Things To Do In Merida Mexico: The capital of Yucatan State, Merida, has a lot to offer any visitor. From colonial history to a vibrant nightlife. Colorful buildings and even more colorful food. Having spent 18 months living in Merida, we share our top picks for essential things to do in Merida Yucatan.
Things To Do in Merida Mexico (Culture & History)
Our list of our top 16 recommendations for things to do in Merida, Yucatan peninsulas capital. We actually have a free, comprehensive guide to Merida too if you are looking for more information like accommodation, transport, day trips and much more.
1. Merida Things To Do: Traditional Cultural Dancing Shows
One of the most unmissable things to do in Merida Mexico is to attend a local cultural dance performance.
Dressed in traditional white dresses, embroidered with colorful flowers, the Mayan ladies dance to the sounds of trumpets and a 12 piece band.
There are many opportunities to enjoy the local dancing in downtown Merida Mexico – and they are almost always free to attend. The most iconic options are:
Thursdays in Merida: The Yucatecan Serenade is held in Parque Santa Lucia from 9 pm. It normally gets very busy and it’s advisable to turn up by 8.30pm to get a good seat. The event has run for 40+ years every week. Traditional dance and guest singers and musicians. Cost $Free.
Sundays in Merida: In the Plaza Grande at 1 pm, a longer version of the traditional dances with the big band. The whole of the central square is also filled with street food. Other musical acts play periodically through the day and into the evening.
Other events with dancing:
Mondays in Merida: At Plaza Grande, enjoy Vaqueria Night from 9pm. Watch the Ballet Folkloric perform to the sounds of the Jaranera orchestra.
Tuesdays in Merida: Parque Santiago hosts Musical Memories – which starts at 8.30pm. This is not a dance performance, it’s local people from the older generation coming to dance to the big band. You can join them!
Saturdays in Merida: Located at the “Remate de Paseo Montejo”, Noche Mexicana – Evening (Scheduled from 8pm, but we’ve seen it start around 7pm sometimes). Varying musical and/or dance performances and artisanal market stands showcasing local food and crafts.
2. Eat Mayan / Yucatecan Food
Yucatecan food is a blend of Mayan traditional cuisine and influences from Mexico and Cuba. It’s typically less spicy than food from other parts of Mexico, though you will often find habaneros on the side – so you can choose to spice it up. I love cochinita (slow cooked, pulled pork in achiote), but there are so many dishes to try.
3. Things To Do In Merida Mexico: Free Walking Tour of Plaza Grande
Merida is one of the oldest cities in Latin America (Founded in 1542). The Plaza Grande has long been the center of life in the city and taking a free walking tour will introduce you to the history of the clash between Hispanic and Mayan culture, as well as learn about the architecture and evolution of Merida city center.
4. Things To Do In Merida Mexico: Mayan Ball Game: Pok Ta Pok (Saturdays – previously Fridays)
In the heart of downtown Merida Mexico, the ancient sport of Pok Ta Pok is still played every Friday night. UPDATE May 2018: The game may temporarily have been moved to Saturday nights – or the move may be more long term. Double check the Merida Events government page before you go for the most current update.
Painted with body art and adorned by feathers and headdresses, two teams of stocky Mayan men attempt to get a round ball through a hoop using only their hips to hit the ball. Played on the cobbled streets of Plaza Grande, expect chanting, scrapes, and scratches and, as a finale, the ball is lit on fire.
Unlike in historic Mayan tradition, the team captain is not beheaded at the end of this ceremonial ball game. But fire, action, and competition make this a top “oooooh! and aaaahhh!” event.
Time: 8pm (Arrive before 7.30pm to get a good seat with a clear view)
Location: Plaza Grande, in front of the cathedral.
5. Visit A Merida Cantina – or 5!
Cantinas are Mexican style bars and you’ll find them all over Merida. They open at lunchtime and most offer all day drinking. Typically they close at 10pm. Doing a cantina crawl is a fun way to lose a day 🙂
Get our list of the best Merida Cantinas as well as our free cantina walking tour map.
6. Head To The Beach
Merida is an inland city but it’s only a short drive or bus ride to many different beaches. Progresso (pictured) is the nearest and easiest to get to by public transport. Celestun is my personal favorite. But there are many more…
Get our list of the best Merida beaches (well, beaches that are within an hour or so of Merida)
7. Explore Mayan Ruins
The Yucatan is famous for its Mayan history, including the legendary Chichen Itza.
Our Top Pick Near Merida is: Uxmal.
The original city of Uxmal was founded around 500AD, with it attaining primary local dominance during the period 850 to 900 AD.
In the question of Uxmal vs Chichen Itza, both have their own personal positives and negatives. Although Chichen Itza’s main pyramid may be one of the best in the whole Mayan world, Uxmal has 3 Pyramids – one of which you can still climb.
Also, Uxmal’s governor’s palace has the longest facade of any in the Mayan world. Uxmal is less busy and for the most part, to the casual observer, better preserved/restored. It’s also nearer to Merida!
Opening Times: 8am to 5pm general entry. 7pm to 8pm Sound & light show. Uxmal does not suffer the same influx of tourists that Chichen Itza does, but arriving early to avoid the heat is always a good idea. That said, you will find plenty of shady trees and buildings to retreat into.
Price: 177 Pesos for the two entrance tickets. 72 pesos extra for sound & light show.
Uxmal Ruins: tours from Merida
Get the full and convenient guided experience direct from Merida:
Mérida: Uxmal, Hacienda Yaxcopoil, and Cenote with Lunch (w/ Get Your Guide)
Uxmal Group Day Tour (w/ Viator)
Uxmal is not the only Mayan ruin near Merida. Check Out Other Options.
8. Things To Do In Merida Mexico: Cemetery – Cementerio General
In this region, the cemeteries are a celebration of life, not the mourning of death. Find beautiful and colorful tributes to loved ones.
Wednesday nights at 8pm you can attend a night tour of the cemetery (In Spanish). Otherwise, you can visit during the general daily opening hours 8am – 5pm.
Location: Cementerio General – Meet at the corner of calle 90 & Calle 66 diagonal (Near the cemetery museum)
9. Swim In A Cenote (Sinkhole)
The Yucatan peninsula is full of secret, and not so secret Cenotes – Both above ground and underground sinkholes, with crystal clear water, perfect for cooling off in that hot Yucatan heat.
There are so many to choose from! Get Our Full List Of Cenotes Near Merida.
Get Our Complete Merida & Yucatan Free Interactive Tourism Map
Every attraction, restaurant, and hotel listed in this article – plus many more of our top picks – are featured on our exclusive, custom Google map overlay. Access all the info live on your phone/tablet or computer (including all new updates) at any time by getting access to our Free Map.
Tourist favorites – as well as local secrets that almost all tourists miss!
Featuring Merida Mexico, Riviera Maya (inc. Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum) and around the Yucatan Peninsula. Click To Get The Map.
10. Visit Traditional Markets
There are plenty of local markets in Merida. But the biggest is Mercado Lucas De Galvez. From the front entrance you can head left towards the fruit and veg market, or due south into the jewelry and clothing/shoes etc. Or you can just walk around for a couple of hours and explore.
There are also street food vendors dotted around the place. Tacos and tortas (sandwiches) made with local favorites like cochinita pibil (pulled pork) and pastor (pork, doner kebab style). All at super low prices.
Where & When: Corner of 56 & 65a. 5am to 6pm – But different vendors open at different times and on different days. Wednesday to Saturday 9am to 11am might be considered peak time for finding food and shopping options open.
11. Gran Museo de Mundo Maya (Merida Mexico Things To Do)
The Gran Museo de Mundo Maya is a huge modern museum dedicated to the history and culture of the Mayan world.
Learn the fascinating story of how the dinosaur killing meteor of 65 million years ago landed just north of the Yucatan peninsula – creating the massive underground network of cenotes (Underground lakes/sinkholes).
See exhibits which demonstrate the Mayan way of life and their progression through history. You’ll want to spend 2 to 3 hours exploring the prolific collection of artifacts.
Where: Calle 60 – Highway to Progreso.
12. Salsa The Night Away With Mezcal Cocktails In Hand
Mezcal is a Mexican spirit famous from the state of Oaxaca. Similar to tequila but with a smoky flavour. So the La Fundacion Mezcaleria is a late night bar selling many varieties of Mezcal – as shots (Caballitos) or in cocktails.
This is one of Merida’s best late night spots to dance and drink. It’s always busy and you’ll be absorbed by the latin rhythms and mezcal cocktails.
On Wednesday from 9pm they offer a free salsa dancing lesson. The bar has a mix of live music and DJs.
When: 8pm til 3am Wed to Sat, and 8pm to midnight on Sunday.
Who: Younger crowd. Locals & Tourists. Get noisy later, but the garden area is quieter.
13. Things to do in Merida Mexico: Attend One Of The Merida Festivals
With its exhaustive cultural calendar, as well as the regular weekly events, like the Sunday Fiesta in Plaza Grande, or the Tuesday Musical Memories in Parque Santiago, Merida also makes room for some big festivals on a more infrequent basis.
OUR TOP FESTIVAL PICK: The Noche Blanca (White Night) celebrates the art and music of the city. Free performance stages are set up in the parks and squares around the city. Bars and restaurants put on extra entertainment events. Museums and galleries open for free with special expositions and performances. Street artists and performers roam the streets of Centro drawing crowds wherever they go.
When: Always on a Saturday night (from around 7.30pm to 2am). Normally 2nd Saturday in December, and June. But check on Google before booking your trip. December is better for weather, but book your hotel way in advance.
Find Out About More Festivals in our Free Merida Travel Guide.
14. Stay In A Hacienda (Historic Plantation Mansion)
Many of the old colonial plantation houses around the Yucatan have been converted into luxury hotels. Absorb yourself in history, and get out of the city by staying at a historic Hacienda.
Which are the top 10 Haciendas to stay at in the Yucatan? Check out our faves.
15. Try Local Mexican Craft Beer
The craft beer revolution has taken the world by storm, and Merida is no exception.
TOP PICK FOR MERIDA CRAFT BEER: Hermana Republica is the restaurant brand attached to the Merida Mexico microbrewery “Patito”.
Live music some nights. IPA is our favourite craft beer from their range. They also have tasting paddles. The vanilla stout is also a winner. Garden and air con area. They also have a high quality menu from a passionate chef. Even the free botanas with the beer are artisanal standard.
When: Officially open 1pm to 11pm but seemingly open until 1am most nights. Closed Sunday.
Who: 25 & up. Expats and locals. Hermana Republica on Facebook
Want a list of more places to try Craft Beer in Merida? Check Out This Article.
16. Experience Botanas! (Yucatecan Tapas)
Botanas are free snacks provided with the purchase of drinks. Many cantinas and bars offer these all over Merida – it’s a tradition.
By far the most impressive selection of botanas is offered up at Eladios bar. Drink prices are higher than most place (49 Pesos for a bottle of beer) but that drink will include many plates of food. By the time you’ve ordered 2 beers per person, you’ve feasted on a full meal.
It’s not just the quantity that makes Eladio’s a winner. It’s also the variety. Other bars bring basic things like kibis (Lebanese meatballs) and peanuts. At Eladio’s, you get portions of tacos with various fillings, and our personal favourites “Niño Envuelto” which are cabbage rolls stuffed with meat and rice.
Live music every afternoon.
Where & When: Eladio’s (Centro Calle 59 # 425) but they have many locations around Merida Mexico. Open 11.30am to 9pm. But between 2pm and 6.30pm is the best time to visit. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday seem most popular.
Looking for more Things To Do In Merida? As well as day trips, accommodation and more! Get our free and comprehensive Merida Mexico Guide
For Exact Locations Of Every Attraction, Restaurant, Hotel etc. listed on this article (and from all our other Yucatan articles) don’t forget to grab a copy of our FREE Custom Google Map Overlay – All our top picks marked in one simple map.