5 Days in Merida (Yucatan Mexico)
The city of Merida with its cultural riches is drawing tourists from all over especially from Cancun or Tulum. Along with its delectable cuisine and magnificent architecture, its prime location allows for easy day trips to Mayan archaeological sites and other attractions. This was our first time in the Yucatan state of Mexico and it was a great escape from the cold rainy winter in California. I can’t wait to share the highlights of the trip with you!
Five days in Merida may seem too long of a stay, but believe me there’s plenty to do (even more than what we did!). I will share that my health was not the best at this time and we were unsure how much activity I would be able to handle, which is a reason why we decided to stay here longer. It was a relaxing experience since we didn’t have to jam pack everything and could spread it out.
WHERE TO STAY/GETTING AROUND
Staying in a hotel in downtown Merida is the way to go if you want convenience as that’s where all the action is. But we felt the Airbnbs gave us more bang for our buck compared to the hotels, and there are some that are quite cheap! We stayed at an Airbnb that was outside of downtown Merida so the neighborhood was quiet, and the place was filled with charming artwork painted by our host’s mom. The leisurely 10-minute walk to the city was quite enjoyable with the vibrant colorful buildings lining the streets.
Don’t worry if your feet get tired from all the walking, you can always call an Uber! There’s another app called Cabify which I did find the rates to be slightly cheaper than Uber. But you have to link to a Paypal account instead of a credit card, and I felt there were less drivers available. If you don’t use either apps, the city taxis are easy to hail and rates are similar to Cabify. I would say most of our rides were $2-$5 since most things are a few miles away.
My favorite part of traveling is eating the regional cuisine and it’s the best thing to do in Merida. There are so many places to eat at and dishes to try that it was so hard deciding where to go. Some of the dishes to keep it mind to try are:
Salbutes: it’s taco-like with a corn tortilla that’s been fried until it puffs up and served with meat (usually chicken or turkey), onion, and salsa
Panuchos: it’s similar to salbutes except the corn tortilla is stuffed with black beans
Sopa de Lima: a broth soup made from the local limes that has the perfect acidity, usually served with chicken or turkey with tortilla strips
Cochinita Pibil: delicious slow roasted pork marinated with citrus and achiote
Relleno Negro: its color may be off-putting to some, but this black meat stew is very satisfying, may see it served with corn dumplings or eggs
Queso Relleno: it means stuffed cheese and served with pork and spices, sometimes with eggs and olives
Here were a few of our favorite places in Merida:
There are multiple locations and it’s a must try for cheap street tacos. It’s a popular place so it may be hard to catch the attention of the waiters, but don’t worry they will eventually come to you. If you know some basic Spanish, then most likely you’ll be able to get waiters faster. A must have taco here is the ‘castacan con queso’ which is pork belly with cheese — I know it sounds like a weird combo but TRUST ME it’s amazing. Also try the chaya drink (green drink) which is so refreshing.
If you want to eat authentic local dishes but are wary to eat the street food, then this is the place to go. The restaurant is upscale casual and the dishes are presented in a more fine dining style. Everything we ate was delicious and would highly recommend. We had the salbutes, sopa de lima, panuchos, and the dessert I think was a vanilla cinnamon pudding.
A favorite local spot because it accommodates many dietary preferences — vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free. The space is artsy and charming. You walk through a shop to the back where you will dine in an outdoor garden settling. Each table had a bottle of mosquito repellent which for us was very helpful the night we dined. The food here is more Mexican and Oaxacan rather than Yucatan, but it’s still worth a try! The portions are very generous. The chicken mole and sopa with mushrooms (vegan) were rich and satisfying. For dessert we had the flan (this may have been vegan actually) — so good and the perfect ending.
Honorable Mention: La Chaya Maya
This restaurant is recommended by all the locals to the tourists because it’s a safe choice. The locals go here too, and you’re guaranteed to get a good meal. But I feel it was more about getting the food out and turning over the tables as quickly as possible. We ordered a sampler meal that came with cochinita pibil, relleno negro (turkey), pipian de pavo (turkey), and queso relleno. This meal is plenty of food to share between two people.
To this day, people are intrigued by the ancient knowledge of the Maya civilization. The still standing Maya ruins gives us the opportunity to appreciate their sophisticated accomplishments and to imagine the glory days of the Maya. It is important to note that the Maya people live on today and can be found all over the world.
This is the most popular Maya ruin to see. Once you see it for yourself, you will know why it’s named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. It’s thought to be a major trade and spiritual center and you will be amazed at how well-preserved Chichen Itza is. It’s definitely worth a visit! I will say that a hat and sunblock is a must as you’ll most likely be waiting in a long line and there’s not much shade when you explore the grounds. Even though we were with Julian (Kuxtal Tours), Jose was our guide here which helped us to skip the line — he was great and directed us so we could have fun photos for memories.
Entrance Fee: 280 pesos/person (about $14-$15)
If you drive about 1.5 hours east of Chichen Itza, you will reach another Maya ruin called Ek’ Balam. It’s not as grand as Chichen Itza, but it’s definitely less crowded. Ek’ Balam means “the black jaguar” or “bright star jaguar” which explains the impressive temple that houses a recently restored jaguar mouth (though I heard some guides referred to it as the monster’s mouth rather than jaguar). It was believed the jaguar could move between the living and spirit realm, and protect from evil spirits as those made the transition to the other side. Another notable highlight is the tomb of King Ukit Kan Lek Tok resides here. As of today, you can still climb the steps here (unlike at Chichen Itza). I want to mention it is fairly steep so do be careful.
Entrance Fee: 250 pesos/person (about $12-$13)
There are many cenotes to visit so don’t think because you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Every cenote has its own unique features. These natural sinkholes provide an escape to relax and to marvel it’s natural beauty. Since we had booked a scuba tour to see several cenotes in Tulum, we planned to only swim in one cenote while staying in Merida.
Cenote Yokdzonot is a great choice if you visit Chichen Itza as it’s about a 15-20 minute drive from there. Also, you would be supporting the local community of Yokdzonot as this cenote was transformed by a group of women into a tourist destination to bring employment and wealth to the city.
This cenote is clean and the water crystal clear. There are also bathrooms and changing rooms for convenience. Keep in mind that life jackets are mandatory here as the cenote is deep. So if you like to dive and explore the deep water below then this cenote is not for you. Though I don’t recall seeing many fish or anything too interesting to see. The access to the cenote is easy with steps and a plank that are well maintained.
Another plus is the small restaurant located here so you can enjoy a meal after swimming. It serves many of the traditional Yucatan food. I would say don’t expect it to be the most amazing meal you’ve ever had, but it’s good and will be satisfying. There’s zip-lining here too if you want something else to do, but we didn’t do it ourselves.
Entrance Fee: 80 pesos/person (about $4-$5)
A coastal fishing city that is west of Merida draws crowds for a chance to catch a glimpse of the pink flamingos and other wildlife. From what we were told, the best time to see the flamingos and other bird species is January to February as flocks gather here for their migration. But if birds aren’t your thing, you may be lucky to see animals like crocodiles (we did!), deers, or armadillos as you explore the mangroves. After all that excitement, you can take a nice break on the beach and eat fresh ceviche from one of beach restaurants.
I don’t know if there’s an easier way to get here, but we booked a small group tour through Kuxtal Tours, who we highly recommend! It’s about 1.5 hour car ride from Merida — be warned it could take longer depending on the traffic. Once there, we got on a motor boat that took us on a guided tour to see the flamingos, through the mangroves, and stopped for a bit at a swimming hole. After we returned back, we were given about 2-3 hours to do whatever we wanted at the beach.
GRAN MUSEO DEL MUNDO MAYA
If you take a 20 minute taxi ride from the center of Merida, you will end up at the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya. You can’t miss it as the gigantic green structure will catch your eye. This grand museum celebrates the Maya culture with four permanent rooms that displays well-preserved artifacts. You will learn about the daily life of the Maya then and today through textiles, pottery, jewelry, sculptures, documents, and artwork. I overheard a guide speaking about how the funds for this museum haven’t been substantial in recent years and there’s an uncertainty if the museum can be maintained for the future. So please go visit and support!
Entrance Fee: 150 pesos/person (about $7-$8)
We needed a little R&R to pamper ourselves and forget all our troubles. Boho Spa, with two convenient locations, was the perfect place. We went to the North location as it was close to the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya. As soon as you walk through the doors, you know you’re in for an amazing experience. The ambience was very tranquil, and the Christmas decor still up made for a lovely scene. The front staff were super friendly and welcoming. We did a couples package that included a 60 minute massage (you get to chose your aromatherapy scent) followed by half a hour of lounging with cookies and choice of drink (even wine!). Whatever treatment you chose, you will leave here all rejuvenated.
HERE WAS OUR ITINERARY
Day 1 - Explore downtown Merida: lots of walking and eating
Day 2 - Explore beyond downtown Merida: lots of walking and eating
Day 3 - Small Group Tour with Kuxtal Tours: Celestun
Day 4 - Gran Museo del Mundo Maya + Boho Spa
Day 5 - Private Tour with Kuxtal Tours: Chichen Itza + Cenote Yokdzonot + Ek’ Balam
We are off to Valladolid and Tulum! Keep an eye out for that!