What to do in Merida?
Every corner of this beautiful colonial city is a window to an important chapter of Mexican history. It has parks, buildings, monuments, or museums. One can get a pretty good idea of how a city like this came to be within most of them. And, as if that wasn’t enough, the city’s rich culture extends to its food. There are too many places to count to try it in. From the delicious, cheap dishes at the market stalls, a city cantina that’s over 100 years old, to a landmark restaurant. Needless to say, the things to do in Merida are too many to experience in a single day.
Take a quick tour around downtown Merida
This has got to be one of the most historically rich Mexican cities. You’ll come across it just walking its streets and avenues, whether you intend to or not. Perhaps, then, the best way to begin your visit is to hop on a panoramic bus—called a gua-gua—for around USD 8.
The 1-hour tour takes you to see 50 of the most important sites around downtown Merida with a short explanation of each one. When were the buildings built, and what they’re used for now, plus a few interesting tidbits and anecdotes.
Choose which of the sites are more appealing to you and return to visit them later, at your own pace.
Take a walk down Merida’s Paseo de Montejo
A slower-paced activity than the gua-gua, walking up and down the Paseo de Montejo, the most important avenue in Merida, is a must. Inspired by Paris’ Champs-Elysees, it by what features the mansions of the rich of all shapes, colors, and sizes (all enormous). Nowadays, the buildings are museums and businesses, like a Starbucks or a bank, but even those are worth admiring.
Casa Museo Quinta Montes Molina
If these enormous mansions pique your interest, you can see one, Casa Museo Quinta Montes Molina (or Quinta Montes Molina house museum) from the inside for around USD 4. This was once home to four generations of a rich family. It is a mansion from the early 20th century keeps its original furniture and décor. This house gives you a very clear idea of how the Merida super-rich used to live.
Monumento a la Patria
On Paseo de Montejo Avenue you’ll eventually come across the Monumento a la Patria (or “monument to the homeland”). Though this enormous sculpture rising from the middle of the road looks quite modern, it’s not. It was actually inaugurated in the mid-50s. It is entirely carved by hand and shows the most important events of Mexican history. From the ancient civilizations that once inhabited the country to the War of Independence, all the way up to the 20th century.
Anthropology Museum Palacio Canton
It’s difficult to decide which is more interesting. The exhibits within the Anthropology Museum Palacio Canton, or the building that houses them. Another striking mansion—or palace, if the name is anything to go by—on Paseo de Montejo. This is a great place to learn the history of the Yucatan Peninsula, Merida included. Many ancient Mayan sculptures and other remnants of their civilization are on display here.
Plaza Grande and Merida’s Cathedral
It’s common for colonial cities to have a central plaza that once was their very center. Merida is no exception. The Plaza Grande is perhaps the perfect starting point for every tour of the city—whether motorized or on foot—, as it’s surrounded by its most important, and oldest buildings.
One is the Museo Casa Montejo (Montejo House Museum), which, it is said, was built by the very same conquistador who conquered Yucatan. Similar to the Casa Museo Quinta Montes Molina, it still has much of its original furniture and décor; a stationary time machine to see how these people lived.
Just around the corner is the MACAY Art Museum, which houses the work of Yucatan’s most prominent painters and artists.
It’s right next door to Merida’s cathedral. Built in 1561, it is the first cathedral built in continental America (the one on the island of Dominican Republic was the first on the continent) making it one of the oldest buildings here. Still active, it’s a striking representation of the beginning of the evangelization of the area.
La Negrita Cantina and La Chaya Maya
Of course, culture also means food, and Merida also has quite a few bars and restaurants that scream tradition. Negrita Cantina has been active since 1917 and it’s a popular stop for tourists looking to take refuge from the unforgiving Yucatan sun. It’s a great place to cool off with a cold drink and a few “botanas”, or snacks, which are actually small versions of traditional dishes.
Speaking of traditional dishes, they don’t get any more traditional than those served at La Chaya Maya. This is the perfect place to get your first try at delicious and traditional dishes like the Sopa de Lima (lime soup), Poc-Chuc, and Cochinita Pibil (pulled pork in achiote sauce).
There’s so much more to do in Merida
Of course, all of the above is just the tip of the iceberg. Merida is one of the most important cities, not only in the Riviera Maya but in the whole of southeastern Mexico. And, as such, it is packed full of things to see and do—way too many to fit in one single list.