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Things to Do in Merida Mexico: A Guide to the White City

Things to Do in Merida Mexico: A Guide to the White City

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Merida is one of my favorite cities in all of Mexico. There are so many fun things to do in Merida, the weather is amazing year-round (if you don’t mind sweating), and the beaches are close enough to spend the day there.

It’s small enough to walk around and yet big enough that you can sample tons of different restaurants, bars, cafes, and markets. 

Want more recommendations? Be sure to check out my Merida Guidebook for sale here!

Where to Stay in Merida

There are so many great hotels in Merida, especially if you want to enjoy a cute hacienda or nice boutique hotel. Many of the colonial-style buildings in the city have been converted into beautiful and stylish spaces that are quite reasonably priced.

  • Hotel Hacienda Merida: This stunning hotel has kept much of its Spanish-colonial charm with a huge open courtyard and beautiful fountains. It is a perfect place to stay if you want to enjoy plenty of sunshine and have breakfast out in the garden or swim in the outdoor pool. There aren’t many rooms, so it’s a nice small hotel, and the rooms that they do have are stylishly decorated and very comfortable. Rooms start at $75 per night (usually in the off-season). Book a stay at Hotel Hacienda Merida here.
  • Casa Lecanda Boutique Hotel: This is one of my favorite boutique hotels not just in Merida, but anywhere I’ve been in Mexico. They have really perfected the details at this Spanish-style hacienda hotel. The beds are so plush and comfortable. There’s a lap pool in the garden, the breakfast is huge and delicious, and the staff couldn’t be nicer. Rooms start at $150 per night. Book a stay at Casa Lecanda Boutique Hotel here.
  • Koox Boutique Hotels: This is a collection of boutique hotels all over Merida and you can’t really go wrong with any of them, but I particularly loved the one located at Casa de Las Palomas (although Casona de las Tres Marias is a close second). The rooms are huge and the beds and heavenly. There is a pool, a wonderful breakfast and the hotel itself is simply breathtaking. The design and decor are so aesthetically pleasing and the staff really go above and beyond. Rooms start at $180 per night. Book a stay at Koox Casa de Las Palomas here.
sitting outside in my airbnb in merida drinking coffee

Want to enjoy this coffee spot each morning in Merida? Check out the airbnbs that I recommend!

There are also plenty of great Airbnbs in Merida and after spending a few weeks there, I was able to sample a few of them. If you’re on a budget or don’t want to splurge on a hotel, the prices for Airbnbs in Merida is unbeatable.

If you’ve never used Airbnb before, sign up with this link to receive up to $35 off of your first booking. 

  • Casa Kuxtal – Centrally located stylish space: I loved this place so much, especially for its location and back garden. Every morning Luke and I would have coffee out on the terrace and it was so lovely and peaceful. The bedroom is large and bright and the rest of the space is huge as well. The kitchen has everything you need to self-cater and the place is right around the corner from the ADO bus terminal. It’s also less than 10-minutes walk to the main square. The price is $35 per night. Book here.
  • Perfect Central Apartment: This place is definitely smaller, but also incredibly priced. If you are on a budget, you can’t beat the amenities and location. It’s very quiet at night, there’s air conditioning, the host is fantastic, and it’s close to everything. The price is $15 per night. Book here.
  • Casa Castellanos: If you are going to be a larger group and need more rooms, then this is the best option. It’s affordable at only $100 per night for 2 bedrooms plus extra sleeping spaces. There is a pool, a garden, stunning decor, and did I mention it’s an old mansion? Even if I didn’t have other friends coming with me, I might just book a night or two at this gorgeous home. Book here.

A Video Tour of Casa Kuxtal

volkswagen beatle in merida against yellow building

Getting To and From Merida

Depending on where you are traveling from, you have a few different options when figuring out how to get to Merida. 

There is an international airport in Merida. It’s called the Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport. You can fly here from some hubs in the US like Atlanta and Houston, but otherwise you will likely need to connect somewhere in order to fly into Merida Airport.

The alternative option if you want to have a direct flight is to fly into Cancun International Airport. Cancun is connected to most major cities around the US, Canada and Europe so you will be able to fly directly and usually for cheaper than flying to Merida. Once you arrive in Cancun, you can either rent a car and drive to Merida, or you can take the ADO bus.

If you opt to take the ADO bus and you are traveling at peak times, I highly recommend booking your ticket in advance. You can do this by downloading the ADO app onto your phone (Android or iOS). You can then book the ticket for the time that you would like to take the bus. If you opted to wait until you arrived in Cancun, you may be waiting several hours for the next available bus.

There is one other alternative and that is to hire a driver to take you from Cancun to Merida. This is by far the more expensive option. You can expect to pay anywhere from $100 USD per person to $350 USD for the van regardless of how many people.

The bus costs about 476 Pesos (it is usually cheaper if you book in advance on the app). Renting a car usually runs you about $20-40 USD a day depending on how long you rent for, the size of the vehicle, and the time of year. 

If you are already in Mexico, getting the bus into Merida is very simple. It’s one of the few cities in the country where the ADO bus terminal is actually inside the city limits. ADO buses run from every major city to Merida several times a day. Simply check the ADO app for the timetables. Once you arrive in Merida, you can take an Uber to your hotel. 

the merida sign on paseo de montejo

Things to Do in Merida, Mexico

Now that you have a place to stay and know how to get to and from the white city, you’ll want to know all the best things to do in Merida. 

Traveling around Merida is very easy, but if you’re new to traveling Mexico or you want to get a deaper understanding of the city, be sure to take one of the many amazing tours in Merida that are available. 

1. The Gran Museo Del Mundo Maya

Calle 60 299 E, Unidad Revolución

Opening Times: Wednesday-Monday 8am-5pm, closed Tuesdays

The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya is home to the biggest collection on Maya artifacts in all of Mexico (outside of perhaps the Mexico City Museum of Anthropology). The museum is quite large and well worth spending at least an hour if not two.

We read all of the different plaques and stopped to take photos of different artifacts and it took us roughly an hour and 45 minutes to go through the whole museum.

It’s not a huge museum, but each room is packed with different things from Maya sites around the region. We actually learned about new-to-us Maya sites after visiting this museum and added a few different places to our trip thanks to what we found out here. 

The ticket price for foreign tourists is 150 Pesos (about $7 USD). If you have a temporary or permanent resident card or are a citizen the ticket price is only 100 Pesos (about $5 USD). Children, students with a valid ID, teachers with a valid ID and people over 65 get in for 25 Pesos (about $1.25 USD). 

2. Palacio Canton

Paseo de Montejo 485

Opening Times: Tuesday-Sunday 8am-5pm, closed Mondays

I actually think this is my favorite museum in Merida. While the Maya museum was packed with history, this museum had a little bit of everything. Inside Palacio Canton, an old refurbished mansion, is the local museum of anthropology.

So inside is not just information about the local Maya, but about all of the different tribes that have passed through this region of the country.

It’s also worth visiting just to see how they’ve restored the mansion. While the bottom floor of the museum is all different types of anthropological artifacts, the second floor has different art exhibits.

The staircase is stunning, the chandeliers make the whole place feel so grand, and even the exterior of the building has been beautifully restored.

A parisian style mansion in Merida mexico

Paris or Merida? Just one of the many European style buildings along Paseo de Montejo.

3. Museum of the City of Merida

Calle 56 529A

Opening Times: Tuesday-Friday 9am-6pm, Saturday and Sunday until 2pm, closed Mondays

This little free museum is so much cooler than it seems at first. The building is the first post office in Merida and has now been converted into a museum of the history of the city as well as a public art space.

When you walk in, head straight to the desk where you will need to sign in, although you don’t need to pay anything.

Then you can explore the bottom floor which is really fascinating if you want to learn more about the history of Merida from before the arrival of the Spanish up to almost modern day. 

4. Casa Museo Montes Molina

Paseo de Montejo 469

Openings Hours: Monday-Friday 9am-5pm, Saturday until 1pm, closed Sundays

If you want to have a peek into the lives of the aristocracy of Merida during the early 20th century, you won’t want to miss this museum. It has been restored to represent what the Montes Molina family’s home looked like around 1915.

It’s located on Paseo de Montejo, which is where you’ll find several other large mansions from this time in different European styles. This one though is full of beautiful antiques from that time period including furniture, home decor, kitchen pottery, and chandeliers. 

You can opt to take a tour, which I highly recommend so you can learn about each of the rooms and the significance of different things, or you can walk the property alone. Be sure to check ahead of time because sometimes the museum is closed for events or weddings.

buying marquesitas from vendors in merida

buying sweet and hot marquesitas from the vendors near Plaza Grande on a Sunday.

5. Yucatecan Serenade at Santa Lucia

Calle 55 and 60

Every Thursday night, Parque Santa Lucia turns their plaza into a theater. There is a stage in the corner and several rows of seating which always fill up. The time tends to change depending on the time of year because it doesn’t start until after dark, so between May and September, expect things to start kicking off around 8 or 9pm.

In other months it will be slightly earlier. You can always check the upcoming dates and times here. It’s good to get here about an hour beforehand if you want a seat, otherwise, plenty of people stand around listening to the music.

The serenade includes music as well as people dressed up in traditional costumes who dance to the music. It’s completely free and a really wonderful way to spend the evening, especially when it’s dry and warm. It’s worth noting that if it is raining, the serenade will not take place.

6. Pok Ta Pok in Plaza Grande

Corner of 62 y 63

This famous ball game has a history all over Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. Whether you visit Teotihuacan in Mexico State, Monte Alban in Oaxaca, or Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula, you’ll find a ball court where the residents played some version of this game, Pok ta Pok.

This is the Maya name for the game and every Friday night around 8 pm, the game is reenacted in Plaza Grande, right in front of the cathedral.

I say around 8 pm because again, depending on the time of year, the time of the game changes. I once went at 7:30 to see the game for 8 pm only to see them packing up because they were already finished.

The following week I went to see it at 7 pm and they said it wouldn’t start until 8:30 pm. The best place to find out about the exact time is from your hotel front desk or from the tourism office in the main plaza.

The players dress up and play a small and shortened version of the game. There is commentary in Spanish which is quite funny if you speak some Spanish. If not, it’s still pretty easy to follow what’s going on.

sitting in the famous white chairs of merida

posing in the white chairs that you’ll find in every park in Merida. Be sure to head to Parque Santa Lucia for GIANT white chairs!

7. Vaqueria Night

Another fantastic live show that is completely free in the city’s Plaza Grande is Vaqueria Night. It’s particularly sweet because it’s mostly children dressed up and dancing as a way to continue to learn about their culture and history.

While some of the kids perhaps would rather be elsewhere, many seem to really enjoy their dancing and it’s another way to get to know the culture of this region of the country. The show usually starts at 8 pm on a Monday night.

8. Noche Mexicana

Exact location here

After watching Pok ta Pok on a Friday night, head over to Paseo de Montejo to enjoy some more music, good street food, and plenty of shopping. The stalls usually start setting up near Cafe Impala and if you face the cafe, the stalls continue to the right down Calle 56A. It’s a fun place to head just to enjoy a nice warm evening and grab a marquesita. 

souvenir market in merida mexico

My favorite souvenir market in Merida – not only did they have amazing pieces but the interior of the building was also stunning!

9. Shop for Souvenirs

There are almost an overwhelming amount of places to purchase souvenirs in Merida all claiming to be authentic and fair trade and all the other buzz-words out there to get you inside to buy.

These are the three that I think are worth spending your money and where I do actually believe based on experience and reading up about them, that the buzz-words are actually true.

  • Casa de Las Artesanias: Calle 63 and 65, open daily 8am-9pm except for Sundays until 5pm. 
  • Mercado Mundo Maya: Calle 62 between 59 y 61
  • Mercado Principal Taller de Arte Maya: (my personal favorite) Calle 59 #504

10. Saturday Slow Food Market

The Saturday Slow Food Market is like an upmarket tianguis (weekly market similar to farmer’s markets in the US). They have fresh produce, most of which is organic and locally grown. They have artisan products like soaps, bamboo toothbrushes, and different types of bags.

They have souvenirs. It’s also a nice place to come and eat if you want to enjoy vegetarian or vegan street food options.

You’ll also find locally made foods like jams, honey, bread, and other similar types of products.

It’s certainly not the cheapest place to shop, but it’s a nice place to go to be able to support locally made goods from local people (and know you’re giving directly to them).

mercado santiagio in merida mexico

My favorite food market in Merida – they had so many different stalls selling delicious sandwiches, cochinita pibil, salbutes, and sopa de lima!

11. Eat at All of the Different Markets

Besides the Slow Food Market, there are tons of mercados around Merida where you can get food at basically any time of day. If you’ve never been to a Mexican market, I recommend heading to Mercado San Benito.

This is one of the largest in the city and truly has everything. Surrounding the market is one of the city’s commercial areas with tons of shops meaning it’s also incredibly busy almost constantly throughout the day.

On one side are tons of great taco spots and across from there you’ll find stalls making local dishes like relleno negro, sopa de lima, and salbutes topped with cochinita pibil.

Other markets that I recommend for eating are Mercado Santiago (don’t miss tacos at La Lupita inside this market) Mercado Santa Ana which was my favorite late-night spot for tacos and tortas.

la negrita cantina merida

One of the most popular cantinas in Merida, especially with visitors (both foreign and Mexican)

12. Soak up the Cantina Culture

One of my absolute favorite things about Merida is the cantina culture. In my experience, cantinas in other cities around the country, namely Guadalajara and Mexico City, are not places where you want to go for a date night or with your girlfriends.

In Merida, it’s totally different. Truly everyone is welcome at cantinas, especially the ones that are all over the Centro Historico. 

The thing I love about most of the popular cantinas around Merida are that they have cheap drinks, they always have live music, and they ALWAYS have snacks. I truly love a bar that serves me free snacks. I will stay all night. These are the cantinas that I went back to again and again.

  • El Cardinal: Great for live music and cheap buckets of beer. A nice mixture of couples and groups of friends on a night out. Get’s busiest on weekends.
  • La Negrita: It’s the bar that everyone recommends, but for good reason, the music is fantastic. The bar is always full from the moment they open until the moment they close. It’s a great atmosphere even if the staff are a bit surly and the service slow.
  • Cantina El Dzalbay: This was one of our favorites and we went back here several nights during our most recent trip to Merida. The live music on a weekend is amazing and the crowd is a fun mix of locals, tourists, and expats. The staff couldn’t be nicer and the snacks are pretty delicious.
  • Bar Latino: If you want to experience a real cantina with tons of snacks, families crowded around tables, and hilarious staff, then I highly recommend checking out Bar Latino. Go around 2 or 3 pm to really experience all of the different snacks, including a seriously good ceviche. Everything is free as long as you are buying their ice-cold beers.
  • El Gallito: This is another great little local cantina. We went around 5 pm on a Thursday and it was full of different groups of girlfriends, men finishing work and heading in for a drink, and couples having a drink before dinner (that was us). Buckets of beers here are very cheap and the snacks keep on coming. I don’t know what sauce they put on their popcorn but it was seriously addictive.
  • El Estado Seco: I haven’t had a chance to visit this one yet, but several of my friends have said it’s very similar to Bar Latino in its atmosphere and quality of snacks. It’s high on my priority list for when I next return to Merida.
visiting uxmal ruins as a day trip from merida

Enjoying a day trip to Uxmal, these amazing ruins, only an hour and a half by bus from Merida!

13. Visit the Nearby Maya Ruins

There are so many amazing Maya ruins around this region of the country and Merida is a great place to base yourself to do some exploring. If you want to visit several during your trip, I highly recommend renting a car.

This is by far the most efficient way to see several places in a short period of time. If you are simply interested in visiting one or two, you can stick to tours or local buses.

The ones I recommend above all else are Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Dzibilchaltún. They are all only a day trip from Merida and all are incredible. Yes, Chichen Itza is touristy, yes it’s expensive, yes it’s crowded. But for good reason.

I have been to dozens of ruins in Mexico and Chichen Itza still stands out as one of the most incredible I’ve ever seen. The sheer scale of the main temple and the size of the ancient city is truly something else.

14. Swim in a Cenote

Pronounced seh-no-tay, cenotes are sinkholes that form when the limestone cave surrounding it collapse. They fill with the groundwater below it. Most in this region of the country are incredibly deep.

In some around Playa del Carmen, you can actually go diving in them, but the ones are Merida are really just great for cooling off (have I mentioned that Merida is SO HOT?!). 

My friend Cassie has a fantastic post on her blog all about the best cenotes near Merida here.

15. Head to the Beach

The thing that makes Merida so liveable for me is that it is so close to the beach. By car you can be in Progreso in less than an hour. If you take the Merida to Progreso bus which leaves every 20 minutes, it takes roughly an hour and a half. 

Progreso is really a great beach for a day out because it has places to rent umbrellas, it has restaurants with delicious seafood and ice cold beers, and it is calm enough to swim in. It’s also much cooler in this area than it is in downtown Merida where the sweltering temperatures never seem to letup and why is there no breeze? 

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