Latest update: 23 February 2022
I’ve found another one: a city where I lose track of time, feel good and don’t want to leave any time soon. Mérida in Mexico is exactly what the Lonely Planet claims: a tourist town too big to feel like a tourist trap. The city itself offers a lot of entertainment, but you can also easily do a few nice day trips a short distance away.
In love with Mérida
Mérida is the capital of the Yucatán region in Mexico. The city has about as many inhabitants as Amsterdam, but it seems as if most of them are away – it is wonderfully quiet in the center of Mérida. Traffic is considerably busier around rush hour in the morning and at the end of the day, but no Amsterdam A10-like practices. Also no mass tourism, like in the Amsterdam Red Light District or on Dam Square. And the temperature in winter is obviously more pleasant in Mérida. In the summer months, it must be blistering hot here. I am grateful for the swimming pool at the Che Nomadas hostel. That is a must-stay, by the way, more about that later in this article.
In fact, I’m such a fan that I’ve been to Mérida twice already. Once alone and once with my mother.
Things to do in Mérida in Mexico
The city is nice and spacious, with a beautiful pedestrian boulevard (Paseo de Montejo). There are many places to have a drink or snack, and Mérida has a quiet, friendly atmosphere. I think it’s such a great pastime to walk through the colorful city. And there is something to do almost every evening. Even at night, I feel safe walking the streets. Mérida is, in my opinion, a city to experience more than one to tick off sights.
I’ve put together a nice list of free activities in Mérida. From the zoo to a city walk, all for free. So find out what you can do for free in Mérida.
Tip 1 – Inhale Mérida’s culture
Mérida’s city council clearly believes it is essential that culture is accessible to everyone, so there are many free events. One night I watched how the Mayans used to play their famous ball game. The next, I listen to serenades, and the night after, I enjoy Mexican dance. Read the blog Free in Mérida for more details about the events and other free activities and sights.
Tip 2 – The stroll boulevard: Paseo Montejo
There always seems to be a pleasant breeze on the Paseo Montejo. So it’s lovely to stroll along the wide boulevard. On both sides of the road, you can see the most beautiful colonial houses and find some nice restaurants and shops.
Tip 3 – Visit Mérida’s museums
In Mérida, several museums are free to visit, such as the folklore (Museo de Arte Poplular de Yucatán) and the modern art museum (MACAY). For more info on those museums, check out my blog about free things to do in Mérida.
I also visit the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya. It is anything but free, by Mexican standards. The entrance fee is 150 pesos for adults (about €6.50). I joke with the cashier if she believes me when I say I’m a Mexican student. She seems to go along with it for a while, but alas. The museum is enormous and ultramodern. The exhibition is about the Maya and provides a lot of contexts if you plan to visit the Mayan ruins in Mexico. I spend about an hour and a half in the museum.
Would you also like to visit the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya? Then you take the bus on Calle 60 towards Progreso or go to the bus station behind the main square. Tell the driver you want to go to the museum, and you will be dropped off right at the door. Please note that the museum is closed on Tuesdays.
Tip 4 – Restaurants in Mérida
Mérida is a modern city, which is reflected in the wide choice of restaurants and cafes. The trendy Sukrais located on the Paseo Montejo. An excellent place for coffee, breakfast, and lunch. Slightly hipster, very friendly, and chill. There is a light breeze (much appreciated in this humid and hot city), and the crowd is young.
Update 2022: it seems that Sukra has had to close its doors. Give me a shout if you know what’s going on!
Mercado 60 is a food hall with 18 food trucks. In the evenings there is usually a live band and salsa dancing.
Restaurant Peruano is inspired by the most famous restaurants in Lima, and I eat a delicious ceviche Nikkei with a pisco sour here. The waitstaff is super helpful and friendly to me. I am once again having dinner with myself. I couldn’t really convince other backpackers to spend the budget of a few days on one meal.
Update 2022: Peruano also does not seem to have survived the pandemic. I’d love to hear from you if you can confirm Google is right!
Looking for a good ceviche? Then try Tobala 58. This is a simple but modernly decorated place where you can order different types of ceviche to share. Especially crowded in the evening.
At coffee café Manifesto, many people are working on their laptops while enjoying a cup of coffee. They take coffee very seriously at Manifesto. There is even a coffee manifesto hanging in the shop. However, while the cappuccino tastes really good, the iced coffee is a letdown. I hardly taste coffee anymore: it is mainly a large glass full of milk and whipped cream.
You can have an excellent breakfast at Marmalada. It is a small place where the expats of Mérida like to come. There are only a few tables, brightly colored paintings hanging on the wall, and lovely service. And, not unimportant, the breakfast is delicious. Maybe not suitable when you need a sturdy breakfast, but then you just order a cake after, right?
Update 2022: Does anyone know if Marmalada has unfortunately also had to close its doors?
At Manjar Blanco, you can taste dishes typical of the region. I go for the meat-filled cheese, and we also have a kind of tacos with conchita pibil (slow-cooked pork). It’s a big restaurant, and it’s pretty crowded with Mexicans. And that’s always a good sign, right?
The air conditioning is blaring loudly at Latte Quattro Sette. If you are looking for a cool place – literally – for your breakfast or coffee, you can chill out here. The small cafe is lovingly decorated with pastel colors and sayings on the wall. You will find a wide selection of cakes and biscuits at the counter. Salivating! The breakfast dishes are fine but too quickly put together. For example, you just get two white sandwiches with the avocado mash, which could have been toasted. The quality of the breakfast is better at Marmalada.
Hermana Republica is ideal for beer and tasty snacks, although they also have a dinner menu. Inside it looks a bit like a chic sports bar, but there is also a nice garden at the back with live music on some days. Hermana Republica brews its own beer: from pilsner to IPA.
If you want to eat low-budget tacos, go to Lupita. You can find Lupita in the San Francisco market. The staff will get to you before your butt touches the plastic chairs – super fast service! You pay about 14 pesos for a taco here.
Dislike: Apoala, where I don’t feel welcome at all. The well-regarded Mexican restaurant is located in Santa Lucia Square. When I arrive, all outdoor seats are empty. Yet I don’t get a table there, but I am referred to a side room inside. On my own. Real customer friendly. NOT. At first, I sit down, a bit flabbergasted, but decide to leave anyway. This feels way too uncomfortable.
Street Food in Merida
Sample local specialties at the street shops. For example, a simple taco or a marquesita (kind of pancake with Nutella and cheese, not bad, but not tasty).
Not sure what to choose from the stalls on the street? Or are you afraid you will choose that one stall where you will get food poisoning? Then join a street food tour. Tasty and fun. Here are a few options in Mérida:
Tip 5 – The best day trips from Mérida (+ 1 disappointing day trip)
Sometimes I opt for a rental car and sometimes for the bus because it allows me more freedom than a tour. You can rent a car at a car rental company in the city or book it online at Sunny Cars or EasyTerra. Count on around €40, including insurance for a day. At Busbud.com, you can compare different buses.
Disappointment: cenote San Ignacio
I’ll start with a recommendation not to go to this one: cenote San Ignacio. Cenote San Ignacio is a short drive from Mérida (by car or bus). A cenote is a kind of cave that is underwater. Cenotes were sacred places to the Maya. They made sacrifices here, including human sacrifices, because cenotes were said to be the entrance to the underworld.
Please skip the cenote of San Ignacio. What a disappointment! I’ve seen some impressive cenotes in Mexico, and this one is clearly not one of them. It’s small, stuffy and the music and disco lights make the experience even more disappointing. Out of the more than 3,000 or 6,000 cenotes (it just depends on which source you consult) in the Yucatán region, you don’t have to put this one on your Mexico bucket list.
Spend a day in Valladolid
Valladolid is a dusty and hot town about two hours from Mérida. You will find a beautiful monastery, a large, stunning cenote for a swim, and a wander through the city is also worth it. I even stayed there for more than a day. Here you will find all Valladolid tips.
Looking for flamingos from Mérida
Making a day trip from Mérida? Then consider Celestun. It’s about 100 kilometers away, and it has flamingos all year round. The town itself is rather sleepy, dusty, and deserted. You can go there with a tour from Mérida, but I find it quite pricey.
I rented a car with a group of Dutch people, and as soon as we parked it in Celestun, people immediately flew towards us who wanted to sell us a boat trip. The way to visit Reserva de la Biosfera Ría Celestún is by boat. I was told that it is best to do a tour from the beach in terms of price, and in terms of tight organization, a tour that starts at the bridge is better. We arrive at the beach and pay 1200 pesos for a boat trip of about two hours with six people.
The boat trip goes right through the nature reserve, where we see many different birds and a great talk by the guide about the environment. When the water rises, people come looking for caracol(sea snails), and a little further, there is said to be an island where people eat crocodiles! The highlight is, of course, the flamingos. They spend time here all year round (especially between November and March). Flamingos eat about 12 hours a day, and the guides know precisely when they are where. With this boat trip, you have actually bought a flamingo guarantee.
We sail through a mangrove tunnel and visit Valdiosera and Venecia’s freshwater springs. Enthusiasts take a dip here. But, the crocodile in the water keeps me from making the jump.
Traveling the Ruta Puuc (including Uxmal)
The Puuc Route takes you past various Mayan cities that are a bit more off the beaten track. Uxmal is the best known and the busiest. But not nearly as busy as Chichén Itzá, for example. The Ruta Puuc is about 40 kilometers long and leads you past Uxmal, Kabáh, Sayil, Xlapak, Labna, and the Loltun caves. It is most convenient to complete the route with a rental car, but tours are also offered from Mérida. Would you like to know more about organizing the Ruta Puuc yourself? Check this blog.
Visit Homun – the cenote village
Homun is known for its many cenotes. You can have fun with cenote hopping for a day; there are many here. Unfortunately, I only have time for the Santa Barbara cenote near Homun, but I know what to do next time in Mexico. Already looking forward to it!
Hostel tip in Mérida: Che Nomadas Hostel
I choose the Che Nomadas Hostel in Mérida, mainly because of the pool. When I arrive, I immediately let my guard down and relax: it has a very chill, open atmosphere. The dorms are spacious and clean, and many activities are offered. The hostel accommodates both families and individual travelers. That seems to go well together. Therefore, the terrace and the swimming pool are places where you can easily meet people. The second time I come here with my mother, we have a simple private room in the back of the garden: it works perfectly for us. Book Che Nomadas hostel with Booking.com.
The Nomadas hostel was taken over by the Che chain after my stay. Hopefully, it’s still just as good!
How do you get to Merida?
Mérida is located in the Yucatán region of Mexico. It is easy to reach by bus. The bus ride from Valladolid takes about two hours and from Cancún over four hours. From Isla Holbox/Chiquila, it will easily take you six to eight hours because the route is almost exclusively driven by local buses (in other words, many stops). An overnight bus from Palenque is also a good option. Check out the best bus travel routes on Busbud.com.
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 Book Depository. The latter has longer delivery times but is often cheaper.
- Flights. Compare all your options! Definitely check out Momondo, Skyscanner, and Kiwi.
- Bus. Book bus trips in Mexico with Busbud or 12Go.
- Accommodation. All-time favorites: Booking.com and Airbnb. Find hostels via Hostelworld.
- Activities. You book the best tours and activities with GetYourGuide and Viator. For tours with locals, go to WithLocals or Hi,hi Guide. And for bike tours, try Baja Bikes.
- 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?
Some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you buy something through these links, I might receive a small commission – at no extra costs to you of course!
First published: December 2018. The article has been updated since.