Known at Mexico’s White City, Merida has been making major waves recently. It has been ranked among the top 5 cities in the world for several years in a row, and there are many reasons for this! This Merida Travel Guide will lay out everything you need to know about visiting this stunning Yucatan city.
While much of Mexico has a reputation for corruption and violence, Merida (as well as the entire state of Yucatan) tends to do a great job of staying clear of that. With some of the best food in Mexico, one of the lowest crime rates in Mexico, and beaches and historic sites around every corner, Merida is becoming one of the best places to visit in Mexico altogether.
Best Things to Do in Merida
1. Walk along the Paseo Montejo
Francisco de Montejo was one of many Spanish conquistadors who plated a role in the conquest of Yucatan, and the Paseo de Montejo is named after him.
The Paseo de Montejo is a two mile long street that cuts through Merida, and it is beautifully lined with trees, mansions, cute cafes, and fantastic restaurants. A walk along the Paseo de Montejo is very relaxing and peaceful, and the late 1800s mansions that you pass by are nothing short of extraordinary. We visited Montejo 495, and the tour was absolutely wonderful.
Seeing the beauty that resulted from the investment into these homes and the French styles that were incorporated is beautiful, and hearing the list of celebrities that stayed in these homes – like JFK – was interesting as well!
Admiring the grandeur of the mansions, breathing in the fresh aroma of the trees and flowers, and sipping on a locally sourced cup of coffee along the Paseo de Montejo is a favorite memory of mine, and it is definitely my favorite place in this quite colonial city.
2. Watch a Game of Pok Ta Pok in the Plaza Grande
The Plaza Grande is the main square in Merida’s city center where you can find the Government Palace, the tourist office, the Cathedral, and a slew of great shops and restaurants. This main plaza is the center of life in the evening for the city, and there are few better places to make friends.
With plenty of benches and frequent live music and traditional dance entertainment, the Plaza Grande is worth checking out either before or after dinner to see what is going on.
One notable event to try and check out is the Pok Ta Pok reenactment every Wednesday at 8pm. Pok Ta Pok is an Ancient Mayan ball game that in many ways resembles Quidditch from Harry Potter.
The ultimate spot to learn about Pok Ta Pok is at Chichén Itzá, but this free live reenactment in the Plaza Grande is a great choice for those who don’t want to make the trip away from the city. An evening of Pok Ta Pok in the Plaza Grande along with a local bite to eat is one of the best things to do in Merida!
3. Ride Along the Biciruta on Sunday Mornings
The Paseo de Montejo that tops this list is a great place to walk, but it’s equally good to ride a bike! On Sunday morning from 8am to 12pm, parts of the Paseo de Montejo get closed off to car traffic and opened up for free bike riding! The city provides bicycles to use for free, and having two wheels makes it much easier to travel the full length of the street.
Enjoy the ride and stop by a local cafe or two for a cup of coffee or a bite to eat while admiring the colonial buildings lining the street! Going for a stroll along the Paseo de Montejo is one of the best things to do in Merida, and upping the pace on a free bike ride often makes it even better!
4. Go on a Free Walking Tour of Merida with a Local Guide
Every day at 10:00am there are free walking tours departing from the Plaza Santa Lucia, which is just a quick five minute walk from the cathedral. The tours last about two hours and take you to some of the most popular spots right in the heart of the city.
This is a great way to get a more in-depth understanding of the most important aspects of the city, and you can’t beat free! The guides are fantastic, and you will really learn a lot.
I try to go on a walking tour in every new city that I visit, as I think there really is no better way to get oriented in a new place. The tour meets right by the giant kissing chairs in the Plaza Santa Lucia, and you can identify the guide by their pink umbrella.
While the tour is free, you should be ready to tip the guide in cash to reward them for their hard work! Having a guide show you the prettiest and most important parts of the city while providing a background on their significance makes this walking tour one of the best things to do in Merida.
5. Take a Tour of the Palacio de Gobierno
The Palacio de Gobierno, or Government Palace, is located right on the Plaza Grande and is one of the most important buildings in the city. This is the heart of legislative action in Merida, and many of the most important moments in Merida history have happened inside of its doors.
The Palacio de Gobierno is open every day from 9-5, and tours of its interior are free to visitors every day. Seeing the majesty of the building as well as better understanding its history makes a tour of the Palacio de Gobierno one of the best things to do in Merida.
6. Check out the Merida Cathedral
Merida’s Cathedral, officially named Catedral de San Ildefonso in Spanish, is absolutely stunning. Located right off of the central plaza, this cathedral is massive, gorgeous, and extremely convenient to visit. We always recommend visiting the major cathedrals in Mexico, and as the largest city on the Yucatán Peninsula, this cathedral is one you don’t want to miss. Half an hour is enough time to check out the art in the cathedral for the first time.
Best Places to Eat in Merida
Merida is the beating heart of the state of Yucatan, and there is a pretty strong consensus that this state’s food is either the best or second-best in all of Mexico. My own favorite state of Puebla is the one that gives it a run for its money! Still, from staple meal items like Cochinita Pibil and Lomos de Valladolid to desserts like Marquesitas, there is no shortage of awesome foods to try.
Several restaurants in Merida have been featured on Netflix specials, and others are just fantastic places for a night out. Here are my four recommendations of the best places to eat or drink in Merida.
1. Paseo 60
In my opinion, Paseo 60 tops the list of the best places to eat in Merida. This is because there are several great dining options inside, as well as frequent live entertainment and a full craft beer bar. This place makes a great spot for not just dinner, but a full night of entertainment as well. There is a restaurant inside – TEYA – that serves up fantastic Yucatecan food, and the meat sampler is a must.
2. Taqueria la Lupita
Taqueria la Lupita is located in the Mercado de Santiago and is one of the best places to stop for a good Mexican breakfast or a bite to eat later on in the day. They’ve been in the business for almost 5o years, and have been dedicated to serving up high quality food with a smile for the entire time. This place is a can’t-miss.
Many people regard Picheta as the best Yucatecan restaurant in all of Merida, and after eating a dinner there it is hard to disagree. The food is really delicious, the environment and ambiance are lovely, and the views of the cathedral and Plaza Grande are unbeatable if you’re on the terrace. Be sure to check it out!
4. Manifesto Barra Cold Brew
I am a very big coffee guy, and to me it doesn’t get any better than cold brew. Manifesto Barra Cold Brew is one of the best cold-brew based cafes that I have visited anywhere in the world, crafting up delicious cold brew cocktails of many different varieties. It reminded me heavily of Barbarista in Cholula, where I lived for several years while getting my Master’s.
Best Day Trips from Merida
Merida’s location on the Yucatan Peninsula provides a slew of great nearby places to visit for a day. These range anywhere from 45 minutes away to several hours, beaches to ruins, and pirates to indigenous people, but they are all worth the adventure. Here are some of the best ones.
1. Chichen Itza
Chichen Itzá is the only Wonder of the World in North America, and it is one of the most important archaeological sites in all of Mexico. The Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza are more than just a pyramid, which is what most people often think. Chichen Itza is an entire city that is just exploding with history.
A day trip to Chichen Itza from Merida does indeed take a full day as it is a couple of hours away, but it is worth the time and effort that is required. You can either get there as a road trip in a rental car, hire a taxi driver to take you there and back, or go with an organized bus tour. Try to get there as early as possible to beat the crowds!
Valladolid is essentially the basecamp to Chichen Itza, as it is the closest town to the massive ancient city. While many people only wind up in Valladolid because of a visit to Chichen Itza, I personally think that Valladolid is worth a visit in and of itself.
Valladolid is a beautiful town filled with fantastic restaurants and things to do, and some of the best cenotes in Mexico are located in or around it. If you are thinking of visiting Valladolid or are intrigued by the thought of it, check out my Valladolid travel guide. Truly, this is one of the best day trips from Merida!
Campeche is the closest major city to Merida, and it is the capital of the state of Campeche, which is directly to the west of the state of Yucatan. Campeche is commonly known for its beautiful colorful architecture, great seafood, and its history as a pirate port. As it is just over two hours from Merida, it is a very easy day trip and can even be done in half of a day.
There are ADO buses that run directly between the two cities for a great price, and they are definitely the best way to get between Campeche and Merida.
Progreso is a small town located directly to the north of Merida, and it is most commonly visited because it is the closest beach to Merida. Merida itself is not a coastal city, but it is close enough to where getting to the beach is very quick and easy.
Progreso has a lot of cool little places to see and explore, and while it is the least exciting of the places on this list, it still makes for a great day trip. The fact that it is less than an hour away adds to the allure of visiting!
How to Get to Merida
Merida has its own international airport, and year after year the number of flights increases. As Merida’s international popularity increases, the number of direct flight routes in and out of Merida increases as well.
There is no other major airport within a 2 hour drive, so this is really your only bet if you need to fly. In a pinch, Cancun is about 3 and a half hours away and there are buses that run directly from Cancun to Merida.
How to Get to From The Airport to Merida
From the Merida airport, it can be challenging to get fairly priced transportation to the city. This is because Uber drivers aren’t allowed to enter the airport’s property and can only pick up passengers on the road adjacent to the airport. As most passengers don’t know this, they simply see that Uber is unavailable and look for the next best option.
If you’re wondering, Uber is super safe in Mexico. It is often the best way to get around, and it is very cheap, too! If you have any worries about using Uber in Mexico, make sure to read my post about safely using Uber in foreign countries.
While this quick tip about exiting the airport can be helpful to finding an Uber, it isn’t a guarantee. As the drivers know that most passengers won’t know this trick, very few drivers wait in the area.
As the airport is not really close to downtown, most drivers will probably be out of reach. We waited about 45 minutes in the Merida heat for an Uber ride, and eventually wound up going with a traditional taxi.
The people here operate much more honestly than in some other places in Mexico, and you are much less likely to get ripped off. There’s a good chance you will need to take a taxi to get downtown, and it really isn’t anything to worry about. They are very safe as far as Mexican taxis go.
There is also an ADO bus line from the airport to downtown, but it only runs a couple of times per day. If there is a bus leaving soon after your departure, this is absolutely the best bet, as it is very affordable and very comfortable.
How to Get Around Merida
UBER | COLECTIVO
Merida is actually a fairly large city, and it isn’t very densely populated. The neighborhoods of this city fan out pretty vastly, and getting around by foot isn’t a great option. There is also not a fantastic system of organized public transportation throughout the city, and it is not the easiest to figure out if you aren’t very familiar with it.
There are colectivos that run throughout the city and area, but if you don’t speak Spanish, you will probably have a rough time getting where you want to go. If you don’t know what colectivos are, be sure to read this post about colectivos.
Truthfully, the best way to get around Merida is by Uber. Uber drivers in Merida are plenty, and rides are very cheap compared to countries like the United States. The app works the exact same way as it does in the United States, and you’ll be grateful for the air conditioning as you escape the hot Yucatan sun! Be sure to tip your drivers, as the low prices are usually at the expense of their wages.
The Best Time to Visit Merida
Merida is an incredible city to visit all year round, but the best months to visit Merida are during the winter and spring. The summer in Merida is unbearably hot and humid, as the state of Yucatán is known for its blistering tropical climate. No amount of cold ice cream can cool you off from the July heat in Merida!
If you visit in the winter or spring, you will encounter comfortable temperatures, diminished crowd sizes at major tourist attractions, and greater availability in the best Airbnbs and boutique hotel options in the center of town.
Is Merida Safe to Visit?
Merida is often viewed as a bit of a utopian society by Mexican standards, and the government here has a great reputation. While it isn’t as big as Mexico City, it is still one of the biggest cities in Mexico! Really, is Merida safe to visit?
The answer is a resounding yes.
Merida truly is one of the safest places in Mexico, and it is no more dangerous than visiting an American or European city. In fact, Merida is significantly safer than major European and American cities like Miami and Paris.
The police in Merida are about as non-corrupt as it gets in Mexico, which is a really big deal. If you read my post on police corruption in Mexico, you know this is usually a really big problem. The police here are paid fair wages, which makes them much less reliant on corrupt activity.
As Merida has built a reputation of safety, honesty, and transparency, the city’s officials do all that they can to make sure that reputation stays intact. If you just take basic precautions that you would in any city around the world – don’t carry wads of cash and flash Rolexes, for example – you are probably going to be just fine. If you wander out past dark on a Saturday night, odds are you will be perfectly safe in Merida as long as you stay within populated areas.
Is Merida Worth Visiting?
While many travelers head to popular beach destinations like Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, and Playa del Carmen, Mexico’s inland cities are its true gems. This couldn’t be any more true about Merida. While Merida doesn’t have any beaches to offer, its is a stunning city filled with a charming historic center, unforgettable cultural events, and some of the best restaurants in the entire country.
Yucatecan foods are among the best in the country, too, ranging from delicious street food and produce in local markets to mouthwatering cochinita pibil, which is a local suckling pig dish.
If you are looking for an authentic Mexican city with warm weather, historic buildings, colonial architecture, and good food, Merida is one of the perfect place to check out, and it is absolutely worth visiting. Different places in Mexico may offer aspects of what the city of Merida does, but very few can offer the full package.
That’s all we have for you about planing the perfect trip to Merida! Hopefully this guide helps you while you’re visiting Merida. If you have any questions be sure to drop a comment!