Mérida, Capital of Yucatan

Merida, Mexico

TripSavvy / Jamie Ditaranto

Mérida is the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan. Located in the northwest part of the state, it is a colonial city with a strong Mayan cultural presence. Due to its geographical isolation from the rest of the country, the city has a distinct feel from other colonial cities in Mexico. Characterized by colonial architecture, a tropical climate, Caribbean atmosphere, and frequent cultural happenings, Mérida is sometimes called the "White City," because of its buildings made of white stone and the city's cleanliness.

Casa de Montejo in Merida, Mexico

TripSavvy / Jamie Ditaranto

History of Merida

Founded in 1542 by the Spaniard Francisco de Montejo, Mérida was built on top of the Maya City of T'Ho. The Mayan buildings were dismantled and the huge stones of the original constructions were used as the foundations for the cathedral and other colonial buildings. Following a bloody Mayan rebellion in the 1840's, Merida experienced a period of prosperity as the world's leader in henequén (sisal) production.

Today Mérida is a cosmopolitan city with colonial-era architecture and a rich cultural heritage. The current main square was established in the heart of the ancient city. Today it is bordered by some of the most representative buildings of the city such as the Cathedral, the Casa de Montejo, and the Government Palace, among others. The plaza itself is full of trees and benches and is a great place to while away some time people watching. There are cultural events almost every day of the week, and on Sundays, they close off the streets to traffic to allow cyclists to have the right of way.

What to Do in Merida

  • Take a walking tour of Merida to discover its historical buildings and landmarks
  • Go for a city tour on the tourist bus for an overview of the city
  • Take a cooking class and learn about Yucatecan cuisine
  • Visit a working sisal hacienda at Sotuta de Peon
  • Take a stroll along tree-lined Paseo de Montejo and admire the elegant colonial buildings
  • Rent a bicycle (especially on Sundays) and explore the area that way. Most of the Yucatan Peninsula is flat, so you don't have to be a hard-core cyclist to enjoy this mode of transportation.
Flamingos in the wild in Celestun, Yucatán, México
Aditi Das Patnaik/Getty Images

Day Trips From Merida

The Celestun Biosphere Reserve is 56 miles west of Merida and offers the opportunity to observe a variety of unique species including sea turtles, crocodiles, monkeys, jaguars, white-tailed deer, and several migratory birds, but most people go to see the flocks of flamingos.

Merida is also a good base from which to discover some of the Yucatan Peninsula's Mayan archaeological sites, such as Chichen Itza and Uxmal.

Dining in Merida

A blend of Mayan staples and European and Middle Eastern ingredients, Yucatecan cuisine is a sophisticated blend of flavors. Try cochinita pibil, pork marinated in achiote (annatto) and cooked in a pit, relleno negro, turkey cooked in a spicy black sauce and queso relleno, "stuffed cheese." 

  • Los Almendros, located at Calle 50 between 57 & 59. (999)928-5459. Classic Yucatecan cuisine.
  • Nectar Food & Wine Av 21, #412 between 6A and 8, col. Diaz Ordaz (999)938-0838. Asian-Yucatecan fusion.


Mérida has some good budget hotels that are comfortable and conveniently located. More upscale options are also available, such as:

  • La Mision de Fray Diego is centrally located and comfortable.
  • Angeles de Merida Bed & Breakfast is a boutique hotel and spa. 
  • Fiesta Americana is located on Av. Colón 451 in the center of the city.

Merida's Nightlife

Merida has much to offer in the way of entertainment, with cultural events, concerts, theater productions, and art exhibits taking place throughout the year. Merida City Council's calendar of events (in Spanish).

Some popular clubs and bars:

  • El Cielo (Lounge Bar), Av. Prolongacion Montejo #25, Col. Campestre (999)944-51-27
  • Mambo Cafe (Salsa Dance Club), in Plaza Las Americas Mall (999)987-75-33/34
  • Tequila Rock (Disco) Prolongacion Montejo and Ave. Campestre (999) 944-1828

Getting There and Getting Around

By air: Merida's airport, Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport (Airport code: MID) is located on the Southern edge of the city.

By land: Merida can be reached by land from Cancun in 4 or 5 hours on Highway 180. Bus service is offered by the ADO bus company.

Many agencies in Merida offer activities and day trips to the surrounding areas. You can also rent a car to explore the area independently.