If you want to do some serious exploring in Mexico, then the city of Merida is the place to visit. Its incredible history goes back to ancient Mayans, but there are clear traces of Spanish influence here, too. Add to that excellent food, magical cenotes, and very friendly locals, and you will get a complete package that results in a quintessential Mexican experience. Indeed, one day in Merida will be incredibly rewarding. However, with so much amazing architecture and other things to do, some planning is recommended in order to make the most of your time here. This itinerary will help you do just that!
The peak season in Merida is winter/early spring. This is when most people opt to come, starting with the Christmas holidays, all the way to April. However, this also means big crowds and higher prices, so it is very much recommended that you book everything ahead.
The number of tourists also swells in summer, but the humidity is quite high during this season and you can expect rain on a daily basis.
Therefore, I would say that the best time to visit Merida would be May or November. This is when the prices are at their lowest and there are much fewer visitors around. True, there may still be some humidity in the air, but all things considered, this is when you can experience Merida for the least amount of money and without the crowds becoming overwhelming.
As for the most popular events in Merida, there are plenty to look out for. Merida Fest at the start of the year is essentially the city’s birthday party, whereas Merida’s Carnaval in February has a long tradition (from the 19th century, mind you) and is one of the biggest in Mexico. In October, you will want to see La Noche Blanca, a big art festival that fills the city with various performances.
Merida is the capital of the state of Yucatán, and its population is just under one million people (1.3 million people in the metropolitan area).
The city is famous for its abundance of culture and this was recognized on the international level – Merida is the first city that was awarded the title of American Capital of Culture and the only city to have received that recognition twice.
This is also the safest city in the country and among the safest places on the continent. The public safety around here is very high, which plays a big role in the overall high standard of living.
Merida was named after the city of Merida in Spain. It is also known as White City, i.e. La Ciudad Blanca. The origin of this nickname is unclear, and there are several theories concerning the reasons that led to it. These range from believing that Spaniards allowed only white people to occupy the city to the fact that many buildings have their fronts painted white.
You are about to explore the cultural capital not just of Mexico, but of North America in general. This wonderful city is full of charm and interesting places to visit, plus it also allows you to learn a whole lot about ancient Mayans. Also, you may want to consider renting a car in order to get to some places easier. However you choose to go about visiting the city, though, these are the best things to see and do during your one day in Merida.
Plaza Grande is Merida’s main square and therefore an ideal place from which to start your one day here. It is full of trees and benches, so you can just take it easy, maybe with a cup of coffee in your hand, and soak in the whole atmosphere. Additionally, this is where many events take place.
What makes this square additionally attractive is the architecture surrounding it. You will find the state capitol here, as well as the city hall, but San Ildefonso Cathedral (very much a must here!) and the Montejo House are also there. So, there’s plenty of sightseeing to be done. Not a bad start, right?
It is also good to know that there are free walking tours you can book here. These will teach you everything you need to know about the city’s historic center and are completely free (although a tip is customary). A great way to get an insight into this wonderful city’s history!
Another thing Merida is famous for is the large number of cenotes all around it. Now, cenotes are essentially pits full of water, which is why they are ideal if you’re looking for some refreshment. And after a whole morning of sightseeing and with temperatures rising, a refreshment of this kind is just what the doctor ordered.
Most of the cenotes can be reached in an hour or so from Merida, but cenote Xlacah is the closest one being just over half an hour away. As an added bonus, the cenote is located close to Dzibilchaltun Ruins, and the Temple of the Seven Dolls. Therefore, you will have plenty to do here.
Just keep in mind that there will be a fee to pay here (approximately 25 USD at the moment of writing).
You will most likely be very hungry by now, so head back to the city center to find a nice place to eat. And there are certainly plenty of those to choose from.
If you’re in the mood for some good Mexican dishes, the Museum of Yucateca Gastronomy is certainly the place to visit. The interior is lovely, and the food is nothing short of excellent, so this restaurant certainly is the place to beat. Oh, and the prices are very fair. Mind you, this is called a museum for a reason – you can actually learn about what the people here used to eat from the exhibits!
That being said, La Chaya Maya Casona certainly gives the museum a run for its money. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of seafood, La Pigua is a rock-solid choice. As for international cuisine, Bistro Cultural serves tasty French dishes, whereas Oliva Enoteca will make all fans of Italian food extremely happy.
Since Merida is a city of culture, visiting a museum or two should be an integral part of your itinerary. There are many to choose from, so you probably won’t be able to see them all in one day. However, there are a few you should definitely consider.
Gran Museo del Mundo Maya is the most popular museum in the city. Not only does it have a huge collection of Mayan artifacts, but the building in which it is housed is quite beautiful. There are more than a thousand Mayan finds inside this place, so anyone who wants to learn more about this culture will have a great time.
Speaking of beautiful buildings, the Palacio Canton Museum, also known as the Regional Museum of Anthropology of Yucatán, is one of Merida’s symbols. It will show you many fascinating details of the life of ancient Mayans along with a small collection of Mayan artifacts.
The City of Merida Museum, on the other hand, will show you everything you need to know about the city’s history, going all the way back to Mayan times. And since Merida is one of the oldest cities on the continent, there is certainly a lot to explore.
Mind you, these are just a few of the museums this city has to offer, so do a bit of digging and you will surely find some other equally interesting options worthy of your itinerary.
After all this history, it’s time to experience something more lively! Head to the Lucas de Galvez Market, the main market in the city, and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the shops all around you. The market’s history goes as far back as the late 19th century, so it is an integral part of the city’s life.
You will find many interesting food options here, but there are also many shops selling hand-crafted souvenirs, which makes this place ideal for picking up a thing or two to bring back home.
Should your one day in Merida fall on a Saturday, start your evening with a trip to the cathedral. In front of this beautiful building, you will see people dressed in traditional Mayan clothes getting ready for a match of Pok Ta Pok.
What is Pok Ta Pok? It is an ancient game played by the Mayans in which the players are only allowed to hit the ball with their elbows, knees, and hips. Quite a challenge! A match is played every Saturday at around 8.30 PM, and you may want to come a bit earlier to get the best place from which to watch the action.
While Merida is not exactly known as the party capital of Mexico, there are still some great options for a wonderful night out. And since this is a city in which culture has an important place, you can go and see something like Night of Legends, which shows the most famous Yucatán legends to the guests.
If you prefer bars, places like La Negrita Cantina or Mezcaleria La Fundacion are always a good choice for cocktails and other drinks, but there are many more options in the city center. As for nightclubs, Dzalbay and Luca Show Bar are very popular and entertaining choices. As you can see, you certainly won’t be having a dull evening here.
Where to stay in Merida?
Fiesta Americana Merida
Paseo Montejo No 451 Esq Av Colon, 97000 Mérida
Fiesta Americana Merida is a beautiful five-star hotel near the city center, perfect for treating yourself to a luxurious stay. The interior is absolutely stunning, with plenty of marble, and oozes class wherever you look. You can enjoy a spa, an outdoor pool, and a fitness center, whereas children have their own club. Several restaurants offer all kinds of amazing dishes, the rooms are extremely elegant, and the staff is incredibly helpful. To put it short, this is a luxury hotel in every imaginable way.
Viva Merida Hotel Boutique
553 Calle 59 Centro, 97000 Mérida
Another hotel in Merida city center, Viva Merida Hotel Boutique is a gorgeous boutique hotel with a wonderfully coloured interior and large, comfortable rooms. Not only that, but some of the rooms even have a jacuzzi on their balconies! Then there’s also the outdoor pool, and the breakfast you get is absolutely divine! Honestly, you really can’t say anything negative about this place. Just book a room and enjoy!
Hotel Santa Ana
Calle 45, 503. Colonia Centro, 97000 Mérida
If you’re looking for a place that provides great value for your money, Hotel Santa Ana is just the thing. It has a lovely outdoor pool surrounded by greenery, and the breakfast you can get here is really very tasty. The rooms come with free toiletries and are very comfortable and clean. Generally, the whole atmosphere in the hotel is very relaxed, plus there are many restaurants and bars in the vicinity. You’ll have a great stay!
Hostal Barrio Vivo
521B Calle 77 entre 66 y 64a, 97000 Mérida
Merida has a fine selection of hostels, and Hostal Barrio Vivo is among the very best. It has a lovely garden, a terrace, barbecue facilities and even a bar. Oh, and they serve an incredible breakfast here, too. The staff is probably the best part of staying here as they go out of their way to organize various activities for their guests. Naturally, everything is perfectly clean, too. An excellent hostel!
The history and culture of Merida are so enchanting that you could easily prolong your stay a bit. There are certainly a lot of fascinating things to take in, but there are also some amazing day trips you should consider. Here are some of the most popular destinations.
This is pretty much a no-brainer. Chichen Itza is a spectacular Mayan city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. In short, it’s a place you can’t afford to miss. The amazing temples, the stories you get to hear, and the things you learn about ancient Mayans will make this day trip an amazing experience. And it’s all less than two hours away by bus!
Another very popular destination for a day trip from Merida is Valladolid. It is an exceptionally colorful and charming little town with loads of amazing buildings, lovely restaurants and bars, and some very interesting art. In other words, you are bound to have a lot of amazing photos by the end of the day. Perfect for exploring Mexican history and culture a bit more, Valladolid is only two hours away.
Celestun Biosphere Reserve
The nature in this part of Mexico is quite stunning, and the Celestun Biosphere Reserve is an excellent example of that. An added bonus is that Celestun is actually a charming little fishing village. However, the reserve is best known for the thousands of flamingos that can be seen. Alternatively, you can rent out a kayak and have an active outdoorsy day. The choice is yours.
If you’re looking for a place where you can spend a day enjoying an amazing beach, look no further than Puerto Progreso. This town has arguably the best beach in the wider Merida area and is less than an hour away by car. Once you get to Progreso Beach, you will be able to enjoy all kinds of surfing, visit restaurants and bars and just have a great time. But be careful – you may want to avoid coming here on the days when a cruiser docks, just to avoid the crowds.
- Many public places in Merida come with free WiFi. So, you shouldn’t have problems connecting to the internet, no matter where you are.
- Every Sunday morning, the city stops cars from entering the city center. The roads become ideal for bicycles, but this is also something to keep in mind if coming here by car.
- The local markets offer exceptionally cheap fruit and fruit juices. Perfect for refreshment during your tour of the city.
- It is not recommended to drink tap water here. Fortunately, bottled water is fairly affordable, so buying some should not be a problem.
Make sure you have everything you need
What to pack for your next trip?
Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
Check our travel checklist guide for 2021 to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and travel to your next destination in style and with maximum comfort.