If you’ve always wanted to see the east coast of Mexico, don’t even think about not visiting the Yucatán. Discovering Mérida, its capital city in 2 days is possible, but no way near long enough. This post is all about what to see in Merida, Mexico, and with only a short time to spare.
What to see in Mérida Mexico in 2 days
How to get to Mérida from Playa Del Carmen
If traveling from Playa Del Carmen, you can take the ADO bus, or camion, as the Mexicans call it. Thankfully, the buses have air conditioning on board to give some comfort from the scorching temperatures. I’d spoken to many locals who told me that the temperature would be higher in the Yucatán capital — something I wasn’t exactly looking forward to.
‘If you don’t speak Spanish, you may experience a little difficulty in Yucatán.’
While I wasn’t looking forward to sweating even more, I was excited about experiencing first-hand the region’s rich cultural heritage.
After a 4-and-a-half-hour bus ride, most of which I spent reading interesting facts about Mexico, I arrived in Mérida. It’s a far cry from the clinically clean and polished tourist towns of Playa Del Carmen and Cancun, and I fell in love immediately. The streets are dusty and noticeably smaller, but filled with crowds of people and market stalls. The architecture’s colorful and quintessentially Mexican.
Visiting Merida as a solo female traveler
As a solo female traveler, I couldn’t wait to discover more. Mérida felt like a ‘real’ part of Mexico and I didn’t once feel worried. If you’re a fellow female traveler, you may want to consider joining a tour. It’s not just a way to see some of the best sights, but you also get the safety net of being in a group.
Where to stay in Mérida Mexico
I chose to stay at an Airbnb over a hotel simply because I wanted a local experience. My host in Mérida was a charming and free-spirited lady called Isabella.
Her house in the Centro district of Mérida is exactly what you’d picture a Mexican home to be. Wide open spaces bursting with color, locally-made crafts everywhere, and ceiling fans in every room. With her gorgeous dog Ruby wandering comfortably through the house, I felt immediately at home.
There’s a free magazine, Yucatán Today, that you can collect from the local tourist office in town. Dress in loose clothing, always carry a bottle of water and your abanico in hand, and discover historic Mérida for yourself.
Boutique hotels in Mérida
The next time I return to Mérida, I’m checking in for a few nights at Coqui Coqui Merida. This fabulous colonial townhouse is steps away from Mérida Cathedral, providing a super elegant, and comfortable, stay in the city.
Coqui Coqui Spa
What’s more, they have a superb spa, with treatments like massages and facials using oils sourced from local ingredients. Therapists draw on ancient and traditional methods and use a holistic approach when treating guests. The spa menu does change, so be sure to check what’s available before booking.
Free things to do in Mérida, Mexico
Budget conscious travelers will be happy to know that there are many free things to do in Merida Mexico. The most notable architectural feature of the town is the old Spanish stone gates that once separated the Spanish colonialists from the Mayan people.
Spanish stone gates
The landmarks provide a clue to the city’s rich historical background, as well as a reference point if you ever get lost. ‘Always follow the gates and you’ll get back to Calle 44’, Isabella advised.
The old cobbled streets lead to Plaza Grande, and along the way, you’ll notice a colorful array of Spanish-style buildings. Among the farmacias and mini supermercados are grand music schools, hotels and empty yet eye-catching structural buildings.
The Blue House in Merida Mexico
The remarkable ‘Blue House’ draws you in like a magnet with its pop of blue color. The many well-maintained mini plazas – some of them resembling mini parks, are perfect for taking shade from the sweltering heat. Look around, and you’ll see old men having their shoes shined, and Mayan women selling homemade artesanias.
The heart of the city
Another block ahead and I arrived at the central part of the city, Plaza Grande. It’s a larger version of the mini plazas, with many locals there spending the day in the park. You can really feel the love in this plaza, particularly with the charming white stone conjoined ‘Lovers Seats’.
What kind of souvenirs to buy in Mérida Mexico
If you want to buy locally produced handcrafts or souvenirs in Mérida, I recommend going to a Mayan cooperative. It’s far more ethical than the many tourist shops lining the streets.
Moreover, all the products they sell are made by the Mayan people in the villages, and all profits go directly to them. It’s also worth noting that there’s no bartering in the cooperatives. The prices are fixed and very reasonable, so don’t even attempt to try!
What to eat in Mérida – Yucatán cuisine
While Mexican food is renowned for its picante food, Yucatán cuisine raises the chili scale on a whole different level. Not a usual fan of the spicy stuff, I tried some salsa verde with my tortilla in a traditional restaurant.
This salsa was so hot that my mouth was burning, my tongue tingling and my nose started running at the same time. The manager had a few giggles at my expense, and the experience was a wise lesson to always keep my food mild!
Later for lunch, I went to a local restaurant and ate Yucatán style pork ribs followed by a bitingly cool frozen margarita. Portions are large and cheap in Mérida – something that also extends to alcohol. At the time of travel, it cost approximately £1.60 ($35 (MXN); $2.70 (USD) for a glass of wine. It’s a great difference to the price you pay in tourist towns, so drink up and enjoy!
What to see in Mérida Mexico – free attractions
The splendid Palacio De Gobierno and the grand Mérida Cathedral sit across from Plaza Grande. The Palacio’s unmissable, and with no entrance fee, there’s no excuse not to go. It’s home to government as well as tourist offices, and the palace has murals produced by local artists depicting the history of the Spanish and Mayan people.
Standing proudly in the heart of the city, Mérida Cathedral beckons you inside its majestic four walls. The fine interior is one you can appreciate, regardless of any religion. Paseo Montejo is a few blocks walk or a short taxi ride from Plaza Grande is also worth checking out.
Honestly, I wasn’t impressed by Paseo Montejo. The polished streets and string of modern restaurants and bars reminded me of the ambience — and price tags — I’d left behind in Playa Del Carmen. Nonetheless, the colonial style buildings lining the paseo are certainly worth seeing.
Things to do in Mérida at night
Nightlife in Mérida is dominated by one thing and one thing only: salsa music. Whether it’s catching live salsa music in one of the plazas or going into a bar/club, music is king.
I went to one bar where a duo act performed popular salsa tunes on a small stage. Even me, with my two left feet, got up to partake in the local festivities. I left the bar sweaty, slightly merry, but unbelievably happy whistling salsa tunes all the way home.
Is Merida safe?
One question I get asked a lot is, is Mérida safe? And as a solo female traveler, I can assure you that yes it is. I went back home around 1am from the bar, alone through the quiet cobbled streets, and didn’t feel any sense of danger.
Is Mérida Mexico worth visiting?
My visit to Mérida was undeniably the highlight of my Mexican experience, and yes, it’s definitely worth visiting. The people, atmosphere and the culture left me with a yearning to discover more about the region and its surrounding estados.
Quintana Roo is a coastal paradise and feels more comfortable simply because it’s more western. However, the Yucatán gave me something far more valuable. It gave me the chance to get out of my comfort zone and return home with an experience that no words or photographs could justify.
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