What’s an under-the-radar travel destination in Mexico with tons of culture, incredible food and great weather?

It’s Merida, in the Yucatan.

While Merida is not a secret at all, as the 12th-largest city in Mexico, it still doesn’t ring a bell for most travelers like the bigger-name destinations that get more hype.

If you choose to travel to Merida, you’ll find an authentic Mexican city with friendly people, a relaxing vibe and a great place for traveling on a budget, or a splurge.

In this guide to Merida, which we wrote after spending a whole month in this tropical Mexican city, we’re going to tell you the best things to do, what to see, where to eat and drink and where to stay, along with the biggest takeaways of general helpful tips about visiting the city.

Quick facts about Merida

To get you acquainted with Merida before you visit, here are some helpful facts that will paint a picture:

  • Merida is the 12th-largest city in Mexico, with a population of almost 900,000 people.
  • Merida’s winter temperatures average the 60s (F) at night, and high 80s (F) during the day, making it an incredible place to escape the winter cold.
  • Summer temperatures in Merida start averaging the high 90s to 100 F, from April to September, making fall and winter the clear best times to visit.
  • The modern city of Merida was founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo y León. Today, Merida maintains beautiful colonial architecture on the boulevard Paseo de Montejo, which feels a bit like Europe for a few blocks.
  • As a city in Yucatan State, Merida and its surrounding region has one of the highest population percentages of indigenous peoples, who are of Mayan descent.
  • Mayan cuisine in Merida has a big focus on corn products like fresh and fried tortillas, and you will find some unique local elements in the food like dishes heavy on turkey, pumpkin or pumpkin seeds, the “chaya” green leafy vegetable, locally-grown oranges and marinated meats.

Why you should consider traveling to Merida, Mexico

Is Merida worth visiting?

Yes. Merida is great. It’s under the radar for the average person, who only knows “Mexico City,” “Cancun” and “Tulum” as Mexican travel destinations.

Once in Merida, we found that the western Yucatan region is excellent for seeing culture, beaches, nature and villages. Merida as a destination is quite simple to get around, incredibly safe, with so many things to do for any type of traveler.

Helpful Tip

For more on safety in Merida, see our guide on all the questions surrounding if Merida is a safe destination to visit.

We like Merida as an alternative to higher-volume destinations like Baja California, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and even Mexico City, where we’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the past.

Merida is beautiful, with historic mansions, great outdoor life, fun markets, delicious local cuisine and an array of places to stay for every budget.

Merida is a worthwhile destination that is great for a few days, or a few months, which is why you’ll see so many happy visitors here.

Is it safe to travel to Merida Mexico right now?

There are two main safety concerns when considering a trip to Mexico. There’s of course, general safety, and then newer, there’s COVID concerns for both domestic and foreign travelers.

In terms of general safety, Merida is one of the safest places that you can travel to in Mexico. It is well-known as one of the safest, if not the single top safest city, in all of Mexico. We had no issues with safety during our entire stay in Merida.

It is even very safe for solo women, and as a female traveler, I found little issue walking around by myself past dark. There is extremely minimal threat of petty crime like pickpocketing. We have felt safer in Merida than in any other Latin American destination, and we’ve been to many destinations throughout Central and South America both as a couple and while traveling solo.

In terms of COVID, Merida has been doing a really good job with safety protocols.

Every store or restaurant provides hand sanitizer and has temperature readings upon entry. Masks are mandatory in public spaces. You’ll always see people wearing masks on public buses, museums and inside of hotels, as well as while walking down the street and in public parks.

Many businesses (usually small bodegas, and some takeaway fast food spots or coffee shops) have even started barring customers from entering, using only a counter as a cashier. There are signs that say that the use of masks is mandatory and that for safety, customers should social distance.

How many days do you need in Merida?

We ended up staying in Merida for almost four weeks. Toward the end of our stay, we felt more like locals and started visiting our favorite spots over and over again.

We were working remotely, so didn’t have endless days on our hands looking for things to do. We enjoyed being in the nice weather and seeing friends who live in Merida as expats.

If we were in Merida on vacation without any work, a week would have been plenty of time. With a week, you would have enough time to do all the day trips from Merida.

You’d also have plenty of time to explore all of the restaurants and shops in the central downtown areas, along with some more far-flung regions on the outskirts of the city.

Is Merida expensive?

Merida is an affordable destination idea for travelers.

Most basic necessities are on the cheaper end, in comparison to other popular travel destinations, even Mexico City, and certainly when compared to nearby Tulum. Short and long term stays are also very reasonably priced.

While Merida is affordable, it depends on your personal financial situation and how you define “expensive.” We like to gauge how expensive a location is with the price of bananas, a bottle of water, street food and a reasonable cost of an accommodation.

We noticed that 5 bananas are about $1 USD. That’s on par with what we’d expect to see everywhere. Off to a good start!

A bottle of water is about $0.50, which is cheaper than most places that we’ve visited.

Interestingly, Merida’s center does not have a lot of traditional street food options like we’ve seen in Mexico City and other Latin American cities. We bought two pastries from a man on a bike for about $0.50 total. You can find local basic food at a cocina economica for about $1.50.

We were surprised with the range of accommodation prices (in a good way). We prioritized remote work, so looked for places that had verified WiFi speeds, dedicated workspaces and locations close to the coworking space (Conexion 60) that we were recommended.

Within our range, there are Airbnb options from US$20 - $100+ per night, depending on if you seek a private room in someone’s house, or “entire home.” You can see all our details about where to stay in Merida, in this guide.

The $20 options are fine, if you’re staying for a short amount of time, and if you do not mind something basic like a room with a bed. The $100+/night options are all outstanding, and most of them have private pools, yards, multiple beautifully-decorated rooms and great locations.

There are also a lot of hotels in ideal locations that range from $30-50 for a regular room, to $75-150+ for a deluxe suite. For all the awesome Merida backpacker hostels, you can expect prices like $7-14 for a dorm bed, and privates starting at $20 per night. There are options for every traveler’s price range when it comes to the best places to stay in Merida.

Can you drink the water in Merida?

No. Do not drink the tap water in Merida, Mexico.

Most of the locals drink bottled and filtered water. You’ll see some places with water filtration systems, or those big 5-10 gallon plastic jugs of potable water.

If you’re traveling to Merida, expect to buy water on-the-go at a convenience store like OXXO, Circle K or 7Eleven, or a supermarket. You can also look for accommodations that offer filtered water (our first Airbnb did NOT have drinking water included, but our second did).

Stay away from ice if it comes from a street vendor or debatable local juice stand, and watch out for street vendors or food carts selling popsicles if you have a weak stomach.

There’s no shortage of markets and little shops, so when traveling to Merida, we never felt like we couldn’t find water. Gift shops, pharmacies, cafes, restaurants, bars, supermarkets, hotels and tour companies will all have bottled water available for purchase. Our tip is to bring your own water bottle to travel more sustainably.

Things to do in Merida

There are so many things to do in Merida, and you can bet your bottom peso that I made a big list of them even before we landed.

I was in for a surprise, though, as some of what I had marked on my map was not as interesting as the things we actually found to do in person while we were walking around the Centro Historico on multiple hot sunny days.

Do you like architecture? Museums? Art galleries? People-watching in big plazas? Check out the best things to do in Merida for any type of traveler.

Sights to see in Merida

There are so many sights to see, both cultural and historic. You can use this list for the top spots for any Merida itinerary.

Plaza Grande

The main and central plaza of Merida is located in the heart of the Centro Historico, and provides a place to cool off with its many park benches and Yucatan “lovers’ chairs.”

Parque Santa Ana

This park next to Parroquia Santa Ana is located on Calle 60 and Calle 49. It’s a great place to sit in the sun on a bench, people-watch or grab a fresh smoothie and tacos at neighboring Mercado de Santa Ana.

Catedral de Merida

The huge Catedral de Merida is a landmark of its own, towering next to Plaza Grande. It is one of the oldest cathedrals in Latin America, which means it’s really old.

Parque Hidalgo

This shady park is a charming place to relax while you’re on a hot walk in the center of Merida. You can grab Starbucks, and admire Hotel Caribe while sitting on a bench taking in the scene.

Museo Casa de Montejo

This well-done museum was well worth the (free!) visit. Casa de Montejo has been restored to its historic grandeur and even has fantastic modern art installations that provide a cool contrast of old and new.

Parque Santa Lucia

This charming little park is bordered by a set of restaurants that all have outdoor dining. The park itself has its own amphitheater and is themed by a dedication to music. There’s also a giant version of the Yucatan Lovers’ Chair.

Palacio del Gobierno

The government palace is free to visit, and is located next to Plaza Grande.

Letras de Merida

The famous “Merida letters” are a great photo op, located in Plaza Grande (you’ll usually see a cluster of people waiting to pose for a photo with them).

Centro Cultural Universitario (Edificio Central UADY)

This is one of our favorite photogenic spots in all of Merida, and free to walk into, although there’s not much else to do there. With its white and pristine architecture, this is a great place to take a photo and enjoy the peace.

You can see more photos in our Merida photo gallery.

Arco de Dragones & Arco San Juan

If you are up for a walk a dab past the action of Plaza Grande, venture out to the Arco de Dragones, Arco del Puente and Arco San Juan for an iconic and very Central American photo with these yellow arches that punctuate the city’s streets.

Pasaje de la Revolución

This was one of the most surprising things to do in Merida. Next to the centuries-old Catedral de Merida is an indoor-outdoor covered pathway that is home to big modern art installations. It’s great for a photo. This spot is located between Calles 60 & 58, and 61 and 63 (or here, in Google Maps).

Markets & Shopping in Merida

Mercado Santa Ana

Mentioned above, this market on Calle 49 between 60 and Paseo Montejo is famous for its local Yucatan food stalls serving up salbutes, cochinita pibil, papadzules, panuchos, licuados, batidos and other delights. I could eat here every day and always be trying something new.

Mercado Lucas de Galvez

The big city market is quite a scene, spanning several square blocks and with vendors selling everything from vegetables to butchered meat. Up a ramp and walkway, you’ll find casual restaurants and food stalls serving local Yucatecan lunch fare.

The Slow Food Farmers Market

In a very different way, this local market is famous for its locally-sourced, organic, vegan-friendly and sustainable vendors. Locals and expats selling dried fruit, coffees, cheeses, baked goods and organic products dot Calle 33D every Saturday from 9 to 1 pm.

Paseo 60

This is the shopping center we became the most familiar with, as Paseo 60 is home to our coworking space for digital nomads (Conexion 60) on the 4th floor, my hairdresser and nail salon (Salon de Belleza Alejandra Herrera), the ADO Bus Station Stop (ADO Paseo 60), upscale restaurants and a fun food court!

On many nights of the week, there is live music in the central patio.

The Merida food scene

Best cafes in Merida

There are so many cafes in Merida that we wrote this entire guide to the best coffee shops in town.

Looking for the most Instagrammy cafes? Seeking out where to work remotely for a few hours? Or, are you a coffee snob hunting down the best beans around? All our research is in the guide linked above.

Best places to eat in Merida

El Apapacho (Calle 62 354 x 41 y 43,)

This cafe on Calle 62 near Calle 41 is an immediately lovable cafe, restaurant and bar with a cool book-themed front room and a lovely backyard. The menu is long, but don’t let that scare you! There’s coffee for when you come in the morning for some remote work, and beautifully-done and healthy Mexican dishes for when you’re hungry.

See more about it in our details in the Merida coffee shop and cafe guide.

Mercado Santa Ana (C. 60 47 - 45, Zona Paseo Montejo)

This market is my favorite place to eat in Merida! Located at Parque Santa Ana on Calle 60 and 49, this lively market has open-air food stalls selling Yucatan specialties and fresh juices. I could not stop going back!

The following are my favorite stalls, where I tried tacos de cochinita pibil, tamales de pollo, tacos de pavo (turkey) and licuados de guayaba, papaya y mas.

  • Loncheria San Judas Tadeo
  • Cocina y Loncheria Mary
  • Loncheria Rani
  • Loncheria y Taqueria la Socorrito

Viva Teya (Calle 60 #346 interior Paseo 60)

This more upscale eatery is the sister of its location at Hacienda Teya, outside Merida. The cuisine is traditional and modern, and the food is delightful (along with the drinks). You can find it in the restaurants on the ground (PB) floor of the Paseo 60 shopping center.

Taqueria de la Union (C. 55 488, Parque Santa Lucia,)

This awesome taqueria had some of the best tacos I ate in Merida, and I got them for takeaway. I swear I wanted these tacos to last absolutely forever. Taqueria de la Union has a small indoor restaurant for seating and does takeaway, so you can eat your food in Parque Santa Lucia on a bench.

PITA Mediterranean Cuisine & Bar (C. 55 496, Parque Santa Lucia)

This Israeli-owned Mediterranean and Middle Eastern spot has a back garden that’ll make you feel transported to Tel Aviv, if you’re looking for an escape from Merida. On the menu are foods like falafel, pita, Israeli salad and shawarma.

El Changarro (C. 56 408, Centro)

I came across this local spot on one of my walks during our third week in Merida and it was one of the tamales that made me the happiest. This is a great casual and budget lunch spot that serves up local stuff. The hours seem to be morning til mid-afternoon.

Te extraño, extraño (LAGALA, Calle 56 #426 x 47)

Equally a spot for the eye candy of its design, Te extraño, extraño is a lovely spot for brunch or lunch with a group. Keep in mind that if you want to go for just a juice or a coffee, they prioritize reservations for larger groups, but there are some stand-alone tables with umbrellas in the backyard. The cold brew was one of the best we had in Merida.

Micaela Mar & Leña (Calle 47 458, Centro)

Micaela Mar & Leña is a favorite for visitors who travel for seafood. According to friends, this famed spot is tied for favorite restaurants in Merida and the octopus comes highly recommended. Price tier: $$.

Cuna (Av. Colón 508)

This stylish and fashionable spot for dining in Merida is another restaurant about which our friends rave. It’s on the second floor of a hotel and is the most stunning space (half indoors half balcony)! The aguachile is world-class, the fish and steaks are incredible. The brunch is IT.

Helpful Tip

As a disclaimer, Cuna is not cheap, but friends claim it’s worthy every peso in your travel budget if you’re a foodie.

Pacho Maiz (Calle 59 437a, Parque de la Mejorada)

This corn-themed (yes!) homey restaurant is a bit more ‘out there’ toward the arches and bus stations past the historic center, but (!) it is a fantastic stop for a big menu of Yucatecan and Mexican favorites, home-cooked in a kitchen you can actually see.

This place feels like dining in a friend’s house and the food is beautifully plated, and affordable. Try the coconut lemonade!

Dulceria y Sorbeteria Colon (C. 56 47A, Zona Paseo Montejo)

Dulceria y Sorbeteria Colon is so fantastic that we went twice in three days. I knew just by looking at this place that it has stood the test of time, and it is a Merida must.

The big menu of fresh sorbets (sorbetes) is really to die for, and our favorites were the zapote (mamey), guayaba, chocolate and mango.

La Choco, Chocolateria Café (P.º de Montejo 496 2)

This cafe has a menu of breakfast foods, lunch foods and dinner, and it’s also one of the spots on Montejo open for a late bite. Everyone in the reviews is talking about the chilaquiles, so we had to try them. Instead of sitting in a bit wide plate, they come in a taller bowl, and are decked with cheese, onions and crema.

Amado (Calle 47 no. 459 por 52 y 54)

We dined at Amado kind of by mistake and were at first put off by its stiffness, but you can’t tell a restaurant by its entryway. Once seated in the garden, we listened to live jazz and enjoyed pasta and ceviche. The prices are moderate, despite the fact that the foyer looks like a gentlemen’s whiskey club.

Coolest bars in Merida

Merida is not necessarily known as a nightlife destination, but what you can find is laid-back spots for beers and cocktails and fun venues for live music. There’s a variety of options for hanging out at drinking holes no matter what your style is.

La Negrita Cantina (Calle 62 esquina, C. 49 415)

This lively cantina is SO much fun. Go for the moderately-priced food, the cocktails that come in big jars and the live Cuban music that’ll make you want to get up and dance. This is a great spot for outdoor dining in a big courtyard.

Salon Gallos (C. 63 459-B)

Our friend brought us to this bar that is also a restaurant, a boutique store and a movie theater, all in one concrete-modern concept space with a jungle-themed entrance from the street in an industrial neighborhood. The food was unbelievable, and they have mezcal cocktails that I’d like to go back for. Recommend!

Sabino Comedor y Bar (Calle 60 409 por 45 y 47)

This very brand new addition to the Parque Santa Ana area is a cute and modern thoughtfully-designed restaurant and bar from which you can people-watch out the window while looking at a centuries-old iglesia (church). They may draw you in with happy hour specials of 50-peso margaritas, so beware!

Hop3: The Bar Experience (C. 60 346, Paseo 60)

This beer shop located inside the food hall/market area of the ground floor of Paseo 60 is quick and convenient, with several seats at the bar. If you don’t fit there, you can buy anything from their beer fridge and sip it while watching live music on weekend nights in the Paseo 60 patio.

Day trip ideas from Merida

One of the reasons I was so excited to be based in Merida for about a month was so that we could take day trips throughout the region.

Uxmal

Uxmal is one of the lesser-known yet very impressive Mayan ruins sites, located about 1.5 hours southwest of Merida in the Ruta Puuc hill region.

While you’re there, give the Museum of Chocolate (Museo de Chocolate) a visit, to see the rescued animals like the spider monkeys, and learn about the history and culture of chocolate in Mexico.

Helpful Tip

There are performances daily of traditional Mayan ceremonies, so make sure to stick around for one of those (potentially every 20 minutes; ask when you arrive).

There are many ways for getting to Uxmal as a Merida day trip, and we’ve done the research and outlined it in this Uxmal guide.

Valladolid

We found Valladolid to be one of the most authentic places we’ve traveled to in Mexico. This mid-size city in the Yucatan has colorful streets, lots of history, great architecture and several nice parks. It’s about two hours from Merida.

Progreso Beach

Progreso Beach gets mixed reviews from Merida locals, because there’s two sides to the coin: on the one hand, this beach is a half-hour drive from the city center, so it’s super accessible. On the other hand, the beach is disrupted by the longest pier in the whole country (you read that right!) so the charm is spoiled a bit by cargo ships, cruise ships and the massive pier in your photos.

Otherwise, Progreso’s town itself feels like a vacation away from the city, with seafood eateries, taquerias, souvenir shops and bars. There’s sand, sun, blue water and palm trees, and if you look away from the pier, you’re in a slice of paradise. Beware: it gets windy in the afternoons.

Izamal, the “Yellow City”

Izamal, the Yellow City was our favorite new side trip that we took from Merida, and all you need is about half a day. Really though, by arriving at noon and leaving again by 5pm, we felt like we had seen and done it all in Izamal, and that was really satisfying.

The Yucatan’s “yellow town” is very yellow indeed, which makes it an awesome destination for photographers. It’s hard to take a bad photo!

There are Mayan ruins to climb, several worthwhile restaurants, a small town market, and the gem of the town, the Convento de San Antonio de Padua.

Dzibilchaltun Mayan Ruins

Dzibilchaltun is an archaeological site located closest to the Merida city center. In fact, it’s about 7 miles only from the center of town. Dzibilchaltun has some unique edifices that align with the sun during the annual equinoxes, like the Temple of the Dolls.

Celestun (nature reserve with the flamingos)

Celestun is located northwest of Merida and is about two hours away. The best way to get there is by private tour or by renting a car. If you want to see flamingos in their natural habitat, Celestun is where you go, as it is a designated bioreserve.

Yucatan Haciendas & Cenotes

If you speak to anyone who has been living in the Yucatan for a while, they will probably recommend their favorite haciendas and cenotes. What’s the big deal about these?

Haciendas are former plantations that are now turned into hotels, spas, homestays or places you can go for a day to enjoy the rural life and try out some food and horseback riding. Many are very picturesque, with historic architecture and remodeled buildings with colonial grandeur.

As for cenotes, these are the naturally-occurring limestone freshwater pools that are found in the Yucatan. They’re very special! Because they are freshwater, they often have freshwater fish swimming in them, and some other wildlife! We went to two cenotes outside Tulum and saw tropical fish while snorkeling.

As for the cenotes outside Merida, some are better or more well-known than others. Some cenotes are above-ground, while some are in caves. No matter which cenotes you visit, whether via private tour or by renting a car and driving, you will be doing something unique to traveling in the Yucatan region.

Chichen Itza

You could surely take a day trip from Merida to see Chichen Itza, the famous Mayan ruins and pyramids that scored a spot in the wonders of the world. See our guide to visiting Chichen Itza.

Accommodation options

There is a wide assortment of awesome options for where to stay in Merida.

Merida has an array of safe neighborhoods where travelers can Airbnb or find a hotel or hostel. Once you start your search for where to book accommodation, you’ll see all the lovely hotels with gardens and pools, hostels with rooftops and Airbnbs with unique themes and deco.

To see all about the best places to stay in Merida, see our guide here.

How to get to Merida

Merida is a major city in Mexico, even though this may be your first time hearing about it in depth. Nevertheless, there are many ways to get to Merida, so check this out.

Flying to Merida

You can fly to Merida from several major airports in Mexico and the US. The Merida airport is not big at all, and flights are not available nonstop to farther-away cities like New York.

Most flights in and out of Merida airport (MID) are regional, so you’ll find nonstop destinations like Mexico City, Guadalajara, Guatemala City and Monterrey as quick destinations you could fly to. You can also fly nonstop to cities in the US such as Houston or Miami.

Taking a bus to Merida

Merida has several stops on the ADO bus network, which is a very awesome bus company in the southern half of Mexico to know about.

We took the ADO bus from Cancun airport directly, to get to Merida. When leaving, we took an ADO Bus Platino (super VIP!) from Paseo 60 in Merida to the Cancun downtown station, and the route was nonstop (literally, with no stops) and about four hours flat.

You can take ADO buses from Merida to other places like Valladolid, Campeche or Playa del Carmen. ADO connects a good number of states south of Mexico City, so you’ll see ADO stops available in the Yucatan, Campeche, Tabasco, Chiapas and Veracruz if you wish to travel by bus through Mexico’s south.

Other ways to get to Merida

If you wanted to be really creative, you could probably use a bicycle, motorcycle, scooter, horse or camper van to get to Merida. No one’s stopping you, and it would probably make a great story.

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Last updated on May 27th, 2022