Things to Do in Merida
Mostly unexcavated, the Chacchoben ruins (Zona Arqueológica de Chacchoben) make up the largest and most visited Maya archaeological site in Costa Maya. Here moss-covered temples sprout from a lush jungle, attracting visitors who want to learn about Maya history, including the collapse of the ancient civilization.
The second oldest cathedral in the Americas, the Mérida Cathedral (Catedral de San Ildefonso) was built atop a Mayan temple in the 16th century. Notable for its relatively austere façade and surprisingly stark Moorish interior, Mérida Cathedral also houses some of Mérida’s most significant religious artifacts, including the Christ of Blisters statue.
As one of the lesser-visited Mayan ruins on the Yucatán Peninsula, the archaeological site of Kabah offers an escape from the crowds at Uxmal and Chichén Itzá. Visit Kabah—the second largest site in the Puuc region after Uxmal—as part of a multi-ruin tour and take time to marvel over the ornate Palace of the Masks which is covered in a rare repeating motif of the rain god, Chaac.
Once one of the Yucatán’s most prominent estates, the remarkably preserved Hacienda Yaxcopoil offers an in-depth insight into the region’s colonial history. Originally built in the 17th century and spread over a vast 22,000-acre (8,900-hectare) agave plantation, Hacienda Yaxcopoil is now preserved as a museum, which showcases the Yucatán’s pre-Colombian, Spanish colonial, and henequen boom years.
Situated at the heart of Mérida’s historic center, bustling Plaza Grande is home to the city’s 16th century San Ildefonso Cathedral, one of the region’s most important contemporary art establishments, and more. Visitors can relax in this leafy plaza—popular among visitors and locals alike—or use it as a jumping-off point for further exploration of the city.
Often considered the Champs Elysees of Mexico, tree-lined Paseo de Montejo is one of the few examples of French Colonial architecture in predominantly Spanish Colonial Mérida. Developed in the late 19th century with money from the region’s henequen boom, Paseo de Montejo—one of Mérida’s longest avenues—is nowadays lined by mansions, hotels, and restaurants which retain their elaborate, original facades.
This ancient site south of Merida is considered to be among the last of Yucatan’s great Mayan cities, having functioned as the region’s political and cultural capital for over 200 years after the fall of Chichen Itza. The sprawling site is home to some 4,000 structures, including the Temple of Kukulcan and several family dwellings.
The well-preserved Maya ruins at Uxmal are considered some of the most beautiful in the Yucatan. Temple-pyramids, quadrangles, and a large ball court dot the archaeological site. Highlights include the Great Pyramid and the unusually rounded Pyramid of the Magician. A nightly light and sound show brings the magic of Uxmal to life.
This 19th-century henequen plantation is today a living museum, immersing guests in Merida’s colonial heritage as they explore the site’s working machines, sprawling grounds, and horse-drawn railways. The hacienda is also home to a restaurant and hotel, as well as a traditional Mayan dwelling and private cenote.
Situated just 17 miles (28 kilometers) outside of Mérida city center, Dzibilchaltún offers a quieter alternative to other Mayan sites such as Uxmal and Chichén Itzá. Here, visitors can explore over 8,000 astronomically and religiously significant archaeological structures, including the Temple of the Seven Dolls, as well as the Cenote Xlacah swimming hole and the Mayan People Museum.
More Things to Do in Merida
A must-see site for archaeology lovers and architectural buffs, Labna boasts Maya ruins built in the ancient Puuc style, marked by the use of concrete and decorative elements. Located in the Yucatan Peninsula, near the larger Uxmal ruins, Labna is a compact structure hidden within the Puuc Hills.
Originally built in the 16th century, the Montejo House-Museum--one of Mérida’s oldest buildings--is now a bank and free-to-enter museum. There, visitors can explore the permanent, four-room collection of historic furniture and three exhibition halls which typically house artworks. However, the main draw of Casa Museo Montejo is the original and elaborate Spanish Plateresque-style façade, one of a few of its kind in the Americas.
The MACAY Museum, the only museum dedicated to the promotion and diffusion of contemporary art on the Yucatán Peninsula, is a landmark of downtown Mérida. Originally built in the 16th century, the grand edifice now houses over 20 permanent and temporary art exhibits, which feature sculpture, painting, and other mixed media works, as well as a newspaper archive and garden.
Mesoamerican and Spanish cultures collide at the Aké Ruins and Hacienda, one of the Yucatán’s smaller but still significant archaeological and cultural sites. Explore the remains of an ancient Maya sacbe (raised road), central pyramidal palace, and two concentric border walls before stepping back to the 19th century at the henequen hacienda or climbing to the Aké chapel, which sits atop a Mayan pyramid.
A landmark of downtown Mérida, the free-to-enter City Hall (Palacio Municipal) spans the west flank of the city’s Plaza Grande and is characterized by its salmon pink façade, arches, and clock tower. Inside, visitors can enjoy murals and paintings on the second floor, cool interior courtyards, and admire sweeping views over the plaza below.
Located on the Yucatán peninsula where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean Sea, the Progreso Cruise Port is home to one of the longest piers in the world. Regularly frequented by cruise liners, this port is a jumping-off point for tours to the archaeological sites of Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Dzibilchaltun, as well as Mérida city.
If you’re looking for guaranteed pink flamingo sightings, a trip out to Celustun is your best bet. There’s a pleasant enough beach where you can spread out a blanket, look for shells, or go swimming, but the main reason to visit is to hire a boat captain to take your party out on a flamingo tour. You head into a lagoon area where the big pink birds hang out each day, flying around and settling down in shallow areas in large groups to look for food. It’s rare to come here and not see a few dozen flamingoes in bunches as you troll around on the boat.
The tour also usually includes a “petrified forest” with mangrove stumps sticking out of the mud and a visit to a swimming hole on land filled by cool, clear spring water. It’s a great place to cool off from the viewing time in the hot sun. Afterwards there are a variety of inexpensive seafood restaurants near the beach and town square, all serving shrimp ceviche, fresh-caught fish from the Gulf of Mexico, and cold beer or margaritas.
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