Travel to Merida to experience authentic Mexico! Discover rich culture and delicious cuisine in one of the safest cities in Mexico.
*This guest post was written by Michael Anderson*
188 miles west of Cancun lies the Mexican city of Merida, which is both the capital of the state of Yucatan and the largest city in Southern Mexico.
While Cancun has somewhat of a monopoly on Mexico’s tourism, Merida has become an increasingly popular alternative for those who want to experience a more authentic Mexico. The city attracts expats and visitors alike due to its rich cuisine, abundance of museums, proximity to Mayan ruins, diverse cultural celebrations, and the status of being one of the safest cities in all of Mexico.
In this article we’re going to take a look at 5 authentic ways to explore Merida, Mexico and the surrounding area.
One of the first things you should do upon arriving to any city in Mexico is to visit the central plaza. Colonial cities such as Merida always have a central plaza that holds important buildings such as the main church, the governor’s palace, and the town’s municipal building.
If you wander into Merida’s central plaza at night, you’ll no doubt be greeted by a fascinating cultural celebration of some sort. These events happen almost every night and include things such as Pok-Ta-Pok reenactments (an ancient Mayan ballgame), Jarana dancers (a dance typical to the area), video mapping projections, live music, and much more.
Uxmal was an ancient Mayan city that flourished from about 500 to 1200 A.D. It’s considered to be one of the greatest archaeological sites of the Mayan civilization alongside Chichen Itza, Palenque, and Tikal.
The Uxmal ruins are located south of Merida and can be reached by bus in about an hour. What’s so unique about Uxmal is the fact that you can actually climb to the top of most of the structures, something which cannot be said about Chichen Itza. The ruins span an extremely large area so you would do well to arrive early and spend most of the day wandering among the various regions of this historic site. You’ll want to bring water, sunscreen, and insect repellant.
Since Merida is both humid and landlocked, many residents choose to spend their weekends in the northern beach town of Progreso. Progreso lies on the gulf of Mexico and features one of the longest piers (4 miles) in the entire world. Interestingly enough, there are way more locals visiting Progreso than there are foreign tourists.
It’s quite easy to catch a bus from Merida to Progreso and the journey only takes about half an hour each way. There are numerous restaurants that you can eat at while you’re in Progreso but I would highly recommend saving yourself some money and avoiding the ones directly on the main street. There are also tons of souvenir vendors positioned along the beach if you need to buy a gift for someone or if you just want to browse handcrafted items. After a leisurely day at the beach you can hop onto a bus and be back in Merida in no time.
The Grand Mayan Museum in Merida is packed with fascinating exhibits relating to the ancient Mayan civilization as well as modern-day Mayan culture. One thing that makes this museum so unique is the fact that many of the exhibits are interactive. For example, there are numerous sections with LCD touch screens where you can choose what you’d like to learn about.
The museum is massive and could occupy your entire day if you decided to examine everything. You can walk through each exhibit at your own pace and read as much historical information as you want. By the time you get to the end you’ll see ancient Mayan artifacts such as stone carvings and handmade tools that have been preserved for hundreds of years. Once you leave you’ll no doubt have a better understanding of the Mayan civilization and a greater appreciation of Southern Mexico.
Izamal is a colorful town located to the east of Merida. Every single building is painted in the same vibrant yellow color and the entire town is a photo opportunity waiting to happen. In the center of Izamal you’ll find a large monastery that was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1993. There’s actually a museum located within the monastery that’s dedicated solely to his visit.
There are a couple of Mayan ruins that are scattered throughout Izamal. Unlike sites such as Uxmal or Chichen Itza, these ruins are much smaller in scale and have not been preserved to the same degree. However, it’s still worth it to climb to the top of each one as you’ll be presented with incredible views of the town. Once you’ve taken enough pictures you can catch a bus back to Merida and tell everyone about the yellow city to the east.
While there are countless other things to do near Merida, these five activities will help get your Mexico adventure started. From museums to ruins to cultural celebrations, Merida and the state of Yucatan has so much to offer. Maybe you’ll even consider skipping Cancun entirely for a visit to this authentic region in Southern Mexico.
Ready to plan your trip? Check out Merida hotel prices!
About The Author: Michael is the founder of Passport Explored, a blog that focuses on culture and adventure travel. His goal is to inspire people to step outside of their comfort zone and live without regrets. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.