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Only in Merida for one day? Here's a list of what you can do in one day to see as much as possible.
The Zocalo (also known as the Plaza Grande) is the center of the city, and a good place to start. Chances are, if you are being dropped off by a bus from a cruise ship or if you are only staying one night in Merida, you will find yourself very near the Zocalo. It's the town square, Mexican style. At 7:30 AM you can listen to the Mexican national anthem played by the local police band. On Sundays, the whole square is closed to traffic and full of booths selling locally-made items and food. The rest of the week, the Zocalo is a peaceful green place with park benches, great for people watching, resting, checking your map and a centrally located place to meet other people you might be traveling with.
There are a number of important things to see right on the Zocalo as well. The Casa de Montejo is on the south side of the square, in the center of the block. Once the home of Sr. Montejo, it now houses a branch office of Banamex and a few ATM machines. On the west side of the square is the Ayuntamiento building (the one with the clock), which is the City Hall. On the north side, the Governor's Palace is on the corner across from the Cathedral. Go inside the Palace (it is open to the public) and go upstairs to see the very important murals and paintings by Pacheco, a local artist. These paintings depict the history of the Mayans of the Yucatan and are not to be missed. On the same side of the square is a traditional ice cream parlor with local flavors like zapote and pitaya. A great way to cool off in the middle of the day.
The Cathedral in Merida was built from the stones of the original Mayan temple that once stood in its place. It is a massive and impressive structure, especially from the inside. There is not a lot of interior decoration, but the architecture is stunning. It is said that Merida was supposed to have a smaller church, but the plans were mixed up with another city in Peru and Merida ended up with a much bigger church than the Church Fathers had intended for it.
Walk south on Calle 60 to Calle 65 and turn left. After two blocks, you will find yourself at the Post Office, and the Luis Galvez Mercado will be on your right. The mercado is more than one building... it is more of an area. The new mercado building is behind the old one, and not as interesting. But there are many booths selling everything from local handicrafts to fruit, flowers, vegetables, meat, shoes, candles, guayaberas, jewelry... whatever you need, you can probably find it there if you look hard enough. The booths that have what most tourists want are found in the building on the corner of Calle 60 and Calle 65. It is easy to get lost and turned around here, but just ask anyone to point you toward the zocalo to get back to where you started.
On Calle 63 just west of Calle 64 on the north side of the street is the very large Casa de Las Artesanias. Don't be fooled by many other stores with very similar names. They are all trying to take business away from the real thing. The genuine Casa de Las Artesanias is run by a government agency and features hand made items from all over Mexico, but especially from the Yucatan. If you can only go one place to shop, this is the best place to go. Everything that is produced in the Yucatan is under one roof here, and the prices are fair.
There are probably hundreds of places to eat in the Centro... including Burger King and McDonald's. If you are feeling a little more adventurous than that, check out our listings of restaurants, complete with addresses, times, and user comments about the food.
This building is one of the most beautiful examples of colonial architecture in Merida, and one of the best preserved. It was designed by an Italian architect and would not look out of place in Europe. The interior of the opera house is designed for a great view even from the cheap seats and features a lovely stained glass ceiling. Don't miss a chance to see a performance here if you have time. Sometimes there are art exhibits on the top floor in the outdoor galeria. There is also a very nice art gallery downstairs to the left of the central staircase with constantly changing exhibits of contemporary Mexican art.
Merida's main art museum can be reached by walking into the passageway to the right of the main Cathedral. Walk under the arch and the entrance to the MACAY will be on your right about halfway down the passageway. Usually there will be an outdoor sculpture exhibit in the passageway as well. The MACAY has a few permanent exhibits of local artists, as well as many changing exhibits. And all this great art is free! There is no admission charge.
At the corner of the zocalo near the Cathedral, catch a calesa (a horse-drawn carriage) and pay the driver to take you down Paseo de Montejo, Merida's tree-lined avenue. This will take you up Calle 60, past Santa Lucia Park and Santa Ana Park. The slow pace of the carriage will allow you time to relax your feet while still taking in the lovely sights of the colonial architecture that defines Merida. Usually, the driver will take you all the way to the Monumento a la Patria, a huge monument that chronicles the history of Mexico. Be sure to tip the driver a little extra for the horse when you're done! This is a great activity for the end of the day when things have cooled down a bit and you can see the lovely buildings in the golden light of sunset.
One day isn't nearly enough to see it all in Merida, but it's a good start. To end the day on a high note, walk to Paseo de Montejo and go north for about two blocks. On the east side of the street is the hotel and restaurant called Rosas and Xocolate. It is a renovated colonial mansion that has been transformed into a hotel/restaurant/spa complex extraordinaire. You can enjoy a restful drink at the Moon Bar upstairs under the stars, then go downstairs for either indoor or outdoor dining. The food is excellent, the wine list extensive and the setting perfection. For dessert, walk through the lobby (you're going to want to see it anyway) and feast on some locally made Belgian chocolates in the chocolate shop. Those chocolates rival anything you can get in New York or Paris... and your evening at Rosas and Xocolate will be the perfect end to a lovely day in Merida.