Merida is known as the “white city”; it’s also the capital city of the state of Yucatan, famous for its rich Mayan history as well as some of Mexico’s most important archaeological sites.
Because of the large peninsula on Mexico’s southern region, Merida is actually about 50 miles north of the nation’s capital, even though people in Mexico City talk of traveling “south” to Merida. It’s difficult to get lost in Merida itself; the city is laid out in a grid with even numbered streets running north-south; odd numbers east-west.
As the state’s capital, Merida is a hub of activity and extremely well connected by land and air to other parts of the region and the country. The city has a considerable charm and buzz about it; and it’s contrasts help this to come about: Merida is cosmopolitan and quaint; Mexican but with a strong Mayan influence.
The city is an excellent base from which to explore the rest of the region, including the archaeological wonders of Chichen Itza and Uxmal and many other less well known, but equally important ruins in the vicinity.
There are hotels and amenities here to suit every budget, style and taste and there is always something happening in Merida: concerts, festivals, parades and celebrations are almost a constant feature in this vibrant city.
Getting around is easy; the streets are laid out in a grid format and you can walk to most of the main attractions in the center; and even taking a cab to the places further away from the heart of the city is good value thanks to the well managed taxi system introduced by the local government here.
Historically, Merida’s wealthy inhabitants were land barons; the scale of their wealth can be seen today on Paseo Montejo, an avenue which was inspired by the “Paseo de la Reforma” in Mexico City and which is host to large, opulent white stone mansions. Today those old mansions are used, principally, as public buildings, museums and corporate offices.
Merida’s present-day wealth is built around the maquiladoras (assembly plants) and tourism, both of which have grown significantly during the last two decades.
In recent years, Merida has seen, and continues to undergo, an explosion of art and culture. If you’re traveling around Mexico’s southern peninsula, a visit to Merida is a must; better still, use it as a base from which to explore the region, but even if you’ve only come to this part of the world to see beaches or archaeology, spend a a couple of nights or more in Merida—you won’t leave disappointed.
The central plaza, Plaza Grande, is dominated by the Catedral de San Idelfonso; it’s not the most striking in Mexico, but its size is immediately apparent when you arrive at the main square.
The Municipal Palace is on the opposite side of the square while the Government Palace, which looks non-descript on the outside but is stunningly attractive inside, features some wonderful paintings and murals that depict Yucatan’s rich Maya history. In contrast, the murals and paintings in the Government Palaces feature the Aztec indigenous cultures of central and northern Mexico.
On the south side of the Plaza Grande is the Casa de Montejo which locals sometimes refer to as the “Palacio de Montejo”. It was a private home, inhabited by the descendents of its creator (and Merida’s founder), Francisco de Montejo until 1980. Most of the building is closed to the public; today it’s a working bank branch for Banamex and also offers currency exchange.
Paseo de Montejo
The “White City” title that Merida has derives from the stately homes and mansions that adorn the sides of Paseo Montejo, about 10 blocks north of the center, standing opulently in gleaming white stone. The Paseo de Montejo is a tree-lined boulevard, which was supposed to be as grand as Mexico City’s “Reforma Avenue”. There are still some private homes along here, although many of the buildings have been turned into banks, offices and one of the most majestic buildings is now home to Yucatan’s Museum of Anthropology (see below).
Merida has a number of fine museums, the most significant is the impressively housed Museo de Antropologia (Anthropology Museum) which is situated at the majestic Palacio Canton on Paseo de Montejo. This museum holds many of the fine artifacts from the Mayan ruins and also explains much about the history of the region going back to the age of mastodons. Note that much of the information is provided in Spanish only.
The Museo Nacional de Arte Popular (National Popular Arts Museum) is a few blocks northeast of the Plaza Grande and offers displays of fine art and crafts from the locality.
On Calle 61 you’ll find the Museo de la Ciudad (City Museum) which displays a history of the city and the region.
Learn Spanish in Merida
There’s no better way to learn Spanish than by becoming immersed in it at a language school in Mexico. Merida is well-known as a cultural and historic city and there are number of fine language schools here. Read our guide to Learning Spanish in Mexico for more details and to find a language school in Merida.
Parks, Gardens and Zoo
To see a park full of trees, one from each country on the American Continent, visit Parque de las Americas which is Avenida Colon. There’s a children’s playground, zoo, botanical gardens visit Parque Centenario. The zoo features some exotic species of animals as well as fauna from the region.
Spas in Merida
Good spas are available in Merida and Yucatan–including in many of the fine hacienda hotels in this region. For more information about spas, and how to get access to a magnificent health experience in Mexico, connect to the Mexperience guide to Spas in Mexico.
By Air – You can get to Merida from Mexico City and Cancun as well as cities in the USA: Houston and Miami. The Merida airport is about 5 miles southwest of Merida’s city center. Land Transport is available from the airport into town; if you’re traveling alone or with just one or two other people, ask for the lower fare option which will mean you share the cost with others in a suburban van. If you want to rent a car, agencies have desks inside the main airport terminal building – note that booking in advance is likely to save you money (see below for car rental). For detailed information about flights and flying, see the Mexperience guide to Air Travel in Mexico.
By Bus – To get to Merida from Mexico City, your best bet is to fly there (see above); the bus journey from Mexico City to Merida takes about 24 hours. See the Mexperience Travel Center for National Buses.
By Car – If you’re planning to drive to Merida as a part of road trip in Mexico, expect the journey from Mexico City to take you around 24 hours. You will need to take highway 150D, 145D, 180D (then 180), then 180D again, then 180 and then 180D. The D indicates toll roads, there are free alternatives; consult your map. You could also rent a car in Merida, and use this city as a base to explore the magnificent Yucatan region. See additional information about Driving in Mexico and Mexico’s Toll Roads on Mexperience.
Car Rental – To explore Mexico’s colonial towns and cities, consider renting a car for your visit. Having your own car will give you more flexibility than using public transport options and, in some cases, offer you access to places which are otherwise difficult to visit without the use of a car. Read our guide to Car Rental in Mexico to learn what you need to know about car rental in Mexico and connect to the Mexperience Travel Center to reserve your Rental Car.
Local Buses – Local buses are available, consult the local tourism office for details or ask locally for nearest bus stop. However, The local area bus route infrastructure in this region is very limited in comparison to other regions (e.g. the colonial heartland) in Mexico, so renting a car (see below) is the most flexible way to see the surrounding area, although if your budget is tight, some local buses are available connecting Merida, the Mayan ruins and other villages nearby, although schedules are limited.
Taxis – Local taxis are widely available, and they are all fitted with colored discs which set a fixed rate depending on which zone you started and end up in. They are plentiful, friendly and excellent value.
February is a busy month for events in Merida. This is when the local university celebrates its anniversary and provides a range of free concerts and performances including folk ballet and music reaching back to its Afro-Caribbean roots.
Merida’s Carnival takes place just before Lent (exact dates depend on when Easter takes place) and is an explosion of art, music, costumes dancing and processions.
Every Weekday – Something happens every day of every week in Merida. On Sundays the center of town is closed off to traffic between 9 am and 9 pm for the weekly fair Merida en Domingo; Mondays is the Vaqueria Regional which has its roots in the cattle ranching communities, the festival offers music and dancing; Tuesdays from 9 pm at Parque Santiago you can hear live bands playing; Wednesdays the local theatre puts on a play (admission fees apply); Thursdays music and dance is presented at the Parque Santa Lucia from 9 pm; Fridays from 9 pm the Ballet Folklorico at the local university performs typical regional dances; Saturdays the Noche Mexicana (Mexican Night) featuring Mexican music and dance starts from 9 p.m.
Telephone: Connect to the guide about Communications in Mexico on Mexperience for detailed information about keeping in touch and the latest table of national dialing codes.
Exchanging Currency: Banks with ATM machines can be found in the downtown area of Merida. During business hours, they and the Casas de Cambio will buy traveler’s cheques and cash from you as well. For detailed information about exchanging and managing your money, read the Mexperience guide to Money in Mexico.
Travel Insurance: We recommend that you are adequately covered with travel medical insurance and/or travel assistance insurance when you are visiting Mexico. Read the Mexperience guide to Travel Insurance in Mexico for full details and links to specialist insurance suppliers.
Internet Access: Internet cafes can be easily found in towns and cities across Mexico and WiFi is increasingly commonplace–from cafes, shops, hotels, and some cities even offer free WiFi in some defined public spaces.
Amaros. Traditional Yucatecan dishes in a casual, open-air setting. Good choice for vegetarians. Lunch and dinner daily. Calle 59 no. 507, between Calle 60 & 62. Tel: (999) 928 2451.
Pancho’s. Theme restuarant (Pancho’s bandits) serving a wide selection of traditional Mexican fare in a lively casual setting. Dinner daily. Calle 59 no. 509, between 60 & 62. Tel: (999) 923 0942.
Villa Maria. International menu featuring Mediterranean cuisine using local ingredients. Sophisticated dining in a beautiful hacienda setting. Lunch and dinner daily. Calle 59 no. 533, corner of Calle 68. Tel: (999) 923 3357.
Locally Hosted Parties – Check with yours and other local hotels about public parties they may be hosting during your stay. Traditional Mexican theme night parties are popular with the locals, and there’s a chance you could join a really special night out – the real Mexican way, and certainly on the eve of September 16th – Mexico’s Independence Day. Hosted parties usually include dinner, dancing, a show and / or live music (usually authentic Mexican Mariachis) plus all drinks for a fixed fee and are always excellent value for money! Ask at your hotel to find out what is happening locally.
Nightclub Scene – Merida has a small number of nightclubs. Some nightclubs charge an all inclusive cover fee; some a smaller cover and drinks on top. Drinks are served all night – don’t even consider going to a nightclub before 11 pm. Nightclubs keep going all morning and most people will start to leave between 5 and 7 am
Merida is the perfect place to buy Yucatecan arts and crafts and two other items in particular: Panama Hats and Hammocks.
Although the center of Mexico’s hat-weaving trade is in a town in the state of Campeche south of here, there does exist a good trade in Panama Hats in Merida, which are made from the leaves of the Jipijapa Palms. The weavers work in caves where the air is humid and the palm leaves remain soft and pliable. Once exposed to the dryer air and heat, they provide excellent protection against the intense sun that you will encounter in this part of the world.
If you only buy one thing in Merida make sure it’s a GOOD hammock; they make them here—and many of the hammocks you’ll buy in Mexico will have originated in Yucatan.
Here’s the run-down about buying a good hammock in Merida – You can buy a cheap hammock made from nylon with a “wide weave”—that is, the holes are big when you stretch it. These are very uncomfortable. If you really want something you can sleep in, you need to make sure the weave is tight. If you live in a wet climate, then a nylon hammock may be of better use, but make sure the weave is a tight one. Cotton hammocks are okay, but the best are the ones made from cactus string – they’re also the most expensive. Remember: the closer the weave, and the more threads it has, the more comfortable it will be; and the cactus string material is the best — better than cotton and far better than nylon.
See Also: Buying a Mexican Hammock
From April to October the weather in Merida is hot and is exceptionally hot in the summer months between May and September. The rainy season runs May thru October, and often manifests itself as strong, sudden and gushing tropical showers or storms in the afternoon. November through March the weather is cooler and sometimes breezy.
Weather & Climates in Mexico
Learn more about the weather and climates through the seasons and regions by connecting to the Mexperience guide about Weather and Climates in Mexico