What places to see in Mérida? The safest city in Mexico and the second safest in all of America. The cultural and gastronomic capital of the Yucatan Peninsula. Yes, you guessed it, we are talking about the Mérida of Mexico, the capital of Yucatán. The city that the Spaniards baptized Mérida because, when they saw its pre-Hispanic monuments, they remembered the Roman archaeological heritage of Mérida.
One of the oldest cathedrals in America, a colonial historic center –the second largest in the country, only behind CDMX– with Renaissance buildings, French-style neoclassical mansions, museums, galleries, theaters, squares –which are called parks there. –… So much to see in the capital of Yucatan, that it has been difficult for us to select only 10 places to visit in Mérida.
1. THE GREAT MUSEUM OF THE MAYAN WORLD
If there is a museum that you have to visit in Mérida, it is the Great Museum of the Mayan World . The only drawback is that it is a bit far from the old town. Although the journey by taxi or by bus -you can take it on Calle 60- is well worth it. From the outside you will realize that it is a special place. The building is a tribute to the sacred Mayan tree, the ceiba, a symbol of its cosmogony structured on three levels: the branches support the sky, its roots penetrate the underworld and its trunk represents the earth.
And what about the collection? Almost 1,200 pieces to tell the day to day of the Mayan communities that are still alive and those that existed in pre-Hispanic times. Reconstructions of some of its most iconic archaeological sites, videos to understand the Mayan worldview. You have all the information about the visit on their website (spanish).
2. MÉRIDA CENTRAL PARK
We are going to the historic center of the White City. And what do you have to see in Mérida before any other place? The old Plaza Mayor , now Plaza de la Independencia , but known as Plaza Grande , Zócalo or Parque Central – you know, plazas are parks in Mérida. Many names for the “city hall”. Meeting place for Meridians who come to have a marquesita or some typical appetizers, for couples sitting in their famous confidant chairs – the Yucatecan double chairs that, according to legend, a father would have invented so that his daughter’s boyfriend would not come near too much– or of tourists who start theircity tours . You can hire a panoramic tour of Mérida , a guided tour of the city or a gastronomic tour of Mérida , all three start here or nearby.
3. THE CATHEDRAL OF MÉRIDA
In the Central Park we can find the Cathedral of San Ildefonso . Built between 1561 and 1598, it is the oldest cathedral in Mexico and in all of continental America – the one in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, is earlier. A couple more curiosities. The first, like the rest of the buildings in the historic center of Mérida, is built with stones from the ancient Mayan temples of T’Hó. And the second, if you look, there are slots in its façade: they are embrasures, the cathedral was used as a fort as well as a religious building.
The visiting hours of the Cathedral of Mérida are a bit “scarce”: it is only open from 7 am to 10 am and from 5 pm to 7 pm – just in case, ask at the tourist office if you find it closed. If you can get in, don’t miss the Chapel of Cristo de las Ampollas. The blisters on the image are, according to legend, due to the fire from which it was saved in the church of the town of Ichmul. One of the nicest places to see in Mérida.
4. THE MUSEUM CASA MONTEJO
We continue in the Central Park with the Casa Montejo , the oldest in Mérida and the only Renaissance civil building that remains in all of Mexico. Francisco de Montejo “El Mozo” lived here , son of Francisco de Montejo “el Adelantado”, who founded Mérida in 1542. It remained in the hands of the Montejo family until the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century its entire interior was renovated.
Of course, the facade is original and is a gem. Look at the reliefs: the date –1549, the year it was finished–, the lions, the Montejos, their shield, the savages, the Spanish soldiers on the faces of the Indians – “things” of the time…–. The interior can be visited and it is free. A typical manor house from the beginning of the 20th century with its various rooms and period furniture.
5. PALACIO MUNICIPAL
The almost garish pink building across from the cathedral is the Palacio Municipal . It is built on one of the five hills of the ancient Mayan city T’ho: the Bakluum-Chaam pyramid. Originally, in the 16th century, it only had one floor and was used as a slaughterhouse and granary: the town hall and prison were next to the cathedral. The fact is that in the 18th century the current building was built with two floors, with its terrace, its great shield of Mérida, the Moorish battlements and the clock tower. From the terrace we enjoy a nice view of the square.
6. THE GOVERNMENT PALACE OF YUCATAN
If the town hall building is pink, the state building is green. The Government Palace of Yucatán was built at the end of the 20th century on the old “Royal Houses”, where the governors and general captains of Yucatán lived in colonial times. Here you can also enter and it is also free. In addition to its lavish rooms, the most striking are the twenty-seven enormous contemporary murals by Fernando Castro Pacheco on the history of Yucatán.
7. THE MUSIC PALACE IN MERIDA
So far we have only talked about “classic” places to visit in Mérida . The time has come to talk about one that is not. Of course, it is one of our favorite corners of the city: the Palace of Music . An ideal place for music lovers – and for everyone, since we are not so music lovers either. The same building, built in 2018, is a tribute to her, do you see the guitar strings?
Inside, authentic pre-Hispanic musical instruments from Yucatan and all of Mexico await you, audios, videos and games to, for example, listen to how those instruments sound, see how the typical Yucatecan jarana is danced or have fun creating your own trova. There are also holograms of musical icons such as Armando Manzanero, the great Yucatecan composer and singer who died of COVID in 2020. One of the top places to see in Mérida
8. 60TH STREET
In the Central Park “is born” the main street of Mérida : Calle 60 –even streets go from north to south and odd streets from west to east–. From south to north you have other little squares that open up next to it: Parque Hidalgo, Parque de la Madre, Parque Santa Lucía –with its giant visitor chair– and Parque de Santa Ana.
If you find it open –it is not often, we only got it before a wedding celebration–, be sure to enter the church of Jesus of the Third Order , built by the Jesuits at the beginning of the 17th century, it is the prettiest in town. Nearby are the neoclassical José Peón Contreras Theater –one of the most important in the country– and the headquarters of the Autonomous University of Yucatán , feel free to enter the courtyard.
9. THE “PASEO DE MONTEJO” AND THE “MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY AND HISTORY OF THE PALACIO CANTÓN”
Next to Plaza Santa Ana, in the “Remate”, the Paseo de Montejo begins , the most elegant avenue in Mérida, inspired by nothing less than the Champs Elysees in Paris.
Between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, at the height of the “green gold” of Yucatán – the henequen fiber –, the Meridian bourgeoisie built neoclassical European-style palaces on this street, mostly French, each more lavish. It had to be a competition between families – a bit like what happened with the modernist houses on Paseo de Gracia in Barcelona. Some of the most beautiful are El Minaret , Quinta Montes Molina –turned into a house museum– and Las Casas Gemelas –one of them houses the Casa Museo Montejo 495 , with its famous staircase–.
Next to Paseo de Montejo we visit the Museum of Anthropology and History of the Palacio Cantón . We were interested in the temporary exhibition that was going on at the time. In addition, we were able to see the interior of one of those palaces from the beginning of the 20th century, this one designed by an Italian architect. Marbles brought from Europe, the first elevator in the Yucatan Peninsula –arrived directly from Germany–, a large staircase also made of marble, the colorful stained glass ceiling, chandeliers, rooms full of stucco…
10. THE “MONUMENTO A LA PATRIA”
Continuing along the Paseo de Montejo, we arrive at the most representative monument of Mérida: the Monument to the Homeland . The Colombian sculptor Rómulo Rozo –curious that it was a Colombian who made a monument dedicated to the Mexican homeland– began in 1945 and it took him eleven years to finish this “neomayan” monument . A tribute to the history of Mexico, from pre-Hispanic to contemporary times. There are historical figures, key dates –such as the beginning of Independence and the Mexican Revolution–, plaques from the different states of Mexico, the country’s coat of arms, a ceiba tree, the eagle on a cactus devouring a snake –an allusion to Tenochtitlán and the birth from Mexico–… And, to the south, an indigenous woman surrounded by Mayan symbols.
Places to see in Mérida Extra: MERIDA MARKETS
If you like markets, Mérida is your place. The largest is the Lucas Gálvez Market , about 45,000 square meters and there is everything from food to clothing and handicrafts – the Municipal Handicrafts Market is next to it. Nearby are the Mercado de San Benito , where there is also a bit of everything, and the Mercado García Rejón , for handicrafts.
In the Lucas Gálvez Market and in the San Benito Market there are also typical snacks such as salbutes and panuchos – you can see what they are in our article on typical dishes of Yucatecan food -. Although to eat we were advised a smaller market, the commercial passage of Calle 62 , between 65 and 67.