Things to do in Merida the safest city in Mexico
Merida, the vibrant capital city of Yucatan state in Mexico, is a cultural hub and a fascinating destination for tourists. Known for its rich Mayan heritage, colonial architecture, and diverse food scene, Merida has plenty to offer visitors seeking an different kind of Mexican experience. It is also considered one of the most beautiful colonial towns in Mexico. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the top activities and attractions that make Merida a must-visit destination.
Merida, Mexico is about an hour’s drive from Progresso and Chelem little ways inland from the gulf coast. There is a lot to see and do in Merida and it can keep you entertained for a long time. You can get to Merida from Cancun and many ex-pats choose to take a bus from Cancun to Merida as there are lots of flights in. If you plan to stay in Cancun for a few days you can get the Cancun Airport transportation to your hotel there.
If you get a chance you should really rent a car and take the time to plan a Yucatan itinerary you won’t regret it as there is just so much to see and experience on the Yucatan Peninsula.
History of Merida
Mérida is a city that is founded on an incredibly rich Mayan civilization. The Maya predated the Spanish arrival by centuries. Merida itself is built on the site of the ancient Maya city of T’hó, one of the oldest, continually-occupied cities in the Americas. In 1542, Spanish conquerors founded and named the city Mérida after a Spanish city.
The Spanish conquistadors who founded Merida in 1542 was named Montejo y León (“el Mozo”) and he named the town he founded after Mérida in Extremadura, Spain. This is where the name of the main street that runs through Merida the Paseo de Montejo comes from which is also modelled on the Champs Elysee in Paris.
The Spanish used the carved Mayan stones from the ancient city T’ho to build the Spanish colonial buildings which are numerous in the city centre of Mérida. You can see these stones in the walls of the Cathedral. There are many Mayan ruins on the Yucatan peninsula that you should take the opportunity to see when you visit.
The White City
Merida Mexico is known as the White City, because of all the white painted buildings and the use of limestone bricks and tiles that decorate much of the exteriors. It is located on the gulf side of the Yucatan peninsula about 45 minutes inland from the Gulf of Mexico. The gulf side is very different from the Caribbean side; it is truly a more authentic experience of Mexico. Here are the top 14 must-dos in Merida.
14 Things to do in Merida Mexico
The Merida Tourism Office which is on the ground floor of the Palacio Municipal (right on the main Calle of Merida) hosts a free walking tour of Merida every morning at 9 am. The tour is about 90 minutes long and is highly recommended to get a great feel for the city.
Merida is a vibrantly beautiful city; the Paseo de Montejo Boulevard was home to the sisal kings who engaged Parisian architects to build the Paseo based on replicating the Champs-Elysées. This street or rather Boulevard is home to many a Corporate store and offices from Starbucks to Scotia Bank. These entities have moved into the old colonial homes, restored and renovated them to their previous glory.
The Bici Ruta
A Merida must-do for everyone visiting or living in Merida is the Bici Ruta. On Saturday evenings and Sunday’s the Paseo closes down one side of the road for the La Bici Ruta (Bike Route) to allow cyclists a chance to ride around town.
Much of the city come out on Sunday morning to join in, there are rollerbladers, skateboarders and lots of opportunity to people-watch at the sidewalk cafes. You can also rent all kinds of bikes from family ones to individual to take in the tour yourself.
Quinta Montes Molina
Located on Av. Paseo Montejo, this stunning house was built in 1902 and is one of the few mansions in Merida that is in its original condition and owned by the same family. Surrounded by gorgeous gardens you can tour the house and see how the family lived in a Museum that has been preserved through time.
Discover Plaza Grande
Plaza Grande is located in the Centro Historico of Merida. Surrounded by limestone colonial buildings the Plaza is a riot of pastel colours. The square is a meeting place for Meridanos of all ages.
The Plaza is host to all kinds of cultural events including an artisans market on Saturday and Sunday not to mention the wonderfully colourful folkloric dancing shows held on Sunday in front of the Palacio, with a live orchestra.
Catedral de San Ildefonso: Merida Cathedral
The colonial architecture of the Catedral de San Ildefonso, right beside the Plaza was built in the late 1500s is gorgeous. Take a peek inside to see where the Pope blessed the cathedral.
You can wander the church and take pictures from the Altar of the Black Jesus to private little niches for the Virgin Mary. The beautiful cross hanging at the front of the Church was a gift from Canada to the City.
Museo Fernando García Ponce-MACAY
Merida’s free Modern Art Museum is the only museum dedicated to the promotion and dissemination of modern and contemporary art throughout the Yucatán peninsula, Mexico. The property has 15 rooms for temporary exhibitions, two galleries and four permanent rooms, where the work of three great figures of Yucatecan art is exhibited: Fernando Castro Pacheco, Fernando García Ponce and Gabriel Ramírez Aznar.
Palacio de Gobierno, Merida
The Palacio de Gobierno was built in the late 1800s and it is a great place to wander (and it’s free). The “government palace” now houses some large and impressive murals depicting the history between the Mayans and Spaniards, by artist Fernando Castro Pacheco. In the evenings the building is lit up to, illuminate the square and musicians often perform from the balconies.
Are you a backpacker or simply want to travel through Mexico in the most cost-effective way? Then check out Daniel’s post at Layer Culture Backpacking Mexico you find tons of tips and suggestions to help navigate your trip through Mexico.
Trova at the Santa Lucia Parque
Shopping in Merida
The Parque is a favourite place for Meridanos and ex-pats alike. Full of little boutiques and restaurants and one heavenly chocolate store the quiet restful nature of the little Parque draws many wandering the colonial streets of Mexico to relax and people watch.
There is often live entertainment in the Parque. From the Yucatecan “Jarana” dancers accompanied by an orchestra. The musicians, singers and dancing “mestizos”, decked out in their colourful costumes begin the show at 9 PM.
The Lucas Galvez Market Merida
This is one of my best must-do’s in Merida is visiting the Lucas Galvez market. This market is a feast for all your senses. Brilliantly coloured flower vendors, vegetables you have never seen before. Handmade clothing and hammocks, blankets and standard tourist trinkets abound on the second floor.
It may look dirty and rundown and the floors can be treacherous, but notice there is not a single fly near any of the meat and fish, it is open every day of the week from around 8 am until four or five including Sundays. The artisan market does not tend to be open on Sundays though.
Gran Museo de Mundo Maya Merida
The Gran Museo is a remarkable museum detailing the history of the Yucatan peninsula beginning with the Chicxulub meteorite, which wiped out the dinosaurs worldwide. The Museum is a series of galleries that delineate Mayan History from the meteorite until the modern-day. It is a fascinating glimpse into the Mayan world and well worth the trip from Centro.
Experience Pok Ta Pok – a Mayan ball game
Every Friday night at 8:00 pm on Calle 60 in front of the Plaza Grande. There is a game of Mayan Pok Ta Pok where the players battle it out to score a goal. The game is extremely physical and the players try to score by hitting the ball with their hips into the post. The game is accompanied by a live orchestra making it an event you must see.
Explore Merida by Horse & Carriage
Those carriages may look tacky with their plastic flowers but this is the perfect way to see the City. A government initiative to teach the drivers English is working very well and many can give you a guided tour speaking English. This is a magical must do Merida tour particularly in the evening and you feel like you have stepped back into a different era. It takes about 45 minutes for the tour and costs around $200-300 pesos.
What to do in Merida – where to eat in Merida
You can also find some of Merida’s finest dining in the Santa Lucia Parque. From Apoala, which is famous for its Mezcal collection, it includes over 30 varieties and its new take on Mexican cuisine to La Chaya Maya, which is considered one of the best restaurants in the region.
At La Chaya Maya the staff is dressed in traditional huipiles that are gorgeously hand-embroidered and you will notice a small table of women making fresh tortillas to be served in the restaurant. Try the house speciality, Los Tres Mosqueteros, or The Three Musketeers, which combines three classic Yucatecan dishes: Relleno negro (a black sauce made from burnt chiles and spices) over pork; papadzules (an egg dish); and pipián (a sauce with a pumpkin seed base) over turkey.
Yucatecan and Mayan Cuisine in Merida
Cochinita pibil: A tender pit-cooked roast pig that has been marinated in sour orange (Naranja) annatto (achiote) and some local herbs and spices. Tender falling off the bone and served with small fresh tortillas and pickled red onion this is the central dish of the Yucatan.
Queso Relleno: Dating from colonial times when the Mayan servants would take the leftover cheese rind from the plantation owners, fill it with ground pork and spices then cook it under the rind was tender. The Queso is then covered in tomato ‘gravy’ of sorts and served piping hot.
Mexican street food
Merida is home to some of the best food in the Yucatan so be sure to try the local cuisine, which has some huge regional differences here compared to elsewhere in Mexico. These are some of the best street foods in Merida.
Marquesitas is a French-style crepe, which can be purchased plain, or stuffed with the Yucatan favourite Nutella and cream cheese.
Elotes are corn on the cob drenched in mayonnaise, then dipped in freshly grated cheese and doused with lime and tajin a spicy red pepper.
Raspados are shaved ice flavoured with pretty much anything you can think of they are then eaten plain or doused with condensed milk.
What to drink in Merida
Refrescos and bebidas, in other words, soft drinks and drinks. These are some of the Yucatecan favourites:
Tepache, also known as pineapple “beer” is a Mexican drink made from fermenting the fruit, peel and juice of pineapples.
Jamaica – Hisbiscus iced tea
Jamaica pronounced Ha Mai Ka this is the result of steeping the deep purple flowers of a type of hibiscus in sugar syrup, which becomes a deeply sweet and tart tea or “juice”.
Horchata is a traditional Mexican beverage made with rice. It is flavoured with lime and cinnamon and sweetened with sugar. Since it does not contain milk, it will not spoil as easily as a dairy-containing beverage.
Michelada roughly translates as “my cold beer”. The spicy concoction is a beer with tomato juice or clamato, lime and peppery seasoning. Tajin is the preferred salt, lime and pepper condiment that rims the cup and surrounds the straw of the Michelada.
Licuados, and Aguas Frescas
Licuados are refreshing smoothies of fresh fruit (or juice), evaporated milk, and ice.
Aguas Frescas (“fresh waters”) are lighter drinks made by adding a small amount of fresh fruit juice and sugar to water. Hibiscus, melon, tamarind, and lime are common, but rice, flowers, cactus fruit (tuna) are all very common.
Merida is a brilliant place to visit with kids Dawn’s Complete Guide to Merida with Kids is a great read before you head off to Mexico.
If you are planning a trip to Mexico take the time to do your homework first. Do you need a visa, what part of Mexico are you going to visit? Are you looking for culture, food city or rural? Mexico is much bigger than you think but it is an amazing and diverse country that is worth taking your time to explore.
Want something to do outside Merida? Then take a tour of Uxmal an incredible Mayan ruin and a UNESCO World Heritage site just south of the City or just outside the city check out Dzilbichaltun which has its own cenote you can swim in.
One place you have to visit is Campeche this gorgeous candy-coloured town is a short drive down the Peninsula. From Merida, you can pretty much drive anywhere on the Peninsula but you will need to rent a car – City Car Rental in Mexico rents vehicles all over the Yucatan and the rest of Mexico and they get high praise from their customers. If you find yourself flying into Cancun and need a shuttle to various parts of the Yucatan like Merida check out the Cancun Airport shuttle.
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