Latest update: 12 May 2023
Mérida is the cultural capital of the Yucatán region in Mexico. The city is bursting with cultural activities, most of which are free. With these 12 free activities in Mérida, you have a well-filled program for a few days.
I love Merida! I’ve been there twice now, and I would have liked to stay a little longer each time. The atmosphere is laid-back, the weather is almost always fantastic, and the city has so much to offer. AND! There are a lot of activities and sights that you can do for free in Mérida in Yucatán. Love it!
Tip 1 – Join a city tour in Mérida (or explore the city on your own)
Mérida is a lovely city to walk around in. It is not nearly as massive and touristy as Cancún, for example. It feels like a big village and very safe.
Mérida was founded in 1542 on the remains of an ancient Mayan city (T’ho). The rich colonial past blends perfectly with the modern world. You will find yourself on the Paseo de Montejo from 1888, a vast boulevard with gigantic European 19th-century houses (and a Starbucks). If you walk a bit further towards the center, there are narrow streets and large squares with cathedrals and colonial houses to marvel at.
Would you like to do a walking tour? You can also do that for free in Mérida. Every day at 10 a.m., one starts on Plaza Grande. You can reserve online. You are supposed to give a tip, by the way. Not completely free after all. 😉
Tip 2 – Hunt for antiques
There are many antique shops in Mérida. If I should believe Google, there are no fewer than 35 scattered all over the city. The shops are usually tiny spaces with everything stacked on top of each other and where you have to actively look for the gems. However, I score my favorite souvenir at Galeria de Arte Antigüedades: a license plate. You can find more information about specific antique shops on the Cultures Traveled blog.
Tip 3 – Visit the zoo
Even the zoo in Mérida is free. I am a bit skeptical when I enter: are the animals well cared for? How small are the cages? But then, I am pleasantly surprised: it all looks impeccable, and security is paying close attention. I can’t even bring my water bottle inside because I might want to give it to the animals. The zoo has everything from giraffes, exotic birds, hippos to… rabbits? Oh, why not?
A day at the zoo is a good idea, especially with children. The zoo is located in Parque Centenario, which offers a lot of fun and entertainment for the kids (train rides, pony rides, trampolines, etc.). If you’re not traveling with kids, go to the zoo on a weekday or very early on the weekend. That saves some screaming children around you. 😉
Tip! It’s a long walk to the zoo. A taxi ride from the center costs about 30 pesos. You can just order an Uber in Mérida. Have you never used Uber? Then you get a 5 euro discount via this link (and you, in fact, drive to the zoo for free).
Tip 4 – Visit the Museo de Arte Popular de Yucatán
The Museo de Arte Popular de Yucatán is a small museum of folk art, folklore. Upon entering, I have to write down my name, and I get a short explanation about the museum. Inside I find a collection of popular Mexican art, such as ceramics, weaving, ritual objects, and more. All information is also available in English. And, once again: it’s free.
Tip 5 – Cheer at the Mayan ball game
I have been traveling through Mexico for a while when I get to Mérida and have already seen the playing fields for the ball game at several Mayan ruins. With a little explanation from a guide and some help from Google, I have a reasonable idea of what that must have been like. In Mérida, I can finally really see it! Every Wednesday evening, there is a show at Plaza Grande, in front of the cathedral. A group of tough men shows how the game, Pok ta Pok, used to be played. Fully dressed up. An announcer explains the ritual, meaning, and game. The men go for it, and the audience clearly sympathizes: many “ooh’s” and “ah’s”. When it’s over, you can have your picture taken with the players.
The stands are already filling up from Wednesday evening around 7 o’clock, while the ball game only starts at 8 o’clock. So just make that 8:30, Mexican time, huh?
Tip 6 – Visit the MACAY museum
This museum has no fewer than three names: Museu Fernando García Ponce, MACAY, which is the abbreviation for Museo de Arte Contemporáne o Alteneo de Yucatán. Well, isn’t that convenient? I walk past the museum several times as I’m confused with the names. So: the building on the right in the passage from Plaza Grande is the one you’re looking for. The MACAY museum focuses on modern art. There are some permanent displays, and the temporary exhibitions change every three months. A museum like MACAY wouldn’t look out of place in a city like Amsterdam: it really is high quality. Another excellent free recommendation for your stay in Mérida.
Tip 7 – Visit the Noche Mexicana
Every Saturday at the beginning of the Paseo de Montejo, there is a Noche Mexicana. I like that it seems to be mainly Mexicans who come to enjoy the show. The host is an older man in a white cowboy suit – love it. There is singing, there is dancing, and there are many food stalls. Definitely worth checking out.
Tip! Get your hands on the free Yucatan Today magazine. It lists all free events with the current times.
Tip 8 – Cycling on Sunday during the Biciruta
Every Sunday, Mérida closes part of its streets to give cyclists, skaters, and walkers plenty of space. Between 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Calle 60 (from the center) and Paseo de Montejo form Biciruta. Of course, you can also rent a bicycle here. At Telcel, the bicycles are free. You might be able to get your hands on a few unique bikes, such as double bicycles, unicycles, and tandems. Walking is also perfectly fine. There are many performers along the streets, so you can enjoy live music, people selling art, magicians, and much more.
Tip 9 – Visit Mérida’s antique market on Sundays
Okay, don’t expect too much from this market. The small antique market at Parque Santa Lucia consists of no more than ten stalls (rounded up). When I’m there, there are mostly books on display. Nice for a lightning visit or the real enthusiast. But hey, if you participate in the Biciruta, then you are already close. So you might as well come and have a look, right? Every Sunday from 9 am.
Tip 10 – Receive a serenade on Thursday
On Thursday evenings, the seats fill up quickly at Parque Santa Lucia. Serentas Yucatecas starts at 9 in the evening. It’s a show full of local dance and music. If you get there early, you still have a seat in the stands or grab a chair at one of the cafes. Since 1965, a Serenata has been organized every Thursday.
Tip 11 – Visit Museo Casa Montejo and see the light show
The Museo Casa Montejo is located in a stately 16th-century building. Once it belonged to the Montejo family, now you can go in to see some of the furnished rooms for free. They are completely furnished in the old style.
A free show takes place on and in front of the museum on Saturday evening. A light show is displayed on the facade objects, and actors portray the story of the Montejo family. Then there is a traditional dance. You also need to arrive on time if you want a seat. People are already there more than an hour in advance.
Tip 12 – Visit the Mérida market
Mérida has a reasonably sizeable market to feast your eyes on. This is the Mercado San Benito. The Mérida residents come to do their shopping. Nice to take some pictures in the morning!
Tip! Check all Mérida tips: including restaurants and day trips.
Not free, but low-budget sleeping in Mérida: Che Nomadas hostel
Che Nomadas hostel in Merida is awesome.
Okay, I’ll explain a little more. Nomadas is a spacious, clean hostel with a very chill vibe. The staff is strict (they don’t want any nuisance in the hostel), but incredibly helpful. This ensures that the people who come here are also chill and relaxed and that it is wonderfully quiet in the evening. The dorms are huge, and the beds are super comfy. I prefer to skip the complimentary breakfast, and I don’t like the yoga class as it’s on pebbles. The pool, however: lovely. Especially after a day of strolling through the city. Almost every day, something is going on, such as a yoga class, cooking class, or live music. I could have easily stayed at Nomadas hostel for a month. Convinced? You can book via Booking.com.
I stayed at Nomadas before it became part of the Che chain. But it looks like nothing has changed except for the name.
More Mexico inspiration?
Helpful links for your Mexico trip
- Travel guides. I love the practical travel guides from Lonely Planet, buy them at Bol.com or Amazon.
- Flights. Compare all your options! Definitely check out Momondo, Skyscanner, and Kiwi.
- Travel documentation. Make sure you have the right documentation to travel to Mexico. iVisa can help you out.
- Bus. Book bus trips in Mexico with Busbud or 12Go.
- Accommodation. All-time favorite: Booking.com. Find hostels via Hostelworld.
- Money. Your bank cards may not get accepted everywhere. You could opt for a Revolut card as an additional card when you travel.
- Activities. You book the best tours and activities with GetYourGuide and Viator. ‘Free’ walking tours are available at GuruWalk. And for bike tours, try Baja Bikes.
- Attractions and museums. Get a 5% discount on museums and attractions at Tiqets with the coupon code KIMOPREIS22.
- Car rental. My go-to car rental companies are EasyTerra and Sunny Cars as they have all-inclusive / worry-free offers.
- Travel gear. Buy your gear at Bever or Decathlon, or simply at Bol.com.
- Package deals. Rather go on a catered trip? You have many options! For the Dutch, try ANWB vakanties, Tui or Sawadee, or maybe you can find a sweet deal at Vakantie Discounter or D-reizen?
Or: try a yoga retreat in Mexico!
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First published: November 2018. The article has been updated since.