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The cultural capital of Yucatan: 9 things to do in Merida

Mérida is probably not the first city which pops into your head when you think of the Yucatán Peninsula or Mexico. Why is that? Because it is not situated at the sea? Because it has not much to offer? That’s definitely wrong and I convince you of the contrary today.
Mérida is a very cultural city with an excellent location for further exploration of Yucatán. Living there for one and half months made me getting to know the city and its surroundings better and today it’s time to share some insights on what you are able to do there.

Cultural evenings

What I liked most about Mérida were the amount of cultural events going on. There was not one day without an event and they can be mainly visited for free. Each evening there is something going on in the city, just check the schedule on the website of Mérida’s town hall.

My two favorite events of the week took place on Fridays and Sundays.
On Friday they show you the “pok ta pok” on the Plaza de la Independencia. That’s a game the Maya’s played to solve a problem. It’s kind of similar to football as you have to get a ball in a certain goal. But you aren’t allowed to use your feet or your chest. It was really suspenseful to view the game even though it looked a bit painful how they hit the floor every few seconds.

On Sunday evenings, go to the town hall which is also on the Plaza de la Independencia. They turn on salsa music and everyone is dancing. One evening I walked over the square without knowing what event is taking place, heard the music and went there. Then I saw all those people dancing which lead to tears in my eyes. This atmosphere, all these people enjoying a nice evening, it was the perfect moment.

Sunday evening in front of the town hall

Sunday evening in front of the town hall

The town hall also developed an app you can download to your phone to never miss a certain event in the city.

Plaza de la Independencia

You cannot miss to go around the main square of the city: Plaza de la Independencia. Here you should visit the city’s cathedral, the government’s palace as well as the Casa de Montejo. You can enter all three sites for free. The Casa de Montejo is a museum which shows how the higher class of Mexico lived in the past.

Palacio del gobierno

My favorite room in the Palacio del gobierno

Merida's Cathedral

Merida’s Cathedral

Wander along the Paseo de Montejo

Start in the city centre and walk along this precious street. There are beautiful houses to admire on each side as well as some museums along the way. Go at least until the Monumento de la Patria on the northern end of the street.

Monumento de la Patria

Monumento de la Patria

Paseo de Montejo

Paseo de Montejo

Paseo de Montejo

Paseo de Montejo

El Gran Museo Maya

Learn more about the history of the Maya, how the earth developed, where and how they lived, what they knew and what’s typical in their way of life. El Gran Museo Maya is a museum you can easily spend a lot of time inside. Nonetheless, the price for foreign visitors is quite high in comparison to other Mexican prices. It costs 150 Mexican Pesos (9.13 €).

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Gran Museo Maya

Gran Museo Maya

Join Bicirutas

Every Sunday, certain streets of the city are blocked for cars to make space for bikes. You can join the Bicirutas at 8 AM on Paseo de Montejo, do some exercise and go around the city by bike.

Biciruta

Biciruta

Head to Mayan ruins

Mérida is the perfect initial situation for visiting several ruins in the area. Famous ruins like Uxmal and Chichen Itza can be visited with guided tours as well as independently from here.
But don’t miss visiting one of the lesser known Mayan sites like:

  • Ruins of Dzibilchaltún
  • Mayapan (my favorite ruins so far)
  • Village of Oxkutzcab
  • The city of hills Izamal or
  • Ek Balam (close to Valladolid)
Mayapan

Overlooking Mayapan

Swim, snorkel or dive in cenotes

On the Yucatán Peninsula you can find over 6,000 cenotes, but only 2,400 are actually registered. Cenotes are fresh-water rivers which are situated underground. These crystal clear waters can be found in caves as well as open. Cenotes are a great opportunity to swim, snorkel or dive.

The closest one, just 20 minutes away from Mérida, is the Cenote San Ignacio inside a cavern.

At the Maya site Dzibilchaltún, you can find an open cenote which is ideal for swimming after an exploration of the ruins.

I went to Cuzama where you are able to find three cenotes very close to each other. You are brought from one cenote to the other by a horse on rails, see here:

visiting cenotes by horse

Visiting cenotes by horse

The cenote you are going to visit first is the best one for a swim.

Cenote in Cuzama

Cenote in Cuzama

If you do not have a rental car, you might consider going to a cenote with a guided tour. Have a look on one of the following website to find a suitable tour:

Visit Progreso

Progreso is about 30 minutes away from Mérida and is a city on the beach. The perfect weekend getaway. The long beach offers a pretty beach esplanade to have some drinks, lunch or dinner or buy some souvenirs. There are a lot of crafts stalls along the beach.
So if you have enough of the city life and want to see the beach for a day, head to Progreso. To get there, go to the bus station of Autoprogreso which can be found on the street Calle 62 (between Calle 65 and 67). The ticket costs 18 Mexican Pesos one way.

Progreso

The beach of Progreso

Try the Yucatecan cuisine

Yucatecan and Mexican cuisine are different as the Yucatecan cuisine is a mixture of European and Mexican food. I will publish a more detailed post about dishes to try, but in a short form: Try Cochinita Pibil and Sopa de Lima as a starting point.

Torta de conchinita pibil

Torta de cochinita pibil – typical breakfast in Yucatan

Have you already been in Mérida? What was your favorite thing to do there?

5 thoughts on “The cultural capital of Yucatan: 9 things to do in Merida

  1. Pingback: 7 Day trip destinations from Mérida, Mexico

  2. Stanley

    What an incredible exneirepce! When I was a small child my grandmother, held a doctorate in ancient Mexican archeology, dragged me all over Mexico to the ancient ruins. I hated it, hot, humid and stinky. How little I knew then, I see some of those locations on history tv and have flashbacks of being there. How I wish I couldre-liv e those days when all I wanted was to be back home with my friends!! Ahh, where were you FB? Thanks for sharing your exneirepce.

    1. Stef Post author

      Haha I made similar experiences when I was a kid. I haven’t been in Mexico back then. But when we were in Turkey for example I couldn’t be bothered visiting some historic places. I just wanted to hang out at the beach with 2-weeks friends from the hotel.

  3. Erin

    This is great! I just booked a trip to Merida in November, it’s so exciting to research all the fun things to do. I’m also spending three nights in Progreso.

    1. Stef Post author

      Progreso is a nice spot, I just spent one night there 1.5 years ago. You’ll like it, check out my post about day trips from Merida (goo.gl/OgXDw). There is much to do around. I especially liked the ruins Mayapan. A bit off the beaten path, there was only one tour group and us in the morning.

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