7 Oct 2017
I love the Riviera Maya, but I admit I love Merida as well. The colonial architecture, Yucatecan culture, the incredible history and the great neighborhoods of Merida keep me entertained a few times per year.
If you have 72 hours in Merida, know from the get go this is not enough time to see the entire city. Nor is it time to see all the museums. But you will have an awesome time no matter which museums, events, and neighborhoods you visit.
In our other posts, 72 hours in Isla Mujeres, 72 hours in the Riviera Maya, 72 hours in Mahahual, we did a pretty good job of walking you through, step by step, (hour by hour) how to plan you time in these smaller coastal villages and cities. With Merida, use our tips as a guide, pick a few things to do, and know you will be back for another visit. There is so much to do, and so many different things to experience, taking you through a step by step plan does nto do you or the city justice.
What you will find in Merida, or any large city in Mexico, are many free and low cost museums and activities. This makes your Merida trip not only wonderful but a little bit cheaper. Note-Free and no cost does not mean not worth your time. It means you get to save money while you have a glorious experience.
Free Things to Do In Merida That Can Not Be Missed
Main Square – The main zocalo in Merida is a must-see part of this city. This is where the community gathers and where you will start your colonial architectural and museum tour.
Zocalo Weekend Market and Cultural events – On the weekends the streets to the main square are closed to traffic making this area a pedestrian walkway! It is here that local cultural events take place; dancing, singing, art festivals, a local crafts market and pop up taco restaurants. It is a must do Merida event which starts Saturday night and continues all day Sunday and into late Sunday evening.
Vaqueria – This Monday only event is a series of performances by Merida’s Yucatan Folk Culture Ballet Company, and the Jaranera Orchestra. This festivity originates from the 18th century. Location: Downtown Main Square in front of City Hall – 62 and 63 Streets @ 9:00 PM
Santiago Park Tuesday Night Dancing – Santiago Park comes alive with the Cha Cha Cha, Salsa and Mambo. Many combine dinner at one of the restaurants located in this neighborhood square with an evening of dance, either as a participant or an observer. Location: Santiago Park – 72 and 59 Street @ 8:30 PM – 10:00 PM
Tuesday at the Olimpo Art Center – Located off the main square, the Olimpo Auditorium and arts center has free arts events all day all week long. Tuesday Nights are a special night in the Auditorium with Trova, Yucatecan romantic guitar music. Watch performances by different artists every week. Location: Olimpo Auditorium and Cultural Center – 62 and 61 Streets. Check the Tuesday evening schedule at the entrance to the Auditorium.
Noche Mexicana / Mexican Night – every Saturday night at Paseo Montejo’s Remate, musical and dance groups from other Mexican states, including Jalisco’s famous Mariachis, perform in this traditional Mexican Fiesta. Enjoy food and craft stalls at this event. Location: 47 Street at the beginning of Paseo de Montejo. Events start at 8:00 pm
Palacio de Gobierno – This famous government building in the main square is not only a architectural masterpiece but also home to the history of the Yucatan. The courtyard, upstairs gallery and the balcony are lined with paintings that reflect the history of the Yucatan completed by local artist Fernando Castro Pacheco. Read our post about this local Yucatan artist that spent years creating these murals.
Museo Macay – Meridas’s contemporary art museum is free to the public. Located beside the main catherdral in the main square. Check online for visiting and current exhibitions.
Merida City Museum –A small museum about the history of Merida located in the old Post Office. Location: 65 and 56 Streets.
Must-See Museums in Merida That Have Minimal Entrance Fees
These museums do have an entrance fee but it is nominal. In most cases the entrance fee is less than 5USD and the exhibits are world class.
Museum of Mexican Folk Art – They have permanent exhibitions and special exhibits. This museum is off the beaten path but well worth the visit. Calle 50 A at 57 Hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm. Sunday from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm.
Palacio Canton – This grand home on Paseo de Montejo is worth a visit not only for the exhibits but also to see the inside of this amazing building. Open Tuesday to Sunday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Entrance fee is minimal.
Gran Museo de Mundo Maya – The Great Museum of the Maya World -This is the largest museum in Merida and could take a few days to get through. Though it is the most expensive of all the museums, about 8 USD, it is well worth a visit even if you only see one portion of the museum.
Must-See Neighborhoods in Merida
What we love about Merida are the neighborhoods. In the downtown core of the city there are seven neighborhoods that are easily reached on foot. Each has their own main square and their unique flare.
Gran Plaza -central downtown Merida
Santiago – to the west of the Gran Plaza
Santa Lucia – to the north of the Gran Plaza
San Sebastian – to the south of the Gran Plaza
Santa Ana – north of both the Gran Plaza and Santa Lucia
La Mejorada – to the east of the Gran Plaza
I could tell you the history and major attractions in each barrio (neighborhood) but half the fun is discovering these areas and the unique history yourself.
What I can tell you is I have easily walked to each neighborhood from the Gran Plaza. I love having dinner in Santa Lucia. I love the art galleries in Santa Ana. I love the food stalls in San Sebastian. I love exploring the buildings no matter which neighborhood I am in.
I also take a different street to and from each barrio. The side streets in any of these neighborhoods are safe, interesting and a real reflection of each area.
Helpful Tips to Explore Merida
These are our tips that can make your Merida visit more of a local experience.
Find a hotel in the neighborhood that interests you. You cannot do it all in one visit, so focus on one area for your trip and find a hotel in that part of town.
Get up early and take a siesta in the afternoon. Merida is located inland so it can get hot in the afternoon. I love walking around to the different neighbourhoods and outdoor places in the morning. During the hot afternoons take a siesta so you can enjoy the cultural events in the evening. Merida is a night city, not a night club city, but a night city. People keep European hours. They have dinner and attend festivals late. The siesta will help you make it through the spectacular evening cultural activities that run to midnight.
Plan where you want to go and which museums are important to you. It is so easy to want to do it all. Planning which museums, which galleries, which cultural events in advance will get you where you want to go and not forget anything you planned to do.
Check out our recommended hotels for Merida located in key areas of the city. We have hand picked hotels that are close to specific key attractions in Merida to make your city visit easy.
Note– We have not even touched on any of the super cool things to do outside of the city, like cenotes, Mayan ruins or Haciendas! There is lot more to do outside of the city that reflects the unique history of the Yucatan.