Merida Travel Guide

Mérida is the largest city on the Yucatán Peninsula and the capital of Yucatán state – its cultural and business hub, and an international gateway to the archeological and natural beauty of the Mundo Maya. While travelers to the peninsula have been focusing on the glitter of Cancún or the restored brilliance of Chichén Itzá, Mérida has been creatively positioning itself as a premier vacation destination.

At its heart and under it streets, Mérida is first a Mayan city. It is built on the ruins of the ancient town of T'ho, also known as Ichcaanzihó, the "city of the five hills," for the five pyramids that once dominated what is now Mérida's Main Square. Above this Mayan base, Spanish colonists placed their most important edifices and plotted a street grid aligned with the north, south, east and west directions that were also so important to Mayan astronomers. The founders called their new town Mérida, after the Spanish city, because T'ho's impressive buildings reminded the newcomers of the Roman architecture for which the first Mérida is still famous.

Mérida is nicknamed "The White City," which might refer to formerly white-painted buildings or the city's cleanliness. As you walk the narrow streets, you will pass decaying colonial homes but many are newly restored and brightly painted now, housing hotels, shops and restaurants.

Mérida is located in the northwest corner of Yucatán state, 36 km (22 miles) from Progreso's Gulf of Mexico beaches, where Méridanos head to on weekends to escape the city's heat. It's a flat, straight shot, passing by abandoned henequén fields, the crop that fueled Mérida's 19th century economic boom. The world's rope was made from Yucatán's henequen, also known as sisal, until nylon came along and the "green gold" market collapsed. But, before it did, Mérida's millionaires built lavish mansions along the Paseo de Montejo, the Parisian-style boulevard that heads north from the Historic Center.

Culturally speaking, Mérida is one of Mexico's most sophisticated cities, presenting Mayan and European performance and visual art, handicrafts, and cuisine. The cultures often fuse and create experiences that are uniquely Mérida. Shopaholics can choose from bartering in public markets or slipping into finely woven linen fashions. Foodies can chow down on tacos from street vendors or sample tapas spiced with the region's reddish seasoning paste, called recado rojo. Visitors also drive out of town and climb 1,500 year-old pyramids, kayak coastal waters, or lounge poolside at 17th century haciendas.

Today, Mérida is a modern city, boasting professional soccer, baseball and basketball teams and 18 institutes of higher learning. American-style shopping malls abound, and Mérida's excellent hospitals now attract tourists on a new kind of trip: the medical vacation, with cosmetic surgery and dental care available at a fraction of North American and European prices.

Three Spanish conquistadors named Francisco de Montejo – El Adelante, The Son and The Nephew – thought that they had destroyed the Maya. Fortunately, for all of us who visit Mérida today the Montejos only began the fusion of two strong, luminous cultures that has made Mérida one of North America's most fascinating cities. @font-face { font-family: "Cambria"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 10pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }

Where to Go in Merida


Rosas and Xocolate

expert pick

Paseo de Montejo No. 480, at Calle 41

Hotel Rosas & Xocolate is the only hotel in Merida, Yucatan that is a member of Design Hotels, a worldwide network of the finest contemporary boutique hotels.

Ciudad Industrial

Calle 17 No. 315 X 14 y 20

The Ciudad Industrial-- Out of the Yucatan and into the future.

Hennessy's Irish Pub

expert pick

Paseo de Montejo at Calle 41

Hennessy's Irish Pub offers traditional Dublin pub atmosphere combined with fine dining in a renovated Mexican mansion on Merida's Paseo de Montejo, the beautiful avenue that leads from the Yucatan city's Historic Center to the Gulf of Mexico.

St. Patrick's Bar

Calle 32 #55 at Calle 57, Colonia San Antonio Cucul

Choose from over 40 beers at Merida's St. Patrick's Bar, an Irish pub with a devoted following in Yucatan's capital city.

Merida Blog Posts


"B'ix a bèel?" From Maya to Spanish to English: Learning a foreign language in a DIFFERENT foreign language
B'ix a bèel? Ma'alob', utz tèech? B'ey xan tèen. **** Sounds Greek to me, the old saying goes. But, to almost one million people on the Yucatán Peninsula this conversation sounds normal – it’s Yucatec Maya, the indigenous language they speak at home. How are you? Good, and you? Same... Read more

Best Things to Do in Mérida This Week – Swan Lake and Tosca (March 28 – April 2, 2011)
Music and dance performances top my list of fun stuff to do this week when visiting Mérida. Folk, Big Band, classical, and opera music will all be heard streaming from concert halls and public spaces nightly.  Read more

Romance on the Road: Driving the Hacienda Route near Mérida
Yucatán’s long and storied history of economic boom and bust cycles is nowhere more apparent than in the haciendas that dot the back roads near Mérida in southeastern Mexico. Built in the century following the overthrow of the Maya in the 1540s or in the 19th century, the haciendas – former plantations... Read more

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