If you’re looking for a more local experience rather than cocktails at an all-inclusive resort, then consider visiting Merida for a few days.
Merida is a beautiful colonial city with wide plazas and towering cathedrals. But the city also has the largest Mayan population in Mexico, and you’re just as likely to hear indigenous languages spoken in the bustling markets and amongst the packed food stands as you are Spanish. There’s a sprawling Mayan Museum, multiple archaeological sites are just a short drive away, and Yucatan cuisine is second to none.
To inspire your adventure, here’s our guide to spending 3 days in Merida.
Best Time to Visit Merida
Merida has a tropical climate, with distinct wet and dry seasons. It’s hot all year round, but it’s particularly hot and humid through the summer which is also the height of the rainy season.
The best time to visit Merida is in the dry season which falls between November and May. The weather is a little cooler in the dry season, and there’s little humidity. Peak season is December to March, but in comparison to nearby Cancun, Merida sees only a fraction of the tourist numbers even when things are at their busiest.
The wet season generally runs from June to October. Temperatures regularly reach well over 40 degrees celsius in the wet season, so if you aren’t used to intense, humid heat, it’s not a good time to visit Merida. The Yucatan experiences hurricanes as well, although they rarely hit Merida itself.
Merida is a very cultural city and you might want to coordinate your Merida travel itinerary with one of the many events or festivals held there annually.
Merida Fest in January celebrates the city’s culture and history with a plethora of events. Semana Santa, is the holiest week of the year celebrating Easter. And the most unique and colorful festivities mark the Day of the Dead at the end of October.
How to Get Around Merida
Merida has a compact city center which is well laid out in squares and parallel streets. It’s easy and mostly safe to walk around the central sights, even at night. In fact, you can see the best of Merida and its Centro Historico and crowded markets on a walking tour.
The main bus station, as well as several tourist attractions, are found outside the city center. Taxis are inexpensive but you can also make use of the local bus network. City buses cost 8 pesos and cover set routes, usually departing and terminating close to the central square.
For day trips to archaeological sites, you can easily book a tour through your hostel, hotel, or at the tourism office in the main square. You can also use the local Collectivo services, these are small minibuses that leave regularly from set departure points when full. Alternatively, you can hire a car. As you only have 3 days for your Merida itinerary, a car will help you cover as much ground outside the city as you can – but you won’t need it in the city center.
Where to Stay in Merida
The best places to stay in Merida are almost always found within walking distance of the Zocalo, the main square in the city. Forget your resorts and your all-inclusive hotels though, this isn’t Playa del Carmen. Instead, the charm of visiting Merida lies in enjoying the boutique accommodation or rustic, colorful colonial-era buildings that have been converted into hostels and guesthouses.
For a boutique hotel your best option is by far the Diplomat Boutique, where luxury meets colonial in colorful, refined surroundings. Another fantastic boutique choice that’s a bit more affordable, is Hotel Hacienda Merida, which is set in a grand colonial house, and has the modern upgrade of a swimming pool.
If you’re a budget traveler and you’re wondering where to stay in Merida, look no further than Nomadas Hostel. Nomadas is the best hostel in Merida, with large dorm rooms, a swimming pool, and a great range of social events, including cooking classes and bar crawls.
Merida has become increasingly popular with expats recently and the rental market for apartments has boomed. You might want to check Airbnb for some excellent deals – especially if you’re planning on spending a week or more in Merida, rather than just a few days. Don’t forget to use our link to get up to $55 off your booking.
For more accommodation options in Merida check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 3-Day Merida Itinerary
With 3 days to explore Merida you’ll be able to see the best sights that the city has to offer. Remember though, a visit to Merida is as much about the culture and the food as it is about visiting museums or cathedrals, although there are plenty of those as well!
Some of the best places to visit in Merida are found outside the city itself, so be prepared for an active day out visiting Mayan ruins or the beach during your trip to Yucatan’s capital.
However, before we get to our Merida itinerary we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
We personally use and recommend SafetyWing. For only around $40 a month, it’s really a no-brainer. You can get a quick quote below:
Day 1 in Merida
The first day of your 72 hours in Merida will be spent exploring the historic center of Merida, including the central square and the wonderful colonial buildings surrounding it. Push your way through busy markets, delve into the local history museums, and gorge on delicious food.
If you’re wondering what to do in Merida in 3 days, start by walking to the Zocalo. This is the center of the city; the main square in which you can start delving into local life, culture, and history.
Every Spanish colonial city has a Zocalo, but Merida’s is particularly beautiful. It’s not too large nor too small, and the square is surrounded by colonial architecture which has changed little in hundreds of years.
Try to time your visit with the weekend in Merida, as that’s when the Zocalo is at its busiest. The city holds events on Saturdays and Sundays, including free music concerts and lively re-enactments of the infamous Mayan Ball Game Pok ta Pok. The weekend culminates with a crowded Sunday food market where you can try the best Yucatan cuisine in the city.
One of the best things to do in Merida on your first day is to join a walking tour. The tourism office actually runs a free walking tour of the historical center at 9:30am every day. You can sign up for a the free tour at the tourism office on Calle 62, Plaza Grande.
Alternatively, you can join more niche walking tours to learn about the city’s history or culture, or to find the best places to eat in Merida.
Palacio de Gobierno
The Palacio de Gobierno, or the Government Palace, is the grand colonial building where you’ll find the tourism office.
The Government Palace is worth taking a look around, if only for the elegant murals which are painted on the walls in the courtyard.
Cathedral of Merida
The Cathedral of Merida stands tall on one side of the Zocalo, as it has since construction was completed in 1592.
It’s one of the oldest cathedrals in Latin America, and was built on top of an ancient Mayan temple when the Spanish conquered Merida.
Casa de Montejo
Also located in the Zocalo, the Casa de Montejo dates back to 1540 and is one of the oldest Spanish buildings in the city.
In the 1800s, the building was purchased by the wealthy Montejo family who turned it into an extravagant townhouse. There’s a small museum inside where you can learn more.
Mercado Lucas de Galvez
The city is teeming with bustling markets, but if you only visit one, then make it the busy Mercado Lucas de Galvez.
At this point you’ll probably be more than ready for lunch, so take a stroll around the market stalls and seek out the local Taco stalls or Torta stands crowded with locals.
Museum of the City of Merida
Outside the Mercado Lucas de Galvez you can find the excellent Museum of the City of Merida (Spanish: Museo de la Ciudad de Mérida). It’s not the largest museum, but it is fascinating and detailed.
Browse through the exhibits which focus primarily on the colonial era, before heading back out into the city for what’s left of the afternoon.
If you’ve got the energy to keep sightseeing after a busy day, then pop into one of Merida’s many art museums.
If you want to see local artwork, the Museo de Arte Popular de Yucatan showcases wonderful works from across the region. For contemporary art, go into the Museo Fernando Garcia Ponce in the Zocalo.
In the evening, take a stroll around the Zocalo again, as you’ll find it’s much busier than during the day. Pop into a local restaurant for dinner and make sure to try Sopa de Lima, a hearty, delicious Yucatan specialty.
Day 2 in Merida
Your second day in Merida will see you heading out of town to the famous Yellow City of Izamal, but you’ll be back later to spend the afternoon walking through the excellent Museum of the Mayan World. Like day one, you’ll have plenty of time in the evening for eating and drinking!
Izamal is known as the Yellow City. You’ll soon realize why, as every building in Izamal is coated in a shiny layer of yellow paint. At first glance, the small city – more of a charming town, really – looks incredibly colonial. A huge, yellow-walled convent lies in the center, while the main square is surrounded by yellow houses and shops, laid out in that distinctly Spanish style.
But there’s more to Izamal than this. Once you start walking down the cobblestone streets, you’ll realize that set around the main square are the crumbling remains of Mayan temples. In fact, the convent that dominates the city was built on top of a Mayan temple. This is where the reality of the Spanish conquest of Yucatan sets in. Izamal is a fascinating blend of history and culture.
Paseo de Montejo
Grab lunch in Izamal, then jump on a Collectivo for the 50-minute ride back to Merida. When you’re back in the city, it’s time to take a walk along the Paseo de Montejo, Merida’s main avenue which leads from the city center to the north.
The avenue is lined with impressive colonial mansions, which were built by Merida’s wealthiest inhabitants during the 19th century when the city was in its heyday.
Museum of the Mayan World
Paseo de Montejo eventually leads all the way to the excellent Museum of the Mayan World, although you might want to hail a taxi or jump on the public bus, as it is quite far along the boulevard.
This is Merida’s best and newest museum, with an impressive array of exhibitions that focus on the Mayan World. Head back in time and learn about the history of Yucatan and the wider Mayan civilization, from prehistoric times through to the arrival of the Spanish, and the modern-day struggles of the people to preserve their culture, languages, and way of life.
You’ll need all afternoon to really appreciate the Museum of the Mayan World. While it’s not quite as large as the monstrous Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, it’s still fantastically huge.
When you can’t take any more exhibits, it’s time to head back into the city center to spend the rest of your afternoon and evening at the local Cantinas.
Here you can find the most traditional Yucatan food and plenty of cold beers to wash your dinner down with. If you’re a meat-eater, don’t miss out on trying Cochinita Pibil; the signature, slow-cooked pork dish of the Yucatan.
Recommendation: Consider booking a Cantinas walking tour with a local guide who can show hidden local spots not often visited by tourists, as well as tell you more about the history of cantinas. You can book a Cantinas walking tour here.
Day 3 in Merida
Your third and final day in Merida will be spent day-tripping to some of Yucatan’s best destinations. You’ll see what the Peninsula has to offer, from the white sands of Progresso Beach to Mayan ruins long hidden by the steaming, tropical jungles.
Get an early start and travel to the Mayan ruins of Dzibilchaltun, located just 10 miles away from the city center. This ancient city was inhabited for thousands of years and today is home to an intriguing set of well preserved Mayan temples.
Once you’ve explored the dusty, archaeological sites, you can cool off in the turquoise freshwater Cenote around which the city itself was built by the Mayans. Bring your swimwear, and jump right into the water.
Dzibilchaltun is also famous because the ruins are just a few miles away from the supposed location of the meteor strike that brought on the extinction of the dinosaurs millions of years ago.
After a dip in the Cenote, continue north along the highway from the Mayan ruins and within half an hour you’ll be at the beach. This is Progreso, a small port city with some outstanding beaches. There are none of the tourist crowds of the Maya Riviera, but on weekends the beaches fill up with locals looking to escape the city.
Spend your afternoon relaxing on the soft sands, exploring the coastline, and enjoying the views over the Laguna Rosada which runs parallel to the shore.
Day 4 and Beyond
Exploring Merida in 3 days or over the weekend is the perfect amount of time to see the major sights while getting a feel for the vibrant culture and wonderful food. But if you have extra time on your hands, Merida makes for a great base to explore more of Yucatan.
The famous archaeological site of Chichen Itza is just a two-hour drive away, as are many of the beautiful cenotes. The lesser-known Mayan ruins of Uxmal are just one hour to the south and see just a fraction of the crowds that Chichen Itza does. Another attraction worth visiting is the Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve which is home to a large population of wild flamingos.
You can do all of the above mentioned day trips on your own but if you’d rather not deal with the hassle of public transport or renting a car, here are some of the most popular day tours from Merida:
- Uxmal & Kabah Tour with Mayan Planetarium
- Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve Tour
- Izamal City Tour with Carriage Ride
- Full-Day Cenotes Snorkel Adventure with Family Lunch
- Small-Group Tour to Chichen Itza with Cenote & Lunch
Merida makes for a fantastic destination for travelers looking to see a more local and authentic side of the Yucatan Peninsula. From the culture and cuisine, to Mayan ruins and colonial architecture, Merida has it all!