I’ve always wanted to travel solo to Mexico and spend a minimum of 6 months there. Unfortunately, I haven’t had that chance yet. Melissa Douglas, who has a Mexico-focused travel blog, contributed this solo travel tips to Merida.
The charming colonial city of Merida, Mexico is the capital of the Yucatan state in Southern Mexico. Until recently, it has remained largely off the beaten path.
However, in 2022, renowned travel publications such as Lonely Planet and Travel and Leisure have recognized little Merida as being one of the best places to visit this year. Unlike other cities in the Yucatan peninsula such as Cancun and Tulum, which have started to become gentrified and are occupied by large swathes of western tourists, Merida, for now, remains unchanged by tourism.
The city keeps its traditional Mexican charm. Now is the best time to visit Merida before word gets out.
Once upon a time, Merida was one of the richest cities in the world. It thrived during the henequen (raw fiber from the henequen plant) boom when local farmers would cultivate the sisal plant and use it to make clothing and textiles.
With their newfound wealth, the people of Merida built huge sprawling mansions and haciendas. Today, many of these stunning buildings have been converted into luxury hotels, coffee shops, and restaurants. Merida is a photographer’s paradise.
Arriving in Merida
Merida is home to an international airport (MID) which is actually located right in the heart of the city, just 15 minutes away from the historic center. However, there are only a very limited number of international flight routes that service this airport.
You can fly into Merida from Miami, Houston, Guatemala City, and Havana, Cuba. If you are flying from elsewhere, it makes sense to either transfer flights in Mexico City, or to fly into Cancun.
Cancun is the largest international airport close to Merida, situated in the coastal city of Cancun 303km away. ADO buses provide regular connections between Cancun and Merida several times a day.
The journey takes approximately 4 hours and tickets cost around US$25 each way. The bus terminates at Merida Centro station, right in the heart of town.
Where to Stay in Merida
Merida is a large, sprawling city and the public transport here leaves a lot to be desired. Opt to stay in the historic center so that you can reach most of the city’s main historical and cultural highlights on foot.
Opting to stay in an Airbnb (get $15+ credit with Airbnb when you book for the first time using the link) or homestay in the eastern or western parts of the city can save you a fair amount of money. However, you will most likely have to depend on Uber and cabs to get around as the buses here are neither reliable nor easy to navigate.
Accommodation in central Merida is affordable and there is something here for every taste and travel style. So, you have no real reason to have to stay outside of the main zones.
Paseo Montejo is the main boulevard in Merida. It runs from the historic center, all the way up to the northern suburbs.
The street was named after Merida’s founder, Francisco de Montejo. You will find the Monumento a la Patria here—a giant sculpture created by sculptor Rómulo Rozo that displays the history of Mexico through the ages.
Paseo Montejo is home to a diverse range of restaurants, cafes, and stores selling artisanal products, traditional Yucatecan clothing, and street food. It’s lively whatever time you stop by, but it isn’t so noisy that you can’t get a good night’s sleep if you base yourself here.
The atmosphere is particularly wonderful on Sundays when the street is pedestrianized and closed to traffic. Thousands of Merida locals come to jog/walk/cycle the length of the street and there are many places where you can rent a bicycle and join them.
Paseo Montejo has something for every budget. Below are some of the most reputable budget hotels in the area, with prices per room for two persons.
You can book via Booking.com; just click the link to the properties above. Make sure to read the reviews so you’ll know which one best fits your needs.
Parque Santa Lucia
Parque Santa Lucia is a good place to base yourself if you want to experience Merida by night. Many of the best bars and nightclubs are just a 5-minute walk away from here.
Here are some of the most reputable hostels in the area, with prices per room for two persons.
Best Things to Do in Merida
Take a free walking tour
A walking tour is a great way to get your bearings in any new city. It is also one of the best things to do in Merida. A free walking tour departs every day at 10 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. from outside the Casa Montejo museum in the main square, with guides speaking both English and Spanish.
The tour takes you around the main Merida landmarks and historical sites and gives you a lot more information and context on the various buildings that you see. You will pass by notable structures such as the Merida cathedral, the Palacio de Gobierno, the Teatro Peón Contreras, and various Merida parks and plazas.
Although the tour is free, it is tip-based and since the guides dedicate their time to showing tourists around their city in super hot weather, it is polite to always tip. It is fair to give US$5-10 (100-200 pesos) per person.
The other great thing about exploring the city on a walking tour? You have a local expert on hand to ask for their recommendations for the best things to see and do in the city and the best places to hang out, among others.
Eat your way around town
The cuisine in Merida and the Yucatan is very different from the cuisine that you will find elsewhere in Mexico. This is because Yucatecan food is pre-Hispanic.
Many of the recipes here are the same ones that were used by the Ancient Mayans centuries ago and traditional cooking methods are still used. Famous regional dishes that you should add to your radar include cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork cooked underground) and relleno negro (ground meat served with turkey and chopped egg).
There are countless traditional restaurants that you can try. Habaneros (Calle 20-A Num 302 X 5b Y 5c, Xcumpich, 97204) is a local favorite and although it sits on the outskirts of town, it is worth the effort to get to.
Experience Merida by night
If you thought that Merida was lovely by day, you will likely find it even more magical by night. This is when the city really comes to life.
Every night of the week, you will find live music hosted around the city. On Tuesdays, there is live music at Santiago Park and on Thursdays, there is a live band that performs in Santa Lucia.
If you want to try your hand at learning to salsa dance, there are a huge amount of local bars and traditional cantinas that host regular salsa nights. Cantina Negrita (Calle 62 esquina, C. 49 415, Centro) hosts live salsa music every day of the week.
This is one of the most popular nightlife spots in town, although it does get very crowded and you need to stop by before 8 p.m. to secure a table. Alternatively, Cantina Dzalbay (Calle 64 x 53, Esquina, No. 443, Centro) offers classes where you can dance with locals.
Treat yourself to a day at the beach
Merida itself is not situated on the coast, but there are several gorgeous beach towns that can be reached in just an hour’s drive from the city center. Yucatan beaches are often overlooked in favor of the better-known beaches of the Mexican Caribbean (the areas around Cancun, Tulum, etc).
However, they are just as beautiful and deserving of your time. The beaches here boast miles upon miles of powdery white sand coastlines that extend as far as the eye can see. The waters are a stunning shade of crystal-clear turquoise.
Progreso is the closest beach town to Merida, situated just 43km north of the city. Take a stroll along the Malecon, sip piña coladas in one of the beach bars overlooking the water, and spend a day lounging on the sand. Most restaurants and bars here let you rent a sunbed and an umbrella for the day for just a few pesos.
Explore lesser-known Mayan ruins
Chichen Itza is without hesitation, the most famous Mayan ruin in this part of Mexico. Thousands of people pass through its gates every day.
While a visit to Chichen Itza is one of the best things you can do in Mexico, this isn’t the only Mayan ruin in the area. There are several other Mayan cities that can be reached on a day trip from Merida and are only 1-2 hours away.
For instance, few people have heard of Mayapan, but this was one of the most important Mayan settlements. It can be found just an hour south of Merida and the site is expansive and seldom sees many tourists. Mayapan was the last great Mayan city and it is here where King Kukulkan II and his people moved after the downfall of Chichen Itza.
Safety Tips for Solo Travelers in Merida
Merida is a very safe city, even for solo travelers. The Yucatan capital is recognized time and again as being the safest city in Mexico, and one of the safest cities in the entire North American continent.
Yes, Merida is statistically a lot safer than a lot of cities in the United States. Mexico, in general, is a lot safer than stereotypes and media representations would have you assume.
However, the culture in Merida and the Yucatan feels markedly different. Here, you can feel relatively comfortable walking alone around the city even in the evenings.
People are very polite and respectful and you never feel that you have to be continually looking over your shoulder. Still, it pays to take some additional precautions when traveling anywhere independently. A few safety considerations for your solo trip to Merida are detailed below.
Most Mexicans prefer to use Uber rather than taking random street taxis. While people in some countries may question the safety of Uber, that is not the Mexican perspective.
Of course, getting into a car on Uber usually means that there is more accountability than getting into a random car on the street. You have the driver’s details and their license plate number, and you can share your journey information with your friends and family members.
Unfortunately, scams are not unheard of in Mexico and you are more likely to be ripped off or taken on a roundabout route through town if you get into a random street taxi. When using Uber here, there are a few precautions that you can take.
Check your driver’s profile and only ride with drivers that have done several thousand trips and have a rating of 4.5 or above. If you are uncomfortable with the look of your driver or they are completely new to the app, you can cancel and find a new driver for no charge.
Be careful when heading out at night alone
Merida is a safe city, even in the evenings. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use common sense or not be aware of your surroundings.
Try not to walk alone at night, particularly if your route takes you down quiet side streets and alleyways. Basically, if you wouldn’t do something in your hometown, you shouldn’t do it in Merida.
If you head out to bars or live music venues alone or with new friends, watch your drink and never leave it unattended. Be wary of over-friendly strangers and always trust your gut instinct.
Watch your belongings in crowded areas
The only real crime that you have to worry about in Merida is petty crime and things like bag snatchings. Still, these things are uncommon and only really happen in crowded areas.
Watch your belongings in busy marketplaces such as the Lucas de Galvez market or the Mercado San Benito. A theft-proof backpack is a good investment. Ideally, you should carry your backpack in front of you and make sure that any valuables are securely tucked away.
Merida is a safe and wonderful colonial city in the heart of the Yucatan. It makes a great getaway destination in itself, but it also perfectly complements a wider Yucatan travel itinerary.
Have you been to Merida? What other tips can you give to solo travelers?