A photographer, history buff, culture-seeker and foodie’s dream destination, Mérida is the next up and coming city to visit in Mexico. As our taxi driver put it in his endearingly broken but eloquent English, “Mérida is really growing up.”
Upon visiting Mérida, Mexico for the first time, your initial impressions will include how much color surrounds you, how loud it is (in a good way), how clean and maintained the streets are and its old world charm and significant historical value.
As soon as you enter the Centro (the city center), it embraces you with its proud vibrant heritage and you instantly fall in love.
Narrow cobblestone streets are encased by buildings, churches and facades of European-influence complete with adorable balconies.
The heart of the city is full of energy, but just the right amount of busy. From street food to open air restaurants or the live music found in one of the many park squares, everyone is happy to be in Mérida.
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If you’re visiting Merida for the first time, here are my top tips for visiting this fascinating city.
Is Mérida Mexico Worth Visiting?
If you’re in search of somewhere in Mexico that’s authentic, full of history, safe, easy to get around, inexpensive and has an impressive amount of things to do within the city and dozens of more options for day trips in the area – then yes, Mérida is worth visiting.
As a beautiful inland city, Mérida is not a beach destination. But if you do need your fill of the beach, Progesso can be reached within 40 minutes.
If you’re planning to be in the city for a week or more, Progresso would be a nice beach break. I wouldn’t recommend staying there though, as it’s a cruise ship port, so crowds will be plentiful and prices will be higher.
Is Mérida Safe?
Not only is it one of the safest cities in Mexico, Mérida is currently considered one of the safest places in the world. The municipal police who roam around town aren’t even armed!
And there are ‘tourist police’ who watch out for the tourists and even help you cross the street (there are a lot of traffic circles)!
One officer generously offered to help us cross a busy traffic circle so that we could go take photos of the Monumento a La Patria, a must see on Paseo Montejo.
Not only is the city safe, the locals are some of the most friendly, happy and outgoing that we’ve met on multiple trips to Mexico.
What is Mérida, Mexico Known For?
Mérida is the oldest city in North America, since it was the most populous area during the Mayan civilization times.
It was one of the first cities to be conquered by the Spanish who discovered the Yucatan in the early 1500s.
There is evidence all over the city with year stamps over many of the churches in buildings dating back to the 1500s.
Mérida is also nicknamed “the white city” due to many buildings originally built with the abundance of limestone in the area.
Merida is also surrounded by the ‘cenote zone’, the largest concentration of Cenotes in Mexico.
This half-moon cenote zone actually follows the perimeter of the crater caused by the massive meteorite that crashed into the Yucatan Peninsula and is believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.
How Many Days Do You Need to Visit Mérida?
I would recommend staying in Mérida for at least 4 nights, but of course more if your travel itinerary allows. Try to overlap your visit on a weekend to experience the full energy of the city!
We stayed 4 nights in Mérida which was enough time to see and experience many attractions both in the city and a couple of half-day trips.
However, I would have loved to spend a couple weeks here. I think Mérida is the perfect destination for anyone who loves slow travel.
The heart of the city is the Plaza Grande, which is right in the middle of the downtown or ‘centro.’ The streets are easy to navigate, making it a perfect city to explore. And while the main plaza is always hopping, don’t miss other great parks and squares like Santa Ana (which has a great outdoor lunch market) or Santa Lucia.
Where to Stay in Mérida, Mexico
I recommend choosing a hotel or an Airbnb somewhere in the Centro of Mérida (city center). We stayed at Hotel Casa Carmita, which we loved!
It was less than $100 per night (in Canadian dollars, over Christmas holidays) and included a hot cooked breakfast each morning. There’s an adorable courtyard and it was only about a 7 minute walk to the Plaza Grande (central square).
My other hotel choices about where to stay in Mérida would be: Piedra de Agua for the perfect central location, great prices and old world colonial charm.
] recommend using Booking.com for hotels as most places now allow free cancellation (no questions asked) up until a couple days before check-in.
If you want to rent an Airbnb in Mérida, I highly recommend these three apartments. When we visited in the month of December, they were all priced around $100 per night (that’s in Canadian dollars) and each have their own pool and are rated 4.97 out of 5 stars.
While we opted to stay in a boutique hotel, the next time we visit Merida, we are planning to stay longer and will be renting an Airbnb. If you’re new to Airbnb unsure about using this platform, check out my guide to finding the perfect Airbnb every time.
If you’re visiting Merida for the first time, I suggest staying somewhere in the northern half of the Centro.
We found that it was a little quieter and closer to the Paseo 60 ADO Bus terminal, which is a much nicer and (and less hectic) bus station than centro.
As long as you are staying anywhere within the Centro, it will be a close walk to anything and it will be safe.
Transportation – How to Get to There and Getting Around Mérida
While you can catch a 2 hour flight from Houston, Texas, most people from North America find Mérida by flying to Cancún and taking the 4 hour ADO bus ride to the city.
We took the ADO bus, and it was quite comfortable. The seats have plugins and little hangers for your purse/bag and there is a washroom on board. Plus, it was cheaper, about $30 per person for the trip.
You will be doing a lot of walking in Mérida (everything is reasonably close together in the downtown), so I would bring a comfortable pair of walking sandals or shoes.
The sidewalks get quite narrow on many of the streets, but be sure to stay on them as most of the streets are one-way and cars get very close to the curbs.
As long as you’re in the Centro, it is a very easy city to navigate. It was built in a grid pattern and so the roads that run north-south are even numbers and the roads that run east-west are all odd numbers.
That being said, there are taxis available everywhere, and Uber is readily available in Mérida and very cheap. You can use the same Uber app you have on your phone.
What to Do in Mérida, Mexico
From exploring the history, culture and architecture in the Centro to day-tripping to the surrounding region, Mérida has fascinating attractions to keep you busy. Here’s a sample of what you can do:
• Enjoy views of the massive Cathedral at Plaza Grande (and have fun finding epic spots to take photos of this beautiful park).
• Share a moment in the kissing chairs.
• Find the pink barbie doll mansion.
• Explore the mansions on Paseo de Montejo.
• Shop at all the night markets.
• Mingle with the locals at a Cantina (enjoy free appies with your drinks).
• Take a romantic horse-drawn carriage through the old colonial neighborhoods.
• Try scrumptious Yucatean foods (Poc Chuc and Sopa de Lima).
• Go on a cenote safari.
• Explore Mayan ruins.
>> Read more about the 26 Best Things To Do in Merida Here <<
Inside the beautiful municipal building Cenote safari! The courtyard in La Negrita – a must-do in Merida! Lunch at El Trapiche – delicious and well-priced The giant kissing chairs are fun, but the regular-sized ones are found all over town
Travel Tips Before Visiting Mérida
It Gets Hot!
A few quick things to know about Mérida before you visit – Mérida is located inland, not on the coast, it will be about a 45 minute drive to get to the closest beach, Progesso.
Because of this, Mérida gets pretty hot and not as humid as other parts of Mexico, so we really enjoyed the weather here!
Helps to Know a Little Spanish
While it’s an up and coming city, there is not as much English spoken here compared to more touristy areas like Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Tulum or Puerto Vallarta. We are not fluent, but we know a few phrases and key words in Spanish, which really helped.
We also used the Google Translate app on our phones a lot and that helped! However, we did meet some fellow Americans on our trip who admitted they didn’t know any Spanish, and they’ve been getting by just fine!
One of the best things about visiting Mérida right now is that it’s not an expensive city. We found food and drink prices, even hotels, were much lower than other places we’ve traveled to in Mexico.
Your pesos will go a long way here compared to the more touristy places in Mexico.
Restaurants and What to Eat
If you stay away from restaurants that surround the Plaza Grande, you’ll find very reasonably priced meals for $10 or less (usd) per entree.
We ventured to Chaya Maya because of the hype, and I wouldn’t recommend it (too busy, overpriced and you find the same Yucatean food in most places).
The following night we just wandered around Centro and found Espacios Mayas and it was one of the best meals we had on the trip.
Don’t miss lunch or dinner at El Trapiche. And be sure to visit a Cantina – you can tell because it will have the saloon doors. La Negrita was a special experience!
Anywhere you go, be sure to try the region’s specialty dishes – we loved Sopa de Lima and Poc Chuc.
And many of the main squares have free WiFi, but it can be slow. We use a pocket WiFi device, like Skyroam, when we travel that we can easily navigate wherever we are and plan our days accordingly.
Enjoy your time visiting Mérida! It’s one of my favorite places to visit in Mexico – you will love it!
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Looking for More to Do in The Yucatan?
Visit the Valladolid Area (half-way between Mérida and Cancun) for the ultimate off-the-beaten path itinerary
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