If you haven’t noticed, we’re a little obsessed with Mexico. Last year we released our first Mexico travel guides for Mexico City and Isla Holbox. This year we’re back in the Yucatán peninsula exploring Mérida, the capital of Mexico’s Yucatán state, and our newest, favorite long-weekend hideaway.
Mérida is easy to get to, it’s small enough to explore in just a few days, and it has a budding design scene thanks to many Mexican and expat artists who have made this historic Mayan city their permanent home.
A little history. Mérida sits on top of what was originally a Mayan community dating back to 750 B.C. In the 16th-century, the city was conquered by the Spanish and established as the capital of the Yucatán peninsula. Later in the 19th-century, Mérida became an important hub for producing sisal (a sturdy fiber from the agave plant). The Maya had originally used these fibers to make rope, hammocks, sandals, and textiles. In the 19th-century, sisal became an important export to be used for manufacturing ropes for sailing ships. This put Mérida on the map and somewhat controversially transformed the city into one of the wealthiest in Mexico. Today, when you walk down Mérida’s streets, you see many of the grand houses and haciendas of that era still standing – some stunningly restored, others beautifully crumbling.
This travel guide has our favorite spots to wander, eat and drink in Mérida. Use the table of contents to jump around!
table of contents
getting here & around
Mérida has a tiny international airport that’s only about 15 minutes from the city center. There aren’t a ton of direct flights here, so you’ll probably have to connect through a major hub like Houston or Mexico City. Another option is to fly to Cancun and rent a car from there. It’s about a 3 hour drive to Mérida from Cancun.
Once you’re in Mérida, getting around is pretty easy. We used Uber to get ourselves to and from the airport, and we even took an Uber on a few day trips (a 45 minute ride was less than $15 USD). Within the city, you can walk most places.
Coqui Coqui Mérida
Calle 55 #516 (between Calle 62 & 64) | Website
Want to sleep in a restored hacienda? Coqui Coqui might be the prettiest hotel we’ve ever stayed in. The bottom of the property is a perfume shop and the upstairs is a private residence that you can rent by the night – complete with a stunning bedroom, bathroom, living room, terrace and glass-bottom pool. It’s just dreamy. The price tag isn’t the cheapest, but trust us it’s worth every penny. The rest of Mérida is very affordable so consider this your one splurge. Rates start at $330/night. See photos and read more about our experience at Coqui Coqui Mérida here.
Since the Yucatán peninsula is a bit isolated from the rest of Mexico, Yucatecan food has a distinct style and we are obsessed. Most dishes originate from Mayan culture with Caribbean, European & Middle Eastern influences. You’ll find many dishes have an acidic or sour flavor profile with main ingredients like lime, tamarind, habanero, sour orange and achiote.
What to order: ceviche, sopa de lima (lime soup), cochinita pibil (suckling pig cooked in a pit), and panuchos (black bean stuffed tortilla topped with shredded meat)
Av Andres García Lavin 32, San Antonio Cucul | Website
Nectar was by far our favorite restaurant in Mérida. It’s a 15-minute Uber ride from the city center to get here, but totally worth the trek and a true sign that Mérida is making it’s way on to the tastemaker’s travel map. From the moment you walk into the restaurant, you can tell every detail of the dining experience has been thoughtfully designed. Gorgeous lighting, crisp décor, and locally sourced stoneware are the perfect compliment to the vibrant dishes their kitchen prepares. Nectar’s menu takes a modern approach to Yucatecan food, while still incorporating mostly locally sourced ingredients like tamarind, mango, and maíz. The service was perfect. Definitely make a reservation in advance. Closed on Mondays.
#WildTerrains tip: Order the cebollas negras (black onions) as a starter for the table. We know it sounds a little unusual, but don’t ask questions, just trust us. For dessert, have the manjar blanco.
Calle 45 #493 (between Calle 58 & 60) | Website
This is your go-to spot for breakfast or brunch in Mérida. Don’t let the shabby chic exterior of this restaurant fool you, El Barrio is an unassuming little restaurant with awesome things happening in the kitchen. If you typically like Mexican breakfast dishes like huevos rancheros or chilaquiles, then you will love the innovative egg dishes they’re dishing up here. They use fresh, local ingredients only. Open every day from 8:30am-2:30pm.
Calle 47 #496 (between Calle 58 & 60) | Website
Looking for traditional Yucatecan food? Skip the guidebook favorite Chaya Maya and head to Manjar Blanco. We love the sopa de lima, but you should chat with your waiter about the crowd favorites and sample a few things.
Plaza San Angelo, Calle 23 (between Calle 14 & 16) | Website
A cute little restaurant that has yummy fresh French food if you’re craving something different than Mexican. It’s a favorite among the fashionable locals. The serve breakfast & lunch Monday-Friday and then brunch all day on Saturday & Sunday from 8am-5pm.
Calle 60 #46 | Website
Mercado 60 is a modern, culinary market with pop-up restaurants and bars inside and communal tables in the center. It feels a bit like you’re in Brooklyn instead of Mérida, but the space is really well designed and great if you want to mingle with different groups of people throughout the night. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 6pm-2:30am.
Rosas & Xocolate
Paseo de Montejo #480 | Website
This is actually a restaurant inside a boutique hotel with the same name. It can feel a tad touristy given it’s a hotel, but we really liked the food. The restaurant is dead at lunchtime, but lively in the evenings. Sit outside if it’s nice.
#WildTerrains tip: Order the grouper ceviche and the panuchos to share.
Parque de Santa Lucía | Website
Apoala makes all the travel guide lists and even comes recommended by locals. We personally thought it felt a bit touristy, but the open-air seating in Parque Santa Lucia and the service were both really nice. We suggest ordering a drink, noshing on the free chips & salsa (the salsa verde was amazing) and splitting the two ceviches, both of which are large enough to make a full meal. Head to Malahat afterwards (see sip).
Parque Santa Lucia (hidden door behind Apoala)
Malahat is a gorgeous speakeasy hidden in Parque Santa Lucia. The name Malahat comes from the name of a cargo ship that illegally transported booze from Canada to the United States during the Prohibition era. We loved the design details in the tiny space. Dark towering shelves are filled with bottles and wax-dripped candles. Quirky light bulbs hang from the ceiling.
#WildTerrains tip: The entrance is in the alley behind Apoala, but we recommend asking the host at Apoala to walk you back there. Also, the venue is small so you should make reservations ahead if you want a guaranteed seat.
Calle 64 (between Calle 55 & 57)
You’ll pass through a handful of rooms – the most stunning of which are open air with whimsical lights hanging from trees, modern hacienda furniture, and white gravel covering the floors. The margaritas were the best we had in Mérida. They also have food if you want a bite, but we wouldn’t have a full meal here, stick to the snacks.
Calle 55 (between Calle 62 & 64) | Website
Unfortunately they don’t serve booze at Pola, but they do make really amazing freshly squeezed juices and smoothies using local produce. It’s the perfect breakfast or afternoon snack on a steamy day. There’s also a gelato shop with the same name next door.
Calle 62 #415 (cross street Calle 49) | Website
La Negrita is a super laid-back cantina that’s popular with the Mérida locals. The front bar (located at the street corner) is adorable if you can snag a spot – you’ll feel like you’re hanging out in a hipster Mexican drinking hole. That said, this place gets really crowded on weekends and it can be tough to find a seat at all. Don’t expect gourmet anything. Order a margarita or a beer and enjoy the simplicity of it all.
Calle 62 #458 | Website
This is another locals bar that gets super lively on the weekends. Pipiripau has multiple rooms – some with tables and chairs and others with standing room only. A small dance floor sits in the middle if you feel like getting your salsa groove on.
Fundación de Artistas
Calle 55 #520 | Website
Fundación de Artistas is a modern art gallery with a café that’s housed in an old, open-air hacienda next door to Coqui Coqui. The space has a gorgeous courtyard in the center that’s filled with fruit trees and local plants. Wander around the gallery’s rooms and then sit down at the little tables that surround the courtyard for an espresso and pastry.
Opia Kitchen & Coffee
Calle 62 #445 | Website
A cute café with an awesome living wall inside. Their frappes are to die for.
Get lost in Lucas de Gálvez Market
Calle 56A (between Calle 67 & 69)
Ready to channel your inner Anthony Bourdain? Visit Mercado Lucas de Gálvez, a massive local market filled with endless rows of vendor stalls selling everything from freshly made tortillas to piles of fresh fruits and veggies. Come early (around 9am) to see the morning hustle and be sure to bring some pesos with you. Feeling adventurous? Plop down next to a crowd of locals and order whatever they’re having for breakfast. It doesn’t get more authentic than this. Open 8am-6pm every day.
#WildTerrains tip: Being in a market like this can feel overwhelming, especially if you don’t speak the language. Learning a few key phrases like good morning (buenos dias), yes please (si por favor), and thank you (gracias), and saying them with a smile can go a long way.
Take a day trip to the Mayan ruins
There are a handful of Mayan ruins to visit within 1-2 hours driving distance from Mérida. The most popular are Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Mayapan. You can get there easily by renting a car, calling an Uber, or hiring a driver. Make sure to bring water and sunscreen with you!
Go skinny dipping in a cenote
The Yucatán area is known for its underground swimming holes called cenotes. The most popular near Mérida is Cuzama, but there are plenty to choose from.
Calle 55 #516 (between Calle 62 & 64) | Website
Coqui Coqui (our favorite sleep above!) is first and foremost a gorgeous perfume & clothing boutique. You should stop by if only to see the space - it’s opulent with large chandeliers, velvet furniture, glass displays and chic black & white tile. They have an incredible display of original masculine and feminine perfumes, all made with Yucatán botanicals. Signature scents like Tabaco, Maderas, Coco and Rosas Secas feel authentic to the region. We went home with a few large bottles and sampler sets, but you can also order online and have them shipped to you if you don’t want to worry about hauling them in your suitcase.
San Ildefonso Cathedral
Built in the 16th century on top of Mayan ruins, San Ildefonso Cathedral is one of the oldest cathedrals in the Americas.
Calle 60 Norte No. 299 E | Website
A museum dedicated to the history and culture of the Mayan civilization. It's a must see if you're interested in Mexico's fascinating history. Open every day except Tuesdays from 8am-5pm.