The heart of Yucatán was listed twice as the American Capital of Culture, bursting a healthy mix of colonial architecture and Mayan history.
The vibrant capital of the Yucatán peninsula is the perfect destination if you are looking for an authentic Mexican experience. The overflowing energy of this city goes beyond gastronomy, architecture, culture, and entertainment, as the people living there are as friendly and welcoming as one can be.
When planning a trip to the Yucatecan capital we suggest a minimum of five days with an over-the-weekend stay, as the whole place really comes to life from Friday night to Sunday. There are lots of incredible, and mostly free, events around the city that will keep you busy every day. Since Merida is one of those places that we can have ten posts about, here is a list of some of the best things you cannot miss.
1. Take a nice walk along Paseo de Montejo
The large boulevard was named after Francisco de Montejo, founder of the city, and displays beautiful colonial mansions, nice restaurants and fancy boutiques for the joy of all travelers. The most interesting extension is from Monumento a la Patria and Monumento a los Montejo.
Try the famous ice creams of Heladeria El Colón, have a taste of home at the Starbucks established in an old mansion, and enjoy a pint of Guinness sitting on the patio of the Hennessys Irish Pub for some cool people watching. The avenue is closed for cars every Sunday from 8 am to 12 pm for everyone to enjoy a nice bike ride on what they call the ‘Biciruta‘. Arrive early if you don’t have your own bike and intend to rent one – they go fast.
2. Reserve an evening for a Mexican serenade
The beautiful plaza of Parque de Santa Lucía welcomes exceptional musicians for an authentic experience of a Mexican ‘serenata’ every Thursday evening at 9 pm. The square is filled with street food vendors, but you will also find restaurants with outdoor patios where you can admire the music while appreciating a fantastic meal. This is a free event, so arrive early to find room on one of the setup bleachers or make a reservation for the restaurants if you want to seat outside.
3. Join a free walking tour around the Historical Center
From Monday to Saturday at 9:30 am a guided tour leaves the Tourist Information Center for a one and a half hour tour to the famous historical points in downtown Merida. Arrive about 15 minutes before departure time to sign up. The tour is free of charge, but a tip is appreciated to keep the tour going.
“The historic center of Merida is the country’s second-largest, its streets are ideal to be covered on foot, in these historic buildings, museums and a lot of cultural activities. Thinking of the tourists visiting the city provides free tours, go to the basement of City Hall and marvel at the beauty of Merida.”
4. Stop for the iconic picture of the Merida sign
There are a few Merida signs across the city, but no photo is more traditional than at the Plaza Grande with the gorgeous Cathedral of San Ildefonso at the back. Take your time to walk around the square and adjacent streets for souvenirs or inexpensive shopping.
5. Wednesday Night of Culture
Head downtown for yet another free event in Merida, the #culture night. The evening starts at 8 pm for a historical tour at Interior General Cemetery and gathers at Casa Montejo museum for the play ‘Encuentro con Francisco de Montejo Diálogos del Conquistador’ (meeting with Francisco de Montejo), for a history lesson about the steps followed by the founder of the capital.
6. Saturday “Pok Ta Pok”
If you have not seen it yet, set some time aside to watch the famous Mesoamerican ball game, played every Saturday at 8:30 pm right beside the Cathedral of San Ildefonso. The game was a ritual in the Mayan culture and the ball in flames surely catches the attention of the viewers. Yes, it’s also free.
7. Do not miss the fun cantinas
Mainly frequented by working-class men, the cantinas are simple bars with cheap beer and free tapas. These places are mostly located downtown and one can have a completely different environment from the other, from dancing cantinas to dive bars. For a glimpse of what you can experience, try El Porvenir with its colorful swinging saloon doors and La Negrita Cantina for some Cuban music and good cocktails.
8. Step out of the big city for a day at the beach
Progreso is the main beach destination for people visiting and living in Merida. Located only a 40-minute drive away, and a port of call for cruise ships, Progreso offers affordable waterfront restaurants, the great local markets and good infrastructure at the beach for a nice relaxing day.
9. A quick stop in El Corchito
Since you are heading to Progreso, be sure to stop in El Corchito along the way. It’s a quick visit to the local ecological reserve with natural #cenotes and entertaining raccoons. For the fair amount of 35 pesos per person (less than CAD 3.00), a small motorboat will take you through the mangroves into the quiet park. Many local families spend the day there refreshing in the sinkholes.
10. Chichén Itzá!
There could be a whole entire post just about Chichén Itzá. Oh, wait, there is!! Check it out here.
Bonus! Mercado 60
The gastronomy in Yucatán is amazing, so saying that you must try the local food is an understatement. But if you have done that already and want to try a funky place in Merida with all types of familiar tastes, the Mercado 60 is a must for your every need. They are opened every day at 6 pm, offering 18 different gastronomic options and you will be surprised with a lively ambiance with live music around 9-10pm.