There are so many places to see in Merida and the surrounding Yucatan Peninsula, it would be impossible to see it all in a lifetime. Many visitors prefer to use the services of a reputable tour company to help them see the best and most interesting sites in the short amount of time that they are staying here.

We can certainly recommend some local tour companies. Iluminado Tours has Day Tours, Custom Tours and Spiritual Tours that take you on a trip into the Mayan culture to learn about the Mayan cosmology and philosophy from Mayan shaman and other knowledgeable locals. Yucatan Trails is a local travel agency that can arrange simple trips to places like Chichen Itza and Progreso in a van. Yucatan Discovery has a list of tours for you to choose from, from Chichen Itza to Celestun to see the flamingos. And lastly, William Lawson is a private English-speaking driver who can take you anywhere you need to go in the Yucatan. Our property manager can also provide private drivers and related services.

Every week there is a myriad of events in Merida and in the towns surrounding the big city. Within walking distance of Casa Esplendida, you can find dancing, music, museums, galleries and both recurring and one-time events. The best place to find the one-time events for the current week is the Events listing on Yucatan Living. There are also ongoing events that happen every week, and those are listed in the Ongoing Events Page. If you are interested in art, check out the Art in Merida page on Yucatan Living, with a complete listing of the current exhibits at the galleries and museums. There are also fiestas going on almost every month in the Mayan villages and colonial towns, and those can be found here in the Fiestas of Yucatan listing.

The history of Merida and the Yucatan Peninsula is complex and full of surprises, and unknown to many people who visit here. A walk through downtown, or visits to the ruins, haciendas, colonials towns and Mayan pueblos in the area, usually provoke a lot of questions about history. How did this city come to be here? Why are there so many huge mansions and colonial homes? What are haciendas and why are there so many of them? Who are the Mayans and where did they come from?

Mérida, the modern city, was founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo. It was built on the site of the Maya city of T'ho (city of the five hills, referring to five pyramids) which had been a center of Mayan culture and activity for centuries. Because of this, many historians consider Mérida the oldest continually-occupied city in the Americas.

Carved Maya stones from ancient T'ho were used to build the Spanish colonial buildings in downtown Mérida, and are visible in many places, including in the walls of the main cathedral. Much of Mérida's architecture from the colonial period through the 18th century and 19th century is still standing in the centro historico of the city. From colonial times through the mid 19th century, Mérida was a walled city that protected its residents (descended from Spanish ancestors) from periodic revolts by the indigenous Maya. You can still see some of the old Spanish city gates around town, but modern Mérida, with its population of almost a million people, has expanded well beyond the old city walls.

Late in the 19th century and the early 20th Century, the area surrounding Mérida prospered greatly from the production of henequén (still known as sisal in English, because it was exported from the port of Sisal, which was the most important port in the state during the 19th century but is now a very sleepy fishing village). For a brief period, around the turn of the 20th century, Mérida was said to house more millionaires than any other city in the world! Many large and elaborate homes still line the main avenue of Paseo de Montejo.

Throughout the Yucatan, hidden in caves and at the end of long, straight dirt roads, are hundreds of fresh-water springs called cenotes (suh-noh-tays). These cenotes were formed thousands of years ago, when the limestone shelf formed by a big meteor solidified, leaving holes around the perimeter. Cenotes are a part of Yucatecan culture... a place to hide during a hurricane and a place to cool off during the heat of the day. The water in a cenote is always the same temperature (about 76 degrees Fahrenheit), and many cenotes are connected by underground rivers. Cenotes can be dangerous (due to the currents from those underground rivers) and you should never swim in one alone. But there are many cenotes that are enjoyable and safe. In Cuzama, a small town outside of Merida, you can take a horse-drawn carriage to three different cenotes in one day. Many small villages are starting to operate their cenotes as local businesses, charging a small admission and providing ladders, stairs and lifejackets. You can see a video of a cenote near Chichen Itza here.

There are so many Mayan ruins within a day's drive of Merida... it's hard to know where to start.

Of course, one of the Seven Wonders of the World is the castillo (castle) at Chichen Itza. The entire archaeological zone at Chichen Itza covers several acres and can take the better part of an entire day to see, especially if you include the beautiful hotels nearby, Mayaland and Hacienda Chichen, which is built around a 17th Century hacienda, the first in the Yucatan.

The other only slightly less popular Mayan ruin is Uxmal, about forty minutes south of Merida by car. Uxmal was built during an entirely different era in Mayan history and has a very different feel to the architecture. Uxmal's buildings are spread out in a parklike setting, making walking around a very enjoyable pasttime. If you go there, don't hesitate to buy a tshirt or embroidered dress or blouse from one of the Mayan women selling their wares at the front entrance. These are women from the surrounding pueblos whose sales go to benefit their entire families.

The closest Mayan archaeological zone to Merida is Dzibilchaltun, with its very modern air-conditioned museum and open-air cenote. There is also an "eco-walk", which winds through the trees, educating the stroller about the flora and fauna of the area. And there is a demonstration Mayan home, showing the type of construction and furniture that is typical to find within.

Other Mayan archeological zones that are easy to reach from Merida include Kabah, Sayil, Labna, Oxkintok, Mayapan, Edzna and many more. In fact, there are Mayan structures all throughout the peninsula... not all of them are official governmental sites.

Free Entertainment
There is almost never a night in Merida when there isn't something going on, usually outside, that is free to the public and sponsored by the government.

Probably the most popular free music night is Tuesday night at Parque Santiago, just a few blocks from Casa Esplendida. Every Tuesday night, Merida's traditional band plays Yucatecan music. Residents (and some tourists) come out in droves to dance the salsa, meringue, cha-cha-cha and other Latin dances under the stars. If you don't want to dance, it's also fun to sit at one of the little restaurants on the outskirts of the dance floor and eat delicious genuine Yucatecan food while watching everyone else dance!

The Olimpo, an indoor venue downtown on the Plaza Grande, often has free movies or concerts. On Sundays, the streets around the Plaza Grande are cordoned off from auto traffic and there is always something going on to entertain the people who have come out to stroll and shop.

The Merida English Language Library, right across the street, often has free talks by local expatriates on Saturday mornings. Check their bulletin boards or website to find out what is scheduled.

For the latest list of events, many of which are free, check the Events pages on Yucatan Living or Yucatan Today.

Some of Merida's museums include:

MACAY - Merida's contemporary art museum with new exhibits every three months.

Yucatan Music Museum - Music from the Yucatan, and Merida in particular, was famous worldwide around the turn of the 20th Century. This museum, housed in a lovely colonial building, explains everything (in Spanish). Even if you don't understand Spanish, however, the music and the photos are well worth seeing.

Governor's Palace - This is the actual seat of state government, but it also serves as a museum of work by Merida's most famous artist, Fernando Castro Pacheco. The murals and paintings that grace the walls of this building tell the story of Yucatan's history.

Merida City Museum - Located next to Merida's main mercado, the City Museum houses historical items from Merida's history, as well as changing contemporary art exhibits. The building itself is a beautifully restored example of early 20th Century architecture.

Centro de Artes Visuales - The Center for Visual Arts is a museum of changing exhibits of Mexican and Yucatecan artists.

Anthropology Museum - Inside one of Paseo de Montejo's most beautiful mansions, the Anthropology Museum houses exhibits of Mayan culture in southern Mexico.

For more information on these museums and Merida's galleries, go to Yucatan Living's Art in Merida article.

Merida is located about 30 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico and about 3.5 hours from the Caribbean Ocean at the Mayan Riviera. The closest beach can be found at the town of Progreso, about 30 miles due north of the city. There is a large, wide, new carretera that goes directly from Merida to Progreso, so it is a quick and easy drive. To the east and west of Progreso are many additional beach communities, such as Chelem, Chuburna, Chicxulub, San Benito, Telchac and many others.

The Mayan Riviera, stretching from Cancun at the north to Tulum and the Sian Ka'an Biosphere to the south, is just 3.5 hours away from Merida... perfect for a weekend trip if you are staying here for awhile. There are two ways to get from Merida to the Caribbean coast... the scenic, libre way (which is slow but free) and the fast, straight carretera which is a toll road and will cost about $30 USD.

Yes, gambling is legal in the Yucatan. There are various venues to do everything from sports betting to bingo to video poker. There are gambling establishments in the north section of Merida on Paseo de Montejo, and in some of the shopping centers. The Galeria (the shopping center next to Liverpool) has a large casino called Casino Life.

Places Close By
Some of our favorite places to visit on a daytrip from Merida include...

  • Celestun, a fishing village with boat tours to see the flamingos
  • Progreso, for an afternoon on the beach drinking beer and eating fresh fish and guacamole
  • Izamal, for a tour of it's beautiful yellow-painted colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, and for its wonderful horsedrawn buggy tour of the homes of local craftsmen
  • Acanceh, for its town square bordered on one side by a Catholic church and on the other side by a Mayan ruin
  • Uxmal, for its amazing Mayan architecture and mysterious past
  • Hacienda Temozon and Ochil, two restored haciendas with lovely restaurants for relaxing meals under the trees
  • Hunucma, a quiet pueblo about half an hour outside of Merida. Go on Sunday morning and buy some delicious cochinita pibil from a street vendor... then continue on to Sisal (another half hour or so) for a day at the beach. Bring towels, sunscreen, drinks. But plan on eating there too at a local fish restaurant.

and so much more... Come explore it for yourself!!