This guest post was written by Charlie Marchant
Merida is the largest city in Mexico’s Yucatan and a favourite of local Mexicans, expats and tourists alike. Big city bustle and historic charm collide in this beautiful colonial town. You can be sure to find historic sights, cultural activities going on around the city and delicious street food and world cuisine in Merida’s many restaurants.
During our time travelling in Mexico, we had the opportunity to house sit in Merida for a whole month. This meant that we got to experiences lots of local life and culture, as well as checking out favourite local restaurants and bars too. Here are our favourite local spots in Merida.
Getting Around Mérida
Mostly everything is walkable in central Merida, as long as you don’t mind getting a bit sweaty in the tropical climate. The streets are roughly laid out in a grid network (it’s not a perfect grid network) with even numbered streets running from north to south, and odd numbered streets going from east to west.
You can drive around the town, but it’s almost entirely one-way with very little signage. Locals know the roads like the back of their hands and won’t be afraid to honk a driver who is going slowly or dithering. Reasonably priced buses and taxis run frequently around the town too. Be sure to check prices with taxi drivers beforehand.
Experience Local Culture in Mérida
Plaza Grande is Merida’s central square where locals and tourists both come to sit and watch the world go by. The Catedral de San Ildefonso stands on one side of the square and comes alive on Sunday when it’s time for church. A Sunday market also takes place in the square and vendors set up stalls selling trinkets, souvenirs and street food.
Parques in the Barrios
Merida is split into barrios (neighbourhoods) and each barrio has a central park area of its own. Each has quite a different atmosphere, and if you catch them on the right evening, then you may come across a local cultural event.
Parque de Santiago is always filled with an older crowd of locals; a band plays on Tuesday nights. Parque de Lucia is more upmarket and lovely to walk through in the evening when the fairy lights are twinkling and people sit back with a glass of wine. Parque de Santa Ana is home to a beautiful church and the area is thought of as Merida’s burgeoning art district.
Palace of Government
Also located on Plaza Grande is the Palace of Government. This gorgeous two-floor building currently houses the offices of the state government. Visitors are free to enter and admire the courtyard and arcades adorned with artworks.
MACAY is Merida’s contemporary art gallery which features national and international art pieces. When we last visited, there was a line of trees made from stuffed plastic bin bags outside of the museum and a number of small exhibitions inside. The exhibitions do change regularly.
Cycling on Sundays
Go cycling along Paseo de Montejo which is closed off especially for cyclists on Sundays from 8 am - 12 pm. This is known as the bici-ruta. The street is lined with restaurants, shops and cafes, as well as beautiful architecture. You can rent a bike on the street for around 20 pesos per hour.
Watch a Mayan Ball Game
Reenactments of a traditional Mayan ball game called pok ta pok make for an absolutely thrilling evening out. The aim of the game is to get a rubber ball through a 2m high hoop, but the ball can only be touched by the hips and buttocks. It’s not an easy game, but in the grand finale things get even harder when they set the rubber ball on fire! The ball games take place on Friday evenings next to Merida’s Cathedral.
Local Markets in Mérida
Mercado Lucas De Galvéz
When locals need to stock up on fresh fruit and veggies, they head straight to Mercado Lucas De Galvéz, Merida’s central food market. Mangoes, dragon fruit, rambutans, radishes and corn on the cobs are stacked high on stalls. You won’t need to worry too much about the prices here because all of the produce is really cheap. Shop around the find the firmest fruits first though.
Slow Food Market
Every Saturday morning – and more recently also Wednesday night – Merida’s slow food market pops up on Calle Reforma. The vendors are all about clean, locally-sourced food that’s good for you. You can buy everything from freshly blended juices and bottled rice milk with cacao to wheels of cheese and artisan bread. The market is slightly bigger on Saturdays.
Mercado 60 is Merida’s new, more high-end market that features artisans and gourmet food stalls. The market is open in the evenings and is the perfect place to sit down with a drink and have a nibble.
Food in Mérida
Meat eaters will absolutely love the local cuisine in Mexico and have plenty of choices when it comes to street food. In Merida, you can find taco stalls serving up shredded turkey tacos and soup de lima. For vegetarian eaters like us, there are marquesitas. These are like crunchy crepes cooked in a hot press, stuffed with anything from cheese to Nutella (or both!) and rolled up. You can usually also get vegetarian tacos, fried tacos and empanadas in the parques. You can find street food stalls in Plaza Grande and many of the parques.
Maiz, Canela y Cilantro
Maiz, Canela y Cilantro is a beautiful little lunch-time restaurant and hostel tucked away towards barrio de Santiago. The restaurant features a different daily menu with a meat and a vegetarian option. The food here is homemade and lovingly prepared with lots of delicate flavours. A set menu with tortilla chips and dips, a soup, a main plate and a drink costs 80 pesos and is well worth it.
Los Platos Rotos
Los Platos Rotos is a lovely open-walled Mexican restaurant is out of town, on the corner next to where the Saturday slow food market is. It’s well worth the walk though. The traditional Mexican menu includes stuffed tacos, and rice and meat plates. For vegetarians, you can get chili peppers stuffed with cheese and a large, freshly made corn tortilla filled with cheese and corn truffles. The food is excellent, and a brunch plate with a spiced coffee will come in at just 70 pesos.
Savia Comida Rica y Nutrivida
Savia Comida Rica y Nutrivida is a fully vegan restaurant in Merida. The owners are super friendly and immediately welcome you in. The menu changes daily and there are a number of lunch options to choose from. A soup, main plate and a drink cost 70 pesos.
Rafaello’s Pizza has some crazy reviews about the fiery owner, but we didn’t meet him when we went. If there’s one thing locals unanimously agree on though, it’s that the pizza here is delicious. It’s a laid-back kind of joint, but not a greasy takeaway by any means (far from it!). The pizzas are thin, crispy and beautifully seasoned. You can expect to pay around 100-140 pesos for a pizza.
Hands down the best ice cream shop in Merida! Pola always has an exciting selection of ice cream flavours and every one is delicious. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to try the limon y hierbabuena (lemon and the good herb). The espresso and cardamom is a wild taste sensation for those who like a creamier ice cream.
After Dark in Mérida
Noche Mexicana (Mexican Night)
Don’t miss the Saturday night extravaganza that is Noche Mexicana. Head over to calle 60 on Saturday night from 8 pm onwards to see traditional songs and dances being performed in celebration of Mexican culture.
La Cantina Negrita
If you’re keen to go out for a drink, then La Cantina Negrita is where all the Merida locals are at on a Friday night. The saloon doors look a bit off-putting from the outside, but once you step inside, you’ll see the cantina extends back into a very cool backyard area. La Cantina Negrita regularly has live music, usually as early as 7 pm. Grab a local beer or a shot of Mezcal (or both, if you’re feeling really Mexican) and enjoy the buzz.
Day Trips from Mérida
There are lots of great day trips you can take from Merida, including the famous ruins of Chichen Itza and Uxmal, the white sand beach of Progreso and to the Reserva de la Biosfera Ría Celestun to see the flamingos. My favourite day-trip from Merida though has to be to Izamal, the yellow painted colonial city. This is one of Mexico’s pueblo magicos (magical towns) because the town is so beautiful and unique.
Enjoy Local Travel in Merida!
If you’re heading to Mérida in Mexico any time soon, then enjoy travelling the city and meeting local people. The locals in Merida are extremely friendly and it’s not uncommon for locals to just start a conversation with you while you’re out and about in the city. They’ll always be keen to share their local travel tips with you – and everyone you meet will have something different to recommend! Most importantly, get out there and enjoy exploring the city’s streets and making your own discoveries.
Guest blogger: Charlie is a slow travel blogger at Charlie on Travel. Charlie is also a house sitter, which means she gets to live much more like a local, and it helps her learn about local life on an entirely different level. Charlie travels with her partner Luke, so the two of them get to look after houses in the most amazing locations, and Mérida was one of them.
Showaround: Thank you, Charlie, for being our guest blogger!