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Things to Do in Merida

As we drive away from the airport, our Uber driver tells us Merida has just been named the second safest city in North America. Merida sits as a hub for the northern peninsula attractions. It is just 45 minutes from the beach in Progreso and less than 2 hours to a Wonder of the World - Chichen Itza. You can take day trips to cenotes, the pink rivers of Las Coloradas and several national parks in the area. It’s a great base to explore this part of the Yucatan peninsula. Check out these things to do in Merida, Mexico!

picture of the MERIDA sign in historical center with title overlay

Getting to Merida

If you have rented a car to explore the area, then you should have no issues strolling into town. I chose to fly into the city from Oaxaca. As such, the airport isn’t too far from city center, but definitely too much to walk (though a woman in our hostel did just that… it took her 4 hours!). There are taxis at the arrivals hall but be sure to get a ticket at the booth and certified price before starting. Ubers are used in Merida (hallelujah!) but can’t be picked up at the airport. You will have to walk about 10 minutes outside of the airport to the bus station (across from the Cemex on Benito Juarez).

If you don’t want to walk, but want to save a few pesos, you can take Airport Bus (RT701) from the airport into the city center. Rides come every 20 minutes and cost 45 pesos each way. The shuttle runs from 6 am to 2 am. It stops at the ADO terminal on Calle 68 in Centro, the Santa Lucia park, Paseo 60, the Fiesta Americana hotel, the International Congress Center and the ADO terminal on Calle 69.


The cheaper Va & Ven normal city bus stops outside the airport (that 10 minute walk where the Uber’s pick up across from Cemex). It also provides rides into the city center for only 12 pesos. They usually come more frequently (every 5-10 minutes) and Google Maps can give you a good indication of which one to take based on your final destination. Tickets can be purchased on the bus. Cash only.  


Things to Do in Merida

Explore the Historical Center

If the weather allows, join a city walking tour of the historical center. There are usually tours at 10 am and again at 5 pm. The City Council provides one from the Cathedral Square or you can join one from Guruwalk. When you have had enough of the heat, step into the Museo Casa Montejo, which is a free museum of a historical home. There are several print exhibitions and gloriously cold air conditioning and clean bathrooms.

a chef serves some of the pit pork from MUGY

Every day at 3 pm the Museo de la Gastronomía Yucateca provides a free demonstration of the local traditional dishes cooked in the outside pit. They roast pounds of chicken, beef and other dishes under the ground, cooked by fired rocks for 20 hours, making the meat incredibly tender. At the end of the demonstration, you get to sample a little meat. We also decided to stay at the restaurant and enjoyed a late lunch. The sopa de lima was incredible, but make sure you order something from the pit!


Day Trips

You can hit 3 hot spots in the area in one day with this great day trip. Leaving at 8 am you will be picked up from your accommodations in Merida and taken out to the yellow city of Izamal. The town painted the old convent yellow, the color of the Vatican flag, when Pope John Paul II came to visit in 1993, and the city remains predominantly yellow to this date. The tour takes you through the convent and now working monastery with chapel and then through the main square. Next you will visit the Yokdzonot Cenote, which was wonderfully less crowded than the cenote closer to Chichen Itza. After lunch, the ruins await. I did this tour during the heat wave of May and in 105-degree heat, I was forever grateful for the abundant trees on the site (unlike Teotihuacan outside of Mexico City). The tour may be executed in a different order to avoid crowds or the heat, but all three sites made for a lovely day. The tour guide provided commentary in both English and Spanish. Entrance to the ruins and the cenote is not included (which seems to be the norm as prices are different for locals and foreigners).


Time did not allow me to do this trip, but I really wanted to see the famed Los Coloradas pink river and flamingos on this tour. It’s a long day, as these spots are about 3 hours away, but you can see some of the local wildlife and (hopefully) some pink sands from the salt mining.

Pok Ta Pok Game

If you are in town on Saturday (and try to see that you are), you can attend the free pok ta pok demonstration at 8 pm. This Mesoamerican ball game is a ritual sport played since 1650 BC by pre-Colombian peoples across the Americas. The rings can still be seen at Chichen Itza and Monte Alban (in Oaxaca). It is thought the players don’t use their hands, but rather their hips and elbows to strike the ball. Pictures show one of the players as a sacrifice after the game concludes – winner? or loser? This demonstration is one of the most unique things I have seen in Mexico and worth a stop! It’s free with limited seating set up around the “ring” so come early to get a good spot. Due to the construction in the main square (Plaza Grande), it is currently held at San Sebastian Square.


Where to Stay

When I visited Merida, I was looking for a budget hostel that offered free breakfast, a swimming pool and air conditioning! I also wanted to be within walking distance to the ADO bus terminal as I knew I would be walking there for my next destination. I choose Hostal Boutique Casa Garza for its great location and all the above! It has a larger footprint than first appears. It’s actually a double house, that offers multiple courtyards, two swimming pools and seating areas. Don’t forget to climb the stairs to the upper lounge areas! I only found this on my last night. Breakfast is included in the price, which offers coffee, granola, yogurt, fresh fruits and bread and usually a hot item (pancakes, etc). If you are looking for something more upscale, be sure to look at Booking for great deals and ease of booking.


Note: Merida is hot! Like 110 degrees hot in May! Choose your timing wisely. As of May 2024, the city is under major renovations, with the entire historical center being repaved and refreshed. As such, the famous Cathedral Square is nothing but a renovation site, so I’d wait a few months (or even a year) before venturing to this city. However, once it is finished, I know it will be an even better getaway in the Yucatan peninsula.



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