When people announce that they’re traveling to Mexico, it’s generally pretty safe to assume that they’ll be spending a week at a fancy resort on the coast, parked in a beach lounge chair. While Mexico does have some pretty dang fabulous beaches, this kind of vacation is not everybody’s cup of tea. Me? I get restless laying in the sun all day. I need adventure. I need varied scenery and activities to occupy my time. So when I found some cheap tickets and did some research, I was thrilled to find a long list of things to do in Merida, Mexico.
This Yucatecan capital city is filled with gorgeous, colorful architecture, amazing food, a strong sense of community, and dozens of free and cheap things to do. Merida is the perfect city for people who want to see Mexico beyond its shoreline. If you’re planning a trip to Merida, Mexico, here are 13 fun and cheap things to do!
Every city has its central area, and Plaza Grande is just that for Merida. The town’s central square is made up of a beautiful park area with lots of seating, and is bordered by colorful colonial-style buildings, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Some of the main sights you can find in Plaza Grande are:
Cathedral of Merida
This is one of the oldest cathedrals in North America. This cathedral was built on the site of an ancient Mayan temple, and even has pieces of that temple used in its construction.
This minty green building contains mostly governmental offices, but tourists are welcome to view the interior courtyard and the many paintings and murals that decorate the halls.
All over Mexico, you’ll find these giant, colorful pieces of art made with the names of the city you’re in. Merida’s sign is available for selfies and photo shoots all day, every day, in Plaza Grande!
It’s a rare moment when this fun piece of art isn’t flooded with playful kids!
Take a Free Walking Tour
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Free Walking Tours are amazing ways to get to know a new city without having to spend a ton of money! Offered by the local Tourism office, this 90-minute tour will give you the rundown on the sites around Plaza Grande, and some of Merida’s history. Tours run Monday-Saturday at 9:30am, and are offered in both English and Spanish. To join, just wait outside the tourism office at the Palacio Municipal shortly before the start time, and the guide will meet you there.
Looking out over Plaza Grande, from the Palacio Municipal
Museo Casa Montejo
Another interesting (and free!) place to visit around Plaza Grande is the Museo Casa Montejo. This Renaissance-style home was built between 1542 and 1549 and is now a museum used to peek into Merida’s past. There are four rooms in the museum, furnished and decorated as they would have been in the late 19th century. Not to mention it’s a great place to get out of the sun and into some air conditioning! The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday, from 10am to 7pm, and Sundays from 10am to 2pm.
Explore the Food Scene
I wasn’t a huge fan of Mexican food until Merida showed me the true glory of a good taco. Therefore, I’ve got to say that eating is probably one of the best things to do in Merida. I’m not the kind of person who normally eats the same type of cuisine day after day. But I ate real Mexican food for 6 days straight in Merida. There wasn’t a place I tried in Merida that didn’t have incredible food. And bonus, I didn’t even have to try to eat cheap! The most expensive meal cost me about $10USD with tip. Here are a few of my favorite places to eat in Merida:
This was my favorite place to stop for lunch. For those times when you don’t feel like sitting down in a restaurant and just want something quick, cheap, and yummy, Gorditas Gorda is the place to go. You can choose all sorts of different fillings for your gorditas, then take them across the street to Plaza Grande and eat there!
If you feel like venturing outside the city center just a bit, you’ve got to hit up Wayan’e. Locals will tell you this is one of the best places in Merida for tacos. At just 10-15 pesos per taco, this place not only serves up delicious tacos but highly affordable ones too! By recommendation of a local, had the Poc-chuc tacos and they were mouth-wateringly good. There are three Wayan’e locations in Merida, but the closest to the center is on Calle 59, about a 15 minute walk from Plaza Grande.
Taco lunch at Wayan’e
Tala (Hotel Casa San Angel)
For something quieter and a little further away from the busy city center, check out Tala. This restaurant is located inside Hotel Casa San Angel, and offers delicious foods as well as freshly baked pastries and treats. Tala is a great place to spend the heat of the afternoon, sipping on a refreshing limonata con soda, diving into a bowl of guacamole, and washing it all down with a piece of cake. I hear their breakfast is also quite good!
La Chaya Maya
This is my number one recommendation for food in Merida. This place serves authentic Yucatecan and Mayan dishes that are just to die for. There are two locations in Merida: the first on Calle 62, two blocks north of Plaza Grande, and the second on Calle 55, across from Parque Santa Lucia. You’ve got to try the Cochinita Pibil (Pork, marinated in sour-orange juice and cooked in a banana leaf), the fresh, hand-made tortillas, and the Sikil Pak (an amazing dip made of ground pumpkin seed).
My fantastic dinner spread at La Chaya Maya. I’ve literally dreamed about this meal…
Lucas Galvez Market
Merida’s local market is a sight to behold- who doesn’t love a good Latin American market? This is a great place to immerse yourself in local culture, taste some incredible local foods, and buy some locally made goods. You’ll find rows and rows of spices, weaved hammocks, hand-embroidered clothes, flowers, fruits, and more at Lucas Galvez Market. Not to mention all the food stalls cooking up plates of Yucatecan food right in front of you. Make sure you take your time and really experience the organized chaos of Merida’s market. Lucas Galvez Market is open every day from 8am until about 4pm.
Serenata Yucateca in Santa Lucia Park
Every Thursday night, one of the best things to do in Merida is to go over to Santa Lucia Park for the weekly Serenata Yucateca. From 9:00-10:00pm, locals and tourists descend upon this park to hear musicians play and dancers do traditional Yucatecan dances. Believe it or not, the Serenata has taken place in Santa Lucia Park every Thursday since 1965. The locals of Merida are very proud of their heritage and community, and it is very evident at this weekly event. Make sure to get there an hour or so early if you want a seat!
Dancers in the traditional Yucatecan garb at Parque Santa Lucia
Pok Ta Pok
Holy cow, I have never been as absorbed by a sporting event as I was watching Pok Ta Pok in Merida! Saturdays at 8:00pm, in front of the Cathedral of Merida, a presentation of the ancient Mayan ball game is performed. If you visit many of the Mayan ruins in the area, you will most likely see the arenas where this game was played. To see it played right in front of you is a fascinating treat. Players must get a ball (sometimes a ball on fire!) through a raised hoop, using only their hips, legs, and forearms.
Historically, the game was very spiritual for the Mayans and there was a lot of ritual and ceremony around it. Often, the game would end in human sacrifice, but luckily they cut that part out of the demonstration! The Pok Ta Pok presentation is mostly in Spanish, but absolutely cannot be missed! Go early for good seats!
Playing Pok Ta Pok with a flaming ball!
People Watch in the Park
Sometimes one of the best ways to gain insight into a new place is to just find a comfy bench in a park and watch daily life happen. Merida has SO many parks, both within the city center and its surrounding neighborhoods. You may even find a number of food and snack vendors if you visit the parks around lunch time. Some of the best parks in Merida’s city center include:
- Plaza Grande
- Parque Santa Lucia
- Parque Hidalgo
- Parque San Juan
- Parque Santa Ana
Locals out enjoying Plaza Grande
Try Some Sweet Treats
Along with the delicious restaurants and foods in Merida, there are also some killer sweet treats. From a place that serves authentic French croissants, a gelato shop that’s famous for its pork and beans gelato, to the more traditional Mexican bakeries and sorbet shops, Merida is just lined with options to satisfy your sweet tooth! Some of the best local treats include:
Marquesitas are a delicious street snack that originated in Merida. They are very similar to a crepe, only crunchier and wrapped tightly around a combination of cheese and another sweet topping. The combo may sound strange, but you can’t knock it until you try it!
Sorbet itself is not necessarily a local dessert, but the tropical fruits that are used in Merida’s best sorbets are definitely worth trying! Some of my favorite Mexican fruits for sorbet include guava, mamey, and pineapple!
Looking for another way to cool off from Merida’s heat? Paletas are the way to go! These are essentially blended fruits and juices, frozen to create popsicles! You can get them in all different flavors and they’re super cheap!
Looking for more sweets?
Here are some of my favorite places for desserts in Merida!
Amazing mamey sorbet- tastes like pumpkin pie!
Sunday Morning BiciRuta
Sunday mornings, a stretch of the main road through Merida (the Paseo de Montejo) is closed off to vehicular traffic for the weekly BiciRuta. From 8:00am to 12:30pm, locals and visitors grab their bicycles and hit the streets for a fun ride through town. Visitors can rent bikes along the Paseo de Montejo to take part in this fun morning event!
Families biking on a Sunday morning
Merida on Sunday
Once you’re finished with the BiciRuta, head back down to Plaza Grade, where you’ll find the weekly setup for Merida on Sunday. Dozens of food vendors set up under a big white tent, and music comes from every corner of the park. Merida on Sunday reminded me of going to the Feria Gastronomica Food Festival in Juayua. It’s a great place to relax after biking all morning, and fill up with more delicious local Mexican foods!
Grab a meal and pick a table for Merida on Sunday!
Cool Off By The Pool
I won’t lie- it can get pretty hot in Merida! This Michigan gal left the March snow and cold, and was not fully prepared for the midday heat in Merida! One of my favorite things to do in Merida was to just relax in this lovely pool area at my hostel. When it got too hot, it was easy to just jump into the water and instantly feel refreshed. When traveling to Merida, I highly recommend finding accommodations with a pool! This pool is at Nomadas Hostel and it has a great location and an even better price!
Glorious pool sanctuary at Nomadas Hostel
Take a Day Trip
As I mentioned before, Merida is an excellent base for taking day trips. There are so many different and interesting places that are a mere 1-2 hour bus ride from Merida! You can choose to have a beach day in Progreso, visit the colorful UNESCO World Heritage cities of Izamal or Campeche, or explore some of the ruins on the Yucatan peninsula. There is even a chance of seeing pink flamingos in Celestun, just 90 minutes away from Merida. Some of the most popular day trips from Merida include:
You can’t go all the way to the Yucatan Peninsula and NOT visit this World Wonder! Chichen Itza is about 2-2.5 hours away from Merida, and well worth the trip to see the amazing Temple of Kulkulcan. You can use public transportation to get there, or you can join one of these great tours!
Cenotes in Cuzama
Cenotes are underground pools of freshwater, found all over Yucatan. Some of the closest ones to Merida are near the neighboring town of Cuzama. A short bus or collectivo ride can bring you to the cenotes, and you can spend the day beating the heat and splashing in the cool waters of several different cenotes!
Uxmal Mayan Ruins
Want to see some amazing Mayan ruins, but don’t want the crowds or the distance to Chichen Itza? Check out the site of Uxmal! These ruins are just over an hour away from Merida and receive way fewer tourists than Chichen Itza! Uxmal is very easily done using public transportation, or can be done as a combination tour with some other Mayan sites in the area.
Exploring the Mayan site of Uxmal on a day trip from Merida!
Merida is truly a fantastic city for getting to know Mexico outside of its lush resorts. With so many things to do in Merida, you can easily spend a week having daily adventures, stuffing yourself with amazing food, and immersing yourself in the local community events. If you’re thinking of visiting Mexico, but want more out of your vacation, consider staying in Merida!
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