Even in Yucatán’s largest city, three days leave plenty of time to explore.
Few places on the Yucatán Peninsula are more worthy of a long weekend than Mérida, the region’s largest city and capital of Yucatán State. Also known as the White City, Mérida is an expat favorite slowly finding fame with visitors from outside of the region—and for good reason. Low prices, fantastic cuisine, and year-round hot and humid weather make Mérida the ideal weekend escape. Throw in the city’s proximity to some of the area’s cutest beach towns and most significant archaeological ruins—Chichén Itzá, anyone?—as well as a clutch of upscale dining options and you’re onto a winner. Here’s how to get the most out of Mérida, even with just 72 hours to spare.
After arriving at Mérida’s international airport—which fields direct flights from both the U.S. and Canada—take a taxi straight to your downtown hotel. While there are a bunch of boutique (and plenty of budget) accommodation options in the historic center, Casa Mexilio is perhaps one of the most conveniently located hotels in Mérida, ideal for visitors who don’t have much time to spare.
After a long day of travel, start by getting your bearings in Mérida; compact and walkable, this humid hotspot is easy to explore on foot and first-time visitors should start at the zocalo (Plaza Grande). Flanked by some of the best colonial buildings in Mérida, including the San Ildefonso Cathedral, as well as top Mérida museums like the MACAY, it’s the ideal place to get a feel for the laidback city and mingle with locals and visitors alike.
Then, take a long lunch at the nearby Chaya Maya, one of the top restaurants in Mérida and the ideal place to ease yourself into the world of Yucatecan cuisine. If you eat meat, don’t miss your chance to try cochinita pibil (slow-roasted, well-seasoned pork). Or sample some panuchos (crispy tortilla topped with beans, meat, and red pickled onions) and the classic sopa de lima (turkey, tortilla, and lime soup). Walk off your lunch by heading a few blocks northeast until you hit Calle 47 where it joins Paseo de Montejo, the most famous Porfiriato-era boulevard in Mérida. Modeled after the French Champs-Elysées, it’s ideal for an afternoon stroll and dotted with gloriously elaborate edifices and Beaux Arts mansions like Palacio Cantón (which is also the Anthropology Museum).
Round out day one in Mérida with dinner at Hermana República—where craft beer meets upscale dining—and a nightcap at your hotel’s rooftop bar.
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel or grab a coffee from the nearby Manifesto Café, before leaving the city for a convenient day trip on day two. Mérida is surrounded by archaeological ruins, colonial towns, and cenotes galore, so you can tailor day two to your personal tastes.
Given that you’re short on time though, it’s worth skipping Chichén Itzá and its boatloads (or should that be coachloads?) of tourists in favor of the ancient Maya city of Uxmal. Not only is it closer to Mérida, Uxmal has a pyramid to rival that of the infinitely better-known Chichén Itzá as well as the distinct benefit of being much, much quieter. Alternatively, if you’re not big on ruins or want the best of both worlds, Izamal (known as the Yellow City) brings together colonial, contemporary, and indigenous influence in one fell swoop just an hour outside of Mérida. There, you can also enjoy a spa day at the Coqui Coqui Casa de los Santos.
On Saturday night, return to the zócalo in the evening. Not only is the atmosphere totally different from the daytime, you might be lucky enough to catch a quick game of Pok Ta Pok. Also known as the Mayan ballgame, Pok Ta Pok sees two teams face off to score the most points by thwacking a rubber ball through a hoop, like an ancient version of soccer meets basketball. However, the catch is that goals can only be scored by hitting the ball with your hip. Yes, it is as tough as it sounds. Afterward, make your way over to Rosas Y Xocolate, a hotel with a dinner menu and rooftop cocktail bar to die for, or drop by Alma Calma and La Fundación Mezcalería for a more casual evening.
Sunday is the perfect day to get a feel for Mérida’s famously laidback way of life, browse for handicrafts, and visit some of the city’s coolest coffee shops.
Start your day at Bengala Kaffeehaus just off Parque Santa Lucía, a cute square which comes alive with both dancing (pre-11 am) before being overtaken by sprawling market seemingly made for both browsing and souvenir shopping. Once you’ve got your fill of the Santa Lucía stalls, make your way to the zócalo where there’s also a vast Sunday handicraft market. Work up an appetite as you stroll around and then head to the main Mérida marketplace. With a glut of vendors selling everything from seafood to tacos, stuffed chilies to quesadillas, you’ll definitely find something to suit.
After lunch, pick up ice cream from La Principal before stopping in at Coqui Coqui, a boutique hotel-slash-perfumerie where you can get your hands on a new signature scent. For a more typical type of souvenir, check out the crafts on offer at Casa de las Artesanías, a fixed price store that has a little bit of everything, including fair prices. Don’t haggle, obviously. For hammocks, arguably the Yucatán’s most iconic artesanía, pay a visit to Hamacas el Aguacate and don’t leave town without buying a breezy guayabera shirt or embroidered blouse.
On your way back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner, go a block beyond Casa Mexilio for a quick stop at the Iglesia de Santiago, a striking colonial church and the site of Mérida’s first mass. Dinner tonight is at Manjar Blanco, for a final Yucatecan feast.
WHERE TO STAY
Skip the Airbnbs and splurge on a boutique hotel in Mérida. Casa Mexilio is super centric, while Coqui Coqui—with the onsite perfumerie and spa—is ideal for a luxurious weekend stay.
WHEN TO GO
Mérida, like most of the Yucatán Peninsula, is exceedingly humid so unless you can handle the heat, stick to visiting in the fall and (admittedly busier) winter months.
Direct flights to and from Mérida International airport operate between San Diego-Tijuana, Miami, and Houston in the U.S., as well as Toronto, Canada.