Everything you need to know about this vibrant city tucked into the Yucatán jungle.
*This post has been updated as of March 2020.
While many tourists flock to the white sand beaches and glistening turquoise waters of Mexico’s stunning Riviera Maya, those in-the-know are heading past the coast and further inland to a hidden gem tucked into the Yucatán jungle: Mérida, the cultural (& literal) capital of Yucatán state. Named “Best Small City in the World” by Conde Nast Traveler’s 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards, the word is out and steadily growing on this haven of authentic Yucatecan culture.
At its peak in the late 1800s during the city’s henequen, or “green gold,” textile boom, the faded opulence of Mérida is currently in the midst of a renaissance. A new wave of business owners, creatives and visionaries are now restoring dilapidated buildings, setting up shop and otherwise reviving this cultural hotbed – once the wealthiest city in all of Mexico.
In Mérida’s historic Centro, this reawakening is apparent as you wander down bustling cobblestone streets lined with colorful colonial architecture, friendly & welcoming locals, a thriving arts scene, delicious regional cuisine and let’s not forget the many reimagined cantinas (salud!).
It’s hard not to fall in love with Mérida’s bohemian charm, as we certainly did while living in the Yucatán capital for nearly a month last summer. In fact, we love Mérida so much we’ve been back on two more occasions since then, and writing this guide is making us want to plan another! Here, our ultimate guide for enjoying everything this vibrant Yucatán city has to offer.
P.S. Head over to our IG to check out even more of Mérida (and the surrounding Yucatán) in our Highlights!
HOW TO GET THERE
Your best bet is to fly into Mérida’s own international airport (Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport / MID), then catch a taxi or Uber into Mérida’s Centro – which is likely where you’ll be staying.
If you can’t get a flight directly into Mérida, you can also fly into Cancun International Airport (CUN) and rent a car or take the very nice & comfortable ADO bus (some with lay-flat seats!) for the 4 hour journey. The bus will leave you right in downtown where you can easily take an Uber to your accommodation.
If you’re already in the Riviera Maya, you also have the option of taking the ADO out of Playa Del Carmen vs. Cancun (which we have personally done and recommend!).
HOW TO GET AROUND
One of things we love about Mérida is how compact and easy to navigate the city is. Almost everything you’ll want to see & do is conveniently located in the historic Centro, easily covered on foot, local taxi or Uber. We primarily took Uber when needing a set of wheels, which we found to be plentiful, quick and inexpensive. I don’t think we ever paid more than $2.00 USD to go anywhere in Centro, even from one end to the other.
Cobblestone streets and busy sidewalks make riding bikes around town a bit tricky, but if pedaling is your preferred mode of transport you’ll want to take advantage of the city’s popular “Bici-Ruta” held every Sunday morning. This free event lets you ride a dedicated, traffic-free route along Mérida’s famed Paseo de Montejo as well as through historic Centro.
WHERE TO STAY
Another thing we love about Mérida (have we mentioned we love Mérida?) is the city’s many charming boutique hotels and beautiful Airbnbs located right in Centro. Here are a few of our top picks:
Airbnb: From bohemian casitas and spacious lofts to villa-style homes reminiscent of a Moroccan riad (like this one where we recently stayed), you will be spoiled for choice with the many beautiful options available through Airbnb right in the heart of Mérida. Plus, nearly all come with private pools – a necessity in the Yucatán heat!
Luz en Yucatán: Owned & operated by a pair of expat tour guides-turned-hoteliers, this magical retreat located right next to Santa Lucía Park is housed in a beautifully restored former convent dating back to the 16th century. Choose from 15 unique, themed rooms (some equipped with private kitchens and patios), go for a refreshing dip in the on-site pool, and enjoy a nightcap from the lobby’s complimentary bar cart stocked with local spirits & liqueurs.
Rosas y Xocolate: With a name as alluring as Rosas y Xocolate, it’s not hard to imagine why this beautiful boutique hotel ended up on our list. Set in two Spanish Colonial-style mansions located on the famed Paseo de Montejo, this romantic luxury hotel boasts an on-site restaurant & tequila bar, chocolate shop complete with an in-house chocolatier, plus a pool, gym and spa – where you can indulge in one of their signature cacao treatments.
Hotel Julamis: Housed in a beautifully appointed, 200-year old building right in Centro, this adults-only boutique hotel boasts an included 3-course gourmet breakfast, complimentary tequila tastings and a beautiful rooftop for afternoon lounging and nighttime stargazing.
Coqui Coqui Residences & Spa: With just two luxuriously appointed suites, this part-boutique hotel, part-spa, part-perfumery, and part-artisanal café is our pick for a tranquil, luxury escape right in the heart of Mérida. Located in a restored 1903 townhouse exuding old-world glamour, expect wafting scents of herbal & floral infusions from the on-site perfumery, complimentary continental breakfast, access to the private rooftop with plunge pool, and a full suite of relaxing spa treatments awaiting you in their on-site courtyard oasis.
WHERE (& WHAT) TO EAT
La Chaya Maya: With two locations in Centro, there’s a reason why both tourists & locals alike flock to this popular spot at all hours of the day. Expect delicious regional cuisine served up by wait staff in traditional Yucatán dress, while handmade tortillas are pressed to perfection right on the restaurant floor. Be sure to try the region’s famed cochinita pibil, a traditional slow-roasted pork dish braised in achiote paste, orange and lime. The resulting flavor of smoky-sour-sweet all in one is to die for and an absolute must-try on your visit to Mérida!
K’u’uk: Raved as one of the best restaurants in Mérida (if not the best), K’u’uk is worth the hype – and then some! Located off Paseo de Montejo in a beautiful restored Spanish Colonial mansion, head here for an innovative spin on traditional Yucatán staples served up by award-winning Chef Pedro Evia. Contemporary takes on cochinita pibil, corn esquites, longaniza sausage, tamales and more are cooked in a one-of-its-kind Mayan “Pibinal” oven designed to mimic the traditional Mexican pibil (an underground oven covered with earth), while no detail is spared in each dish’s presentation. The tasting menu is well worth the treat (and value) as are the delicious mezcal cocktails. TIP: ask for the tour to get a guided visit of the mansion as well as the restaurant’s on-site food innovation lab, including a giant map of the Yucatán showing where K’u’uk sources its ingredients.
Catrín: Head to this hip Mexican kitchen to enjoy delicious regional cuisine and craft cocktails from Monterrey chef Alfredo Villanueva. Dine indoors surrounded by colorful, art-adorned walls, or keep walking to emerge on the open-air back patio – where a giant wall mural comes to life each night with a unique light show.
Oliva Enoteca: When you’ve had your fill of Yucatecan cuisine, book a table at Oliva Enoteca for haute Italian fare set in a contemporary-yet-intimate setting. An extensive wine list of over 150+ bottles awaits, as do excellent craft cocktails from the talented bartenders. Don’t skimp on the excellent desserts or for a liquid option, go for the limoncello. TIP: Especially if you’re heading here for dinner, reservations are highly recommended. Or opt for my & Alberto’s M.O. – head there close to opening time (7pm) and snag a seat at the bar. You can also try Oliva’s sister restaurants, the 7-table Oliva Kitchen nearby or Oliva Patio, which is just north of Mérida Centro.
Micaela Mar y Leña: Located on Mérida’s growing “restaurant row” of Calle 47 (also home to above faves Catrín and Oliva Enoteca) you’ll find Micaela Mar y Leña – a beautiful restaurant & bar serving creative Mexican fusion with a focus on seafood. Get the pulpo a la parrilla (grilled octopus) and don’t forget to ask your server for the story behind Micaela. Don’t have time to make it here for dinner? Try to at least squeeze in time for a stop at their bar, where you can try one of their many innovative craft cocktails.
Wayan’e: One word: tacos. Before you leave Mérida, you must make a stop at this popular, no-frills taqueria serving a wide range of tacos, tortas and empanadas for approx $0.50 – $1.50 USD each. Expect everything from chicken to pork to beef to chicharrón, with plenty of options for vegetarians as well. Located a few blocks east of Centro; open from 7am – 2:30pm daily (except Sundays when they’re closed).
Eladio’s: Straddling the list between eating & drinking, this place offers both in spades. Modeled after a traditional Mexican cantina, Eladio’s doles out complimentary tapas or “botanas” with every drink you order. Ranging from bar snacks to traditional Yucatecan dishes, be prepared for a feast! Soon after ordering our first round of drinks we found ourselves completely surrounded by plates of delicious and plentiful botanas, which gradually increase in impressiveness the more drinks you order. Our tip? Come equally hungry & thirsty, and pace yourself. 😉 There are a few Eladio’s locations in Mérida, although the closest to Centro is on Calle 59 just east of the historic district.
Mercado 60: Your hip food stall hangout with 18 culinary offerings ranging from Mexican and Argentinian to Lebanese and Japanese, in addition to bar food favorites like burgers, pizza and wings. Open from 6pm, expect live music as the night progresses – eventually turning into a lively dance party around 9/10pm. TIP: Be sure to check the website’s events calendar for cultural happenings like salsa lessons and bier yoga (cheers!).
Parque de Santa Ana: Located on the north end of Centro right by Paseo de Montejo, Santa Ana Park is home to a number of local food stalls serving up Yucatán favorites like huevos motuleños, cochinita pibil, poc-chuc, queso relleno, sopa de lima and more. One of our favorite, no-frills spots for delicious regional fare, there are a number of food vendors and you really can’t go wrong with any of them (I’m pretty certain we’ve tried them all at this point!).
Huevos Motuleños y Más: Housed in a pink building that can’t be missed off Santa Ana Park, head up the staircase and emerge into a charming open-air terrace serving up delicious breakfast & lunch. Our go-to? The namesake huevos motuleños, a flavorful Yucatán dish consisting of fried tortillas, sunny-side-up eggs, black beans, ham, peas, plantains and red salsa. It may sound like an odd combination, but it’s absolutely delicious and there’s no better place to try it. This place is popular with both locals and tourists, so don’t be surprised if you encounter a little bit of wait (which will totally be worth it!). Open daily from 8am – 4pm.
Pola Gelato: Satisfy your sweet tooth at Pola, dishing out homemade gelato (both milk-based and dairy-free) in a dizzying number of delicious flavors. This popular spot is the perfect place to cool off in the Yucatán heat, or head to nearby Santa Lucia Park to finish your sweet treat in one of Mérida’s famed kissing chairs.
WHERE TO DRINK: CAFFEINE
Latte Quatro Sette: You’ll feel as though you’ve just stepped into a European café at this chic, bright coffee shop off Paseo de Montejo. Freshly brewed Italian coffee, delicious pastries and friendly baristas made this place our go-to while staying nearby on a recent visit. Ample seating, free wi-fi and a laptop-friendly atmosphere also make this a great spot for fellow digital nomads.
Manifesto Casa Tostadora Calabrese: Taking the art of coffee seriously, this place is a must-stop for the coffee connoisseur. Expect a wide range of Mexican-grown beans sourced from various regions throughout the country (all impressively roasted on-site), a number of brewing methods from espresso to french press to pour over, and a killer cold brew. Overwhelmed with the options? Don’t worry – the friendly and knowledgable baristas are more than happy to give you a crash course in beans and brew methods, and will help guide you to your perfect cup.
Bengala Kaffeehaus: With two locations in the heart of Mérida – one off Santa Ana Park and one off Santa Lucía Park – it’s definitely worth stopping into either (or both) of these cozy coffee shops for a pick-me-up. Expect a wide range of options from regionally sourced beans to cold brew to smoothies, a small yet respectable selection of sandwiches and pastries, powerful A/C and free wi-fi.
WHERE TO DRINK: BOOZE
La Negrita Cantina: No trip to Mérida is complete without a stop at La Negrita. Open Monday – Sunday 12noon – 10pm (the standard cut-off time for cantinas), you’ll find locals & tourists alike flocking to this hip spot in droves. It’s easy to see why, as inexpensive cerveza & spirits are complemented with rounds of gratis bar snacks (known as “botanas”), while live music keeps the party going every night. If you’re looking for more than snacks, a full menu is also available serving up standard cantina fare.
TIP: If you want to be where all of the action is, head to the back where you’ll find the live music. If you prefer a more intimate experience, saddle up to the quieter bar by the main entrance.
Cantina El Dzalbay: Owned by a Mérida local, a Frenchman, a Spaniard, an Italian and an American, it’s no surprise that this modern take on the traditional cantina is popular among expats – or that it boasts an eclectic range of nightly music ranging from jazz to classic rock to salsa. Walk through the swinging, saloon-style doors to find a lively atmosphere and friendly staff, alongside an impressive list of Yucatán craft beer, signature cocktails and a wide range of spirits. Hungry? A light selection of complimentary botanas are also served here (think bar snacks like popcorn and peanuts), or opt for something more filling from their menu of bar food favorites like tacos, burgers and fries.
TIP: This place gets packed, so head there early (before 8pm) to snag a coveted table or bar seat. If the ground floor level is full, don’t fret. You can also head upstairs to their open-air rooftop.
Casa Chica: After a stroll down Paseo de Montejo, stop into Casa Chica for a drink and a bite in the converted colonial home’s open-air front patio or back garden. The cocktails are excellent, the food delicious and the atmosphere welcoming and lively with a chic, tropical vibe. Open nightly from 6pm – 2am.
TIP: Be sure to check their Facebook page for daily, rotating happy hour specials like 2×1 wine, mojitos and Aperol spritzes, discounted mezcal + beer combos, and more.
Mezcalito Tun Tun: Located within the bustling Mercado 60, grab a stool at this intimate, red-hued cocktail bar open from 5pm – 2:30am. Take your pick from a wide range of artisanal mezcals and pox, local Yucatán craft beer or of course, one of many delicious cocktails. Headed here late and need a pick-me-up? Try one of our faves – the Carajillo (espresso cocktail) with mezcal. You won’t find food here, but you can easily curb your hunger from one of the Mercado’s many other vendors.
TIP: Go early from 5pm – 8pm and take advantage of drink specials like 2×1 signature cocktails, or a cold cerveza + mezcal shot for $50.00 MXN (about $2.00 USD).
Malahat: Behind a nondescript wooden door in Santa Lucía park lies Malahat: Mérida’s first and only speakeasy-style cocktail den. The name “Malahat” is even inspired by a rum smuggling ship that sailed during Prohibition era. While tricky to find, the search is worth it as you emerge into a dimly lit, intimate space filled with flickering candles, jazz music wafting in the background, and expert mixologists ready to serve up your choice of inventive craft cocktails. Open Wednesday to Saturday from 8pm to 2am, Malahat is your perfect stop for a delicious after-dinner drink – or stay past 10pm for live music.
TIP: When we say intimate we mean intimate! To ensure your space at the bar or one of the few small tables, it’s best to call ahead and make a reservation: +52 999 923 1979. Having trouble finding the entrance? Walk in and inquire at Apoala, a Oaxacan restaurant located in Santa Lucía Park that happens to have the same owners as Malahat. They’ll be more than happy to point you in the right direction. 😉
K’u’uk: Raved by many as the best restaurant in Mérida (also landing above in our restaurant list), K’u’uk easily deserves a spot for your pre or post-dinner proclivities as well. Walk into the beautifully restored Spanish Colonial mansion located off Paseo de Montejo, and you’ll immediately find an elegant bar & lounge space serving an impressive selection of wine and champagne, in addition to masterfully prepared craft libations. Whether heading to K’u’uk for dinner, a drink only, or both, this haven of innovative Yucatán cuisine (& cocktails) is a must on your trip to Mérida!
La Tratto: This Italian restaurant located in Santa Lucía Park lands on our list for one primary reason: happy hour. Every day from 6pm – 9pm, you can enjoy 2×1 cerveza and cocktails at the spacious bar. Our go-to? The deliciously strong Negroni’s, which happen to pair perfectly with any one of the spot’s delicious wood-fired oven pizzas.
TIP: Be sure to check La Tratto’s Facebook page for additional, rotating daily specials such as half off pizzas, 2×1 pasta and more.
WHAT TO DO
Stroll down Paseo de Montejo: Modeled after the Champs-Élysées in Paris, any visit to Mérida isn’t complete without a leisurely stroll down the city’s grand, tree-lined boulevard. Dotted along the avenue you will find beautiful, beaux-arts style architecture, charming hotels and a mix of both restored and faded grand mansions (built during the city’s aforementioned henequen boom of the late 1800s).
TIP: We recommend starting your stroll at Paseo de Montejo and Calle 45. Here, you can marvel at the stunning Casas Gemelas – a pair of nearly identical, century-old mansions featuring ornate, French-inspired architecture. (Want to move in? Right now, you can! Recently listed for sale, one of the mansions can be yours for a cool $18 million USD.) Keep going about 1 mile until you reach the Monumento a la Patria featuring 300 hand-carved figures telling the story of México from indigenous times to the mid-20th century.
Take a DIY walking tour of Centro: Mérida’s historic Centro is made for walking, and there’s plenty to explore between the city’s cobblestone streets, colorful colonial architecture, beautifully manicured parks and hidden gems around every corner. Here is our tried & true, recommended route:
Starting at Santa Ana Park, head south on Calle 60 – a vibrant stretch lined with shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, parks and more. Stop and wander around Santa Lucía Park, where you won’t be able to resist taking a photo in the giant Mérida kissing chair. Now, keep heading down Calle 60 until you reach the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán. Pass through the entrance to cool off in the shade, have a sit or simply admire the university’s serene, Moorish-inspired courtyard. As you head back out, pop across the street to Parque de la Madre, a small-yet-beautiful park that’s absolutely worth a look. Now, head over 1 block to Calle 58, where you can check out the wave-like modern architecture of the recently constructed Palacio de la Música. While you’re here you can head into the concert hall’s museum to learn about the history of Mexican music, or you can check the roster of upcoming concerts to see if there’s anything you’d like to catch. Finally, head back over to Calle 60 and 1 block south until you reach the end and prized jewel of your journey: Plaza Grande, Mérida’s beloved zócalo (public square).
Enjoy Plaza Grande: The center of activity in Mérida, there is plenty to do in Plaza Grande to keep you occupied for at least a few hours. After you’ve wandered through the beautifully manicured park, grab a seat and watch life go by in any of the iconic kissing chairs you’ll see sprinkled throughout the square. Next, it’s time to explore the perimeter. Start with the grand Catedral de San Ildefonso, looming out of the SE corner of the plaza. With a fascinating history, this 1500s renaissance-style cathedral was partially built using reclaimed stones from Mayan ruins. Located next to the cathedral is your next stop: Museo Fernando García Ponce-Macay. The only museum in all of the Yucatán fully dedicated to contemporary art, MACAY is absolutely worth checking out to marvel at sculptures, paintings, photographs, mixed media installations and more from both Mexican and international artists – plus, free entry.
As you continue around the plaza your next stop is Casa Montejo: the former home of Mérida’s own founder, Francisco de Montejo. Step inside the 16-century residence to tour several beautifully preserved rooms, featuring original furnishings, artwork and interiors spanning Victorian, neo-rococo and neo-renaissance styles. Casa Montejo further features rotating installations by modern & contemporary Mexican artists, all at completely free entry. As you exit Casa Montejo, look northwest (to Calle 62) and you’ll spot a pink-hued building with a clocktower. This is Mérida’s Palacio Municipal, your next stop. Pass through the police guarding the entrance (don’t worry, they’re friendly) and head up the stairs to the 2nd floor. Here, you’ll walk through the city council’s historic meeting hall until you emerge onto a spacious balcony offering bird’s eye views of Plaza Grande – a perfect place for some photos and a quick rest!
Lastly, keep winding around the plaza until you reach the mint-green Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Yucatán (Governor’s Palace). Wander through the courtyard and up the stairs to marvel at beautiful murals by local artist Fernando Castro Pacheco. These depict the history of the Mayan people and their struggles as they first encounter, and are ultimately conquered by, the Spanish. Don’t miss the stunning ballroom where you’ll find even more murals in addition to views of Plaza Grande.
TIP: Head to Plaza Grande on Sunday for the massive weekly market offering drool-worthy Yucatecan food alongside numerous vendor stalls selling everything from regional clothing to handicrafts to further souvenirs.
Explore museums: In addition to the above mentioned MACAY Contemporary Art Museum and Casa Montejo, you’ll also want to add these worthwhile museums to your list:
Gran Museo del Mundo Maya (the Great Museum of the Mayan World): To give you more context on your visit to Mérida and the surrounding Yucatán region, head to this sprawling museum where you can explore Mayan culture from pre-Hispanic times to present. As you arrive you won’t be able to miss the contemporary exterior in the shape of a ceiba: a sacred tree believed to connect the heavens to the earth and underworld. Once inside, plan to spend around 2 hours wandering through expertly curated halls featuring 1000+ well-preserved artifacts.
Museo Munda Maya is an easy 20-minute Uber ride from Centro, open Wednesday – Monday, 9am – 5pm. Tickets can be purchased on-site at $150.00 MXN for foreigners; $100.00 MXN for Mexican nationals.
Museo de Arte Popular de Yucatán (Yucatán Folk Art Museum): Housed in a restored colonial mansion, this small-yet-interesting museum is a treasure trove of beautiful indigenous handicrafts, traditional Yucatecan dress, hand-woven textiles, colorful ceramics and more. With a focus on the Yucatán region, you’ll also find work here from other parts of Mexico as well as Central and South America. Admission is free, open Tuesday – Saturday from 10am – 5pm and Sundays 10am – 3pm.
Palacio Cantón (officially Museo Regional de Antropología de Yucatán, or Regional Museum of Yucatán Anthropology): If you don’t have time to visit Museo Mundo Maya outside of Centro, yet still want to squeeze in an educational experience on Mayan history, head to Palacio Canton on Paseo de Montejo. This lavish, beaux arts-style mansion features rotating exhibitions on the region’s cultural heritage, pre-Hispanic times to present. Admission is $65.00 MXN per person, open Tuesday – Sunday 8am – 5pm. (On Sundays, entry is free for Mexican nationals and foreign residents.)
Catch a performance at Palacio de la Música: Located just off Plaza Grande, this newly-constructed concert hall and museum is worth a stop if only to check out it’s sleek, modern architecture. The steel, wave-like facade is made even more impressive due its juxtaposition with surrounding colonial buildings. Here, you can head into the museum to learn about the history of Mexican music (entry is $150.00 MXN per person, or $100.00 MXN for Mexican nationals), or you can check the roster of upcoming concerts to see if there’s anything you’d like to catch.
Serendipitously on a recent trip, we were able to grab tickets to one of a few performances being held by the Yucatán Symphony Orchestra – for just $50.00 MXN (about $2.00 USD) each. The concert was absolutely incredible and easily a top highlight of all of our trips to Mérida. If you happen to be lucky enough to be in town while the Yucatán Symphony Orchestra is playing (or just about any other performances for that matter), do yourself a favor and make a beeline for tickets – you won’t regret it! Scroll through the beginning of our Mérida IG Highlight for a preview of what’s in store.
Take in a free cultural show: Even better than a $50 peso show? A free show! And lucky for you, Mérida offers these in spades. Every night of the week, the city of Mérida hosts completely free cultural shows ranging from traditional Yucatecan music and dance to historical cemetery tours, even a reenactment of the pre-Hispanic Mayan ballgame, Pok Ta Pok. Taking place at night in front of the cathedral in Plaza Grande, the ballgame in particular is definitely cool to watch and one of the more unique offerings you certainly won’t see anywhere else. We also personally enjoyed the Monday night “Vaquería” dance & music exhibition in front of the Palacio Municipal (also in Plaza Grande) as well as the Thursday night “Serenade in Santa Lucía Park.” Check the city’s website here for a current listing of all shows and activities.
TIP: Where there’s a free show, there WILL be crowds. Arrive at least 90 minutes early to have even a chance at staking out a decent spot until showtime. You will want to follow this advice in particular with the Pok Ta Pok game, Vaquería Night and Serenade in Santa Lucía Park. In regards to the latter – you can be extra smart here and make a dinner reservation at one of the open-air restaurants lining the park such as La Tratto, 500 Noches, Rosa Sur 32 or Apoala. Call well in advance, and be sure to request an outdoor table so you can enjoy the serenade.
Shop ’til you drop: Wandering through Centro, you won’t be able to miss the many shops selling Mérida’s most famed item: the guayabera, a loose-fitting, embroidered dress shirt traditionally worn by Yucatecan men. Ladies, you’ll also be able to find an equally abundant amount of shops selling colorful blouses and dresses known as huipiles. Both guayaberas and huipiles are typically made of lightweight linen or cotton so as to withstand heat and humidity, marked by signature embroidery and for women – additional embellishments such as ribbon and lace. Don’t forget to top off your look (literally) with a stylish Panama hat.
Once you’ve stocked up on attire, you can look for additional souvenirs such as hammocks, leather goods, woven baskets, pottery and further handicrafts, not to mention Mayan chocolate or the region’s local spirit: xtabentún, an anise liqueur made in the Yucatán from anise seed, fermented honey and rum. You certainly won’t have to look far, as you’ll find numerous shopping opportunities wherever you wander in Centro.
Or – to really throw yourself in the thick of it, head to either of these two, massive marketplaces located just south of Plaza Grande. At both, you’ll find hundreds of stalls selling everything (we mean everything) from clothing to handicrafts to food: Bazar de Artesanías García Rejón on Calle 60, and Mercado Lucas de Gálvez on Calle 56.
Hacienda Yaxcopoil: A 45-minute drive from Mérida’s Centro, this stunning colonial-era plantation may appear faded now – but was a different scene entirely during the region’s henequen textile boom of the late 19th & early 20th centuries. Pass through the property’s grand arch to wander through the main house (featuring original furnishings) and stroll through the sprawling grounds, gardens and factory halls complete with old machinery once used to process the henequen plant – aptly known as “green gold.” Flying a bit under the radar with little to no crowds (on a recent weekday afternoon we had the entire place to ourselves), this beautiful hacienda is absolutely worth a visit from nearby Mérida to imagine what life was like back in the region’s henequen glory days.
Hacienda Yaxcopoil is open M-F 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-4pm and Sun 9am-2pm; admission $125.00 MXN per person.
TIP: Want to stay on-site? You can! Hacienda Yaxcopoil has one beautifully appointed “Casa de Visitas” (guesthouse) that you can stay in for $100.00 USD per night, complete with free wifi. Elevate your experience even further with traditional Yucatan cuisine offered for breakfast, lunch or dinner (at an additional charge).
Santa Barbara Cenotes: Cenotes (pronounced say-no-tay), are natural, water-filled sinkholes held sacred by the ancient Mayans. They believed cenotes were sacred portals to the underworld, and its easy to see why as you gaze through crystal clear water that seems to stretch endlessly underground. With numerous options located in the Yucatán, a visit to at least one of these magical gems is a must during your visit to Mérida.
Our top pick? The trio of Santa Barbara Cenotes, located just over an hour outside the city center in the town of Homún. You can easily rent a car or take an Uber (a recent trip ran about $25.00 USD each way from Centro). Especially if you only have time for one cenote, Santa Barbara is a great option as you’ll be able to visit three in one. After paying the entrance fee, you’ll have the option of grabbing complimentary bicycles or riding about 5 minutes in a horse-drawn cart to reach the cenotes. From here all three are in close proximity to each other, which you can easily reach by walking or pedaling. And you’ll definitely want to visit all three! Each is uniquely beautiful and otherworldly. Your bike or the horse-drawn cart will take you back to the entrance, which is also where the restaurant is located if you’ve opted for lunch.
Entry is $150.00 MXN per person for all three cenotes, or $220.00 MXN for all three + lunch. Complimentary life jackets and optional bike rental are also included in the price. Open daily from 9am – 6pm, we recommend going right at opening time for a truly magical, little-to-no crowds experience.
Uxmal Mayan Ruins: You are spoilt for choice with many Mayan ruins in the region (including famed Chichen Itza), however the one we loved the most and highly recommend is Uxmal. The perfect day trip from Mérida at just over an hour’s drive, we were blown away by the beauty of these ruins waiting for those willing to head further off the beaten path in the Yucatán jungle.
➵ HISTORY LESSON ➵ First settled in 500 B.C., it wasn’t until the 9th – 12th centuries A.D. that Uxmal really came into power. This is when the site became the center of Mayan political and economic power in the entire region. It’s estimated that a peak population of approx 25,000 inhabitants lived throughout a territory of 37.5 square kilometers.
We arrived at 8:30am on a recent weekday (half an hour past opening time) and had the UNESCO World Heritage site nearly to ourselves for the first hour. Even when more people arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves with plenty of breathing room – easily less than half of the crowds we encountered at Chichen Itza a few days later. While Chichen Itza is a bucket list item for a reason and worth seeing, we found Uxmal to be a much more peaceful, immersive and overall enjoyable experience. Here you can wander through & into many of the ruins, as well as climb the Great Pyramid. Comparatively speaking to other ruin sites, the climb itself isn’t too challenging (Alberto did it in flip-flops!) and the panoramic view at the top is well worth it. Not only are you rewarded with sweeping views of the ruins, but of the surrounding jungle – where you can even spot smaller ruin structures peeking through the trees in the distance.
Uxmal is open 7 days a week, 8am – 5pm. For the best, most peaceful experience (and to avoid the Yucatán heat!) go right at opening time. Tickets can be purchased on-site, currently $413.00 MXN for foreigners or $176.00 MXN for Mexican citizens.
*All photos in this post by yours truly, @travelinglamas