23 Insanely Amazing Things to Do in Merida, Mexico

by | Aug 4, 2021 | Best Places, Mexico

Are you looking for a beautiful place to visit with authentic Mexican culture? A place not overrun with tour buses or hipsters? Mérida is the perfect untouristy destination for those seeking food, history, architecture, and culture. It’s also a great base for exploring the cenotes, biospheres, and ruins of the Yucatan. Plus, it’s only four hours away by bus from Cancun. In this guide, I’m going to share with you 23 of my favorite things to do in Merida. At the end of the list, you’ll find a suggested itinerary for 2 to 6 days.

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Things to do in Merida: IN Centro Historico

The center of Mérida is the Centro Historico, the historic center. Here is where you will find the oldest, most charming, and grandest buildings in the city. It’s where the Spaniards built their main church and administrative buildings. It’s here where the wealthy Meridians built their hotels and theaters at the turn of the twentieth century. You’ll also find some great restaurants here. It’s a very safe and enjoyable place to walk around even in the evening. I highly recommend booking your hotel in this area.

1. Stroll around the Plaza Grande

Topping any list of things to do in Merida is a stroll around its main square, the Plaza Grande (the Grand Plaza). Like pretty much all Mexican cities, Merida’s main square is a beautiful park surrounded on all sides by old stately buildings and a grand cathedral from the Spanish colonial era.

people, trees, and old building in Parque Grande in Merida

Make sure to visit on the weekends. On Sundays locals set up food stalls around the Plaza Grande, making it a great place to sample Yucatecan street food. On weekend evenings, locals and tourists come out to wander around the park, eat, play, take photos, chat with friends, and go on dates. On Friday nights, there’s a fantastic light and sound show on the façade of the cathedral telling the history of Merida.

2. Visit the Cathedral of Merida

  • OPEN: 8:00 AM – 7:00 PM
  • COST: free
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Every square in Mexico has its grand historic church, and Mérida is no exception. The one in Parque Grande is one of the oldest cathedrals in the Americas. Constructed between 1562 and 1598, the cathedral was built on the backs of the Maya laborers (Were they paid and did they have a choice?) and with the stones from their own temples.

Cathedral of Merida at night

Look for vertical slits on the church’s facade. What are they used for? Supposedly, these small openings were where soldiers would shoot anyone who gave the colonial masters trouble.

On Friday nights, there is a free light and sound show on the outside of the church that tells the history of Merida.

3. Museum of the House of Montejo

  • OPEN: 10 am – 7 pm (Tu – Sa); 10 am – 2 pm (Su); closed on Mondays; this might still be closed due to the pandemic
  • COST: free
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

The oldest and most beautiful structure around Merida’s central square is the House of Montejo. Built between 1542 and 1549, the house was originally the home of the Montejo family. Today it is a museum and bank.

Museum of the House of Montejo

The Montejo family played quite an important role in the history of the Yucatan. The King of Spain gave Francisco de Montejo (The Elder) the right to conquer and rule over the Yucatan. He himself wasn’t able to conquer the Maya, but his son, Francisco de Montejo (the younger), did manage to defeat them and establish the city of Merida. The Elder, though, became the governor and captain-general of the Yucatan.

The museum may still be closed. However, the exterior is well worth a look as it’s heavy in symbolism. On the façade, you’ll see two reliefs of Spanish conquistadors standing on the heads of natives representing their defeat and subjugation. I suppose back then it was seen as Spain’s heroic triumph and conquest, but today it feels like it represents the oppression of the indigenous people of the Yucatan.

4. Stroll down Calle 60 from Grande Parque to Parque Santa Lucia

One of my favorite things to do in Mérida is to stroll down Calle 60 starting from Parque Grande to Parque Santa Lucia. In the three blocks it takes to walk from one park to another, you’ll see some of Merida’s most gorgeously ornate and colorful buildings from the turn of the century. You’ll also pass by my favorite park (Parque Hidalgo), the Jose Peon Contreras Theater (built in 1908), a university, and two churches.

old colorful buildings along Calle 60 in Merida

On Thursday evenings there is a cultural performance of traditional Mexican music and dance that takes place in Parque Santa Lucia. There are several expensive restaurants that surround Parque Lucia. I’ve never eaten at any of them, but if you’re craving a salad and pasta, there is a good Italian one, I’ve been told.

Things to do in Merida: For Food Lovers

Merida has tons of things to do for those whose main purpose in traveling is to eat. You’ll find everything from beautiful restaurants, authentic street food, colorful markets, museums dedicated to Yucatecan cuisine, cooking classes, and food tours. For info on the cooking class, look under the Courses section of this blog post.

5. Sample the food of the Yucatan

The absolute best thing to do in Merida is, in my opinion, eating. The restaurants and markets in Merida’s historic center make for a convenient and practical place to try authentic Yucatecan food. Unfortunately, many of the menus are not in English, but that can be a sign that the food hasn’t been adapted to the foreign palate.

queso relleno

Before diving into the restaurant scene in Merida, do some research on the cuisine of the Yucatan. Yucatecan dishes are not ones you’d normally find in Mexican restaurants back home or even in other parts of Mexico. Many of the dishes I’d never heard of before: sopa de lima (my favorite), panuchos, queso relleno, rellenos negro, papadzule, poc chuc, and the most famous, cochinita pibil.

6. Visit the Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca

  • OPEN: 10:00 AM to 10:30 PM
  • COST: free
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Along with eating the delicious Yucatecan cuisine, another great foodie thing to do in Merida is to learn about the history of the cuisine. You can do that in this free museum called the Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca. (the Museum of Yucatecan Gastronomy)

Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca

The museum is divided into two parts. The interior front part displays historical artifacts used in the preparation of the cuisine. The second part is in a garden at the back of the museum. Here you get to watch tortillas being made by hand, see where the cochinita pibil is cooked underground, and learn about different spices and plants used in Yucatecan cuisine.

Attached to the museum is a beautiful but pricey restaurant that is worth the splurge. At 3:00 PM, the chef brings the cochinita pibil out of its underground pit where it’s been cooking all day.

7. Visit Mercado Lucas De Galvez

  • OPEN: 7 am – 7:30 pm
  • COST: free to wander
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

The Mercado Lucas De Galvez is a must-stop on any food lovers’ visit to Merida. This huge, indoor market is an endless labyrinth of stall after stall selling everything from food to shoe repair services. It’s the perfect place to explore the fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, and spices that locals really eat and to pick up some for yourself.

a food stall selling red and green vegetables at Mercado Lucas De Galvez

After you’ve wandered around the interior of the market, make for one of the many (and I mean many) small restaurants (they’re all colored red so you can’t miss them) selling tacos and tortas that line the exterior of the building. Plop yourself down on a red plastic chair and order a taco or torta with cochinita pibil for $18 pesos.

8. Take a Food Tour

Whenever I visit a new country, I try to do a food tour. Some of my most memorable travel experiences have been on food tours. A local takes you around, usually by foot, to various restaurants and street stalls to sample the food. They teach you what locals typically eat and what and how to order at restaurants.

red plastic chairs and tables in a outdoor restaurant

Merida has its own food tours. I didn’t take one since after living in the city for six weeks, I thought I pretty much knew enough about the cuisine not to need a food tour. But if you’re new to the city, I do recommend doing one. Adventures in Mexico has one that takes you to Mercado Lucas de Galvez, a seafood restaurant, and a gelato shop (according to their website)

Things to Do in Merida: Museums

Visiting one or more of the many museums in Merida is a great way to learn about the history and culture of the Yucatan. For those who want to know more about the Maya, there’s the Museum of Anthropology and History (see the Paseo Montejo section) and the grandest of them all, the Mayan World Museum of Merida. But there are also some free ones dedicated to the history of Merida, Mexican folk art, Yucatecan cuisine (see the food section), and contemporary art.

9. Visit the Mayan World Museum of Merida

OPEN: closed due to the pandemic (check museum’s website)

COST: $150 pesos for foreigners (US$6.50

LOCATION: Google Maps

I never made it to the Mayan World Museum of Merida. It’s been closed to the public since the beginning of the pandemic. I did do a virtual tour, however, and the collection and organization of the museum are excellent.

Mayan World Museum of Merida

Located on the outskirts of the city in a beautiful modern building, the museum displays artifacts on the history and culture of the Maya people. There are also displays of the giant meteor that crashed off the coast of Mexico millions of years ago wiping out the dinosaurs and leading to the formation of the cenotes that one finds all over the Yucatan.

The displays have some English explanations, which is rare in museums in Merida. There’s a short 3D movie on the Mayas. Unfortunately, it’s in Spanish.

10. Museum of the City of Merida

  • OPEN: 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM (Tu – F); 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM (Sa & Su); Closed (M)
  • COST: free
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

If you like to know more about Merida’s past, check out the Museum of the City of Merida. It’s located in the Centro Historico district across the street from Mercado Lucaz Galverez. And it’s free.

a pile of henequen fiber

On the first floor, there are four rooms with exhibits on how the conquistadors conquered the Yucatan, the Catholic church converted the Maya, the hacienda owners reaped huge profits off the henequin trade, and  Merida’s citizens enjoyed these profits.

The second floor is dedicated to contemporary local artists, some of whose works are worth a look.

Unfortunately, there’s very little information on the Maya’s contributions and their exploitation and the Caste Wars.

11. Museo de Arte Popular de Yucatan

  • OPEN: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM (W – Su); closed (M & Tu)
  • COST: free
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

If you’re interested in Mexican folk art, then a fun thing to do in Merida is to visit the Museo de Arte Popular de Yucatan (Museum of Folk Art of the Yucatan).

2 jaguars drinking out of a toilet at the Folk Art Museum in Merida
face of a skeleton dressed in a blue jacket and yellow cap at Folk Art Museum in Merida

Located within walking distance from the central square, the museum has exhibits on local textiles like the huipiles, ceramics, and handicrafts. The most memorable piece is an exhibit of two jaguars in a bathroom. Unfortunately, there are no English explanations.

12. Visit the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Ateneo de Yucatan

  • OPEN: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM (M – F); 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM (Sa); closed (Su)
  • COST: free
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Next to the cathedral in the central square of Merida is the former home of the Bishop of Merida. It’s now a contemporary art museum. The museum is worth visiting if you really like contemporary art and/or you can read Spanish really well or it’s raining out. If none of these things apply to you and you’re short on time, you can skip this museum.

a series of white statues of male bodies their arms out

The most interesting piece of art, actually, can be found outside in the courtyard between the cathedral and the museum. It’s a series of sculptures of men in tight shorts with their arms raised at various heights (see photo above).

Things to do in Merida: Paseo de Montejo

Stroll down the tree-lined Paseo de Montejo and get a taste of the grand mansions of the wealthy Yucatecans of the 1800s to early 1900s when Mérida was the most prosperous city in Mexico. This was the time when the Spaniards of the Yucatan were oozing dinero from the henequin trade.

a roundabout on Paseo Montejo in Merida

You can begin from either end of Paseo Montejo: from the Monument to the Fatherland or Parque Santa on Calle 47. I started out at Parque Santa Ana. Though the park is not exactly on Paseo Montejo, it’s close enough. It also has a beautiful church and some great inexpensive restaurants nearby, so it shouldn’t be missed.

It gets hot in Merida, so do the walk in the morning or after 5:00 PM. When it does get too hot for you, you can stop at one of the many restaurants, cafes, and museums along the street. There’s also a Walmart near one end of the street.

13. Parque de Santa Ana

  • OPEN: I recommend going in the morning or in the evening
  • COST: free
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Start your walk along Paseo Montejo at Parque Santa Ana (Santa Ana Park) on Calle 47.

side view of the Church of Santa Ana in Merida with palm trees and blue sky

What I really like about this park is the colorful and simple Church of Santa Ana and the restaurants at the outdoor food court. I had the best sopa de lima at Restaurant Castillo. Another great restaurant, albeit much pricier than the food court, is Manjar Blanco. The restaurant was featured in Rick Bayless’s cooking show.

14. Montejo 495 House Museum (Twin Houses)

OPEN: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM (Th – Su)

COST: $250 pesos (US$13)

LOCATION: Google Maps

After visiting the Parque Santa Ana, head for Paseo Montejo. The street is filled with all these gorgeous mansions from the turn of the twentieth century. One of the first ones you’ll come to is the Twin Houses. It was turned into a museum at the beginning of 2021 and is now called Montejo 495 House Museum.

old and beautiful mansion on Paseo Montejo

The French-style mansion was built in 1911 at the end of the Porfirio Era and the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.

Yes, the outside and inside are both stunning. However, the price of $250 pesos is exorbitant considering you only get to tour the rooms on the first floor.

15. Museum of Anthropology and History/Palacio Canton

  • OPEN: 10:00 AM – 4:40 PM (M – F)
  • COST: $65 pesos (US$3.50)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Next on your stroll up Paseo Montejo is The Museum of Anthropology and History, located in another drop-dead-gorgeous mansion from the early 1900s. If you are interested in ancient Maya art, history, and culture, then this museum is worth a visit. It’s also a great excuse for escaping from the heat and humidity of Merida.

Palacio Canton in Merida

The first floor contains the permanent archaeological exhibits on the Maya and the second floor is dedicated to temporary exhibits focusing on contemporary Maya culture. There are lots of explanations on the Maya calendar and the writing system in Spanish but unfortunately nothing in English. You can point your phone at the description and have Google translate it for you.

The building was originally built at the beginning of the 1900s. The original owner was Francisco Canton Rosado, a general in the army that fought the indigenous people in the Caste War, a cattle rancher, railroad entrepreneur, and governor of the Yucatan between 1898 and 1902. The family sold the mansion to the Yucatan government in the 1930s.

16. Quinta Montes Molina Mansión

  • OPEN: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM (M – F)
  • COST: $100 pesos (US$5)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Visiting the living history house of Quinta Montes Molina (Quinta means mansion or property) is like stepping back in time to the beginning of the twentieth century.

Quinta Moleno Mansion

Originally built in 1902 by a Cuban businessman and eventually bought by the Montes Molina family in 1915, the mansion is a great opportunity for history buffs to see how the wealthy lived during the Porfirio era. Everything from the décor to the furniture has been preserved from that period. Don’t skip the basement where the servants worked and lived—the most interesting part of the house.

17. Monumento a La Patria (Monument to the Fatherland)

At the end of your tour of Paseo de Montejo, you’ll come to the Monument to the Fatherland. Sculpted completely by hand by Colombian artist, Romulo Rozo, this huge stone sculpture took eleven years to finish (1945 – 1956).

Monument to the Fatherland

The monument represents the history of Mexico starting from the height of the Maya civilization until the Mexican revolution. It’s fun trying to figure out what all the different figures and symbols mean.

Located near the monument is one of Merida’s swankiest restaurants, Kuuk. If you still look presentable after walking in Merida’s heat and humidity, the restaurant can make for a nice end to your tour. Another possibility is the less swanky but still delicious restaurant, La Terreza Amarilla Todo Esquisito.

Things to do in Merida: City Tours

There are three tours that you can do in Mérida. For the history buff, there’s a free walking tour of the historic center. Those with not a lot of time can do the hop-on and hop-off bus tour. For those who want something romantic or who want something fun for kids to do, there’s a carriage ride around the historic center.

18. Take a Free Walking Tour of the Central Historic District (Centro Historico)

  • START TIME: 9:30 AM
  • COST: free but tipping is encouraged
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

My favorite thing to do when I travel to a new city is to take a free walking tour. You can find them in almost every touristy Mexican city. Merida is no exception. Go to the City Tourism Office (Modulo de Informacion Turistica), located on the east side of the square to sign up for the 9:30 AM walking tour of the Centro Historico.

a statue in Parque Hidalgo in Merida Mexico

My English-speaking guide explained the history of Merida and the buildings as he took me around the square and down Calle 60 ending at Parque Santa Lucia. My tour lasted an hour. You do need to tip at the end.

19. Take a Bus Tour of Merida

  • OPEN: times vary throughout the day (2:00 PM, 4:00 PM)
  • COST: $120 pesos (US$6)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

If you’re short on time or you’re someone who wants to see as much as you can in the shortest time possible, join the double-decker bus tour of Merida with Turitransmerida Tour Operators. You can sign up at their office or you can find them hanging out an hour before their tours start in Parque Santa Lucia.

a red double-decker hop on hop off bus in Merida

The double-decker bus tour travels around the historic center and even goes all the way to Paseo de Montejo. You can also hop off and hop on a later bus at five designated places.

I don’t know how frequently the buses run nowadays. During peak season, they run every half hour and even go until 9:00 PM. During the pandemic, they were running much less frequently. When I tried asking the staff at the tour agency, they wouldn’t give me a straight answer. They gave me two times: 1:00 PM and 4:00 PM, but I saw the bus running at 8:00 PM as well.

20. Take a carriage ride around the city

  • OPEN: any time  – 45 minute-ride
  • COST: $400 total for up to 4 people (US$20)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps (on Calle 61 (closest cross street is Calle 60)

One of the most unique tours you can do in Merida is a carriage ride around Centro Historico. I didn’t take a carriage ride when I was in Merida.

a horse and carriage in front of an old building with clock tower at night

You’ll see the horse-drawn carriages lined up across from the cathedral along Calle 61. You can take one just about any time even in the evenings.

Things to do in Merida: Take a Course

21. Learn Spanish at La Calle Spanish School

  • OPEN: 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM (M – F); closed (Sa & Su)
  • COST: $3,550 pesos for 20 hours per week (US$178)
  • LOCATON: Google Maps

I think learning a language is not something many people think of when they plan a trip. But actually, learning a foreign language is a great way to spend your time in a foreign country.

a classroom with four colorful chairs around a red table and a white board in the background

Having never studied Spanish before except from YouTube videos, I studied the language for two weeks at La Calle Spanish School in Merida. I did a group lesson and paid MXN$3,550 (US$179) for 20 hours of lessons per week. During my first week, I had one other classmate and during my second week, I was the only student. When you’re the only one, you only get 15 hours of classes for the group price. The minimum duration for group lessons is one week. You don’t need to sign up for classes before you arrive in Mexico. I contacted them by email on a Friday and started classes the next Monday. They also have private one-on-one lessons.

22. Learn to Cook Yucatecan Food

Whenever I visit a new country, I usually take a cooking class. I love eating and I love cooking, and I think taking a course on how to cook local food is the best way to experience it. Unfortunately, I missed doing one in Mérida.

Adventures in Mexico has an expensive one that involves a tour of Mercado Lucas de Galvez Market and a cooking lesson in a local’s home. Sharing Traditions also has a cooking class and market tour. Los Dos offers a variety of cooking classes.

Things to do in Merida: Visit a Cenote or an Ancient Ruin

You could probably spend 2 to 4 days just taking day trips outside of Merida.

23. Take some day trips outside of Merida

Make sure to make time in your Merida itinerary for some day trips to the many unforgettable cenotes, beaches, haciendas, biospheres, and Maya ruins that are just an hour or two’s drive or bus ride from the city.

Cenote Chacksikin

My number one day trip recommendation is a visit to the cenotes in Homun. You can also take an hour-long bus ride to the beaches in Progreso for some sun, sand, surf, and seafood. Another idea is to visit a hacienda to get a sense of the history of the Yucatan. There are two biospheres, Celestun and Rio Logartos, near Mérida where you can see flocks of flamingos (but only at certain times of the year). Finally, Merida also makes for a great base when exploring the ancient Maya ruins like Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Mayapan, Kabah, and on and on.

You can read my article on day trips from Merida for 15 ideas on what to do around the Yucatan.

a woman crossing a street in front of a yellow building and blue sky

Suggested Merida Itinerary

Day 1

  1. Free Walking Tour
  2. Walk to Mercado Lucas de Galvaz and get some late breakfast or early lunch (you’ll pass by some of the same places you saw on the walking tour; at this time you can spend more time at the sights)
  3. City Museum of Merida
  4. Dinner at and a tour of Museo de Yucatecan Gastronomía
  5. Evening – Stroll around Parque Grande

Day 2

  1. Parque Santa Ana for brunch
  2. Walk along Paseo Montejo visiting the Museum of Anthropology and History and the Quinta Montes Molina Mansion
  3. Gran Museo
  4. Dinner – La Chaya Maya

Day 3

  1. Day Trip: The cenotes of Homun

Day 4

  1. Uxmal ruins
  2. Chocolate Museum

Day 5

  1. Day trip to Progreso for some beach time and fresh seafood or to Celestun for a tour of the Celestun Biosphere Reserve—maybe you can see some flamingos (If it’s not the season (December to March, don’t bother going! I didn’t see any flamingos when I went in June.)

Day 6

  1. Day trip to ancient ruins of Chichen Itza (if you’re planning on visiting Valladolid, then see Chichen Itza from there as it’s closer and instead visit the ruins of Mayapan)
  2. Cenote Ik’ Kil (if you have your own car) or Cenote Yokdzonot (more doable by bus, but still pretty hard)
colorful lights shining on the Cathedral of Merida at night

Where to stay in Merida

Hotel Las Monjas – (Booking.com | Agoda) I highly, highly recommend this hotel. Friendly and helpful staff. Comfortable, clean, and modern rooms. Excellent WiFi. Very good price for what you get. Includes swimming pool. And it’s located a few blocks from Parque Grande and three blocks from the ADO bus station.

double bed in hotel room
toilet, sink with mirror, and shower

So there you have it! Twenty-three of the best things to do in Merida, Mexico. Perfect for anyone who’s into food, culture, and history. And if you’re looking for a place that’s not overrun with tour buses and hipsters, Merida is the ideal city.

You’ll also find that prices for accommodations are a lot cheaper here than a lot of other destinations in Mexico.

What are you most looking forward to doing in Merida?

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things to do in Merida Mexico
things to do in Merida Mexico

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Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel & digital nomad blog, dedicated to helping women over 40 travel the world safely, cheaply, and comfortably. Whether you’re going for a one, two- or three-week vacation, exploring the world as a digital nomad, or staying home and discovering the world from the comfort and safety of your home, you’ll find loads of information to help inspire and inform you in your wanderings.

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