Merida, is the capital city of Yucatan, where the Spanish conquerors built their colonial city after destroying the Maya city of T’hó and used the stones of the remains to build their colonial buildings. It must be part of every travel itinerary if you’re touring in Mexico. I spent 2 days in Merida and had the feeling to witness some true Mexican lifestyle. I had the chance to see how they celebrate, how they spend time with their families during holidays and weekends and how they enjoy beach life with their big families.
In this blog post: Explore the colonial town of Merida Plaza Grande de Mérida Catedral de Merida Palacio de Gobierno Palacio Municipal Casa de Montejo Things to do around Merida How to get to/from Merida Where to stay in Merida? How to get around in Merida? Warnings
What to do and see in Merida?
Explore the colonial town of Merida
Merida is the capital and largest city of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. The city is a typical colonial town with colourful buildings. It has strong Mayan and Spanish influences. 60% of all inhabitants in Merida are of the Maya ethnicity.
Walking around Merida is a highlight enough if you manage to slow down and pay attention to details in the streets. The colours are just beautiful.
Plaza Grande de Mérida
Well, most of the sights are around this square. During the day, but also in the evening Plaza Grande is the main meeting point for the locals in Merida.
I was there during eastern holidays and luckily could watch a traditional Mayan dance show and a spontaneous mini concert of a music band in one of the side streets on my way to the guesthouse.
Catedral de Merida
The Spanish conquerors destroyed the Maya city of T’hó here and used the stones of the remains to build their colonial buildings during 16th century. Have a closer look at the walls of the Cathedral de San Ildefonso to spot some of those stones. I couldn’t recognise any though.
Not only the interior of the cathedral is a meeting point for the locals of Merida, also outside the cathedral there is a lot going on.
Palacio de Gobierno
On the opposite side of the cathedral you’ll see the green building which was built in 1892 as the government building of the state of Yucatan. Inside there are murals portraying the history of the Maya and the Spanish conquerors.
Another cute building around the square is the pinkish one built in 1542 by the Spaniards to govern the city.
Casa de Montejo
Casa de Montejo is built in 1549 and as its name reveals the Montejo family lived here. Today it is a museum exhibiting the furniture of the family. More interesting is the old carvings in the facade outside.
Things to do around Merida
I made the mistake to leave Merida to stay in Celestun for one night, which was totally unnecessary. Celestun is only 1,5 hours away from Merida and the boat tour on Celestún River to see countless pink flamingos is totally doable as day trip. You will even have enough time to go to the beach for lunch.
The boat tour on the river and through the mangroves is perfect for bird watching. You pay for the boat, not per person, so look for people around you can share the ride with. The boat tour for a group of 4-6 people is doable for a reasonable price. Me and my partner had to wait for about 30 min. to find people to share the ride with. Finally a Mexican family came. They were 8 and couldn’t fit to one boat, so the two teenagers joined us. And this way I had the chance to practice my Spanish a bit and they were also happy to practice their English 🙂
In Celestun there is also a beach where you can have lunch after the boat tour and observe the vivid lifestyle of the locals spending their weekend at beach.
Mostly, big families come all together, gather 5-8 tables, sit and sing together, play with kids, eat and drink. That’s what they call “viva la vida” I guess.
Chichen Itza Archeological Site is also only 1,5 hours away from Merida. Tough, I would not recommend to visit Chichen Itza as day trip, unless you don’t mind visiting one of the World Wonders with other thousands of people.
Read next: How to avoid crowds in Chichen Itza
Uxmal, another Maya Archeological Site is only 1 hour away from Merida. But also for Uxmal I chose to stay overnight there to have the chance to visit the site early in the morning before the crowds and the heat arrive. However, next time I would do it as day trip, as Uxmal is not as frequently visited as Chichen Itza so that the crowds are not as disturbing.
How to get to/from Merida
From Valladolid to Merida the drive takes about 2 hours with the car. From Riviera Maya you should count about 3-3,5 hours.
Merida is perfectly connected to the highway. The directions are pretty straight forward and easy to find. From Merida you can also take air conditioned buses almost to every direction.
Things to do around Merida
Where to stay in Merida?
How to get around in Merida?
In the downtown everything is reachable in walking distance. With a bicycle you can also explore other neighbourhoods.
There is a souvenir shopping centre, a blue house near to the Plaza Grande. Almost everyone who you start to chat with, recommend you to go to this famous Blue House if you want to buy souvenirs. Well, I thought, ok I’ll have a look. The shop owners were incredibly intrusive and rude after I made clear that I’m not going to buy anything for such crazy high prices for cheap fake products. At the same street, just opposite of the blue building there are other smaller shops with very kind shop owners. So don’t be bothered to go upstairs. It is just another of those tourist traps.
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