Yucatán's 19th century state government building, the neoclassical Palacio de Gobierno, is a required stop in Mérida for two reasons: the excellent tourism office on the first floor corner of Calles 60 and 61 and the second floor Hall of History with its 17 impressive murals by Yucatán's native son and most famous painter, Fernando Castro Pacheco. Installed in 1974, the massive paintings chronicle Yucatán's often-painful history, demonstrated most movingly in "The Execution of Jacinto Canek." The power of the three Spanish conquistadors named Francisco de Montejo – El Adelantado, The Younger, and The Nephew – is symbolized in their joint portrait by a threatening sword engulfed in fiery red. Hanging from the peak of the façade is a reproduction of the bell, which patriot-priest Miguel Hidalgo rang in 1810, beginning Mexico's battle for independence. The staff at the state tourism office is friendly, speaks English, and is eager to help visitors.
Highlighting the Calle 63 side of the Zócalo, the Casa de Montejo was built between 1543 and 1549 by Merida's founder, Francisco de Montejo, El Adelante. His son and namesake, nicknamed The Younger, inherited the house, which remained the family home until 1832. It is a masterpiece of Spain's Plateresque style, which combined late Gothic, Moorish and early Renaissance elements. A monumental façade features a profusion of carved images of conquistador and indigenous figures, with the natives one-third the size of the Spanish. Above the doorway a man hunches over bearing the weight of the upper tier, perhaps representing Montejo's dominance over the Maya. Caryatids flank each window of the house's Neo-Classical extension. Banamex purchased the building in the 1970s (which explains why there's an ATM inside) and, in 2010, was in the process of restoring the landmark as a museum depicting the home life of Spanish Colonial aristocrats.
If you're into fine arts, then drop by the Macay Art Gallery at the Zocalo, where you get to see reprints of some famous paintings by Da Vinci, Kahlo, Rivera, Michaelangelo and others. The rest of the art exhibit are all original works of local artists, housed in different rooms or sections of the gallery.
See website link (in Spanish).
On Saturday nights at the beginning of Paseo Montejo, Merida has a Mexican Cultural Performance show. The show is a variety show filled with Mexican signing and dancing. Merida offers all sorts of cultural events all week. These events typically showcase the culture of Merida and the Yucatan. Well on Saturday night, the cultural event is all about Meridans being Mexicans.
The night I went, there were several singers who really got the crowd going. But the best act was this Ballet Folklorico group who danced these amazing dances. They were not typical Ballet Folklorico that you typically think of. They did this one dance about the beginning of Mayan Life. Then the women did this dance with whips and the men did this dance with knives. The dancing was amazing.
Although the variety show is the main event, Mexican Night offers other things as well. They have vendors selling crafts and other souvenirs. They also have vendors selling food.
One of the best things is that you can see locals who come weekly. Its great.
Merida offers free cultural events almost every day. You can pick up a guide in the Tourist Information office to let you know where and when the events will take place. I went to several of these events and had a blast. You would think that these events would be filled with tourists, but they are actually filled with locals. They are great ways to see what Meridans do and how they appreciate their culture, their city, and their people. Definitely go to as many of the events as you can.
Every weekday morning at 9:30 AM there is a free tour of the Zocalo/Main Square in both English and Spanish. The tour lasts about an hour and is very informative and interesting. Our tour guide not only gave information abut the buildings around the zocalo, but also about the history of Merida. The tour covers 4 of the historic buildings in the zocalo. I definitely recommend this tour because it is a great way to start a trip in Merida.
Cenotes are underground water caves. There's about 2700 cenotes in Yucatan alone! It is possible to go on your own to the public cenotes if you know where they are and have your own snorkelling gear. Or you can take day trips - Nomadas offers them for a reasonable price.
350 pesos for 2 centoes, excellent 4 course lunch, trip to the church and market in Uman.
Description of the 2 cenotes I visisted:
The cenote was out of this world my descriptions or pictures don´t even close to giving it justice - it was really sureal. This particular cenote was on private property so there was no else there. We climbed down the ladder and there was about 50m of crystal, clear (and clean) water. The sunlight crept in through the cervices and where the sunlight hit the water appeared this amazing shade of blue. I admit jumping in was scary because the water was so clear, you could see the bottom and it looked like you would hit the rocks. The water was really warm, we snorkelled for about 2 hours. There are remains of pottery from the Mayans you can explore for as cenotes were very scared to the Mayans for rituals and things. Other parts of the cenote where the sunlight didn´t hit the water, was so dark, it was almost like pitch black which was kinda scary at first until your eyes adjusted.
The second cenotes was more "jungley" with vines hanging around whereas the other one looked more like a cave.
I put this on here because everyone goes here even though Uxmal is much more impressive. If you do go to Chichen Itza try to go on your own (it's very easy) otherwise you will be with mobs of other tourists. Try to go early as you can to avoid the crowds because after 11 am you will see hoards of people.
Entrance is around 120 pesos
Way better ruins than Chichen Itza in my opinion and less people as well. Budget around 4-5 hours for Uxmal to be explore it properly and you may want to pack a lunch or bring snacks as the food is overpriced.
You will get less than 2 hours if you take Ruta Puuc tour.
Entrance is about 110 pesos.
If you're looking for some more ruins or less touristy ones, Ek Balam is a good option. There is no regular public transportation so your options is to drive or take a bus/colectivo to Valladolid (from Merida/Chichen Itza) and from there see if you can catch a colectivo but most likely you will have to catch a taxi. You will have to do some negotiating but you should be able get one for 200 pesos for a return trip while he waits for you.
The entrance is about 50 pesos.
Celestun is a great side trip to take from Merida. About 60 miles from Merida, there is a wonderful ecological reserve that sits on the Gulf of Mexico. Here you will find wonder beaches, turquoise water, mangroves, and an abundance of wildlife. The most popular reason for the reserve is the flamingos that inhabit the shallow waters. Our guide said that thousands of the pink birds flock here, although there were only a couple dozen or so when I visited in August. Our tour took us out on a small flat-bottom boat around the water, including into an estuary where the water was so clear we could see the bottom flawlessly. We were also allowed to swim in a small area surrounded by trees. After the boat tour, we went into the sleepy little town of Celestun for lunch on the beach, which afforded us plenty of time to swim in the Gulf. The beach was nearly deserted when we were there in August, although this may have been due to the hurricane that came through the area. Most hotels in Merida will have information on doing a tour. My tour included transport in a van, boat tour, and lunch for 460 $MX for a nearly full day.
There are quite a few churches around Merida, with the town jewel on the east side of the main plaza: Catedral de San Ildefonso. This church is among the oldest in Mexico, from the late 1500s and built on top of a former Mayan temple site.
There other, smaller churches that also are pretty impressive around town.
Paseo de Montejo – A stroll up the Paseo de Montejo is a pleasant way to spend a couple hours or so. The street has many well-kept colonial houses and pretty little gardens. The houses are very pretty. A couple of the houses are turned into museums (unfortunately they were closed when I was there). There are also stores, restaurants, and banks near the northern end. A small mall is also near the northern end, near the Hyatt Regency.
Aside from the Macay art gallery, you could also visit the governor's palace and view the giant murals on display on the walls of both floors plus the main hall facing the zocalo. The murals depict a few scenes of the Spanish conquest of the Yucatan and the subjugation of the Mayans. There is even one mural that shows how a Mayan rebel leader was tortured with branding irons before he was killed.
Admission is FREE.
Even if you a not a "museum person", if you have any interest in ancient Mayan culture, this is a MUST see! It is not a very large museum, despite it being located in an early 1900's mansion, but it is filled with all the best preserved statuary rescued from the many Mayan ruins on the Yucatan. The 120 pesos ($12) for the museum sponsored 2 hr guided tour is defiantly worth the money! (I believe the guides are University students... at least ours was.) By the end of our visit, we had so much new knowledge that we didn't need to hire another guide for any of the ruins for the rest of our trip!