15 Insanely AMAZING Day Trips from Merida

by | Sep 6, 2021 | Mexico, Travel

One of the best reasons to visit Merida is all the wonderful day trips you can do to ancient ruins, cenotes, beaches, haciendas, and biospheres. In this blog post, I’m going to share with you the best day trips from Merida that you can take.

I didn’t have a car when I was living in the Yucatan for two months, and I did almost all of these trips by colectivo (white van) or public bus. I’ll tell you exactly how I did it. You can also do these trips with a tour group. You’ll find tons of people selling tours around the historic center of Merida. However, if you follow my instructions below, you can easily save some money and do it on your own.

For more info on traveling to Merida, here is a list of 23 things to do in Merida.

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Best Day Trips from Merida: Ancient Ruins

The Yucatan is full of ancient Maya ruins. Some are easy to get to with public transportation, while others require a car. I’ve included the ones that you can easily access via bus or colectivo. The two most famous ones are Chichen Itza and Uxmal. But you cannot climb the ruins at these two places. However, if you visit Mayapan or Dzibilchaltun, you can have a fun day pretending you’re Indiana Jones and climb over ancient temples and pyramids in a park that is nearly empty of tourists.

1. Chichen Itza

  • OPEN: 8:00 am – 4:30 pm
  • COST: MXN$533 (US$27)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Chichen Itza has gotten a bad wrap in recent years from the hordes of tourists vying for the perfect Instagram shot, vendors hounding you to buy their crappy, overpriced souvenirs, and unfriendly staff with their insanely strict rules. But come on! It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World. So you can’t leave Mexico without visiting these world-famous ruins.  And the good news is that they make for a fairly easy day trip from Merida.

El Castillo at Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza, which means “At the mouth of the well of the Itza,” was really the last great Maya kingdom before the civilization collapsed. Yes. There was another one that succeeded Chichen Itza, called Mayapan, but it never reached the same level of glory and power.

To avoid the crowds, get to Chichen Itza early. No later than 10:00 AM. Head to the piece de resistance of the ruins: El Castillo (above photo). No pyramid in the Maya world was as perfectly built as this one, in my opinion.

Next, go straight to the second most popular structure at the ruins, the ballcourt. This is without a doubt the biggest Maya ballcourt ever built. Perhaps I’m wrong, but to me, it seems like it’s the size of a football field.

After visiting these two most popular places, you can wander wherever you want as the crowds thin out. Some of my other favorite spots are the morbid Skull Platform with its rows of skulls and the elegant Edificio de las Monjas (also called the Nunnery because to the early colonialists, it looked like a convent).

How to get to Chichen Itza from Merida:

I took a second-class bus from the ADO Bus Terminal leaving at 7:00 AM. There were no first-class buses. My bus ticket cost MXN$115. The bus also picked up passengers at Terminal 50 Oriente. Since it was a second-class bus, it constantly stopped to pick up passengers and drop them off on the side of the road. As a result, it took 3 hours to get to Chichen Itza. Luckily, the bus also dropped passengers off at the Chichen Itza parking lot.

How to get back to Merida:

To catch the bus back to Merida, I went to the same spot where the bus dropped me off. A woman was selling tickets using the Oriente Bus Card (it’s a card that you can upload money onto and use to take the Orient second class buses; it gives you a small discount). You don’t have to buy individual tickets. My bus came at 2:30 PM and arrived in Merida at 5:30 PM. I was told that this was the last bus back to Merida. Not sure how true that is, but make sure to ask the bus station and the bus driver about this.

Best books to read on the ancient Maya

2. Uxmal

  • OPEN: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • COST: $428 pesos (US$21.50)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Whenever I asked people which ruins they liked better, Chichen Itza or Uxmal, Uxmal won hands down every time. There are so many reasons why people love these archaeological ruins: fewer tourists trampling around the ruins, fewer hawkers harassing you, a more compact space making it easier and quicker to see everything, and more masterful architecture to gaze in awe at. So the decision of whether to do a day trip from Merida to Uxmal is a no-brainer.  

Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal

it’s hard to find information on the history of Uxmal. The only thing I really knew about it was the capital of a large terminal classic state from 850 to 922. However, it never reached the power and domination that Chichen Itza did.

There are so many incredible buildings at Uxmal that it’s hard to choose a favorite. The first one you’ll see when you enter is the massive, elliptical-shaped pyramid called the Magician’s House. The structure is off-limits, but even if it weren’t, I don’t think I would have been able to climb the steep steps.

Next to this pyramid is the Nuns’ Quadrangle, a 4 building structure with a plaza in the center. The highlight here is the serpent with its head emerging out of the wall of one of the buildings. Another structure that wows people, though, is the huge Palace of Gobernors. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get close enough to study its interesting geometric design.

I finished my visit to Uxmal in an hour and a half. Then I crossed the highway and visited the Chocolate Museum.

Warning for Visiting Uxmal: When I visited Uxmal in May 2021, you weren’t allowed to bring any bags into the ruins. That meant I had to check not just my small backpack but also my small purse with my wallet, phone, and keys inside. What was even more stupid was that there were no lockers! You had to put your valuables on a chair in a room near the entrance. This meant that all the other tourists and people who worked at Uxmal had direct access to your purse and bags. My advice: wear something with lots of big pockets.

How to get to Uxmal from Merida:

There were two buses leaving to Uxmal on the Sunday I visited. I took the Sur Bus Line from the ADO Bus Station at 9:05 AM (leaving from Gate 22). The bus arrived at Uxmal an hour and a half later, dropping the passengers off on the side of the highway. It was just a five-minute walk to the ticket office. The bus cost MXN$21 (US$1).

How to get back to Merida from Uxmal:

I waited at the bus stop along the highway opposite the ruins and in front of the Chocolate Museum. I was told the last bus back to Merida would be at 3:19 PM. However, the bus didn’t come until closer to 4:00 PM. Luckily, there was a place to sit under some shade to wait for the bus.

3. Mayapan

  • OPEN: 8:00 am – 4:00 pm
  • COST: MXN$50 ($US2.50)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Mayapan may not be as grand or architecturally stunning as Uxmal and Chichen Itza, but visiting it is loads of fun. For one thing, you can climb all over the ruins including to the top of a beautiful pyramid that looks like a replica of El Castillo at Chichen Itza. Second, there are few tourists getting in the way of your photos and no vendors bothering you. It’s also cheaper by far than the other ruins on this list. Only MXN$50. Historically Mayapan is significant as it was the last capital of the Maya. And conveniently, it’s just a one-hour bus trip from Merida.

Observatory and Pyramid at Mayapan

Mayapan was the last power center of the Maya people. After Mayapan collapsed (due to a civil war between two powerful families), the Maya dispersed to different places around the Yucatan and as far south as Guatemala. Never again would there be a powerful united city-state that ruled over the Maya people.

There are a few structures that you don’t want to miss during your visit to Mayapan. The most magnificent one is the Pyramid of Kukulcan (the feathered serpent). Climb to the top for stunning views of the other ruins and the Yucatan. Go inside the round observatory-like building called the Caracol. Another structure you can enter is the Temple of the Painted Niches. Supposedly, in the Temple of the Fisherman, there is a beautifully painted floor of fish. It was not open when I visited

How to get to Mayapan from Merida:

I took a second-class bus from the Noreste Bus Station in Merida at 9:25 AM. When you buy your bus ticket at the station, make sure you say that you want to go to “ruinas de Mayapan” and NOT “Mayapan” because there is a city with the name “Mayapan,” which is not anywhere near the ruins. My ticket cost MXN$40 (US$2) and it said “Tiket” on it, which is the nearest city to the ruins. However, the bus that I got on said “Teabo”, which is the bus’s last stop. When I got on the bus, I told the driver that I wanted to go to “ruinas de Mayapan.”  AT 11:05 AM, the bus driver dropped me off on the side of the highway and I had to walk a few minutes to the entrance and ticket office of the ruins.

How to get back to Merida from Mayapan:

I was told by the bus driver that the last bus back to Merida was at 2:15 PM. However, a colectivo showed up before the bus came, and I got that instead. The drive didn’t make any stops back to Merida and we arrived in 45 minutes! I was dropped off across from San Cristobal Park, which is near Noreste Bus Station. The colectivo cost me MXN$40.

4. Dzibilchaltun

  • OPEN: 8:00 am – 4:00 pm
  • COST: MXN$259 (US$13)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Another fun day trip from Merida is a visit to the ancient ruins of Dzibilchaltun. Located 10 miles from Merida, Dzibilchaltun was one of the oldest Maya sites, starting in 500 BCE and ending after the Spanish conquest. Amongst the Maya ruins is a ruin of a Catholic Church.

Temple of the Seven Dolls at Dzibilchaltun

The most famous structure is the Temple of the Seven Dolls (seven stone dolls were found in the temple). During the spring equinox, you can see the sun shine as it rises in the morning through the east and west doorways of the temple.  

After seeing that temple, walk down a long raised sacbe (sacred road) to get to the other ruins. There are lots of small pyramids that you can climb.

The most interesting structure for me was structure 44 as I hadn’t seen one like it before. It’s a very long structure with stairs that cover the whole length of the structure. At the top is a long hallway.

There’s a museum and cenote as well at Dzibilchaltun. Unfortunately, both were closed to the public because of the pandemic.

If I had to choose between seeing Mayapan or Dzibilchaltun, Mayapan definitely wins. More interesting buildings.

How to get to Dzibilchaltun from Merida:

The bad news is that even though these ruins are the closest ones to Merida, they aren’t the easiest to get to. I couldn’t for the life of me find the colectivo that gets you there. I asked so many people and visited so many colectivo stations, but none of them went to Dzibilchaltun and none of them could tell me the correct station. So, I ended up taking a taxi with inDriver. It’s this App in which you enter your destination and what you’re willing to pay for the ride and then drivers bid on your trip. You then select the cheapest bid. The driver comes and picks you up. It cost me MXN$120 for a 30-minute ride out to the ruins. I probably overpaid as a friend said he got a ride to Dzibilchaltun for MXN$60. If I had used Uber, it would have cost me MXN$250.

How to get back to Merida from Dzibilchaltun:

I wish I could tell you how to get back to Merida. I cheated. I met another traveler, who had a car, and hitched a ride with her. I did see a taxi waiting in the parking lot of the ruins, though.

Warning: At Dzibilchaltun, you’ll be made to check your backpack. I personally think it’s totally stupid. But it’s their rules. Even more ridiculous, though, is that you need to pay MXN$50 for a locker.

5. Kabah and the Puuc Ruins of Labna, Xlapak, and Sayil

  • OPEN: Temporarily Closed due to the pandemic
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

There were a handful of ruins that I wasn’t able to visit when I was in the Yucatan: Kabah and the Puuc Ruins of Labnah, Xlapak, and Sayil. They were all closed because of the pandemic.

Kabah is the largest and most impressive of these three ruins. In ancient times, it was connected to Uxmal by a sacbe (a white sacred stone road). The highlight of Kabah is the large and stunning Palace of Masks. The façade is covered in 250 Chaac masks (rain god). On the east side are two tall standing human sculptures. The other things to take note of are the carved door jambs.

arch at Labna

Labna and Sayil are two smaller sites but there are some elaborate and masterful elements and structures to see. Labna is home to the famous arch that you can find in the John L Stephens’ book Incidents in the Yucatan. The other structure not to miss is the Palace with its façade covered in chaac god masks (rain god) and geometric designs. There is also a serpent whose head is jumping out of the façade like at Uxmal. The last structure to see is the El Mirador temple with its intricate roof comb.

The most impressive building at Sayil is the three-tiered Grand Palace. Climb the grand staircase leading up to the third level. The rooms on the second floor are the most interesting as they’re decorated with masks, columns, and other designs.

6. Ek Balam and X’Canche Cenote

  • OPEN: 8:00 am – 4:00 pm
  • COST: MXN$456 (US$23) for ruins and MXN$170 (US$8.50) for the cenote
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Ek Balam, meaning Black Jaguar, is one of my favorite ruins in Mexico. It’s not only one of those sites that you can climb on, but the ruins are also unique and stunning. There is one humungous structure called the Acropolis with 360-degree views of the countryside and a door that resembles the mouth of a monster. What’s more, a ten-minute bicycle ride (free rental comes with the entrance fee) will get you to a beautiful cenote.

monster door on Acropolis at Ek Balam

Located half an hour by shared taxi from Valladolid, Ek Balam is going to be one of the trickier and more costly day trips from Merida to take. I visited the ruins and cenote on a day trip from Valladolid. But you can do it also from Merida. I’ll tell you the logistics below.

The highlight of a visit to Ek Balam is the huge and imposing Acropolis. It looks like the Maya built one structure upon another structure (in fact that’s what they often did) and just added rooms here and there. About halfway up the grand staircase and on the left side is the real treat of your visit to Ek Balam. I’ve never seen anything like it at any of the ten Maya ruins that I’ve seen.

It’s a doorway surrounded by the mouth of a monster (above photo). The façade surrounding the mouth is covered in carvings and stucco made of geometric designs along with winged gods and dwarves. The Maya believed that dwarves had some connection to the Underworld so instead of being hidden away like they were in Europe long ago, they played a central role at court.

X’Canche Cenote

After you’ve visited the ruins, head to X’Canche, a nearby cenote. You can use one of the bikes at the ticket booth for the cenote. It’s included in the price of the ticket.

How to get to Ek Balaam from Merida:

You’ll have to take a first-class ADO bus early in the morning to Valladolid. It’ll take about 2.5 hours. Then from the ADO Bus Station (Google Maps), walk a couple of blocks to the shared-taxi station (Google Maps) on Calle 44 between Calle 35 and 37. If you want to share a taxi ride to the ruins, it’ll cost MXN$60 to $70. If you don’t want to wait for the taxi to fill up, it’ll cost MXN$200 one way. It takes 30 minutes to get to the ruins.

How to get back to Merida from Ek Balaam:

Take a shared taxi from the Ek Balam parking lot back to Valladolid. Then hop on an ADO bus back to Merida. At the time of writing this article in August 2021, there were buses going back to Merida at 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, and 10:00 in the evening.

Tips for Taking a Colectivo Around the Yucatan

In Merida, a colectivo is usually a white van that has a fixed route like a bus. Some white vans will have a second color like red, blue, or green. Sometimes you’ll find people in Mexico refer to shared taxis as colectivos as well. This is true in Valladolid.

white and red colectivo for day trips from Merida

A colectivo’s home base is usually a parking lot in the center of the city. You just need to look for a sign at the entrance of a parking lot saying the destination of the colectivo. In Merida, you’ll see signs for destinations such as Tizimin, Homun, Izamal, etc. Sometimes you’re lucky and you can find their starting point on Google Maps or Maps.Me.

The vans will also say on their front and/or sides what their final destination is and sometimes their popular stops along the way.

The colectivos will pick up and drop off passengers anywhere along the route to its final destination. To catch a van along the road, just put your hand out.

Sometimes you pay when you get on, but other times it’s when you get off. When you want to get off the colectivo, just say “paraba, por favor.” The cost is sometimes the same as a bus, while other times it’s cheaper.

Occasionally, they leave at fixed times, but most of the time they depart once the driver thinks there are enough people in the van to begin the trip. They are often more frequent than buses. I would say that colectivos are much less comfortable than a bus as a driver can smush as many people as he wants into the van.

Day Trips from Merida: Cenotes

About 66 million years ago, an asteroid hit the earth off the coast of the Yucatan and not only wiped out all the dinosaurs but also created these underground caves or caverns across the Yucatan.

Over the years rainwater seeped through the porous limestone ground and landed in the caverns forming what the Maya called cenotes. Because no vegetation grows in many of these cenotes, the water is perfectly and stunningly clear and clean. It’s like you’re swimming in a very deep bathtub. And yes, the cenotes are very deep. The water is also at a refreshingly cool temperature. It’s believed that there are 6,000 cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula. Many of these cenotes are located along a ring that radiates out from Merida.

7. Cenotes of Homun

  • OPEN: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
  • COST: MXN$50 per cenote (US$2)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Out of all these day trips, visiting the cenotes of Homun was by far my favorite. And this is coming from someone who’s an archaeology nerd and who could spend days and days visiting ancient ruins without getting bored.

After being out and about in the blazing heat of the Yucatan, the cool refreshing water of the cenotes is heaven. Absolute heaven!

Cenote Chacksikin at Homun

Homun is a small town about an hour’s colectivo ride from Merida. The town is littered with cenotes. Some are found in highly developed complexes like the Santa Barbara Cenotes and Restaurant, while others are just holes in the ground in someone’s backyard.

In one day, I visited 5 cenotes. You can read about my trip to cenotes of Homun and find out exactly how to get there, what to see, what to bring, and how much it’ll all cost you.

How to get to Homun from Merida by public transportation:

To find out how to exactly get to Homun and the cenotes, you can read my Cenotes Homun article.

8. More cenotes near Merida

There are many more cenotes in Yucatan that you can visit on a day trip from Merida. Just take a look at Google Maps and zoom in on a small town and you’ll find one. Here is a list of cenotes that I have heard about. I haven’t visited any of them, though.

Cenote Yokdzonot – On your way by second-class bus from Merida to Chichen Itza, you’ll pass a town called Yokdzonot. You can ask the bus driver to drop you off in the town and just a short walk is a local cenote with nice facilities and not as crowded as Cenote Ik’Kil. (Google Maps)

Cenote Kikil – Six kilometers from Tizimin is Cenote Kikil. According to Lonely Planet, the facilities are well run and clean. There’s also a restaurant on the grounds.

Cenote Ik’kil – Near Chichen Itza, this nearby cenote is very popular with those visiting Chichen Itza from Valladolid. (Google Maps)

Cenote X’Batun – Off of highway 261 on your way to Uxmal is Cenote X’Batun. (Google Maps)

Cenote Mucuyche and Cenote Yaal Utzil – A pair of cenotes at an eighteenth-century hacienda along highway 261 on your way to Uxmal. (Google Maps)

Great Books to Read Set in the Yucatan

Day Trips from Merida: Beaches

It gets hot and humid in the Yucatan, so having a beach nearby is crucial for your sanity. There are several beaches that, although may not be as good as the ones in Cancun or the Riviera Maya, are still pretty decent. For most of them, you need a car. But there are two that are doable by public transportation: Progreso and Celestun. You can read about Celestun under the Biosphere section.

9. Progreso

The easiest day trip from Merida is a visit to the beaches of Progreso. When I was there I found a long, lovely white sandy beach with crystal clear water and lots of tasty seafood restaurants lining the street in front of the beach.

a beach at Progreso

Unfortunately, Progreso is also where the cruise ships come in. I visited during the pandemic when there were no cruise ship crowds, so maybe my impression of the city is a bit skewed. Still, if you’re looking for some sun, surf, and seafood, Progreso is a great option. I highly recommend eating at Eladio’s Bar and get the grilled octopus.

How to get to Progreso from Merida:

It’s super easy. On Calle 62 there is a bus station called Auto Progreso (Google Maps) devoted solely to taking people to Progreso. Buses leave every 20 minutes and cost MXN$21 (US$1) one way. The bus will drop you off at a bus station (Google Maps) just a few blocks from the beach.

How to get back to Merida from Progreso:

Just hop on one of the frequent buses going back to Merida. It costs MXN$21. I think that the last bus is at 6:30 PM. I could be wrong, so please double-check.

PRO TIP: No one likes to think about insurance, but accidents do happen. I highly recommend getting travel insurance. During my travels over the past 2 years, I’ve been using SafetyWing for my insurance. They’re very affordable for all ages, and digital nomads can use their insurance long-term.

Day Trips from Merida: Biospheres

There are two biospheres that you can visit from Merida. One can be easily done with public transportation: Celestun. The other one in Rio Lagartos requires you to take a car or a tour in order to do it in one day. If you want to do it with public transportation, you’ll have to stay overnight, which is what I did. Whichever one you visit, only go during the season when you can actually see flamingos (December to March with January and February being the best months).

10. Celestun

  • COST: MXN$350 for a boat trip to the biosphere
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

If you want to see hundreds of flamingos, the easiest way to do it is with a trip to Celestun. The best time is between December and March and early in the morning or after 5:00 pm. I went at mid-day in June and saw not one single flamingo. Tour boat operators will tell you that it doesn’t matter when you go, but I don’t think that’s true. However, I did go right after a week of heavy continuous rainfall in the Yucatan, so that may have contributed to my seeing nothing.

mangroves in Celestun

Located two-and-a-half hours by bus from Merida, Celestun is a small seaside town. On one side is the ocean and the other is the biosphere reserve. There’s a decent beach with a few restaurants serving overpriced and under-liquored margaritas but uber delicious ceviche. The water was warm but quite murky when I was there.

The beach is facing west so you can see the sun setting over the ocean. Beside the beach are a couple of blocks dedicated to tourism (hotels, tourist shops, restaurants) and then a typical but not very special town square. Kitty-corner to that is the Oriente Bus station for buses to and from Merida.

What makes locals and foreign tourists flock to Celestun isn’t the beach instead, it’s to see the flamboyance of flamingos at the Celestun Biosphere Reserve. You’ll also see mangroves (kind of cool), perhaps an alligator (I didn’t), and some other waterfowl (I saw nothing special).

Tours of the reserve leave at all times of day from either the bridge entering town or the beach. I tried to research which place was better but couldn’t find a definitive answer. If you want to leave from the bridge, you’ll need to tell the bus driver to let you off at the bridge. Then on your way back to Merida, you’ll have to wave down the bus from the side of the road. The bridge is not within walking distance of the bus station. A bit of a hassle if you ask me and you won’t be guaranteed a seat.

It’s probably easier and no different than grabbing a tour from the beach. Getting a good boat driver/guide is all luck, really. Oh and they don’t speak English, so if you’re Spanish isn’t good enough, well, who drives your boat and points to a bird here or there doesn’t matter. If you do get one from the beach, the bus station is nearby. At the end of your tour, you can also grab food and beer from a restaurant on the beach. This last part turned out to be the best part of my day.

How to get to Celestun from Merida:

I took a bus from Terminal 50 Oriente (Google Maps) in Merida at 8:00 AM and arrived in Celestun at 10:35 AM. There are buses that leave frequently throughout the day. My bus actually stopped at the ADO Bus Station before leaving Merida as well. The bus arrives at the Celestun bus station (Google Maps) kitty-corner to the town square and a few blocks from the beach. My ticket cost MXN$61 one-way.

How to get from Celestun to Merida:

There are second-class buses that leave Celestun throughout the day from the bus station (Google Maps) in the center of town. The return bus doesn’t stop at the ADO bus station. It goes all the way to Terminal 50. However, I asked the bus driver to let me off near my hotel, saving me from having to take an Uber or taxi back to my hotel.

11. Rio Lagartos and Las Colorados

  • OPEN: tours to the biosphere are all day
  • COST: MXN$300-$400 (US$15 – $20) for the tour (3 hours)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Another option for seeing a flamboyance of flamingos is a trip to Rio Lagartos. It’s much farther from Merida than Celestun is, so you’ll need a car or a tour if you want to see it in a day. Your other option is to spend the night in Rio Lagartos. That’s what I did.

a group of flamingos in Rio Lagartos

Rio Lagartos is a sleepy seaside town suffering more from neglect than tourism. Located along an estuary, there’s no white sandy beach for sunning yourself. Instead, you’ll find a port filled with fishing and tour boats and in the distance mangroves.

To find a boat tour to see the flora and fauna of the area, you just need to walk up and down the boardwalk and someone will find you. Or if you’re staying overnight, your hotel can arrange a tour for you. I got my tour through my hotel, Hotel Mercy Inn, and negotiated down from MXN$400 to $300 per person for a group tour.

I had better luck seeing flamingos in Rio Lagartos in June than I did in Celestun. I also saw a few other colorful birds but no alligators even though Rio Lagartos means “Alligator River.” I did go on my tour at 8:00 AM so perhaps early morning hours had something to do with my luck.

Los Colorados at Rio Logartos day trip from Merida

My tour also included visiting the pink lagoon at Las Colorados. It gets its pink color from the algae, plankton, and shrimp that make their habitat in the salty water.

At the end of the tour, we stopped at a deserted beach to swim.

It’s rare to find a guide that speaks English. However, if you stop by La Mojarrita Rio Lagartos Restaurant, the owner is an official tour guide who speaks English. He can also do fishing tours as well. Oh and his wife makes the best ceviche I have ever tasted in my entire life.

How to get to Rio Lagartos:

According to the Noreste Bus Terminal in Merida, there are two direct buses a day that go from Merida to Rio Lagartos, leaving from Noreste Bus Station (Google Maps) at 9:00 and 16:00.

Another option is to take a bus to Tizimin Noreste Bus Station (Google Maps), leaving Merida at 5:00, 9:00, 12:00, 14:30, 16:00, and 17:00, and then another bus to Rio Lagartos at 4:00 AM or 13:00 or a colectivo, which is a couple of blocks from the bus station (sorry don’t remember the exact location).

You can also take a colectivo to Tizimin from Calle 52 between Calle 65 and 67 (Google Maps) in Merida and then another one from Tizimin to Rio Lagartos. The colectivo station in Tizimin is a couple of blocks from the Noreste Bus Station.

There are two bus stations in Tizimin: Noreste Bus Station and the ADO Bus Station. They are right next to each other. If you want to go from Tizimin to Valladolid, you need the ADO Bus Station.

These bus times are from June 2021.

How to get back to Merida from Rio Lagartos:

You can take a bus or a colectivo from Rio Lagartos to Tizimin. Go to the bus station in town (Google Maps) and wait for a bus or colectivo to pass by. According to the bus schedule posted in June 2021 outside the bus station in Rio Lagartos, buses leave for Tizimin at 6:00, 7:00 (not on Wednesdays or Thursdays), 9:00, and 16:30. According to my hotel, colectivos leave at 7:00 and 14:00. However, I got a colectivo at 16:00. Go figure!

According to the bus schedule at the station in June, economy buses leave from Tizimin to Merida at 6:45, 9:30, 14:00, and 18:30 and cost MXN$170. Executive Buses leave at 7:30, 13:00, and 18:00 and cost MXN$320.

I couldn’t find info on direct buses from Rio Lagartos to Merida when I was in Rio Lagartos.

Day Trips from Merida: colonial cities

For history and architecture lovers, the Yucatan has three easy-to-get-to cities and several smaller towns to explore. I’ve included the three that I visited: Izamal, Valladolid, and Campeche. You can do all of them as day trips but I stayed for ten days in Valladolid, ten in Campeche and one night in Izamal.

12. Izamal

  • COST: MXN$33 (US$ 1.50) by second-class bus (one-way)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

One of the most unique and instagrammable day trips from Merida is the yellow city of Izamal, named after the Mayan god of heaven, day, and night, Itzamna. And yes the place is indeed yellow! Nearly every single building! It wasn’t always like that, though. In the year 1993, the Pope visited Izamal, and in honor of his visit, the town decided that every building had to be painted yellow after the yellow of the city’s famous and historic convent. And so now Izamal is a deservedly-so instagrammable destination.

a street of yellow buildings with two men talking on the sidewalk in Izamal

My favorite thing to do in Izamal was to just walk around taking photos of the yellow buildings. Probably the one building that stands out the most is the huge Convent of San Antonio de Padua. At the time of my visit, the church was closed. The convent and church was also the first residence of the infamous Franciscan friar, Diego de Landa, the one responsible for burning almost all of the Mayan manuscripts and bringing the inquisition to the Yucatan. However, he was the one who documented much of what we know of Maya culture in the 1500s.

There are also a few ancient Maya ruins in the town. When I was there, only one of them was open to the public: Pyramid Kinich-Kakmo. It claims to be the largest Mayan pyramid, but I’m quite skeptical after seeing the pyramids of Calakmul. Still, visiting it is free, and climbing it awards you with spectacular panoramic views of Izamal and the countryside.

One more thing to do in Izamal is to eat at one of the two popular restaurants in town: Kinich Izamal or Restaurant Zamna.

How to get to Izamal from Merida:

It’s pretty easy. You can take a second-class bus from the ADO Bus Terminal, the Noreste Bus Terminal, and Terminal 50. The bus will drop you off at either the Oriente Bus Station (Google Maps) or the Central Bus Station (Google Maps) in Izamal. Both stations are near each other. It takes over 2 hours to get to Izamal. Expect to pay MXN$33 one way.

How to get back to Merida from Izamal:

There are two bus stations you can choose from. I suggest getting your ticket from the Oriente Bus Station rather than the Centro Bus Station since the Oriente buses and waiting area are more comfortable and cleaner.

13. Valladolid

  • COST: MXN$200 – $250 (US$10 – $13) by first-class bus one-way
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Valladolid is one of those cities that oozes history. The pastel-colored buildings, the cobble-stoned streets, and the old convents and churches. It’s easy to imagine those Spanish conquistadors entering the grand colonial buildings while riding their horses (why are those doorways tall enough for a horse and rider to pass through?). Or the Catholic friars forcing the Maya to build their grand convents and churches. Or in 1847 the two-month siege during the beginning of the Caste War, when the Maya finally revolted against the white and Mestizo oppressors.

Valladolid sign in front of a convent

You can do just a day trip to Valladolid or stay longer in the city and use it as a base to see the Maya ruins and cenotes. If you want to just tour the city and not the surrounding area, a day trip is doable. My recommended itinerary for a day trip is a tour of the central square, a visit to the Folk Art Museum at Casa de Los Venados, and then a walk down the Street of Friars to the Temple de San Bernardino and the Convent of Sisal. You can also find a real cenote smack dab in the center of the city called Cenote Zaci.

How to get to Valladolid from Merida:

Take a first-class ADO bus from the ADO Bus Station in Merida. Leave as early as you can and leave as late as possible to make the most of your day in Valladolid. You might want to buy your ticket on the ADO bus website ahead of time in order to be assured of a seat. The ADO Bus Station (Google Maps) in Valladolid is conveniently located in the historic center about 2 blocks from the main square.

How to get back to Merida from Valladolid:

Take a first-class ADO back.  At the time of writing this article in August 2021, there were buses going back to Merida at 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, and 10:00 in the evening.

READ MORE: Here is a list of all the best things to do in Valladolid for those who love culture, history, food, architecture, and a bit of adventure. It also includes the best cenotes around Valladolid.

14. Campeche

  • COST: MXN$220 – $372 (US$11 – $19) by ADO first-class bus (one-way)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Buildings the color of Easter eggs, city walls built to keep out pirates, vibrant sunsets over the ocean, and an easy day trip to rarely visited ancient Maya ruins, Campeche is one of the most gorgeous cities in Mexico. Like Valladolid, it’s only 2.5 hours from Merida by first-class ADO buses. So, it makes for a doable day trip from Merida. However, if you can, I do recommend staying longer.

a street lined with colorful buildings and the dome of a church in the background in Campeche

Besides visiting its historic colonial center and watching its sunsets, Campeche is also home to two small, albeit fascinating, archaeological museums containing stunning jade masks from the tombs of Maya kings. There’s also the ancient Maya archaeological site of Edzna about one hour by colectivo from the central market in Campeche. You can even use Campeche as a base to explore the ruins of the most powerful Maya kingdom of Calakmul.

How to get to Campeche from Merida:

Take a first-class bus from the ADO Bus Station in Merida. The bus drops you off at the ADO Bus Station (Google Maps) in Campeche, which is about a 10-minute (MXN$40-$50) taxi ride from the old walled city, which is where you want to spend most of your time. There are many buses throughout the day that leave for Campeche. There are also second-class buses leaving from the ADO Station as well that are cheaper but do take longer.

How to get back to Merida from Campeche:

There are first-class buses returning to Merida at 17:00, 18:00, 19:00, 20:00, and 22:00.

READ MORE: Here’s a list of all the best things to do in Campeche. It’s ideal for those who love ancient ruins, food, culture, history, and architecture.

Day Trips from Merida: Haciendas

For those who want to learn about the history of the Yucatan, a visit to a hacienda is a great idea. During the 1800s and early 1900s, the Yucatan was one of the richest areas in Mexico. It grew, processed, and exported henequen (people used it for ropes) on these plantations called haciendas. These henequen producers made millions off the sale of this product. The wealthier they became, the more money they wanted. To make more money, they needed more land, so they confiscated the land of the indigenous people, who were eventually forced into indentured servitude on the haciendas.

15. Hacienda Yaxcopoil

  • OPEN: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm (M-F); 9:00 am – 4:00 pm (Sa): 9:00 am – 2:00 pm (Su)
  • COST: MXN$120 (US$6)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

One of the few haciendas you can get to by public transportation is Hacienda Yaxcopoil. It’s now one of the few remaining haciendas of its large size still standing. At the height of its glory, it was one of the largest haciendas in the Yucatan. Today it’s now a museum.

Yaxcopoil Hacienda

You can tour the grand rooms with their original European furniture and the henequen shredding plant with its engines and machines from the 1800s, and get a sense of the opulence and splendor of that time period. You can also see some ancient Maya ruins and relics.

The hacienda also has a guest house that you can stay in for $2,000 pesos a night. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are extra.

How to get to Hacienda Yaxcopoil from Merida:

You can take a colectivo going to Uman from near Lucas de Galvez Market. Then in Uman, take a bus from the west side of the park in front of the church. This bus will drop you off in front of Hacienda Yaxcopoil.

An alternative is that supposedly there is an Autobuses del Mayab bus leaving the Merida ADO station that passes by Yaxcopoil.

How to Take the Bus from Merida to Destinations Around the Yucatan

You can find two kinds of buses in the Yucatan: first-class ADO buses and second-class ones.

First Class Buses (ADO)

The first-class (primera clase) buses are with the company ADO (buses to Campeche are sometimes with OCCO). ADO is pronounced ah-day-oh. The ADO buses are faster, more comfortable, and more expensive than the second-class buses. They usually go directly to their final destination without stopping. They leave from the ADO Bus Terminal (Google Maps) on Calle 70 between Calle 69 and 71.

the front of an ADO bus with man collecting tickets and passenger entering bus

You can buy tickets for the ADO buses at the ADO Bus Terminal (Google Maps) or through the ADO website. If you buy them online, you just need to show the bus driver the electronic version of your ticket on your phone. For bus schedules, look on their website, but be aware that schedules change. You can get an ADO bus to Valladolid and Campeche.

ADO first-class buses have assigned seats.

You can also put your luggage under the bus. Your luggage gets tagged and you’re given a ticket. You need to keep the ticket in order to retrieve your bag at the destination. When you get off the bus, just go to the side of the bus and wait for a bus employee to retrieve your bags for you.

ADO Bus Station in Merida used for day trips from Merida
people waiting in line at the ADO bus station in Merida Mexico

The ADO Bus Terminal is rather nice, clean, and comfortable. There’s a Subway sandwich shop, a convenience store, and a coffee shop in the terminal.

The biggest problem with this terminal is that all of the bus announcements are in Spanish. There are no electronic signs announcing bus departures and the buses often do not indicate on the front or side where they are going. Therefore, you need to ask people continuously where your bus is. Also, buses often depart late. When I was going to Campeche from Merida, my bus was supposed to leave at 10:00 AM, but it didn’t show up at the bus station until almost 11:00 AM.

Second Class Buses

You can get the second class (segunda clase) buses through various companies. These include Oriente, Noreste, Sur, Mayab. These buses leave from ADO Bus Terminal (Google Maps) on Calle 70 between Calle 69 and 71, Noreste Bus Terminal (Google Maps) on Calle 67 between Calle 50 and 52, and Terminal 50 Oriente (Google Maps) on Calle 50 between Calle 65 and 67.

The buses to Progreso leave from the Auto Progreso station (Google Maps) on Calle 62 between Calle 65 and 67.

Terminal 50 Oreinte Station with bus outside

Many of them are air-conditioned and relatively comfortable (see photo above), while others have no air conditioning. They’re much cheaper because they stop whenever a passenger wants to get off or on the bus.  You’ll probably be taking a second class bus to all of these destinations except Valladolid and Campeche.

There are no assigned seats.

For most second-class buses, you can store your luggage under the bus.

You need to go to the bus station to see the schedule and buy your tickets. There’s no online bus schedule.

Bus Schedule from Terminal 50 Oriente for day trips from Merida

To give you some idea of ticket prices and bus departures, the schedule in the above photo is from Terminal 50 Oriente in July 2021.

Bus schedule from Noreste Bus Station for day trips from Merida
Bus schedule from Noreste Bus Station for day trips from Merida
Bus station from Noreste Bus Station for day trips from Merida

The above three photos are from the Noreste Bus Station in July 2021.

Where to stay in Merida

When you’re taking day trips from Merida and touring the Yucatan, I recommend staying at Hotel Las Monjas (Booking.com | Agoda). It’s reasonably priced, has super comfy and clean rooms, and great WiFi, and is just a few blocks from the ADO Bus Station and Centro Historico.

double bed in hotel room

Where to go after the Yucatan?

Once you’ve seen the best of the Yucatan, where should you go next in Mexico?

If you love to visit places with loads of history including ancient ruins, a deep rich culture, and the best waterfalls in Central America, then head to Chiapas and the cities of Palenque and San Cristobal. You can easily get to Palenque from Merida by ADO bus. I explain everything in my travel guide to Palenque.

PRO TIP: No one likes to think about insurance, but accidents do happen. I highly recommend getting travel insurance. During my travels over the past 2 years, I’ve been using SafetyWing for my insurance. They’re very affordable for all ages, and digital nomads can use their insurance long-term.

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Day Trips from Merida Mexico
Day Trips from Merida Mexico



  1. Julie, thanking for writing this article.
    It is a must read for anyone wishing to explore Merida and beyond. I particularly appreciated that it is meant for travelers using public transportation; absolutely invaluable information!

  2. What an amazing guide! It definitely makes me want to go back to the Yucatan! All of the ruins are spectacular, I’ve seen a few), but I’d love to see more. I’d also like to see some of the colonial cities.


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About the Bamboo Traveler

The Bamboo Traveler

Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel blog dedicated to helping those travelers who want to dig deeply into the history, heritage, and culture of a place. Whether it’s through the pages of your passport or the pages of a book, I’ll help you travel the world and uncover the history, culture, food, architecture, and natural beauty of some of the world’s most fascinating places.

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