The charming city of Merida is the cultured capital of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. It is characterized by its opulent, grand colonial mansions and ornate, colorful houses.
During the hennequin boom and the days of the haciendas, Merida was one of the richest cities in the world. Today, it makes an excellent base for a wider exploration of the Yucatan region. The city is a great choice if you want to escape the tourist crowds that flock to Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and the beach towns of Quintana Roo. But what are the things to do in Merida Mexico? Here are some of my favorite affordable things to do in Merida.
15 Affordable Things to do in Merida Mexico
If you’re traveling to Merida Mexico, for a vacation, there’s no need to spend a lot of money on activities. Save your money or splurge on luxury accommodations. Here are 15 affordable things to do in Merida Mexico.
1. Take Advantage of ADO and Local Buses for Day Trips
Merida makes an excellent place to base yourself for a wider exploration of the Yucatan region. Countless Mayan ruins, stunning beaches, nature reserves, and pueblo magicos are just a couple of hours away from the city.
If you only have a limited time, Izamal is a good choice. All of the buildings and homes in this little town have been painted a bold shade of bright yellow – part of a beautification effort when Pope Jean-Paul II visited in 1993.
The 1561 Convent of San Antonio de Padua is a perfect place to watch the sunset, and it still functions today. Nearby, the pyramid of Kinich Kakmo is one of only five that survived the Spanish conquest.
2. Head to the Beach
Merida is not situated on the Yucatan coast, and it does get very hot and humid here, particularly during the summer months. However, if you want some respite from the heat, there are plenty of gorgeous beaches in the Yucatan that offer the opportunity to do that.
Progreso is the closest beach town to Merida Mexico. It is also the easiest one to access. You can take the autoprogreso bus from Calle 62 in the city center for just 42 pesos ($2) return. In addition, Progreso offers the perfect opportunity to swim in the crystal clear, warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Miles upon miles of soft white sand extends as far as the eye can see. Many restaurants and bars allow you to rent sunbeds and umbrellas from them for the day for just a few pesos, and there are plenty of amenities all along the seafront.
3. Lay in the Coconut Groves of San Crisanto
San Crisanto is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful beaches in this part of Mexico. It is also one of the least visited areas, perhaps because it is awkward to get to without renting a car.
The beach sees a fraction of the tourists of nearby Progreso, and its shores are lined with coconut groves. Unfortunately, there is nothing here by way of amenities, so pack plenty of water and snacks.
San Crisanto is one of the things to do in Merida to enjoy peace and seclusion away from the crowds. If you have a car, you can start in San Crisanto and then continue onwards up the Emerald Coast to the beaches of Santa Clara and Dzilam de Bravo.
4. Wander the Paseo Montejo
The Paseo Montejo is the main promenade that runs all the way through Merida Mexico. It was named after the city’s founder, Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Montejo.
Gorgeous colonial mansions that have been converted into luxury hotels, brunch spots, and museums line the street. On any given day of the week, you will see street vendors setting up stalls here, selling everything from artisanal goods and paintings to street food.
On Sunday mornings, a large section of the road is closed off to vehicles. This is a nice opportunity to rent a bicycle and cycle its length, stopping for coffee here and there as you go.
5. Photograph the Colorful Streets
Merida Mexico is a photographer’s dream come true. It feels like a place that has almost been designed for Instagram. Every single building here has been painted in bright, vibrant colors. You could easily dedicate several hours to simply allowing yourself to get lost among the streets and passageways.
It isn’t just the colors that stand out, though. Even the doors here are captivating and filled with character. Houses down even the most unsuspecting side streets boast grand doorways boasting intricate designs.
Calle 59 is one of the most colorful and photogenic streets. Meanwhile, Avenida del Deportista boasts grand 19th-century mansions and architectural wonders.
6. Learn to Salsa
Taking a salsa class or taking yourself along to a salsa club is one of those things to do in Merida to immerse yourself in Mexican culture. La Cantina Negrita (Calle 62 esquina, C. 49 415, Centro) is a favorite hangout spot for locals and expats alike.
Formal salsa classes are not offered here. However, the bar always has a live band playing while patrons take to the dance floor to try their hand at Latin dancing. Even if you have two left feet, you will find a friendly local that is willing to show you the ways of salsa. If you prefer to take a salsa class, you can go along to a bar that offers them. Dzalbay (Calle 64 x 53,Esquina, No.443, Centro) is one such place.
7. Eat Local in Merida Mexico
Yucatan cuisine is quite unlike anything that you will find elsewhere in Mexico. Many popular dishes here follow recipes and cooking methods used by the Ancient Maya!
For instance, cochinita pibil could be considered the main regional dish of the Yucatan. The dish is made by marinating pork with achiote paste, orange juice, lime juice, salt, and herbs. It is then wrapped in banana leaves and then slowly cooked in an underground oven called a ¨pib¨. When the meat is eventually removed and served, it is extremely tender and falls apart in your mouth.
If you want a truly local dining experience, head to Wayan´e (Calle 15 X 18A y 20, Itzimná, 97100) for breakfast or tacos. The Museo de la Gastronomía Yucateca (Calle 62 #466 x 55 y 57, Centro) provides an opportunity to learn about the origins of Yucatecan food and sample several dishes at once.
8. Swim in a Cenote
Cenotes are natural pits or sinkholes, and they are abundant in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. The Maya used them both for their water supplies and sacrificial rituals. Today, they are popular and naturally beautiful places to swim and relax. There are countless cenotes located just a short distance from Merida Mexico.
Cenote Xlacah is just 45 minutes away from the city center, making it the closest cenote to Merida. Cenote San Ignacio in Chocholá is a gorgeous place to swim in an underground cave. There is a Yucatecan restaurant and coffee shop right beside it, so you can grab a bite to eat when you’re done swimming.
9. Eat at a Street Food Market
Street food is a huge part of Mexican food culture, and in Merida, it is no different. In the evenings, the main stretch of Paseo Montejo is filled with vendors selling everything from tacos to elotes.
For a real local experience, head to Parque de la Alemán (Calle 21 281F, Miguel Alemán, 97148 Mérida). It is a little walk from the center, but you won’t find any other tourists here, just Mexican families enjoying an evening out.
Churros drenched in chocolate sauce are a must. You should also order a serving of elotes – grilled corn topped with mayonnaise, cotija cheese, chile, lime, and cilantro.
10. Enjoy a Game of Pok-Ta-Pok
Pok-Ta-Pok was a popular Ancient Mayan ballgame that dates back to 1650 BC. If you visit Mayan ruins like Uxmal and Chichen Itza, you will see the old ballcourts.
The players had to keep the ball in the air without using their hands or feet. The game isn’t played today, but some reenactments occur every Friday at 8.30 pm outside the Grande Plaza.
11. Take a Free City Walking Tour
Several local companies offer free walking tours of the city. Add this to your list if you’re looking for free things to do in Merida Mexico. In addition, Estacion Mexico offers a tour that departs from Casa Montejo daily at 10 am and 5 pm.
Walking tours can be a great way to get your bearings in a new city. Better yet, you have an expert local on hand whom you can ask for recommendations on the best places to eat, drink, and hang out while you are in town.
Free Merida walking tours help you uncover the history of various city buildings and attractions. For instance, the Paseo Montejo, San Ildefonso Cathedral, Santa Lucia Park, and the Government Palace. The tour is free, but you should be sure to tip your guide.
12. Dance in the Streets of Merida During its Weekly Fiestas
There is almost always something going on in downtown Merida – whatever night of the week you happen to stop by. So head down to Plaza Grande on a Friday or Saturday and follow the music.
You will likely find live musical performances, people salsa dancing in the square, and a plethora of street food vendors. If you visit Mexico in January, you can catch the Merida Fest – a cultural event that celebrates the city’s founding.
13. Take a picture at the colorful Merida sign
You will find the colorful Merida sign in the center of the city’s main park – Plaza Grande. If you spend any amount of time in Mexico, you will find that virtually every town, city, and pueblo magico has one of these signs.
It can be fun to take photos with them and collect them as you go. The background to the Merida sign is particularly stunning – you can capture the San Ildefonso cathedral behind you and the Mexican flag fluttering in the wind. Try and shoot with a wide-angle lens to fit it all in.
14. Visit Affordable Museums
Merida Mexico and the wider Yucatan peninsula have a rich, fascinating history that dates back thousands of years. One of the best museums you can visit in the area is the Mayan World Museum (C. 60 299 E, Unidad Revolución, 97110).
Tickets are 150 pesos ($7.50 USD) per person with concessions available and absolutely worth every cent. Here, you will learn how the Maya language and culture are still alive and present within the Yucatan today.
The museum displays an array of artifacts and sculptures that have been recovered from the many Mayan ruins in the Yucatan. Another very worthwhile museum to visit is the Casa Museo Montes Molina on the Paseo de Montejo.
The living museum provides a glimpse into what life was like for the nobility living in Merida Mexico, in the 18th and 19th centuries. Entrance is 80 pesos with discounts available for students, children, and the elderly.
15. Take a Day Trip to the Ancient Ruins of Uxmal
If you only have a chance to visit one Mayan ruin in the area besides Chichen Itza, make it Uxmal. This phenomenal site extends across 150 acres, and it is arguably one of the most impressive Mayan cities in the country.
Uxmal dates back to 700 AD and was once home to 25,000 people. It was recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996. The site can be a little tricky to get to but is well worth the effort. You can take a bus from Merida’s central ADO bus station at 9 am to return at 3:15 pm.
Which one of these things to do in Merida Mexico are you adding to your itinerary?