Mérida is the political and cultural capital of the Yucatán state of Mexico. It is also the largest city in the state. At the northwestern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, Mérida is 303 kilometers from Cancun. The city received 1.4 million international tourists in 2017, with most visitors coming from Germany, the US, France, and Canada. Mérida is a top tourist destination in Mexico, for its colonial charm, rich heritage, colorful markets, festivals, gardens, and nearby Mayan sites.
You will see a lot of Mayan, Spanish, British, French, Lebanese, and Dutch influences here. In fact, Mérida has the most indigenous population anywhere in Mexico. But it’s a blend of the cosmopolitan and the provincial. Explore the city’s central plazas, narrow streets, thriving markets, and visit the museums. There are events happening every other night. It has always been Yucatan’s cultural capital since the Spanish conquest.
Mérida is often called ‘The White City’, because of the many colonial-era white structures and beautiful buildings. Visit Merida for its authentic cultural experiences.
4 cities in the world have the same name – Mérida. The one in Mexico is the largest. The others are in Spain, Philippines, and Venezuela.
Mérida – 14 Quick Facts
- Capital of the Yucatan state, Mexico
- 60% of the residents are of Maya ethnicity – the highest
- Area telephone code – 999
- Area – 331.43 square miles or 858.41 square kilometers
- Airport – Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport
- Merida is named after a city in Spain’s Extremadura region.
- Merida has been the center of Yucatan culture for centuries
- Traditional folk dance every Saturday night
- Jarana dance in local festivals and social gatherings
- Plaza Grande is the city’s heart
- Paseo Montejo – Boulevard inspired by Paris. There are many beautiful buildings along the avenue. Closed to traffic on Sunday.
- Merida Cathedral – 16th century oldest cathedral in the Americas.
- Ruins nearby – Dzibilchaltún, Mayapan.
- Palacio Cantòn – Largest gathering of pre-Hispanic Mayan sculptures and ceramics.
Merida was established in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo y León el Mozo, son of a Spanish conquistador. It used to be once the world’s richest city. Merida’s riches came from the henequen plant that was used to make ropes.
How To Reach
Air – Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport is 7.5 kilometers from the city. All passenger, freight, and private flights land or take off from here. There are daily flights from/to México City, Miami, Houston, Havana, and Belize City. However, there are more flights and also charter airlines at Cancun, which is 303 kilometers away. Often, many tourists take a flight to Cancun and then a drive to Merida. This is usually the cheaper option.
- Take a taxi or van from Merida airport at the exit door.
- There is Uber. The fare to the city center is MN$65-100 approximately.
- You can get a taxi on the main road at half the cost. However, you will have to walk a good distance past the parking lot.
- You can also take the Autobuses De Oriente (ADO) to the CAME bus station. They run regularly.
- There are also local city buses.
- Downtown buses leave to the airport from Calle.
Bus – There are 3 types of bus stations.
- Grupo – ADO, ADO GL Deluxe, ADO Platino for longer routes, and OCC first class.
- Terminal de Autobuses de 2a Clase – This is for 2nd class. ADO and ATS buses to many cities in the Yucatan.
- Fiesta Americana – Serves the ADO GL, ADO, SuperExpresso, and Platino lines. Buses for other cities and towns of Yucatan.
There are other bus companies too like AutoCentro, Autobuses del Noreste en Yucatan, and Terminal Auto Progreso. There is also a bus service from the Cancun Airport. It takes about 4 hours.
The streets have numbers and not names. They all run from north to south.
- The numbers increase as you go west.
- East to west – odd numbers
- Addresses are usually the intersections of streets.
The roads are in a grid pattern. Restaurants, attractions are usually within walking distance. You can easily walk. Taxis and buses are reasonably priced.
Merida has the nickname of “La Ciudad Blanca” after the city’s white limestone buildings. Many of these buildings now have a layer of gem-colored paint.
Top Reasons To Visit Merida
|Architecture||For its pre-Columbian and colonial architecture. 16th century preserved mansions, San Ildefonso Cathedral, Maya temples, pyramids, ceremonial centers. Chichén Itzá, Dzibilchaltún, and Mayapan sites. Paseo de Montejo from the colonial times.|
|Culture||Merida is the cultural capital of Yucatan. Rich art and cultural traditions. Dance and music performances every night. The Yucatán Symphony Orchestra.|
|Museums and Arts||Gran Museo del Mundo Maya de Merida for its artifacts. Museum of Anthropology and History for its Maya relics. The Art Museum, Governor’s Palace, and MACAY are also worth visiting.|
|Archaeological Sites||Chichén Itzá, the world’s best-preserved pyramid, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Uxmal. Both must-see in the Yucatan.|
|Outdoor Adventures||Wildlife excursions and birding tours.|
|Cenote Swimming||Sinkhole and cenote cave explorations. Swimming in the freshwater, which is some of the clearest in the world.|
|Food, Drink||Merida is also the culinary capital of Yucatan. Food influenced by long-standing traditions. Recipes from the Maya times. The local markets are bustling. Many exotic vegetables and fruits. Spices.|
|Historic Haciendas||From the late 1800s to the 1920s the locals produced henequen for rope making, which made Merida the world’s richest city. The modest manors were transformed into extravagant haciendas.|
10 Top Tourist Attractions in Mérida
1. Historic Plaza Mayor – Also called the Plaza Grande or the Plaza de la Independencia. It is Merida’s commercial and cultural hub. There are shady palm trees, beautiful flower gardens, and fountains. Visit the market, a short walk south of the plaza. You can buy Panama hats, hammocks, huipiles and guayabera shirts. There are many eateries selling Mexican food, and vendors selling souvenirs and crafts. Visit Yucatecan Serenade for a live Latin dance.
2. Mayan World Museum – Gran Museo del Mundo Maya is one of the best museums in Mexico. See the 4 large permanent exhibitions with more than 500 relics. An impressive collection of ancient engravings and sculptures. Historic documents. Good textile collection from the pre-Spanish period. There is also an audio-visual show.
3. Mérida Cathedral – At the east of the Plaza Mayor. It is the largest church in Yucatán and the oldest cathedral in the Americas. The 16th century structure has a plain façade, but the inside has rich décor. See the painting of Maya ruler Titul-Kiú above the doorway. Indian wood carvings.
4. Church of Jesús – In the beautiful Parque Cepeda Peraza. 17th-century façade. See its high altar and the beautiful altarpiece made of gilded and carved wood in Plateresque style. Horse-drawn coach rides in the park outside to see the colonial architecture of the region.
5. Museo Casa Montejo – South of Plaza Mayor. 1549 residence of a wealthy family, the palace with Plateresque façade is a classic instance of Spanish colonial architecture. Large rooms inside. 2 courtyards, museum. European furniture and pleasant gardens.
6. Natural History Museum – In the beautifully restored Palacio Cantón. 19th-century building with exhibits from the Maya civilization, and pre-Columbian Mexico. Sacrificial gifts from Chichén Itzá and many sketches.
7. MACAY – Museum of Contemporary Art. Galleries with temporary and permanent exhibits of contemporary and modern art. Works of leading artists of Mexico. Programs, workshops, guided tours in English. Good collection of costumes, jewelry, textiles, toys, musical instruments, and pottery.
8. The city of Mérida Museum – Showcases the development of the community through the centuries. Henequen, textiles, exhibits from the Spanish colonization days, and pre-Spanish times. Also, visit the Railway Museum to see old items from the railroads. Mayan-theme rides, reptile collection.
9. Government Palace – Also called the Palacio de Gobierno. 31 murals from 1971 to 74. Building with beautiful courtyard. A masterpiece. Good collection of paintings. Good views of Plaza Mayor and cathedral from the balcony.
10. Uxmal – Famous Maya site a short distance from Merida. UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the most famous Pre-Columbian sites. Pyramid of the Soothsayer, panels with Chac masks, temples, sculpture of the Queen of Uxmal. A must-visit in Mexico.
Click this link for more information on the architecture and history of the city.
Merida Travel Guide – Accommodation
There are many accommodation options for tourists on different budgets. The best hotels are often in colonial-era buildings. You can stay at Hotel Hacienda, which is located at the Centro Historico or the Las Escaleras Guest House. You will also find modern places to stay like the Mansión Mérida and the Casa Lecanda Boutique Hotel. They are both in mansions that have been restored.
Here are some of the best neighborhoods to stay in the city –
Centro Historico – Merida’s historic district is located around the Plaza Grande. It has museums, beautiful architecture, public artworks, and many shops. There is a beautiful cathedral you must see. The 1549 Casa de Montejo is also very impressive. 16th-century reliefs here show the Spanish conquest.
San Sebastian – It used to be a sleepy Mayan village before the city of Merida was founded. The 17th-century Shrine of Santa Isabel used to protect the trans-Atlantic voyagers. The San Sebastian neighborhood has been renovated in recent years and looks beautiful now.
La Mejorada – It is a colonial neighborhood just east of Centro Historico. You will see many fascinating colonial mansions here. This was once the rail hub of the city, but the station was closed. There is still a Yucatan Railway Museum here. There are many excellent restaurants now.
Best Time to Visit Merida
Merida has hot and humid weather throughout the year. The average temperature doesn’t vary a lot. The rainy season is between June and October. Merida’s high season is from December to April. It is mostly dry this time of the year. January is usually the busiest time of the year. Mérida Fest, which is the city’s biggest festival is held this month. The temperature is also slightly cooler in January. There are a lot of tourists also in February and March.
Flights and hotels costs are high between January and March. The best time to visit Merida is between the end of September and early May. The prices typically come down between July and August as it is very hot and humid.