Ben and I spent about two weeks in Merida Mexico in November of 2017 before deciding to move here which we did in May of 2018. While I haven’t been there long enough to tell you everything about the city (I’m working on it and will be posting more soon), I was there long enough to help you guys with your future trip to Merida, so I put together this little Merida Mexico travel guide in case you are coming for a visit.
If you want a perfect day trip from Merida, Mexico, check out this post which will take you to a secluded cenote, beautiful hacienda, to see local handicrafts be made, and to Mayan ruins.
A Little Merida Mexico Travel Guide
Amazing architecture and colorful buildings all around!
Santa Lucia Square
The daily city tour bus that leaves from Santa Lucia square, which is in Spanish only
Christmas in Merida!
Nearby beaches, on the gulf side, which you can reach within 30 minutes from the city
Can’t get enough of the colorful buildings and tiles called “pasta tiles”
Before you go to Merida Mexico
- Passport & Visa – You do need a passport, but as an American, I did not need a visa. A tourist visa for Americans and UK citizens is 180 days. You can check on iVisa to see if your nationality needs a visa.
- Health insurance – From what I’ve read medical care is fairly cheap in Mexico, but as always I recommend getting health insurance and you can get a quote here from my favorite company, which is also what Lonely Planet and Frommer’s recommend.
- WiFi – Merida has public WiFi which you can connect to and it will remember and reconnect you when you are in those areas. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. I had a WiFi device and Ben had a local SIM card, so we were covered. Almost all restaurants have WiFi there.
- Flights – We came from India which isn’t that helpful to most people reading this. From the USA, flights to Cancun are usually cheaper than directly into Merida and you can rent a car or take a local bus to get to Merida from Cancun. But, you can also fly straight into Merida which is better. I use Kiwi.com to get the best deals.
- Rental Car – From Cancun, we drove to Merida. We also went to Chichen Itza and Tulum. There are barely any gas stations on the highway, FYI. You don’t need a car in Merida, according to most expats there, but we used our car multiple times a day and I could not have been comfortable there without it as we went all over the city, to the beaches, etc and like to have our own transport, not bothering with local buses. For good deals search on Rentalcars.com because they search all the car rental companies and it saves time and money. Keep in mind, you need to get pesos before you leave the airport because there are tolls on the highway which are actually expensive (like $15 in total).
- Uber – There is Uber in Merida! It’s very cheap and they are reliable. Most did not speak English but it wasn’t a problem for us to get anywhere. It’s all in the app!
- Language – Although it is mostly Spanish-speaking, there are some Mayan-speaking people, too. Most people we met did not speak English and my Elementary style Spanish was incredibly helpful. If you stayed here long-term, you would have to learn some Spanish. Makes me realize we take India for granted since everyone here speaks English.
- Money – You should take out pesos from an ATM when you arrive. Right now it’s about 18 or 19 pesos to the dollar, which is a really good exchange rate. I use Charles Schwab so I have no ATM fees. Some ATM’s will give out USD, but I think using pesos is easier. Here are some tips for handling money abroad.
- Day Trips from Merida – Celestun to see the flamingos, Los Colorados for the pink lake, Chichen Itza and Uxmal for Mayan ruins, and Even Tulum could be day trips. Check out what each one is and tour options by clicking each link. We had a rental car and the internet so drove ourselves. Celestun and the ruins are 1.5 hours away but Los Colorados and Tulum are 3 hours away.
- Moving to Merida – I have a detailed article about how to move to Mexico, in particular, Merida from getting a car, finding long-term rentals, getting a license, residency, and more. Read it here.
- Living in Merida updates – I have a one month update of living here and a six-month update you can check out if you’re considering the move.
Where to stay in Merida Mexico
We stayed in a handful of Airbnb’s and three different hotels. We kind of bounced around because it was fun to see all the haciendas and colonial homes. I am obsessed with the old colonial houses here and wanted to stay in as many as I could!
I wrote an article about the many Airbnb’s in Merida that we stayed at. I think renting a car and using Airbnb is the best way to just get the feel of a city and have some freedom – and not feel like a tourist. Check out that article to see incredible Airbnb’s that will not break the budget – some are SO cheap.
We also stayed at a few hotels. We didn’t book anything until the day of and just took what we could get sometimes. When we first showed up we stayed at a relaxing one called Luz En Yucatan (review here), later we stayed at an amazing one called Hotel Hacienda Merida. We also stayed at a really horrible huge hotel because it was last-minute and I won’t even mention it, lol.
Where to eat in Merida Mexico
Below are the restaurants I ate at when I first visited Merida, but since then I’ve been living here and have tried so many more, 50+, and I wrote a summary of the best ones in this article the best restuarants in Merida which you’ll definitely want to check out.
Eating is basically the best thing to do in Merida and I planned entire days around what I was going to eat, which I’m sure doesn’t come as a surprise.
When we arrived, we stayed near Santa Lucia square which has a lot of great cafes and restaurants around. Santa Ana square is also popular, and then you have Paseo Montejo which has a lot of restaurants and bars (a little more upscale). But you can stay in “centro” and walk to all these places plus Uber is in Merida so you can hitch a ride just about anywhere in centro for $2 and to downtown areas like Walmart, Malls, etc for around $5.
Since living here for half a year, I have tried at least 50 restaurants and will write a new post soon with my favorites. Until then, here are some around centro that I think tourists will most likely want to visit.
Bengali Kaffeehaus, Merida Mexico
This was told to me from a friend and I came here for a quick coffee but ended up staying for two hours chatting with a woman, Penelope, who had lived in the Yucatan for years in Uxmal where there are more Mayan ruins and Jaguars! I loved hearing her thoughts on Merida and really enjoyed the coffee and vibe here. It’s a tiny place, though, so not somewhere I’d take a laptop and try to work.
La Chaya Maya, Merida Mexico
Give me Yucatan food all day, every day! I was there long enough to try some yummy things but La Chaya Maya was great and full of locals. People will say it’s a tourist trap, but locals do go so that’s up to you. Yucatan food is different from Mexican food outside the state because of the Mayan people. Pictured above is Sopa de Lima which has turkey in it and really does taste like lime and then panuchos which is kind of like a taco, also with turkey. If you want a DELICIOUS place, check out Chilakillers – delicious breakfast.
- Cochinita Pibil – slow roasted pork you can have on tacos or panuchos
- Chilaquiles – basically breakfast nachos
- Huevos Motuleños – breakfast dish, Mayan style
- Tacos, panuchos, solbutes – all kind of similar tacos, fried or unfried
- Queso Relleno – pork stuffed in edam cheese
- Burritos, quesadillas – basically like the tacos (lol) not like what you get in the USA
- Sopa de Lima – lime soup
- Churros & pancakes – street food desssert
There so are many more things, I haven’t even scraped the surface! At the places I mentioned, you might pay 200 pesos for your meal.
Los Trompos, Merida Mexico
This is a popular, cheap place to eat which has chains around town and does delivery which we also did one night at our Airbnb. I ordered the beef tacos and the buffalo ribs – I can’t believe that I never thought to put buffalo sauce on ribs!? They serve all this kind of stuff with ranch dressing which is SO KEY. The hot sauce at Trompos is sooo hot and so good. I live for habanero sauce!
This again is a touristy place, but popular all around. Other yummy places for tacos would be Lupitas in the Santiago market, Taquitos PM, and Pastor Suizo (who I get a takeaway from at least once a week).
Mercado 60, Merida Mexico
Love, love, love this place. It’s a food market near Santa Lucia. I had wings from the wing shop, and Ben had BBQ ribs from that BBQ shop. There was pizza, local food, craft beer, and a band playing cover music. It was a really nice vibe and affordable.
Hermana Rebuplica, Merida Mexico
I wish I could remember all the names of what we ate here. This is a popular place with two locations. We went to the one outside of Centro, where we had some friends nearby (thanks, Monica!). We ordered a lot because there were five of us. The top image is kibi, which is a local dish you’ve got to try. They are filled with a spiced pork. The sandwich is the conchita pubil I mentioned before, a slow-roasted BBQ pork. This place is a fusion restaurant which serves modern Yucatan food. It has an upscale vibe but is affordable. They are known for their craft beer which was really good!
La Tratto, Merida Mexico
This is a popular Italian place in Santa Lucia. It’s pricey for food in Merida, but still like 200 pesos for a main. The pizza was good, burger was okay, and the ceasar salad was good, BUT this cheese dip WAS AMAZING. You’ll see it on the appetizers, it’s the only cheese dip. This is a chain retaurant around town and good if you’re missing Western food.
Mi Viejo Mohino, Merida Mexico
This was a recommendation from my hotel, near Santa Lucia which a good selection of breakfast items… and yes, this is breakfast if you can believe it! It is a mocha frappe and some kind of avocado sauce beef tacos. They are known for having cheap, tasty, diner like food. I went back for lunch another day and thought it wasn’t very good, though.
Apoala, Merida Mexico
This is meant to be the best Mexican with Oaxacan touch, located in the square. The reviews made it sound amazing but I was disappointed. It took so long for anyone to pay attention to us, take an order, get a bill, and the food was not that good (maybe I just didn’t like the style), plus is was really expensive compared to anywhere else we ate.
Casa Dominga, Merida Mexico
This is kind of like Mercado 60 (the same types of food) but more expensive and really rich looking people were hanging out here with some fancy cars outside at valet. We preferred Mercado 60 as it was more laid back, but the food here was good. We ate at the burrito stall.
Ek Chuah at Rosas Y Xocolate, Oliva Enoteca, Trattoria La Pasta, Blue Marlin, and La Pigua were all on the list but we ran out of time.
We also cooked at home in the Airbnb a couple times as we could get so many things at the grocery store here that we can’t have in India. It was nice to have a home-cooked meal with good ingredients!
We did not go out and party at all, but La Negrita was always recommended and we walked past one night to see it full with what looked like people waiting to get inside. Lucero del Alba and El Nuevo Tucho were also recommended by our hotel, Luz en Yucatan.
I originally, wrote this post months ago when we first visited, and now that I’ve been here a while, instead of updating this, I’m going to just do a new post where I put my favorite restaurants. Ben and I eat out at least 5 times a week between lunch and dinner, so I’ll get to work on this soon!
What to do in Merida Mexico
- Shop (tips below)
- Eat (tips above)
- Daily events on offer (listed below)
- Free tour of the city via bus leaving Palacio Municipal at 930 am
- Mayan World Museum of Merida (I went but it was closed Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and I don’t know if that’s always or just that week was unlucky)
- Walk Paseo Montejo for shops and food
- Other museums, zoos, and more on this map but I didn’t think they were worth the time, although I’m sure they are lovely – it’s up to you!
Where to shop in Merida Mexico
There are lots of little shops but most are not catered toward tourists and this is NOT Tulum, so don’t expect bohemian style homewares or clothing. I have to say I was bummed since I didn’t have time to shop in Tulum and the Merida shopping wasn’t great from what I could tell from looking and researching really hard.
The best thing is the weekly markets so I’ll share about those first. Merida is the “cultural” capital of the Americas and they have a lot of community stuff going on, which is awesome.
- Monday – 9 pm dance performance at Palacio Municipal
- Tuesday – 830 pm live music at Santiago Park
- Wednesday – 9 pm show at Olimpo Cultural Center
- Thursday – 9 pm traditional performances at Santa Lucia Square
- Friday – 8 pm Mayan style ball game (like the ancient times) at Plaza Grande & the whole of Calle 60 is closed and there is a lot going on like street vendors, shopping, and live music.
- Saturday – Paseo de Montejo at Calle 47 a big market with music from 7-11 pm then later there is one from 9-1 am at Calle 60when the street closes
- Sunday – “Domingo in Merida” the biggest market is on Sunday in the main plaza all day. During the day, Santa Lucia has a market, too. Plaza Grande has a handicrafts market.
I did check out some of the most famous shops in Merida and loved meeting the shopkeepers.
Uxmal de Taxco
Just put this place on Google Maps, and you’ll be there without issue. It’s just near Santa Anna park on Calle 60 between 45 & 47. I met the owner, pictured above, who told me about the history or his family working with silver. They use 100% pure silver, which is quite unique!
Casa De Las Artesanias
This is a government co-op shop with fair fixed price so you do not negotiate here. They had all kinds of handmade souvenirs and I recommend coming here instead of a normal souvenir shop. From hot sauce to Christmas ornaments, there was something everyone would want to buy. It’s a VERY small shop and just a few shops down from the silver shop mentioned above.
On the corner of 55 and 60 is a little shop with more upscale souvenirs. They are unique and made in Mexico, but it was expensive.
I didn’t make it to Crafts from Chiapas State or El Studio which were both recommended to me, so if you have time check those out, too.
Furniture & Boutique Stores
If you want to splash out of more “Tulum” style stuff, you can visit Casa Tho, Jiwa, Coqui Coqui, Kukul, and the small shop inside of Catrin. Like with food, I’ve now been to so many more shops around Merida and will do a new post of the best shops I’ve found with images.
Day Trip from Merida Mexico #1: Celestun
Celestun is about an hour and half from Merida. It is known for the flamingos that hang out here. You cannot swim in the water where you do the boat tour as there are crocodiles in there! We didn’t go at the best time. We were told in a month (December) there would be 10x more flamingos than what we saw – but wow, even what we saw was amazing.
We spoke in Spanish with our boat driver and it was a lot of fun to learn new words and even understand why flamingos are pink (they eat a pink worm!). The water was red, too from a mineral in the mangroves this time of year.
When we left, we did a mangrove tunnel tour (really cool just a few minute detour). There was a rainbow that made it even better! It was 1400 pesos for the two of us from a random guy who walked up to us in the parking lot. The official ticket window was selling boat tours for 1600 pesos for two people.
You do have to do a tour to see the flamingos. You can drive down from Celestun park to the beach which is beautiful. Enjoy sunset there and eat some seafood! The road to Celestun does not have much in ways of food or gas, so fill up and keep in mind it is a very skinny, windy road, so don’t drive too fast!
Day Trip from Merida Mexico #2: Chichen Itza
One of the new wonders of the world is Chichen Itza, the largest Mayan ruins and the most famous. I loved visiting here! I wrote a whole article about what you need to know before you go. You can take a tour or rent a car. Go early!
Getting to Merida and Away
As mentioned, we flew into Cancun because it was so much cheaper. We were going to rent a car anyway so it was no issue for us. If you also choose to fly to Cancun and drive to Merida due to flight prices, then you might need an airport hotel the night before you fly back out. There are two options, the Courtyard Marriott and a Comfort Inn. The Courtyard Marriott isn’t much more expensive but is a much better hotel, so I recommend spending a bit more for it.
You’ll see that Uber is a headache in Cancun, similar to why Uber can’t come to Goa (violence and fighting with taxi Mafias). We left our rental car and had three Ubers cancel after messaging can we meet them further from the airport to avoid violence. We finally got an Uber but once reaching the hotel realized we weren’t going to be able to go out to dinner in Cancun by the beach like we planned. We were stuck at the hotel. Luckily, they have GOOD yet expensive food. We had nachos, a burger, and Ben had a steak that he actually loved.
Update: That is the ins and outs of Merida from my first visit here in November. This guide is great if you’re passing through but now that I’ve been here much longer, I’m getting to work on new posts that go way more in-depth into Merida! Stay tuned.
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