Last Updated on 3rd March 2023 by Sophie Nadeau
Are you visiting Mexico? If you want to explore a vibrant, colourful city that’s brimming with culture, don’t miss the delightful city of Merida! It’s nowhere near as touristy as other places on the Yucatan peninsula like Cancun and Tulum, and it’s brimming with incredible activities and things to do. Here’s your guide to the best things to do in Merida, as well as what to know before you go.
Merida, the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan, is one of the larger cities in Mexico; but that doesn’t mean that it’s without its charm. The city centre is lined by colourful streets, and the suburbs are wonderful slices of local life.
It does mean, however, that there are tonnes of fun things to do in Merida! Here’s a full list of the best attractions and locations this city has to offer. If you are planning on spending a long weekend in the city, check out our suggestions for 3 days in Merida.
- What is Merida known for?
- Things to do in Merida
- Do a walking tour around the city center
- Stroll down Paseo Montejo
- Browse the markets
- Walk around the Plaza Grande
- See the Catedral de San Ildefonso
- Go museum hopping
- See Merida’s trendy cafes
- Catch a pok ta pok game
- Gorge on chilaquiles
- Party in La Negrita cantina
- Cycle on the Camino del Mayab
- Take a Spanish course
- Dinner at La Chaya Maya
- Visit Chichen Itza
- Day trip to Valladolid
- Where to stay in Merida
- Are you ready to see Merida?
What is Merida known for?
Merida is most famous for being the capital of the Yucatan state, and for its rich Mayan history. Constructed over an ancient Mayan city, Mérida is sometimes dubbed the ‘White City’ thanks to the abundance of white limestone and paint on many of the buildings across the city.
Things to do in Merida
From learning about the town’s history to taking in its modern cafe culture, here are all of the best things to do in Merida! Just be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes as you’ll be on your feet a lot in order to see all that this vibrant city has to offer.
Do a walking tour around the city center
One of the best ways to engage in the culture and history of Merida is to do a history tour around the city centre. Run by Free Tour Merida, these tours depart from the Parque de Santa Lucia, where you’ll learn about the city’s founding, starting from its Maya history to its colonial history.
This tour doesn’t have any upfront costs, but you are expected to tip accordingly.
Stroll down Paseo Montejo
The grandest street in Merida, the Paseo Montejo is lined with historic neoclassical buildings. Walking down this atmospheric street is like taking a step back in time!
En route, enjoy the grand Museo de Antropologia e Historia and the grand Monument de la Patria which is a statue of a Mayan woman.
Browse the markets
The mercados of Mexican cities are always worth visiting. Visit the Mercado Lucas de Galvez for food and local handicrafts, Mercado Miguel Alemán for delicious authentic local cuisine and Mercado San Sebastián which is a popular spot with Meridians.
Walk around the Plaza Grande
The Plaza Grande is the centre of Merida, and it’s the ideal place to visit if you want to soak in the distinct atmosphere of the city.
With street food stalls lining the perimeter of the park and a giant Merida sign to take a photo in front of, the Plaza Grande is perfect for an evening stroll or to enjoy a cold drink on a sunny day!
Don’t miss visiting the Plaza Grande on a Sunday, when it’s closed to road traffic and there are even more street food markets and cultural events than normal!
There are also a variety of cultural events in the Plaza Grande throughout the year, including the weekly pok-ta-pok game (more on that in a moment!).
See the Catedral de San Ildefonso
The Catedral de San Ildefonso dates back to the 16th century – it was actually built on the site of a Mayan temple (something that Spanish colonialists did in quite a lot of Latin America!).
You can admire it from the outside, or step inside; it’s known for having some infamous paintings, including Indigenous people paying respects to a Spanish coloniser.
Many of these paintings were destroyed during the Mexican revolution – due to them being complete propaganda and the opposite of how nearly all Indigenous people felt!
Go museum hopping
There are a few museums in Merida where you can learn about the city’s interesting history and culture.
Visit the Museum of the City of Merida to learn about the history’s founding, see the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Ateneo de Yucatán MACAY for artworks and experience the Mayan World Museum of Mérida to learn about specific Indigenous history in the area.
See Merida’s trendy cafes
While Merida is an immensely historic city, there’s a growing modern culture in town, which is evidenced by the number of quirky cafes in the city.
Some of the best include:
- Pan & Køf.feé: This is a large but busy cafe with delicious coffee and fresh breakfasts.
- Manifesto: This is one of the best spots to try Mexican coffee; Manifesto serves freshly brewed drinks made with local beans. They do offer food, but most visitors head there for its coffee.
- Estacion 72: This cafe has a large selection of beverages including frappes and coffees with different syrups.
- El Apapacho: Part garden cafe, part literature hub, this is a wonderful cafe serving a range of coffees and Mexican and international dishes.
Catch a pok ta pok game
If you’re in Merida on a Saturday, don’t miss the pok ta pok game that takes place infront of the cathedral.
Pok ta pok was a Mayan sport, typically played in the ancient world, that involved hitting a rubber ball with hips, elbows and knees (not with their hands and feet!). An incredibly challenging game, they’d aim to hit the ball into the pok ta pok goal.
This Mayan sport is replicated every Saturday; it’s a display rather than a sports game, but it’s well worth watching, especially to take in the unique atmosphere of the game!
Gorge on chilaquiles
Chilaquiles are a delicious authentic Mexican dish, consisting of broken tortilla shells topped with sauce, chilli, cheese, pork or anything else! Most chilaquiles are served with meat, but you can easily get vegetarian versions!
They actually come from Central Mexico, but there’s an excellent chilaquiles restaurant in the city, which is appropriately called Chilakilez. It’s traditional to have these for breakfast or brunch in Mexico!
Party in La Negrita cantina
La Negrita is one of the most lively cantinas in Merida. Cantinas were originally bars where men would gather to drink beer and eat light snacks, but nowadays everyone’s welcome to enjoy the traditional atmosphere!
An immensely popular bar close to the city center, La Negrita is a lively place to enjoy a few drinks in the evening. You might need to queue to get in, but there are tonnes of tables here so you should be served before too long!
Cycle on the Camino del Mayab
Do you fancy exploring the surroundings around Merida? The Camino del Mayab is the first long-distance walking and cycling trail in Mexico. It connects the communities, ruins and cenotes around the city in a community-based tourism initiative.
Featured in National Geographic, the Camino del Mayab route organises tours that include a guide, stops at haciendas and lesser-visited Mayan ruins and organises transport. It’s the perfect way to engage in local culture while seeing the glorious nature of the Yucatan Peninsula!
Take a Spanish course
Merida is an immensely popular city with Spanish students, and if you’re looking for a Mexican city to spend a bit of time in and learn the language, then it’s an ideal spot!
Sol Latino is one of the best schools in town. It has private and group class options and a great social scene, including events on its rooftop. You can take classes whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced student; the school will tailor the class to your needs.
Dinner at La Chaya Maya
If you’re looking for somewhere local where you can enjoy Yucatan food, head to La Chaya Maya. Dishes like Cochinita Pibil (pulled pork shoulder), Sopa de Lima (lime soup) and Queso Relleno (stuffed cheese) are staples in this part of Mexico.
One of the best places to enjoy authentic Yucatan cuisine is to dine at La Chaya Maya. This is a budget-friendly restaurant that’s popular with locals. It’s often quite busy, but turnover is quick; simply take a seat and order from the extensive menu, and you’ll have delicious Yucatan fare to eat in no time!
Visit Chichen Itza
The breathtaking ruins of Chichen Itza are one of the Seven Wonders of the World. While they aren’t actually located in Merida, you can easily do a day trip from the city to see them!
Chichen Itza was an ancient city, dating back to the Mayan period – it was at its height from 600 A.D. to the 1200s.
While the city sits in ruins, they are remarkably well-preserved, with ornate stone carvings depicting traditional Mayan life, a pok-ta-pok (an ancient Mayan sport) court and, of course, the dramatic El Castillo, the main pyramid which is 98 feet or 30 metres in height.
You can take a direct ADO bus from Merida to Chichen Itza, or there are plenty of guided tours available on Get Your Guide.
Day trip to Valladolid
Valladolid is another charming city that’s situated on the Yucatan peninsula, about two hours from Merida.
Home to the Convent of San Bernardo, a charming main square and often a place where traditional Mexican parades are held, Valladolid is the perfect city to visit if you want to see somewhere else that isn’t too far from Merida.
There are also lots of cenotes close to Valladolid, including Cenote Saamal which is on the road between Valladolid and Chichen Itza.
You can easily take an ADO bus from Merida to Valladolid; the city’s located close to Chichen Itza, so you could combine day trip to see both places in one day.
Where to stay in Merida
Merida has a range of accommodation options to suit almost any taste and budget. Here are some of the top places to stay in the Mexican city based on location price, and web-reviews. In order to avoid disappointment, be sure to book your accommodation as soon as you’ve confirmed your travel dates.
Budget: This well-reviewed hostel is for adults only and is located around 1 km from the Plaza Grand. It boasts amenities such as free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and a pool. Check prices and availability here.
Mid-range: This four-star hotel is situated in a great location and rooms have features such as free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs and mini fridges. Check prices and availability here.
Luxury: For a luxurious experience during your time in Merida, you’ll want to check into this 5 star hotel, which is located under a 15-minute walk from the museum in Cantón Palace. Check prices and availability here.
Are you ready to see Merida?
While Merida isn’t the most tourist-focused city in Mexico, its culture, fascinating ancient history, delicious food and fun local vibe make it an unmatched destination if you’re looking for places to enjoy a local vibe in Mexico! For more Mexico inspiration, be sure to check out our suggestions for how to spend 2 weeks in Mexico.
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Claire Martin is a travel blogger and freelance writer who specialises in overland adventures. She’s drove around Australia, travelled from Bali to London without flying, lived in Mexico and has spent many months exploring Europe. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Claire’s Footsteps.