Out of all the places I’ve been in the world, Mexico wasn’t one of them until just last month. People are usually pretty surprised “Not even once? An all-inclusive around Cancun somewhere?” Nope, resorts aren’t normally my style, and maybe what took me so long to finally visit Mexico was that I assumed it was all one big tourist trap of giant beach hotels, open bars and college kids. My bad.
I found Merida almost by mistake, I was browsing through Air BnB and saw a gorgeous house for rent in the city centre. Never having heard of Merida before, I pulled it up on a map. It wasn’t near a beach (but still accessible to one, read on) and boasted food markets, free art galleries and not completely over run by tourists. Bingo. My husband and I along with a couple friends of ours booked for the end of February.
Here are some events we really enjoyed, or tips we found out about while visiting and maybe you will too if Merida is in your future!
Book a great Air BnB… our money went pretty far and we were able to secure a beautiful property with its own pool a short walking distance from downtown for about $130 Canadian a night, we really enjoyed staying in ‘Centro’ ( https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/22431974?guests=1&adults=1) If this one isn’t available when you go to book, there are a dozen other properties just like it, have a peek around and you can’t go wrong – it seemed like every ‘casa’ was just beautiful.
Put on your dancing shoes. Love salsa? Can’t sit still when you hear a great beat? Every Tuesday night in Parque De Santiago (8:30pm) locals crowd the square to enjoy a live band and a dance or two and its all free. There’s no pressure to be a professional and we observed all types of dancers in all different levels enjoying themselves. Everyone is welcome and it made for a really fun night out. It’s attached to a market as well, so you can grab little snack or dinner afterwards, or make like we did and have a fresh pineapple juice to cool down after working up a sweat.
EAT! Speaking of the market attached to Parque De Santiago, a popular place to grab a cheap and delicious bite would be at Taqueria La Lupita! (Calle 57, Interior Mercado) It’s been featured on many travel vlogs my husband I watched, and Mark Wiens even makes his ‘yummy’ face there while digging into some Relleno Negro (which we referred to as ‘black turkey soup’) I had the best torta there as well and we ordered enough food for 4 people and it was under $15 Canadian. Pancho’s (Calle 59 – 509, Parque Santa Lucia) was a great cantina option with a beautiful patio serving up fresh guacamole, tacos and local beers. Mercado 60 (Calle 60- 53 & 51) is also a short walk away where and it’s a beautifully decorated huge outdoor market that features 19 restaurants, live music and is pet friendly. If you’re with a group who is all feeling different styles of food for dinner, this might be your best bet. Want some phenonmal brunch? El Barrio (Calle 45, 58 and 60) is the place to be, the meals are presented like little art pieces and everything is fresh, local and authentic. This was a great suggestions by the owners of our Air Bnb. My favourite place to eat by far was La Negrita (Calle 62, 415) cheap food and giant drinks like electric lemonade for only 60 pesos and best of all botanas! What are botanas? Free snacks! Many places in Merida offer them up when you order a drink or two, we were bought taquitos, chips and dips, veggie salads, spicy pork rinds, you name it. It was a really fun way to try some new items off the menu. The staff here were excellent and be sure to check out the back patio. Heads up, this place closes at 10pm so arrive early if you’re planning on grabbing a few drinks and watching the live bands. If you’re just looking for a snack to cool off, check out Pola Gelato, it’s a chain, so you’ll be sure to run into a location or two and they have such unique and fun flavours. Want to grab a coffee? Try Maifesto or Bengala.
Hit the beach! We were able to hop on a direct bus to Progreso, a beach town about 40 minutes outside of the city. The return tickets were about $5 from the downtown bus station, so it’s a very affordable day out. You can rent out some beach chairs and umbrellas from beach front restaurants (we got a spot for 4 that was $20 for the day after some haggling, but I’m told we could have gone lower) and this also included BOTANAS! Yum! From Progreso, we hired a tour company (many to choose from along the shoreline) to take us to nearby protected island El Chorchito, Katie and I mainly wanted to go to see the, mostly friendly, herds of raccoons that call the island home. Make sure you don’t bring any snacks or drinks with you, as I saw a raccoon steal a granola bar from a woman’s backpack pretty aggressively. Also on the island were some cenotes you can take a refreshing dip in or keep an eye out for local wildlife like flamingo’s and little cayman’s. After raccoon island, we went to Salinera’s Mayas a local salt flat where miniature ‘pink lakes’ held Himalayan salt. Very interesting to see up close and you can even buy a small bag to bring home and cook with. It was a great way to see how the locals in the area work.
Jump into a cenote! A great feature that I’ve only just started using is Air BnB Experiences. Through the app, we were able to hire local Migel Angel to drive us about an hour out of the city to swim in beautiful and mainly secluded cenotes. We were able to swim in one that was in a cave (Cenote Kankirxche), with dozens of swallows flying from rock to rock above us and a deep, bright blue opened air cenote (Cenote Yaal Utzil) which was filled with curious fish and seemed bottomless. Katie and I tested this theory a few times by jumping off of a makeshift dock attached to the inner rim. Yep, definitely bottomless. The tour also included lunch at a beautiful nearby restaurant hotel (Hacienda Yunka), while we were waiting for our food to be prepared, Migel toured us around the property which included a giant underground centoe. There was also a small farm, vintage farm equipment he explained to us, horses grazing in fields and colourful hammocks for you to lounge in the breeze in. This was for sure the highlight of my trip and cost about $55 a person, check out the link here https://www.airbnb.ca/experiences/280165?source=magic_carpet
Check out the free zoo! Do as the locals do, and this spot was definitely a local hot spot on the weekend. Free to the public, Parques Zoologicos De Merdia (Calle 65 and Av Itzaes), is a charming little park with cotton candy the size of your head, balloons and pull toys for the kids (OK, and maybe Katie picked up a monkey on a tricycle toy), splash pads and well cared after animals. The park has been open since 1910, so it's beloved to Merida. Jump on the free train that circles the park and have a look. It was nice to see something that free and affordable for local families, we enjoyed our stop here for sure.
Listen to some live music! Man, do I love music and some of the best bands we saw while we were there were at Pipiripau (Calle 55, by 62), La Negrita (info listed above) and Dzalbay Cantina (Calle 64, by 53). Each place had a great affordable drink menu, snacks and entry was FREE! Perfect for a fun night out and I felt really safe out late at night in these places. The music was fantastic and had many bar patrons on their feet. You can’t go wrong with any of these options.
There are still plenty of other things to see and do in Merida, but we only had a short week. This list should help you get going and give you some ideas, but it's given me sort of a kick to head back to Mexico and cover more ground. Let me know in the comments if I've missed anything or you have some must see's to add to the list.
Until next trip!
Hey! I'm Sarah! A 30 something living in downtown Toronto with a great guy and an OK dog. I love seeing what my city has to offer and try to hit up as many fun events or attractions as I can! I haven't slept since 2004.