It was as if the world was trying to tell me something. I somehow met three people within three months who were all connected to or had lived in Mérida, Mexico. After their delightful descriptions, I knew Mérida had to be next on my Mexico travel list. Only two days after arriving in this Pueblo Magico (magic city) in the west of the Yucatán Peninsula, I cancelled my ticket home and stayed a few weeks to dig deeper and get to know what the magical little city was all about.
Mérida provided me with a much needed fresh breath of creative air. Most of the streets are lined with small, brightly-painted buildings or old, grand Spanish mansions. The buildings aren’t tall like a normal city. While the history of this city is deeply ingrained in the culture, Mérida seems to be in a state of constant evolution. But more importantly, the people are as friendly as can be. I instantly felt as though I was home. And I guess that’s part of the reason why Mérida is becoming a sought out place for expats looking to take up residence. I met people who had moved from France, New York, and England and planted roots in this Yucatán City. After staying a few weeks, I knew I could see myself living there too.
Whether you’re looking to make Mérida your next home for the long haul or just want to travel to this colorful city for a long weekend, here are my favorite places in the ever evolving “white city”.
A Guide to the Best of Living in Mérida, Mexico
FIRST…A FEW THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT MÉRIDA
– Make sure you tell people the cross streets for your address and the neighborhood. The different neighborhoods have the same street names.
– Life slows down here, especially for a city. Relax and let it happen. Don’t be afraid to get lost and find your own way.
– You’ll find yourself staring down at your feet a lot. This is because there are so many incredibly colorful tiles everywhere. Take lots of pictures!
– I prefer running to get to know a new place. Mérida also has Uber. It’s an easy, inexpensive way to get around town.
– On Sunday mornings they shut down the main street Paseo de Montejo in Mérida where bikers, runners and walker to can enjoy getting an active start to the weekend.
– Cantinas and bars have different liquor licenses. Cantinas have to stop serving liquor and close by 1opm while bars can stay open later.
Merida has dancing somewhere just about every night of the week. It’s an excellent immersive way to get to know locals as well as their culture, all while enjoying music you may have never heard in a city you’ve recently discovered.
WATCH VIDEO ABOUT LEARNING LA VAQUERÍA
Read more about learning La Vaquería in Mérida.
TASTES + SIPS
In the City Center…
LA CHAYA MAYA
You’ll find classic Yucatán food here. And the most beautiful tiles on the floor. Try the Sopa De Lima –a delicious traditional Yucatán lime soup and get a beer with Clamato sauce to drink.
If you are looking for vegan/vegetarian eats in Mérida, you should definitely check out Avocado Vegetariano. They have plenty of options for healthy meals. Do not leave without trying the Avocado + cacao pie.
You’ll want to make a reservation at Apoala to guarantee a table. It’s a small place with big flavors. Their chilaquiles con atún (chilaquiles with fresh tuna) and the Tiradito de Short rib (sliced short rib and avocado) will make your mouth water for a second drink.
Walk around the back of Apoala through the dark alley and find yourself in the speakeasy style bar, Malhat. You won’t find any signs for the entrance, but once you’re in, you will find perfectly crafted cocktails in a hip setting.
La Negrita is a recently-remodeled (yet over 100 years old) cantina in Mérida with a beautiful outdoor space. If you want to drink and snack in a casual setting, La Negrita is the place to go. Plus, the live music provides you a relaxed yet fun space to dance (or just listen!) every night.
North of the City…
In the north of the city you will find Atemporal, a parked food truck. Here I found some of the best tacos I have ever eaten and the perfect casual way to enjoy a sunny day.
Try the Agua de Scilla – I promise you’ve never had anything like it. I’m hoping I can convince the owner to share the recipe for this coffee with me so I can have it in my life everyday.
ESCARGOT RUSTICO, Santiago
French cafe that bakes their bread fresh in a brick oven out back.
In addition to smooth takeaway scold brew in a glass bottle and smooth lattes and espresso regionally made mayan virgin honey, Posheria functions as a tasting house for both coffee and locally made liquor called ‘Pox Bankital’.
ICE CREAM + GELATO
Mérida is the perfect city for an ice cream, whether enjoyed in the heat of day surrounded by the colorful buildings or with a stroll by the lights and music lining the streets at night.
Pola is the sweetest little ice cream shop in Mérida. The walls are covered with ice cream cones in all colors, making it the perfect place for photos.
Owned and run by an Argentinian, this tiny instagrammable ice cream shop has some amazing unique flavors. If you can’t get enough of this cute little spot, they have an AirBNB room for rent above the shop!
*Also, any of the street ice-cream from any of the push cart vendors are equally tasty and homemade. I love the coconut!
FOOD HALLS + MERCADO’S
Casa Domingo is an open courtyard with food stations and live music. I loved the live music, but not as much the food we tried. I would definitely recommend this place for drinks. Go with friends to hear some talented locals perform.
LUCAS DE GALVEZ
The main larger market Lucas De Galvez mercado is filled with local eats– from watching locals make tortillas to traditional regional cochinita pibil.
WATCH AS I TOUR LUCAS DE GALVEZ MERCADO WITH A LOCAL CHEF
Read more about the traditional foods you can find at Lucas De Galvez mercado.
M60, like Casa Domingo, is a modern open-air market dining experience with live music. At the market, you’ll find food stations with everything from traditional Yucatan to sushi or barbeque (which was delicious). The musicians were amazing and performed a mix of Latin and American classics. You’ll find locals, expats and tourists alike at this site. While it may not be the most authentic (or cheap) experience in Mérida, it’s perfect for a group that can’t decide what they want to eat.
MERCADO DE SANTIAGO
A more intimate, local experience, and probably my personal favorite for getting to quietly get to know locals was the Mercado de Santiago. Plus, you can get a bunch of the most beautiful fresh flowers for as little as $2.
ART + ARCHITECTURE + ARTISAN MADE
FUNDACIÓN DE ARTISTAS
You can feel the artistic energy in this non-profit space – open air in the middle with multiple rooms to pop in and out of discovering different types of art made by locals of the Yucatán Peninsula.
Located in a former colonial palace, this museum is the best place to learn about and see modern Mexican art. The museum has both permanent and temporary exhibits and works hard to promote amazing artists.
Casa Tho is a gorgeous space to explore Mexican designers and artisan made goods from adorable clothes and accessories to home decor. Fun fact: Tho is what the Mayan’s used to call Mérida.
Handmade and comfortable for walking around town all day locally made artisan shoes. You can even design your own print or shoe if you don’t mind waiting for your order to arrive later.
I spent an afternoon in the North of Mérida city pampering myself at T’ai Spa with a manicure and pedicure. Seamless service in a quaint and calming space.
My two week journey was filled with various rental home stays. I found two wonderful and one that wasn’t so seamless. I’m typically a last minute accommodation kind of girl when it comes to travel and that’s something I found a bit difficult in Mérida in terms of finding the good rentals. I recommend booking as far in advance as you can to find the best options for accommodation. Next time around I can’t wait to try the many boutique hotels in town.
COQUI COQUI, boutique hotel
While Coqui Coqui is primarily a parfumerie, it also functions as a one room boutique hotel in Mérida. Here you will find an oasis in the form of beautiful grounds and luxurious room, pool, and spa while also getting to learn more about these original Yucatán perfumes.
LUXURY RETREAT STAY JUST OUTSIDE OF MÉRIDA – SHAMANISM AT CHABLÉ
If private and immersive luxury is your thing and the price tag is no problem, make sure you spend a few days of R+R booking a stay at Chablé, a refined resort and spa located about an hour and a half outside of Mérida city. On the grounds of an old hacienda, each beautiful casita has its own private pool and outdoor terrace. If that doesn’t sound peaceful enough, the spa itself is located around a natural cenote for the ultimate wellness experience.
DAY TRIPS FROM MÉRIDA
Valladolid is one of the colorful #pueblosmagicos towns of Mexico. Make sure you stop in to get a coffee at Tresvanbien. Swim in crystal clear cenotes on the way there or back.
Tip: Earlier you go to the cenotes, the less people you’ll see.
About 90 kilometers west of Mérida, Celestún is the place you want to go to see the flocks of flamingos in the late fall and winter via boat ride through the Celesún Biosphere Reserve and through the mangroves. Although it may be further from the city than Progresso or other beaches, Celestún is worth the trip if you’re a bird nerd and enjoy simply cooked fresh seafood and ceviche with toes in the sand accompanied by pink and orange sunsets on the beach.
Uxmal is one of the biggest sites of Mayan ruins and is located only about an hour drive from the city. The temples are absolutely breathtaking and if you go with a guide, you will learn a lot about this society.
Tip: make sure to wear comfortable shoes–there is a fair amount of walking and stair climbing to see the full beauty of this place.