There are plenty of things to do in Merida Mexico to keep you occupied for a long weekend as part of a wider Yucatan travel itinerary. This is the Yucatan state’s cultural capital and it’s a beauty.
Merida is characterized by its colorful houses and ornate, grand colonial mansions. During the days of the henequen boom, this was one of the richest cities in the world.
For the time being, Merida remains still somewhat off the beaten path. Tourists are starting to venture here, and the city is home to a relatively large expat population. However, the city does not see a fraction of the visitors as nearby Cancun and Tulum and for now, it retains its authentic Mexican charm.
Ideally, you would have 3-4 days in Merida to really get to know the gorgeous colonial city. However, if you are short on time, you can see the main highlights in one or two days. Read on for more local tips on Merida by our guest blogger, Melissa Douglas whose based in Merida, Mexico.
Best Things To Do In Merida Mexico
For those a little apprehensive about traveling to Mexico on their own there plenty of option for tours. You and book day tours adhoc with tour companies like Viator or Get Your Guide all the while exploring Merida at your own pace.
You can also travel as part of a tour group with companies like Contiki, and G Adventures who manage all the planning and organisation of the trip for you. I believe you only have to book the flight! And for that you can see sites like Lastminute.com, eDreams or Travel Supermarket or Trip.com.
If you are a fun or of DIY travel then below is the perfect inspiration for cool and unique things to do in Merida.
Sample Traditional Yucatecan Cuisine
Yucatecan cuisine is completely different from the food that you find in most parts of Mexico. It is likely unlike anything that you have tried before.
Many traditional Yucatan recipes date back to the Ancient Mayans and pre-date the Spanish colonization. A lot are still created today using the same cooking methods that were used all those centuries ago.
Cochinita pibil is perhaps the most famous (and beloved) regional dish. It is made by marinating pork in achiote and a selection of herbs.
The meat is then slow-cooked overnight in an underground oven known as a “pib”. When it is ready, it is so tender and juicy that it just falls apart in your mouth, sort of like an ancient version of pulled pork.
There are lots of excellent restaurants in Merida where you can try the regional food. Habaneros (Calle 20-A Num 302 X 5b Y 5c, Xcumpich, 97204) is a great authentic spot that is popular among locals and tourists alike.
When you enter, you can see local women hand-making tortillas. The Queso Relleno, the poc chuc, the cochinita pibil and the sopa de lima ar not to be missed. This is also a popular spot to come for breakfast and brunch.
If you enjoy fine dining, you will love Kuuk Merida (Av Rómulo Rozo 488, Itzimná). The restaurant, housed inside a renovated colonial mansion, serves elevated Yucatecan food prepared with a contemporary twist.
Treat yourself to their 11 course tasting menu so that you can try several different things. Not only are the flavors exquisite, but the food presentation at Kuuk is unparalleled. If there is a Merida restaurant that is going to get a Michelin star any time soon, this is it.
Enjoy A Day At The Beach
While there are no beaches directly in Merida, there are several beautiful coastal areas that are just a short drive away. This is great because it does get extremely hot here during the summer months (think temperatures of 105 degrees fahrenheit and up!).
The beachtown of Progreso is one of the best places to escape to the coast. Playa Progreso boasts miles upon miles of soft white sand and translucent cerulean waters that would rival the beaches in the Mexican Carribean.
A bus runs frequently every day between central Merida and Progreso and the journey takes just 30 minutes. Opt to visit during the week rather than the weekend to avoid the crowds and have stretches of the beach virtually all to yourself. If you prefer to make stops along the way then consider renting a car in Mexico for a more convenient way of exploring at your pace.
Many of the bars and restaurants on the waterfront let you rent sunbeds and umbrellas for the day provided that you spend just a couple of dollars on drinks and snacks.
Have breakfast at El Cordobes (C. 80 38, Centro, 97320 Progreso). Then, spend the rest of the day sipping pina coladas and relaxing at the bougee Marymar beach club (Boulevard Turístico Malecón, 97320 Progreso).
See A Pok-a-Tok Ball Game
Pok-a-Tok is an ancient ballgame that was played by the Mayans. You will see the remnants of old Pok-a-Tok ballcourts at numerous ruins throughout the Yucatan – including Uxmal and Chichen Itza.
The game was extremely challenging. Players had to get a hard rubber ball through hoops that were mounted high on the walls using their hips. They were unable to use their hands and sometimes the losing players were sacrificed.
This game is no longer played today. However, you can catch a free re-enactment of it outside the Merida Cathedral on Friday nights.
Visit The Mercados
There are several mercados (traditional marketplaces) scattered throughout Merida. If this is your first time in Mexico, you may find them interesting to see.
The covered Mercado San Benito and the Mercado Lucas de Galvez are the city’s main marketplaces. Here, you will see stalls selling virtually every item imaginable – from clothing and faux designer goods to fruit, vegetables and meat.
There are countless stalls that are piled high with perfectly polished tropical fruits. You can buy a huge amount of fruit for just a few pesos.
Better still, the market provides a great people-watching opportunity. Watch on as locals haggle ferociously with street vendors about the cost of ingredients for their weekend family dinners. If you want to go with a local guide, you can book a market tour here.
Hang Out In Parque De La Aleman
Parque de la Aleman is a charming little park just northeast of the historic centre of Merida. It is always jam packed with street vendors selling handmade churros, elotes (grilled corn with chili, lime, cream and other toppings), and marquesitas (Yucatecan crepes rolled up and stuffed with cheese or nutella).
At night, the park really comes to life. There is a little fairground here that is popular with local families and young couples on dates, as well as a huge skatepark and basketball court which is always filled with residents just sitting chatting and eating street food. Many of the restaurants that surround the park are great too.
Take A Free Walking Tour
Opting to take a walking tour is a great way to get your bearings in a new city when you first arrive and Merida is no different. The Merida free walking tour departs from the central Plaza de Santa Lucia every day at 10am.
This is a great way to gain more information and context to the various historic buildings, churches and plazas that you see in Merida. Better yet, exploring with a local means that you have a Merida expert on hand to ask for recommendations for your trip.
Visit The Paranormal Museum
One of the more unique things to do in Merida is to visit the Paranormal Museum. This lesser-known attraction is the only museum of its kind in Mexico and it is owned by a famous Mexican Youtuber named Jorge Moreno.
The museum contains more than 500 artifacts from around the world that are supposedly “haunted” or possessed by spirits. For 70 pesos (around $3.50), you will be given a tour and an explanation of some of the most notable exhibits.
Highlights include dolls retrieved from the haunted island of the dolls in Mexico City, and creepy ragdolls made from the same cut of cloth as the infamous “Annabelle” doll.
Get Lost In Colorful Neighborhoods
Merida is a very safe city. You don’t have to worry about violence or crime here to the same extent as you would in other cities in Mexico or Latin America in general.
In fact, Merida is both the safest city in Mexico and one of the safest in the entire North American continent. So, you can comfortably enjoy wandering around the various streets, passageways and neighborhoods with no set plan, and enjoying seeing what you discover along the way.
Part of the fun of visiting the city is simply taking the time to get lost in its various districts. The city is a photographer’s paradise!
Calle 59 is one of the most colorful streets and arguably the best place for getting shots for Instagram. Avenida del Deportista is also worth exploring as it is here where you will find some of the most elaborate mansions in the city.
Browse The Exhibits At The Mayan World Museum
If you want to learn more about Ancient Mayan history and culture, you will enjoy visiting the Mayan World Museum. If you only have time to visit one museum during your time in Merida, make it this one.
The museum contains important relics and artifacts that have been recovered from various archealogical sites across the Yucatan. It also provides more background and context to the Mayan culture.
For example, did you know that many Yucatecans are of Mayan descent and the Mayan culture is still alive and thriving today? Approximately 6 million people across the world still speak the Mayan language.
Check Out The Monumento A La Patria
The Monumento a la Patria is one of Merida’s most iconic landmarks. It sits halfway along Paseo Montejo, just in front of the chic Kuuk restaurant. The grand monument is a great place to take photos and at its rear, there is a timeline of notable events in Mexican history – from the days of the Ancient Maya up until present day.
Cycle Along Paseo Montejo
Paseo Montejo is the main promenade that runs through Merida. The street was named after Francisco de Montejo, the Spanish Conquistador that founded Merida in the 16th century.
Dozens of great boutique stores, coffee shops, restaurants and street food stalls run along its length. The street runs all the way from the historic center to the northern part of the city.
On Sunday mornings, the street is closed off and cars are not permitted to drive here. Many locals come out to walk, jog, and cycle along its length.
This is a great thing to do if you are traveling to Merida when it isn’t too hot. You want to get to the street for 8 or 9am to pick up a bicycle, although there are a lot of bike shops here so you will have plenty of options available.
After you’re done, stop by one of the local cafes for a strong coffee and a Mexican breakfast pastry (try a concha!). Pan & Køf.feé (Calle 43 x 58 y 60 #485, Santa Ana) is a local favorite right in the center of town. Alternatively, stop by the cafe in the Rosas & Xocolate boutique hotel (P.º de Montejo 480, Zona Paseo Montejo, Centro) which often hosts live Jazz musicians over brunch.
Where To Stay In Merida
There are plenty of places to stay in Merida but the two that stand out the most are Centro and Paseo Montejo. Both of these areas are perfect for tourists, particularly for first-time visitors to Merida.
You will find cool cafes, restaurants and plenty of wide sidewalks to walk off all the amazing food you will be sampling. Also, whatever your budget, Mexico is one of those destinations that is perfect if you are on a budget or if money is no object.
There are cute hostels, amazing villas and hotels from budget to luxury. Those with spa facilities for the ultimate relaxation holiday to those with their own pool or hot tubs. For hotel deals with free cancellation check out Booking.com.
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Guest Author Bio
Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Blogger based in Merida, Mexico. She has written for a number of high-profile publications across the globe and writes about life in Mexico on her blog Mexico Travel Secrets.
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