From Chichen Itza pyramid to the unearthly cenotes to the delicacies of the Yucatecan cuisine, Merida city reveals treasures of ancient worlds. The colliding of two civilizations, the Spanish and the Mayan, syncretizing in a new zesty one. There is an undeniably anarchist footprint in every dish, architectural building, and even in the notes of the Spanish sounds, which the natives of Mexico expressed in spite of the imposition of culture. Get a taste of the Mayan civilization, must-see natural wonders and the amalgam of the old and the new world with our list of the top 12 things to do in and around Merida, both iconic landmarks, and local favorites.
1. Admire a New Wonder of the World, Chichen Itza
Still being a center of pilgrimage and worship for the current Mayans, Chichen Itza is undoubtedly the most iconic architectural buildings of the Mayan civilization not only in Mexico but in Latin America. The astonishing pyramid is only an hour and a half from downtown. There are some tour agencies that for $30 dollars provide transportation to the archeological site and a meal. A top thing to do in this place is to witness at night the video mapping “Noches de Kukulkán”.
2. See an underestimated pyramid in Uxmal
If Chichen Itza is listed as one of the new wonders, there is another pyramid for you to fall in love with the Mayan civilization. Many craft lovers coincide that the stonework on every façade in Uxmal is so much more detailed than the renowned one and will literally blow your mind. A trip package including transportation, a meal and a visit to Kabah (another archeological site) will cost you $30 dollars.
3. Dive in Nah Yah cenote, a must-see natural wonder
A top thing to do in Merida is to dive in a cenote, otherwise, you missed out on half of your trip! If you feel adventurous, you might want a cave type cenote and you should try Nah Yah. It’s one of the largest ones with 90 meters in diameter and you have to go down 15 meters through a staircase. It’s stunning to see the different shades of blue and the prehistoric stalactites!
4. Have a fish therapy in Xlacah cenote
In and around Merida, there are so many more than one hundred cenotes to discover and for you to name the most tantalizing. Some large houses in the city possess their own natural wonder -amazing, isn’t it?- but the most breathtaking cenotes are found around the city. The nearest, just 30 minutes, is Xlacah located in the insides of the Dzibilchaltun archaeological site. It’s a modest cenote but its water is crystal clear and you swim surrounded by fish.
5. Try the best southern Mexican food
For now, we have been exploring the heights and depths of Merida. But you are about to experience the best of the old world and the new world: the cuisine, of course. Mexico might be best known around the world for its food, and trying the Yucatecan is absolutely a top thing to do because it’s a sublime balance of the Spanish dish and the Prehispanic one.
Expose your tongue to the peninsula flavor
Start to refresh yourself with a cold chaya- lime drink. And I would say that in order to introduce yourself gradually to the Yucatecan cuisine, as an entry try an order of “panuchos” (handmade crispy corn tortilla, split and filled with black bean puree, topped with shredded turkey, lettuce, cucumber, tomato, pickled red onion and a slice of avocado). Visit Chaya Maya Restaurant, just two blocks from downtown.
Savor a cultural specialty of Mexico
Move on with a lime soup. It's not as sour as you might think! And as the main course, try the Yucatecan dish par excellence, the “cochinita pibil” (succulent pork marinated with achiote and sour orange juice, then cooked in a banana leaf and served with pickled red onion, black bean puree, and handmade tortillas). Visit Manjar Blanco Restaurant, located in front of Santa Ana Park
Pamper yourself with a typical dessert
Still with room for a dessert? Try the Yucatecan version of milkshakes with the champolas or a cold sorbet, a favorite local refreshment for any time of the day. If you enjoy comfy appetizers, try a fresh out of the oven pionono. Visit Dulceria y Sorbeteria El Colon, along Paseo de Montejo
6. See Casa de Montejo Museum
Also known as Citibanamex House of Culture, this museum was once the house of the conqueror of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is one of the very few examples that exist in the American continent of civil constructions of the Renaissance style known as Plateresque. It also has three temporary exhibition halls dedicated to Popular Art.
7. Spot your favorite architectural style along Paseo de Montejo
Walking along “Paseo de Montejo” – the most important avenue of the city – is a top thing to do in Merida because, for a moment, you will think you are in Europe due to the magnificent French architectural inspiration of the mansions. I recommend you to have a walk instead of taking a bus tour, that way, you can take your time to revel in every detail.
8. Admire Palacio Canton Museum
This large house is not only the most outstanding example of European architectural influence but a badge of outrageous wealth. Observe the opulence of its architecture and take a look at the rotating exhibitions presenting the cultural heritage of the region.
9. Attend to the Mayan Ball Game
One of the most admirable ancient games recreated in this striking performance, the breakneck and vigorous ball game of the Mayan civilization is still reachable for the morbid spectator. Playing with a fireball and maneuvering only with the hips, the two teams must fight for the honor of being sacrificed for the gods. Well, not exactly dying, but fighting for the audience applause and cheers. This event takes place at the Plaza Grande (the heart of downtown) every Friday at 8 pm.
10. Dance to the sound of Latin Music
It would be a sin to come to Mexico and not hearing or dancing to the rhythm of “musica latina”. Just as the Mexican cuisine, music is “sabor” that runs through your veins making you feel exotic and alive. When the sun goes down, Santa Lucia Park welcomes you with Serenade Nights. Music enthusiasts and novices alike from Mexico, Chile, Cuba, and Argentina, play well-known songs and some of their authorship. And the bustling colonial dance, “the Jarana”, is always performed by local young people in order to preserve their historicity.
11. Spot flamingos in Celestun Ecological Reserve
For fertile mangrove swamp, open seascape and Mayan rural wilds, head to Celestun Ecological Reserve. This reserve boasts one of the most dazzling pink-colored birds: the flamingos. Dozens of slender birds take a flight to fill the sky with pink tones when the nesting season begins. Mid-November and December are the fitting months to have the best views of this natural wonder.
12. Buy local handicrafts made by Mayans
The colorful hipness of Mexico is undoubtedly found in its art, and the cradle of the Mayan civilization is not the exception. The “guayabera” is the iconic handicraft of Merida. This shirt made of linen is quintessential, the representative clothing of the city due to its classy cut and its freshness. Moreover, high-quality hammocks and beautifully embroidered blouses could be your daily allies for the sultry days on the peninsula. Where can you find them? Roaming the downtown and the nearby streets.