First of all, it’s Mérida and not Merìda. Merida is a wonderful name. Disney may have a not-so-subtle influence on my imagination here, but to me the name evokes fierceness and pride, color and kindness. Merida is all of that: it has the vibe of a capital city (it’s the capital of the Yucatan after all) but without the general chaos and overwhelm you would expect. There are a ton of things to do in Merida, so it may be the place for you if you tend to get bored easily.
Things to do in Merida
The main advantage Merida can offer to travellers is its extremely convenient location. It’s close to the lovely pueblos magicos of Valladolid and Izamal, only 30 minutes away from the beach and from the Ecological Reserve of Ria Celestun (where you can spot amazing flamingos), less than one hour away from the incredible cenotes of Cuzama and Homun and only a bus ride away from the astonishing ruins of the Ruta Puuc.
Merida is also an extremely lively city: every night there’s a free event going on in one of the city plazas. As of 2018, these are the events you can enjoy:
- Mondays: Vaqueria Yucateca in front of the Palacio Municipal (main square). Beautifully dressed dancers perform traditional dances (sometimes even with beer bottles on their heads).
- Tuesdays: Remembranzas Musicales at Parque de Santiago. Elderly people dance on the notes of classics from the 40’s.
- Wednesdays: Noche de las Culturas at Casa Montejo. Performances of different kinds and old Mayan tales are told.
- Thursdays: Parque Santa Lucia comes alive with Serenata dancers.
- Fridays: probably the most entertaining event in town: the Pok-Ta-Pok match. Pok ta Pok was a traditional Mayan ball game, played in teams and apparently quite aggressive. You’ll see the remains of pok ta pok courts in a lot of Mayan sites such as Coba, Ekbalam, Chichen Itza, Uxmal and others. On Friday nights, in the downtown area, there is an incredible reenactment of the game, that will leave you speechless.
- Saturdays: Noche Mexicana. Just more music and food and performances and fun.
- Sundays: The party starts in the morning, with roads closed to traffic and people riding bicycles everywhere. Food carts, traditional arts and craft stalls, dance performances and more liven up the already lively city centre.
What else is there in town?
You could spend half a day in Plaza Grande without getting bored. The imposing cathedral Iglesia de San Ildefonso overlooks the square like a loving but severe mother. On the other side, there’s the modern Cultural Centre, as well as a great bookstore and an ice-cream parlour. On the shorter sides of the square, you’ll find the Palacio de Gobierno and the Museo Casa Montejo. I highly recommend to take a little time to visit the first: it’s free and there are a lot of beautiful paintings and panels shedding some light on the complex and fascinating Mayan and Mexican history in Merida. And from the second floor you’ll get a nice view on the whole Plaza.
[Another plus: there are free bathrooms inside the building.]
The Paseo Montejo is a long and wide boulevard, flanked by colorful colonial houses, used as museums, offices or private residences and hotels. On Sunday mornings, the paseo is closed to traffic and hundreds of people ride happily their bicycles up and down the boulevard, livened up by the latest Mexican and international hits.
Gran Museo del Mundo Maya
I really wanted to visit this museum and I encourage you to do so if you are interested in history, as it’s the biggest museum of its kind, dedicated to the Mayan world. It’s further away from the city centre, but buses will get you there easily from the main square.
I was on my way there, determined to immerse myself in the Mayan world, before getting sidetracked by some people staying at my hostel who brought me to some hidden cenotes instead. They assured me I would make it back early enough to go to the museum but well… guys can’t be trusted. Go if you can! I’ll go next time. 🙂
[Ps. It’s closed on Tuesdays]
Mercado Lucas de Galvez
If you’re into cheap and authentic food, you can’t skip the market. It’s quite crowded and sometimes confusing to navigate, but the hidden taco stalls are a guarantee. And you’ll find all kinds of souvenirs and spices as well.
Exploring the calles
Last but not least, take time to stroll around the calles, especially in the early morning when there’s no one around. Admire the colorful houses in the dim light of dawn, the bright doors, the cute flower pots on the window sills. Greet the early risers passing by, already smiling at 6 am, sit in the neighbourhood square to watch young kids play soccer while shops start opening. The rhythm of life around you is always one of the most fascinating attractions you can find in a new place.
So, overall, if you want to make the most out of the Yucatan State, Merida is an excellent base. It’s safe, livable, cheap and lively without being chaotic (unless you are trying to get on a bus in the market area during rush hour).
A few practical info
Merida is extremely well connected to a number of cities by air and by land. The airport has flights to and from Cancun, Mexico City, Tuxla Gutierrez and more, whereas the ADO buses connect Merida to Valladolid, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Campeche, Palenque, San Cristobal and more.
You can easily get around the city on foot, but taxis and buses are everywhere if you need to reach the outskirts of town.
Merida has 3 bus terminals, so always double-check where your bus leaves from.
The CAME station is the first-class bus terminal, usually for longer routes.
Merida TAME is the second-class bus terminal, right beside the CAME, so it’s no big deal if you mix up the two. At the TAME terminal you’ll find ADO, Oriente and Mayab buses for local or shorter trips.
The Noreste terminal, on the other hand, is by the market, in a quite chaotic area of town. The cheapest buses depart from here and are good for local trips to minor villages. They are mainly used by locals and they stop eeeeverywhere. It’s a good way to experience local life.
Colectivos depart mainly from the Noreste terminal and they serve a lot of local destinations such as Homun, Cuzama, Izamal and more. Colectivos leave only when the van is full, so they are not the best option if you’re in a hurry. But once they’re on the road, they will get you anywhere faster than the bus.
Tacos, tortas, salbutes,panuchos, relleno negro… the Yucatecan cuisine has so much to offer! The go-to restaurant for traditional cuisine is La Chaya Maya, but as I mentioned earlier food stalls inside the market are the best cheap alternative to restaurants. For drinks and live music, head to La Negrita or to the Pipiripao, both in the downtown area.
There’s no shortage of hotels and hostels in town. I stayed at La Ermita, a hostel close to the ADO bus terminal, and I couldn’t recommend it more. I loved it. It’s cheap, there is a lot of space, the staff is really nice, there’s a small swimming pool with loungers and hammocks, a big TV and pool table area, WiFi is reliable everywhere, breakfast is rich and included in the price.
Merida is an extremely safe city at any time of the day or of the night. People are friendly, helpful and kind. I would recommend it also for medium to longer term stays and for digital nomads.
Are you heading to Mexico soon? Consider stopping by Merida!
Do you know anyone who’s going soon and may benefit from this quick guide, please share the article with them 🙂
And if you want an old but gold paper guide, I always recommend the Lonely Planet guides.