually built on the ancient Mayan site, T’ho and many of the stones that were used to build Mérida’s beautiful colonial edifices were derived from the ruins of the Mayan city. Much of the colonial architecture that you see today lining the city’s streets were built during the 18th and 19th century.
Interestingly, the city used to be a walled city to protect the 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 were 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
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.
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
Homun - Main Village of Cenotes
Beat the Merida heat with a day trip to Homún. From this little Mayan village, you can easily access over a dozen different clear water cenotes. Once in Homun, a rickshaw driver can transport you to as many different cenotes as you can squeeze in a single day.
At each cenote, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee (usually around 50 pesos) for unlimited access to that 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.
For lunch, we visited La Benidición De Dios, a family-run establishment specializing in BBQ pork, rabbit, and while boar. Beautiful grass garden and clean bathrooms.
What To See Beyond Merida
Outside of Merida, there are a plethora of 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.
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 busses don’t usually arrive at the ruins until 10am. Before then, it’s a relatively quiet-ish time.
If you can, aim to arrive by 8am, when the doors open.
How To Get There
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 Calz. de Los Frailes
Some of Valladolid’s best architecture can be seen while walking along the Calz. 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.
A beautiful cenote right near the city’s historic center and a wonderful way to cool off after exploring the city. Avoid the weekends!
Often overlooked by many of Mexico’s tourists, this quiet city on the western side of the Yucatan peninsula.
What To Do
Walk Atop The City’s Walls
At the Puerte 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
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
Although it is not well known as Chichen Itza, Edzna is important enough that in ancient Mayan language means “House of the Itza”. 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 few hours, less crowds, and 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 8am. It is even less 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 mins. Tell the driver to go to “Ruinas” and they will know. 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.