Merida is one of those places that seems to have a lot on the surface, and yet we found ourselves often heading out of the city in order to find some hidden gems on nearby day trips. With that being said, the city itself has its own charm, with a vast history that should be discovered and cherished by all who pass through its boundaries.
Here are the top 7 things to see and do whilst you stay in Merida:
1. Free Walking Tour
The local tourism information office provides a daily walking tour, leaving from outside their office at 9:30am.
This is a great way of getting your bearings of the centre of the city upon arrival, and all for the low cost of nothing (though tips for the guide are encouraged). Your guide will take you around the main city centre and plaza over the course of 1.5 hours, explaining the many different buildings and museums that surround it (many also free to visit) and how they were built using Mayan pyramid materials.
To take this free tour, head to the Plaza Grande (main plaza), and find the tourist information office across the road (on Calle 62).
2. The Buildings Surrounding Plaza Grande
There are many museums, churches, and buildings (a lot of them free) that surround the main city plaza. Whilst you will get some information on them whilst taking the free walking tour, they are also great to visit afterwards to get a sense of Merida’s history.
Some of the available options include:
- Catedral de San Ildefonso: free to visit, the large cathedral also offers English tours on Saturdays at 10am.
- Palacio Municipal: The walking tour starts here (upstairs) and provides a good view of the plaza itself.
- Museo Fernando Garcia Ponce-Macay: Provides a great look back at the artwork of the local area and the Yucatan
- Casa de Montejo: Take a look back in time at how the wealthy lived in Merida, all whilst walking through a large mansion.
- Palacio de Gobierno: The last stop on the walking tour, this large government palace showcases many murals and artwork, including some by artist Fernando Castro Pacheco.
3. Pok Ta Pok
It wouldn’t be an ancient Mayan city (rebuilt by the Spanish) without a traditional Mayan ball game, and every Friday night at 8:30 two teams gather to showcase Pok Ta Pok to the local and tourist crowd.
The aim of this game is to get a rubber ball (the size of a children’s football) through a hoop elevated approximately 1.5 metres in the air. The catch however is that teams can only use their hips to hit the ball through. Because of this, scores are kept low and the crowds are kept entertained by the bizarre method.
Eventually, the game turns to a more dangerous form, through the introduction of fire. The rubber ball is lit up, and the teams then begin using their hands in a weird offshoot of volleyball and quidditch, each team attempting to spike the ball through the hoop.
This is such a great insight into Mayan culture and it certainly draws a crowd- make sure you arrive early to get a good seat or viewing spot.
4. The Ruins
And there are plenty of them that surround Merida, all only a day trip away from the city centre. Some of the more popular options include:
- Chichen Itza: The most expensive of all ruins in the area (entry is a whopping 224MXN peso), but also the most known. Get here early (as in when they open the gates) if you want to try and beat the crowds and see the iconic site.
- Uxmal: Known as the other major ruins of the Yucatan area, this is still popular but not as well trafficked as Chichen Itza. Well worth a visit, though only slightly cheaper than Chichen (at 182MXN peso)
- Mayapan: Costing just 35MXN peso this is a great spot to visit if you are on a budget. As it is also a lot less known than the other major sites in the area, you will also find that there will be hardly anyone in the surrounds when you visit.
- Dzibilchaltun: This site is also not as frequented as its ‘major’ cousins, and with a cost of only 118MXN peso is also a great option for a day trip from Merida. Bring your swimmers also as there are some great cenotes nearby that you can also include on your trip.
If you haven’t heard of cenotes before now, go and look at some of the stunning pictures available of these amazing swimming spots. Formed from underground river systems, and used by ancient Mayan civilisations for their water needs, these now uncovered attractions are scattered all across the Yucatan and Quintana Roo states.
There are possibly thousands of them, though many locals described the cenotes near Merida as the best in Mexico (and who are we to disagree?).
We took advantage of ones available near the city by taking a colectivo to nearby Cuzamá, a town littered with cenotes and also sharing many with its neighbouring town – Homún.
After a short bici-taxi we did a tour of 3 cenotes (Cenote Bolonchojol, Cenote Chacsinicché, and Cenote Chelentún) whilst being pulled along an old railway track (once used to farm agave) by a horse and cart!
To read more on this adventure, check out the longer blog post HERE. Overall though, this was a quirky and excellent way to take in some cenotes (and quite cheaply too), and were some of the most beautiful ones we ended up seeing.
6. The Beach (Progreso)
The beach is another day trip option available, being only a short 45 minute trip from Merida.
Before heading here, we recommend checking this website (HERE) to check on any incoming cruise liners. As Progreso is also a port town, it is best to visit when ships are not in port, and also to avoid the many restaurants looking for you to pay in USD.
To reach Progreso from Merida, the easiest way is to take an Auto Progreso bus from Calle 62 (between Calle 65 and Calle 67). The return trip is only 35MXN peso, and you travel on air-conditioned buses that also have free WiFi!
7. Paseo de Montejo
A visit to Merida wouldn’t be complete without taking a walk down what is known as the Champs Élysées of Mexico.
This tree lined widened street allows you to walk it’s length with ease, taking in the many big houses and providing some great photo opportunities. You can also just sit with a coffee and people watch all day if you wish, pretending the Eiffel Tower is within viewing distance.
Whilst these are the top 7 experiences we found whilst in Merida, there are many more that we just didn’t get time to see or do. For example, Celestún is meant to provide one of the largest collections of flamingos together on the planet, and we heard that a boat tour is an excellent way to see them. In addition, we ran out of time to get to the town of Valladolid, which provides more stunning cenotes that we are supremely jealous of!
There’s never enough time to see everything, but we had a great time whilst in Merida. What are your favourite things to do and see whilst in this lovely city? Let us know below.