Known as the “White City” of Mexico, this colonial city is known for its beautiful architecture, ancient Mayan history as well as a really welcoming local culture.

Museums such as the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya and Museo Fernando García Ponce give a great insight into the different periods Mérida lived through. And those who prefer a more “hands-on” approach can visit various ancient sites, cenotes, and even the crater of the infamous asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs!

In this travel guide, we’ll explore Mérida, including 7 of the very best things to see and do.

Things to Know About Mérida

The facade of the Municipal Palace in Merida, Mexico

Firstly, this colorful city is actually one of the safest destinations that you can visit in all of Mexico. Crime rates have always been low, and while you’d think it’s due to police presence (which there still is in abundance), there’s actually something else going on entirely here.

The local Yucataco people are known for valuing safety and community above all else, which has been the driving factor as to why Mérida has stayed so safe when compared with other Mexican destinations. Working together, they’ve even prevented any drug cartels or gangs from setting up here in the first place!

Mérida is also the site of arguably the biggest event to have ever occurred on planet Earth. Around 66 million years ago, a ten-kilometer-wide asteroid hit Earth, wiping out the dinosaurs and most of life as we know it. It left behind the Chicxulub Crater, which is located underneath Mérida and its surroundings.

Much of the asteroid’s remnants are buried deep underneath the Yucatán, but you can still visit the crater, as well as many of the incredible cenotes (river caves) that were formed both during and after this catastrophic event.

Moving (slightly) forwards in time, Mérida has since had a rich cultural history, spanning several centuries and under various different rulings.

The indigenous Mayan civilization once governed these lands until the Spanish invasion. They were responsible for creating some of the most iconic ancient sites found throughout Mexico today.

Of course, Chichén Itzá is the biggest and most well-known. However, there are plenty of other incredible sites nearby such as the ruins of Uxmal and Dzibilchaltún.

More on these ruins later!

Where to Stay in Mérida

Given Mérida is one of the safest cities you can visit in Mexico, there are really no dangerous areas to avoid staying in.

That said, the Historic Center is by far the best neighborhood as it’s located right in the heart of the city and is close to all of the top sites, restaurants, and accommodation options. This area also has a nice feel to it, where you can walk around the Plaza Grande and other colorful streets during both the day and night safely.

Plaza Grande in Merida, Mexico

Backpacker: If you’re in Mérida as a backpacker, then you’ve got your pick for fun and welcoming hostels. Che Nomadas Merida is the place to stay for a lively atmosphere (without being too much of a party hostel), while we recommend Hostal Boutique Casa Garza for a more homely and quiet vibe.

Medium budget: Book a stay at the Hotel San José. Located right on the Plaza Grande, you’ll be close to all the action. The hotel offers private rooms with AC and private bathrooms in a beautiful colonial building. The on-site restaurant specializes in some really well-made Yucateco dishes.

Luxury: Looking for a more luxurious hotel? Then you’re going to want to stay at the Mansión Mérida Boutique. This elegant hotel is one of the best for a memorable stay in Mérida, where you’ll be in a suite and have an American breakfast included in the room rate. Featuring a bistro bar, outdoor pool, and gym, you’ll also be located right on the picturesque Parque Hidalgo.

Mérida Best Day Trips

Visit the Legendary Pyramids of Chichén Itzá

Arguably the most well-known and popular ruins to visit in all of Mexico (and a good contender for Latin America too), Chichén Itzá simply cannot be skipped when in the area. While it can get crowded, it’s easily one of the best things to do near Mérida.

This ancient site was once a thriving city back in the Mesoamerican era and was the beating heart of the Mayan civilization.

There are as many as 26 interesting pyramids and structures to explore, though the very best is the Temple of Kukulcán which dominates the ancient skyline. Dedicated to the Feathered Serpent God, a shadow of a snake representing this deity actually forms along the base of the pyramid during both the Spring and Autumn equinoxes.

The Kukulkan Pyramid in Mexico

Other important sites worth seeing here include El Caracol, Tzompantli as well as the Juego de Pelota.

If you prefer to travel independently you can first take a bus to nearby Valladolid, and then head into the nearby ruins. Just remember to go early since it gets extremely packed during the day.

You can also head with this action-packed tour, which includes hotel pick-up and an expert guide who can bring the ancient ruins to life. It also includes a visit to a nearby cenote.

The Pink Lagoon of Río Lagartos

The Pink Lagoon in Rio Lagartos

Río Largatos was once an unassuming fishing village hidden away from the world. However, it has since become one of the most Instagrammable places to visit in the entire Riviera Maya region.

This is because it is home to the famous Pink Lagoon, known locally as Las Coloradas. The blood red and light pink tones of this lagoon are actually the result of rare plankton and algae that live here, which is a knock-on effect of the high concentration of salt found in these waters (this lake is actually man-made).

While it looks beautiful, this means you won’t want to go for a dip since it can easily burn skin!

On the shores, you’ll see pink flamingos chilling around, though the best time to see them is between the months of April and June.

Las Coloradas is located some 38 km outside of Río Lagartos, so it’s best to join this tour which will handle all logistics for you (and you’ll also get to know this relaxed fishing village).

Head to nearby Campeche

The Mayan City of Edzna

Most tourists only stick to the popular sites, but those who want to get off the beaten path in Mexico will be greatly rewarded.

Similar to the region of Veracruz, Campeche is another lesser-known state that also has many worthwhile things to see and do (where you won’t be constantly competing with the mass of arriving tourist buses!).

In Campeche City, you can first stroll around Independence Square, with its pretty cathedral and colorful streets great for taking photos. You can then head to Playa Caracol, a Mexican beach loved by locals and without the large crowds.

There are many awesome ancient ruins to visit throughout the Campeche region, too, with Edzná easily topping the list. Although they have a similar step-like structure to others like Chichén Itzá, it’s the giant windows that make this structure unique.

Things To Do In & Near Mérida

1. Explore Ancient Mayan Ruins along the Ruta Puuc

Chichén Itzá takes all the thunder, but many other incredible Mayan ruins are just as impressive and easy to reach from Mérida. The Ruta Puuc is the name of this 58 km rural route that connects all sites together.

Uxmal is the most popular ancient site and was once one of the most important Mayan cities due to its heavy economic and political influences. You can also see the ingenious chultunes here, ancient water storage tanks that were constructed due to the area’s severe lack of natural sources.

The Mayan pyramid in Uxmal, Mexico

Kabah is another worthwhile site, which is situated within the dense jungle. Also having many well-preserved temples, the most interesting is the Altar de los Glifos which has over 300 masks carved out of stone.

The Ruta Puuc can be driven from start to end in just over an hour, so it’s more than possible to visit all of the ruins here in one day (although those on public transport will need to leave earlier).

You can also join this day tour, where you’ll see the top four ancient sites of Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil and Labna with all transport and entrance tickets provided.

2. Take in all of Merida’s Beautiful Architecture

If you’ve already spent time elsewhere in Mexico, then you’ll know that the majority of its cities are full of incredible buildings and captivating architecture. However, Mérida is truly on another level.

The facade of the San Idefonso Cathedral of Yucatan in Merida, Mexico

Given limestone is abundant in the surrounding region, the White City was first known for its various cream-colored buildings such as the Catedral de Mérida as well as the Quinta Montes Moline. However, there’s plenty more to see in the Yucatán capital, especially given the more recent colonial periods and architectural styles that were brought over.

Those after bright, contrasting shades will love the Palacio de Gobierno as well as the Casa de Montejo, both of which are also culturally important to Mérida.

The Government Palace in Merida, Mexico

If you want to see colonial arches and other Spanish features, then you’ll want to visit the Arco de Dragones as well as the beautifully-restored ranch of Hacienda Xcanatun.

3. Head to the Mayan World Museum

Ruins such as Uxmal give us a great view into what life looked like during the Mayan era, but a visit to the Mayan World Museum really caps it all off.

Here we can gain a deeper understanding of this fascinating civilization, including how much the Mayans were truly before their time when it came to astronomy as well as the other incredible architectural feats that they built.

Inside there are four different exhibition rooms that cover in depth the history, anthropology, archaeology as well as ethnology of the Mayans. There are over 1100 artifacts to see, ranging from ceramic offerings and everyday tools to stone sculptures and golden luxuries.

Expect it to get busy most afternoons, so it’s best to visit during the early morning hours.

4. Try out the local Yucateco Cuisine

Compared to culinarily celebrated regions such as Oaxaca and Puebla the food scene in the Yucatán is much more mysterious and less explored. However, it is home to some must-try foods.

Pit-roasted pork dish served on banana leaves with condiments
Cochinita Pibil

Cochinita pibil is the all-time favorite amongst locals here, which is slow-roasted pork that is marinated in citrus juices and is usually served either on a plate or in corn tacos (I definitely recommend trying both when in Mérida).

Those into street food will have a plethora of options. The ancient-rooted dish of Papadzules is a forever popular one (corn tortillas filled with egg, tomato, and chile), while panuchos is another tasty snack that can be picked up virtually anywhere (small tortillas filled with meat, avocado, black beans, and other tasty fillings).

If you’re on a budget or simply love the local atmosphere, then you will want to head to the Mercado Santiago to try these local dishes, where you’ll find several food stands such as La Reina Itzalana which make great street food.

If you’re looking for a more luxurious Yucateco experience, then you simply must head to La Chaya Maya which is arguably the best Mayan restaurant in the whole of the Yucatán Peninsula!

5. Visit the Cenotes

Cenotes are ancient cave structures that formed millions of years ago, many of them submerged in bright blue water.

The very best cenotes are actually found quite close to Mérida, and I recommend visiting at least two different ones during your time here.

With deep caves filled with bright blue water, as well as open ceilings with jungle vines and limited light filtering down, the atmosphere at the cenotes feels unique to say the least.

Ik-Kil cenote in Mexico

Ik Kil is one of the most famous and looks like something out of a Jurassic Park film. It’s located close to the ruins of Chichén Itzá, so these sights are worth combining.

The Hacienda Mucuyche is another great visit, where you’ll even have a tour of the ranch before visiting the two cenotes located on-site. These feel more “cave-like”, where you can swim amongst the various spiraling stalactite and stalagmite structures.

Those who want the most memorable experience can join this day tour, where you’ll visit 5 different cenotes!

6. Browse the Local Market of Lucas Galvez

There’s no better place to get to know the friendly locals of Mérida and their culture than by heading to the Mercado de Lucas Galvez.

Built in 1887, this market is the true cultural heart of Mérida, where you can see locals selling various regional foods such as caimito (a tropical fruit that tastes similar to grapes) and vendors selling Panuchos and other quick snacks that are ready-to-go.

This market also has an area where textiles and traditional clothing are sold, as well as beautiful handicrafts which can all make for some pretty unique souvenirs.

While the Lucas Galvez Market can feel a little rough around the edges, it’s quite safe to walk around as long as you leave valuables at home as well as taking necessary precautions (never leave a wallet or phone in your back pocket when in Mexico!).

7. Satisfy your Sweet Tooth at the ChocoStory Museum

This interactive chocolate museum is one of the most fun things to do in Mérida.

Located close to the ruins of Uxmal, here you can learn how chocolate is made, the importance of cacao back in the Mayan times as well as being able to try the sweet stuff yourself.

Chocolate was actually first created in Mexico by the Olmec civilization some 4000 years ago. It was then used by the Mayans for several centuries in both cooking and ceremonial rituals.

So not only is this museum a great opportunity for trying various chocolate creations, it’s also one of the best places to learn about how cacao has grown to become one of the most popular sweet products consumed today.

Given the ChocoStory Museum is located so close to Uxmal, it’s worth visiting both of these highlights within the same trip.

When to Visit Mérida

The monument to the Fatherland in Merida, Mexico

Although the dry season (which runs from November until April) remains the best time to visit Mérida, it doesn’t mean that all of these months are ideal.

For example, late March onwards can get unbearably hot, where temperatures often rise into the mid 90°’s and above (or 35°+C). December and January also tend to be more expensive and overcrowded due to being popular holiday seasons.

Overall the best time to visit Mérida would be the off-peak months of February and March, when daily averages of 76-79°F are much more comfortable and there is barely any rainfall.

Mérida Travel Tips

Plaza de la Independencia, Merida, Mexico

One way to enrich your experience in Mérida is to get to know the locals! The Yucatecos are some of the friendliest bunch you can find in Mexico, who will gladly open the door for you where you can explore even more of what this fantastic city and region have to offer.

This includes eating local staples such as Cochinita Pibil and Panuchos, as well as watching how the culture unfolds within the local bars at night. They’ll also help you with getting the right buses and finding cheaper taxis, and even suggest other secret destinations that are still firmly under the travel radar.

I highly recommend getting off the beaten path when in Mérida. If it’s not something that you regularly do, then this is the perfect place to give it a go, given it’s one of the safest areas you can explore in Mexico.

The Ruta Puuc is a good starter, where you can either rent a car or take public buses to explore many lesser-known Mayan temples.

You can also head to some more remote beaches too, with those such as Progreso and Celestún perfect for getting away from the tourist crowds.

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