We made the decision to base ourselves in the Yucatan state capital of Merida for just over a week. The main reason was the location. It was perfect for visiting the nearby Mayan temples, pristine quiet beaches and the deep cenotes which you can see in a day trip from the city.
As soon as we stepped off of the bus from Cancun, Merida felt different. The city has a strong colonial feel, and all the streets are in grid form. Merida is called the "White City" as the walls are whitewashed to keep it cool during the raging hot days. However, in the centre of town the buildings are painted in pretty pastel tones.
This post is about my recommendations of things to do in Merida. I will post up additional information on the day trips from the city.
We stayed fairly central in the city (link here: Accommodation Merida )
Merida Cathedral (San Ildefonso)
The Cathedral of San Ildefonso is one of the oldest churches in all of the America's. Most certainly the oldest in Mexico.
The building blocks of the church are taken from the same stones used as the Pyramids of the Mayan City - T'ho. Completed in 1540, the Cathedral has three Chapels and is beautifully maintained. The building dominates the main square (Plaza Grande) and during nightfall the Cathedral is lit up to show all it's glory.
Check times before visiting, the Cathedral is closed on Sundays and throughout each day is closed for a few hours each afternoon. An English speaking tour happens every Saturday at 10am.
Sunday Market (Merida en Domingo)
If you happen to be in Merida over the weekend, then I recommend using your Sunday for visiting the weekly market. This all day event takes place in Plaza Grande. Mexican cultural dances, music and performances can be watched from the square and early in the morning the entertainment is geared at young children. There is also pop up food stalls and pop up restaurants. Alongside that there is tents full of Yucatan crafts such as the famous white embroidered dresses, panama hats and touristic pieces for sale.
Gran Museo De Mundo (Mayan Museum)
We decided before we visit any of the Mayan Temples we should visit this museum for a bit of background knowledge. The museum really surprised me, it's very modern and also had a section all about the Dinosaurs and how the impact creator that destroyed said creatures was actually here in Yucatan!
The Mayan civilisation is very complex, but this museum provides you with bite sized chunks of information.+ The information boards are both in English and Spanish and there is an extensive collection of artefacts on display.
The museum also has a very basic cafeteria (enough for a coffee stop) and a gift shop.
The museum is well out of town and into the industrial park on the outskirts of the city. However, the place can be easily reached via city bus or by uber car.
Gran Museo is open Wednesday to Monday (Closed on Tuesday) from 8am. Entrance is $150 peso
Tour the city by horse and carriage
All throughout the old centre of the city you will see decorative horses with old school classic carriages trotting visitors all around. I feel that this is a good way to see the city and it's a much more authentic experience than taking the typical hop-on-hop-off bus. Generally speaking a typical tour around the city lasts around 1 hour, however the tour is up to you.
There is also a tourism incentive set up so that the local drivers can learn English to improve the experience for visitors.
Typically, a tour will cost $300 peso and is supporting the local community. The horse and carriages can be found all around the Plaza Grande.
People Watching in the Plaza's.
One of my most favourite things about Merida was the abundance of small well maintained squares. The ultimate one is the Plaza Grande, the area is well shaded and there is plenty seating. We sat there on a very hot day to escape the sun and just watched the locals congregating. There is also shoe shiners in the corner of the square shining up the shoes which I found fascinating to watch.
Contemporary Art Museum (MACAY)
Situated just off of the Plaza Grande, the Modern art museum is right next to Merida Cathedral. The museum has two different sections. The entrance hall was once a Palace and houses modern sculpture pieces and instalation art. Whereas the indoor section has abstract paintings and photography.
The entrance is free, and inside the courtyard they have a lovely little garden filled with banana leaves, palms and other tropical plants.
Merida is very easy to get around, there is local taxis, Uber and city buses. We frequently used Uber. Journey times about 10 minutes cost no more than £3.
The city bus is ludicrously cheap, we took the bus to the Mayan Museum which cost. 20p.
Walking in the city is relatively straightforward. It's a grid system so easy follow on a map.