Mérida sits in the heart of Yucatan, Mexico and reigns as its exciting cultural capital. Known for its chalky white buildings (“White City”), intricate colonial-era architecture, and vibrant Maya and Spanish heritage, Merida attracts quite the number of international tourists and American expats! Plus, there are endless things to do in Merida that make it so attractive.
The gorgeous Caribbean coastline isn’t too far, the city offers lots to do in the way of activities, restaurants, and entertainment, and plenty of cenotes and Mayan ruins are just a short day trip away. With all these new things to do in Merida and nearby, the city drew us in!
We spent 3 days scouting out the best of Merida to see if we could envision ourselves moving there. Yep, that’s right. We went to see if we could live there.
Having previously lived on the Pacific coast of Mexico in the small beach town of San Pancho, we traveled to Merida in search of more reliable services, like wifi (since we both work online), and cheaper housing. Despite having a super fun trip full of sight-seeing and adventure, we didn’t end up moving there and instead decided to spend another 6+ months in our beachside town in Nayarit.
But nevertheless, there are lots of things to do in Merida whether it’s for a short-term trip or for the long-term.
Here are the best things to do in Merida in the heart of Yucatan, Mexico!
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25 Things to Do in Merida Mexico for a 3 Day Itinerary
To show you guys what’s feasible to do in Merida for a 3 day or 4-day itinerary, I’m going to break up the things to do in Merida into days. Then you can switch it up to fit your bucket list and schedule!
Day 1: Best of Merida Sight-Seeing
I always like to try to hit up the top attractions and things to do whenever I visit a new place on Day 1 so that I can branch out after I’ve checked off my bucket list.
1. Immerse yourself in the Grand Plaza (Plaza Grande)
The Plaza Grande is the best landmark to debut your travels in Merida. Since it’s so centrally located, there are many things to do right around the square. And better yet, they’re all within walking distance!
The plaza is very much at the heart of Merida’s past and it is a beautifully curated park with trees, white Merida chairs, and local vendors selling all sorts of snacks and trinkets. There’s also a daily flag-raising ceremony that takes place here.
You can easily find your way to and from here if ever you get lost walking around. Don’t be surprised if you see musicians trying to earn a buck or old-fashioned shoe-shining stalls occupied by local businessmen during lunchtime.
Tip: Sundays are the most popular day to visit the plaza to catch traditional dance and music shows. All-in-all, the Plaza Grande is the first must-see thing to do in Merida!
2. Take a picture at the colorful Merida sign
Right away you’ll notice Merida’s gigantic colorful sign that decorates the Grand Plaza and a fun thing to do is take a picture with it! Depending on the time of day, the queue to snap a shot free of other people might get long. But don’t worry. The plaza features many white benches that are truly iconic of the White City where you can pop a squat while you wait.
3. Visit the Pink Palacio Municipal (City Hall) + free walking tour
The Palacio Municipal is the richly pink-hued building with archways located at the Grand Plaza just off the main square. If you inquire at the tourist information center on the ground floor, you’ll learn there are free walking tours offered every day which start at 9:30 am. A guided walking tour is probably the best free thing to do in Merida. Plus you get a fast-track lesson about Merida’s vibrant history and culture!
Traveler’s Tip: Visit the second floor of the Palacio Municipal to get a birds-eye view of Merida’s Grand Plaza and Cathedral.
4. Check out the Cathedral San Ildefonso (Merida Cathedral)
The Merida Cathedral (Catedral San Ildefonso) is another free activity to do in Merida that you shouldn’t miss out on! The cathedral dates back to the early 16th century when Merida was built on top of the ancient Maya city of T’hó. The cathedral marks one of the most prominent and historic landmarks in the Yucatan and was constructed using ancient stones from Maya buildings.
Cathedral San Ildefonso
5. See the sculptures at Pasaje de la Revolucion
Skirting just the right flank of the Merida Cathedral is the Pasaje de la Revolucion. If you’re simply strolling around, you might end up following the locals who use this passage as a short cut to get from the main square to Calle 58 without any traffic (apart from foot traffic!).
There are kinda weird structures and artistic sculptures in here, so it’s worth going in and taking a peek!
6. Tour the impressive art gallery and learn about Merida’s history at the Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Yucatan
Other than the Merida Cathedral, and pink Palacio Municipal, don’t forget to wade into the mint green Palacio de Gobierno.
This building houses a number of painted murals depicting Merida’s past. It’s here I learned more about the Maya ruler Titul-Kiú and Merida’s conquistador Francisco Montejo, about the symbolism of the Mexican flag, and the Maya struggle to protect their land from Spanish invaders. The artwork is stunning!
Palacio de Gobierno 2nd floor (+ view of Merida Cathedral)
The paintings depict the story and history of the Mayas when the Spanish arrived
7. Swing by the MACAY Museum of Modern Art
The Museo Fernando García Ponce is a free museum inside a colonial building that houses a number of Mexican modern and contemporary art pieces. Our self-guided tour didn’t take that long as we went in simply curious about the pieces.
There is a nice collection of artistic designs to check out here! When we went it was fairly empty, so we just waded around casually until we were done and ready to move on to the next thing to do in Merida.
8. Shop fairtrade Mexican handicrafts at La Casa de las Artesanias
Okay so if you want to do some shopping for typical Mexican handicrafts but don’t know where to go, I’ve got the best place to shop in Merida right here! La Casa de las Artesanias is a large gallery-style store featuring only fair-trade handicrafts made by women, locals, and indigenous groups throughout Mexico.
It is owned by the Mexican government and as such, the prices are fixed. I was surprised to see that the items were fairly-priced and it really reduces the stress of having to haggle. Plus, you know you are shopping ethically!
9. Eat at the local market (Mercado Santiago) and visit the parish at Parque de Santiago
If you want to dive into the local scene in Merida, then there’s no better place to do that than at the Mercado Santiago.
The market is teeming with food stalls, so it’s best to go during breakfast or lunch. La Taqueria La Lupita is apparently at the top of its class when it comes to local Yucateca cuisine. The market is located at the Parque de Santiago, which also features a cute, white parish (Parroquia Santiago Apostol) that’s worth popping your head into.
The Parroquia Santiago Apostol
10. Explore the shops, galleries, theatres, and university on Calle 60
If you just want to wander in an upbeat place in Merida that’s got an array of options for things to do, then head to the bustling Calle 60 to relish in as many restaurants, cafes, theatres, pubs, galleries, and bars you want.
The university and the theatre on this street feature elegant colonial-style columns and it is a nice way to spend your afternoon or evening.
11. Watch a Yucatecan serenade or listen to live music in the Parque de Santa Lucia at night
Chances are if you’re following Calle 60 you’ll end up in the Parque de Santa Lucia. We didn’t know about the park before we stumbled upon it late one night when it was inviting us with its live music from far off.
We found it just in time to watch a traditional Yucatecan serenade live dance and show. The park is surrounded in restaurants so having dinner and a show is a good way to tackle your Merida to-do list.
12. Eat at a trendy restaurant
Speaking of restaurants, Merida has quite to offer when it comes to food. Whether its regional specialties like cochinita pibil or international fare, Merida has something for every taste bud.
Here are a few of the best restaurants and places to eat in Merida:
- Maiz, Canela y Cilantro – homemade Yucatecan/Mexican food at a home-style setting
- LoQueHay Cafe – vegan fare
- El barrio – good breakfast
- Mercado 60 – upscale food market
- Eureka- Italian food
- Santiago Market/Mercado Santiago – local food + Yucatecan specialties
- Hermana Republic – Mexican, cerveceria (brewery)
- Chillakillers – Yucatecan/Mexican, breakfast
- La Chaya Maya – Yucatan flare, touristy
- Apoala – Mexican
- and many more!
13. Stay at a cute Airbnb or boutique hotel in Merida
You can’t come to Merida without staying in a local Airbnb or a cute boutique hotel! Merida has great prices on accommodation, compared to what we’ve seen elsewhere in Yucatan. You can easily find boutique hotels with pools, vegan-friendly cafes, or if you’re wanting more of a homestay consider an Airbnb!
Lounging poolside after a long first day in Merida
Use this interactive map to find the best boutique hotel in Merida:
Day 2: Take a Day Trip from Merida
Whenever I have a 3-day itinerary, I always use the second day for a day trip. The first day I need to explore the immediate area, the second is a get-away, and the third is for wrapping up loose ends. So here are some of the best day trips from Merida. You couldn’t possibly fit all this in one day, so choose the one that inspires you most!
14. Swim and snorkel in the Homún/Cuzamá cenotes
Experiencing a cenote is a must when visiting the Yucatan. And although Merida doesn’t have immediate access to gorgeous cenotes like in Tulum, you can still take a small detour to reach a gem mine of cenotes in neighboring Homun/Cuzama.
Channeling my inner Tarzan at Cenote Yaxbacaltun
Getting to Cuzama from Merida: Take the local bus or collectivo at the Noreste bus terminal. The bus ride will take around 1 hour and drops you off in the center of Cuzama. Cost: $20-50 pesos one way.
As for which cenotes to visit in Cuzama, that’s entirely up to you! It is difficult to visit them completely on your own, however. Once the bus drops you off, several local “tour guides” will most likely be waiting in moto tuk-tuks. These locals know where the cenotes are and can give you a complete “tour” of 3 or more cenotes.
Since we didn’t know which ones we wanted to visit, our guy recommended 3 that he liked best and took us on a 3-hour roundtrip tour for around $350-450 pesos.
Here are the 3 cenotes in Cuzama we were able to see in 3 hours (time to visit and swim in each one):
- Cenote Yaxbacaltun
- Los Tres Oches (Oxtuul Ooch)
The entrance fee for each cenote costs roughly $35 pesos. There weren’t any other tourists, just a family or two of locals hanging out. My favorite of all three was definitely Yaxbacaltun because of the swinging rope and for its cave + jungle atmosphere.
There are many other cenotes in Homun and Cuzama, to explore! Cenote Bolochohool is a popular one. If you want to visit cenotes while in Merida, come here! The bus ride there and back is simple and not at all expensive.
15. Visit nearby ancient Mayan ruins at Uxmal
Another classic attraction of the Yucatan – Mayan ruins. If you want to skip the cenotes and marvel at ancient Maya cities instead, then head to Uxmal. Uxmal is one of the most prominent and important cities along with several others, like Palenque, Chichen Itza, or Calakmul in Campeche.
Getting to Uxmal from Merida: The best option is to travel there via bus from the TAME station. The trip takes about an hour and 1/2 and costs roughly $75. Uxmal sits along the Ruta Puuc, or the Puuc route famous for incredible Mayan ruins, sites, haciendas, caves, and more. It’s a popular route and many tourists take a road trip via the Ruta Puuc.
The entrance fee to tour Uxmal has gone up in price. It now costs around $400-450 pesos to tour Uxmal. Nonetheless, the site has lots to see and the cute town of Muna is a good place to stopover to shop for handicrafts.
16. Escape to the beaches at Progreso
Merida might be inland, but to most people’s surprise, the nearest beach is only a 30-minute drive away! The beaches at Progreso are less crowded than those of the typical beach spots like Cancun or Playa del Carmen, but it still attracts its own crowd.
Progreso gives you that Caribbean turquoise water and white sand, but there are more things to do in Progreso than just lounge on the beach. You can hang with flamingos, visit Las Coloradas (pink lake), visit an ecological reserve, and more!
17. Visit the small yellow city of Izamal
Merida is known as the White City, and Izamal the Yellow City! Izamal is a pueblo magico – a title given to towns across Mexico with cultural and historic significance with a dash of natural beauty and charm (hence the name). And when you explore its yellow-painted buildings and colonial streets, it’s easy to see why! Izamal sits only an hour’s drive away from Merida so it is a popular day trip option. The best way to get there is via collectivo and it costs less than $50 pesos for a one-way trip.
Izamal the yellow city | credit: Canva
Day 3: Wrapping up the Merida Bucket List
For our last day in Merida (or a second full day in Merida), we decided to spend the day visiting the city and ticking off everything we still wanted to do and see but didn’t get to on day 1. But of course, you don’t have to do this on separate days and actually, many of these might overlap with your activities on another day! It really all depends on your own schedule.
18. Stroll down Paseo de Montejo (Montejo Avenue) to see the colonial mansions
Paseo de Montejo is one of the top things to do in Merida because of the gorgeous colonial mansions that sit on the sides of the long, tree-lined avenue.
The avenue was named after the conquistador of Merida, Francisco de Montejo, hence the name. It has a rich cultural and historic importance as it shows off Merida’s aristocratic heritage and has actually been compared to Paris’ Champs Elysees avenue.
Likewise, there are many shops and sights to see, not to mention luxurious colonial homes, along this avenue. So make sure to carve out time for a leisurely morning stroll!
Paseo de Montejo
19. Take a photo at the Monumento a la Patria
The Monumento a la Patria (Monument to the Fatherland) is an important and iconic sculpture from 1965 that sits along the Paseo de Montejo at the center of a very large roundabout. On its facades are hand-carved figures – more than 300 of them – representing Mexico’s and the Maya’s rich history.
20. Grab lunch at Maiz, Canela y Cilantro
I mentioned Maiz, Canela y Cilantro on the list of restaurants to eat at in Merida above, but it needs a special mention here! It is very much a hidden gem and was recommended to us by our Airbnb hosts as their favorite place to eat.
The restaurant offers a very unique experience into real homemade Yucatecan cuisine, handmade by locals in a typical home setting. In fact, you can see the homestyle kitchen from your garden or indoor table. It’s not your typical restaurant, which is all the more reason to visit.
The food is absolutely delicious and made with local, sustainable ingredients. What more could you ask for?
Maiz, Canela y Cilantro restaurant in Merida
21. Kiss in the giant white Merida chairs
The white crisscrossed chairs in Merida are very much iconic of the city. But if you haven’t been to Parque de Santa Lucia yet to catch a Yucatecan Serenade, then you must go!
Not only will you find live entertainment but you will also see the huge white Merida chairs. So, climb up into them if you can! You’ll notice lots of locals taking selfies and stealing a kiss from their partner before leaving the place for the next chair-crossed lovers.
22. Learn how to cook Yucateca cuisine
Taking a cooking class when in Merida is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the cuisine scene. It’s a special way to connect with locals and share something so special as the culture’s identity in relation to food. Moreover, you walk away with an unforgettable experience and several new recipes to cook at home! Now that’s a win-win.
23. Grab a quirky-flavored gelato ice cream at Pola
Before leaving Merida, treating yourself to some quirky-flavored gelato is a must! And no one does it better than Pola. Choose from bizarre flavors like polish gingerbread, Yucatecan sweet pumpkin, eggnog, or blue cheese with apple compote.
I can personally attest to the yumminess of their sour orange with cherries gelato! What’s more, their cones are freshly made in house and the smell just invites you in from outside.
Pola serves up delicious gelato for a hot day in Merida
24. Rent a bike and cycle the Bici Ruta (on Sundays)
Like many Central and South American cities, Merida has its own Bici Ruta on Sundays. A major road will close down in the city, allowing bikers to navigate the city streets easily and without worry. On these days, hundreds of cyclists come out to explore and go to markets.
If you happen to be in Merida on a Sunday, you should consider renting a bike and doing the same!
25. Go bar hopping
Finally, when you’ve ticked off possibly everything there is to do in Merida, spend your night celebrating! Bar hopping in Merida is quite easy and fun as there is such a cluster of trendy bars around the Plaza Grande all within walking distance from each other.
Plus, Merida has lots of awesome Mexican cantinas to grab a cold brew, snack, and immerse yourself into the local scene. For that reason, if you haven’t tried Mexican mezcal, now is your chance!
Local shoe shiner in the Plaza Grande
Above all, don’t forget to have fun! There are so many things to do in Merida Mexico that it’s quite hard to pack it all down into a couple of days.
Three days in Merida is a good amount to cover the city’s top sights and activities while getting some downtime to explore nearby towns, cenotes, or ruins.
Have you ever been to Merida Mexico? And if not, are you adding it to your list?