The best way to explore Merida is for sure on foot.
But many people use horse carriages to see not only the centre but Merida's suburbs. Our hotel was 20 minutes walk from the Zocalo. I finished my excursion along the Historic Centre when it was already dark and decided to take a horse carriage to come back to the hotel. I enjoyed the ride and it cost me 40 MEX = $4.
You can watch my photo of Merida on the Google Earth according to the following coordinates 20° 58' 3.58" N 89° 37' 22.95" W or on my Google Earth Panoramio Cathedral de San Ildefonso 3
Merida is situated in the northwest part of the state of Yucatan about 1500 km from Mexico City.
That’s why the best way to get there is by air.
But we traveled from Mexico City by bus via Puebla-Oaxaca-San Sebastian-Palenque-Campehe. And it was 2200km at our speedometer.
We came to Merida from Uxmal which is located about 80 km from Merida.
You can watch my 6 min 22 sec Video Mexico Merida by bus out of my Youtube channel or here on VT.
You can watch my photo of Merida on the Google Earth according to the following coordinates 20° 58' 1.45" N 89° 37' 25.77" W or on my Google Earth Panoramio Cathedral de San Ildefonso 2.
There are many ways to get to Chichen from Merida. If you'd like a tour once you get to the ruins, (otherwise how do you know what you're looking at?) It's a better deal to take an organized trip from Merida to Chichen. I've done this tour before and it was great, it includes transportation, lunch and a guided tour of the ruins in English. If you get to Chichen and book a tour in English it's going to cost you around $65USD, plus your entrance fee of $15, and lunch/snacks, bus fare, etc. If you're traveling alone or in a group of 2 or 3 its cheaper to do a pre arranged tour. This one is $50USD and includes everything I mentioned above.
There are a couple of reasons why Merida is so much more expensive to fly into than Cancun (almost twice to the cost last time I checked!). Someone on this site has already mentioned that it's because the taxes are higher. True, but that just raises another question: "Why are the taxes higher?" I'm afraid I'm not competent to answer that one except to say that Cancun is a HUGELY important project for the Mexican Federal Government, and I'm sure they do everything they can to keep those tourist dollars flowing! So it may be not so much that taxes are especially high in Merida, but that they are unusually low in Cancun.
Another answer, of course, is market dynamics. With all the traffic pouring into Cancun, especially now that they have doubled the size of the airport, there are big economies of scale. The terminal can spread its costs over a much larger number of incoming and outgoing flights and those savings eventually come down to the consumer.
As for violence in the area, the State of Yucatan has perhaps the best reputation in Mexico when it comes to public order. Corruption is lower here than almost anywhere else in the country, and drug related violence is almost non-existent. Sadly, this is less true in Cancun and the State of Quintana Roo.
Somepeople have asked in the forums about why the aiport in Cancun offers better air fares than the aiport in Merida. This is my observation:
If you look at both cities, the question feels a little like comparing PHX vs LAX, Or NYC vs BDL and so forth.
MID vs CUN:
Cancun is more well know destination compared to Merida. Cancun is settled down right in the caribbean and there are many businesses (resorts, tourism service providers, etc) who are very interested in attracting customers, price fare plays a critical role in this.
Also, Merida's airport, even if it's a full functional airport with many important connections, handles different customers, more national compared to the gross numbers of the exposure Cancun has. Cancun has been desgined that way, and you can notice it on the fares.
The area is fine, I used to live there and never had a problem. Many of my friends and many vt members reside there as well, all would tell you is that is a secure area.
As we commented here before, you could browse through the questions in the Mexico forum and look at how violence is noticed by the people living there compared to the visitors who get the reports from the media. There's a huge difference.
Finally, you can always get the best and lowest fare at flying to Cancun, then in a matter of 4 hours in a comfy bus, you would be in Merida.
There's several buses to Palenque to Merida for about 350 pesos and it takes about 9 hours. The night bus with ADO to Palenque isn't all that great if you get a old crappy bus but because of the distance it would definitely save you time.
With Merida as base, my family and I decided that the best way to go around would be by car, and the advice I got from other VTers was it would be better to rent one once we're in Merida rather reserving one online before our arrival. Since I couldn't find a rental office nearby, I inquired at one of the tourist info offices around the zocalo and they gladly called the Montejo Car Rental company to arrange a rental. When I found that the daily rent was reasonable (US$ 45/day for a Nissan sedan stick-shift, inclusive of insurance) and they accepted credit cards, the rental car was delivered to my hotel the next day, papers were signed and off we went. They also collected the car from the hotel upon its return, their guy just checked the spare tire and fuel gauge, gave me the credit card receipt and it was over.
Driving around the Yucatan was quite easy, lots of clear signs and directions, very little traffic...many times we were the only ones on the road. As advised by others, fill up the tank before long trips as the next gas station can be as far as 80 kms. away. There are military checkpoints in some spots along the highways where you'll have to pull over when motioned to, but the soldiers were courteous if you identify yourselves as tourists. They usually ask what Mexican city you drove from and might request you to get off to inspect the car, as they may be searching for drugs or weapons. Don't be intimidated as they'll let you on your way as soon they're finished.
Merida's two bus terminals are rather inconviently located on the southwest end of town. I would strongly recommend paying the 40 or so pesos for a taxi to your destination from the bus station; we took a very long walk to our hotel down busy streets with crowded sidewalks-- no fun.
A first class bus to and from Cancun takes about 4 hours; second class buses, which are cheaper but stop frequently, take 5 or 6 hours. Valladolid is about 2 hours away on a first class bus and 2 1/2 to 3 hours on a second class bus. We ended up on a second class bus to Valladolid because a first class bus wasn't coming for over an hour. The first class buses, which are clean and show movies along the way, are much nicer. These buses take major roads and make no stops, which makes for a speedy ride. The second class bus was smelly and dirty. It took local roads, which include endless speed bumps. The pluses to a second class bus are that they come more frequently, are cheaper, and provide lots of views of local towns.
Bus stations, in Merida and elsewhere, can be somewhat confusing. After buying your ticket (cash only), it's best to stay near the doors leading to the buses. When it gets near to your time to board, show your ticket to one of the agents, who can tell you (in Spanish, at least) whether your bus has arrived.
Almost everybody gets to Mérida by bus at the ADO station …
ADO is the first class bus company, their buses are great (comfortable, with A/C, TV) … but if you need to save some money there are cheaper options. Oriente is another company, their station is pretty much across the street from where ADO’s is … their buses are still okay and you pay much less.
A car is needed to truly explore Yucatan. That will allow you to visit the countryside, the jungles, and the small towns outside of Merida. All gasoline for the cars is pumped at stations owned by Pemex, Mexico's state owned oil company, which has a complete monopoly on gasoline and deisel.
You won't see any gas prices - you pay whatever is being charged. We estimated that it was somewhat more expensive than the US, but not as bad as Europe.
There are loads of Pemex gas stations all over Merida, and they are open 24/7. However, once you leave the city, the gas stations are few and far between. For example, we did not see a single station along the 90 minute route from Merida to Chichen Itza. Before starting out on any day trips, fill up your tank.
Another word of warning - our Hertz rental car came with an empty tank. We noticed that just as we were heading out of Merida the first morning. Do not assume that Hertz operates as they do in the US. Look at your gas tank! Luckily we did before we got out into the middle of the jungle!
Getting to Mérida is not the easiest from Canada. It lands up taking the better part of a day no matter which route you take.
As far as I know, with the less expensive ways to fly to Mérida, you end up flying the Continental Airlines Houston to Mérida leg, or the Mexicana Airlines Mexico City to Mérida leg. There are flights from Cancun to Mérida on a feeder airline called Aeromar, but they seem to moderately expensive.
Most of the travellers we talked to either fly to Mérida via Houston or Mexico City, or fly to Cancun and take the bus from Cancun to Merida. There is a first-class bus that goes from Cancun to Mérida several times a day. Takes four hours; costs 215 or 250 pesos each one way; we used the bus – it is quite comfortable for us bigger gringos.
First time we went (2005), it was Winnipeg – Minneapolis – Houston – Mérida -- Northwest Airlines all the way. Last time we went (2006) it was Winnipeg – Denver – Houston – Mérida. Both times the return flight ticket was under $1000 Cdn. on sale, it is normally around $1300 Cdn.
Parking on the streets in downtown Mérida is limited. Places that say "estacionamiento público" are parking lots that charge by the hour.
Do not park where the curb is yellow. There is parking on Calle 58 between 53 and 55 and 62 between 59 and 61.
Taxis in Mérida are pricey. However, there are several new companies that are using meters. You can identify them by the taximetro sign on the roof of the car. If you stay at a hotel, there will most likely be a list of prices. If you not go on a metered taxi, make sure you agree on the price before you get in the car ... good luck! Tip: the less gringo you look, the better ;-)
We struggled for two days with the decisions of how to visit the ruins, etc. There are basically three ways.
One is to go on a tour. Mérida, for instance has numerous tours that leave each day -- tours to Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Celestun and the like. If there is only one person touring, that would be the way to go. Price 400 or 450 pesos (~40 or 45US$) per person. Advantages: English-speaking guide is included, no worries about driving in Mexico. Disadvantages: Limited times, tours tend not to start early enough and bring you to the ruin over hottest time of the day.
Second way is to take public transportation and just go. Advantages: Cheapest and most Mexican way to go. Disadvantages: You need to know a bit about where you are going, public transportation is not as efficient and comfortable as tour buses (for example, the public bus from Mérida to Celestun takes 2 hours one way and only goes once an hour).
Third way is rent a car and drive. Cost (in 2005) was approx 300 pesos per day for non-airconditioned, 400 pesos for air-conditioned car. Advantages: You can go when you want to. You can drive to Uxmal or Chichen Itza and see the sound and light show the evening before, and see the ruin the next day (and only pay the park entrance once - 88 pesos per person for the big ruins, less for smaller ruins), for two people total cost turns out to be little cheaper than using bus tours. Disadvantages: You still have problem of tour guides. They can be hired at each site, but may not be available, and if you hire an english-speaking tour guide for only the two of you, it turns out quite expensive (flat rate was 350 pesos for approx. two hours of guiding), and car renting in Mexico is a little scary -- see the following tip for more info on renting a car in Mexico.
Car rental issues:
- you can only insure yourself down to 10% of the value of the car, and if you are involved in an accident, you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. We were also told that Mexican drivers would be as likely to zoom off after an altercation as stop (luckily we steered clear of any accident).
- Mexican road signs are not as clear as Canadian signs. In rural areas, other than on main highways, we never knew which road we were on,
- If you plan on driving off the main highways, roads can be quite miserable with pot holes the size of Alaska. We drove one such road from Uxmal to Celestun.
- you are advised not to drive after dusk,
- one of the reasons it is not wise to drive after dark -- there are speed bumps (called topes) in every town - many of them. If you ever hit one at even 30 km/hr you would propel your head through the roof of your car. Most of them are marked -- but not all.
- they have strange rules on the road (blinking left on the highway doesn't mean you are turning left, it means you are telling the car behind that it is OK to pass you -- a misunderstanding that almost got us involved in a crash),
- Gas stations are few and far between. We never saw a gas station between Mérida, Uxmal and Celestun until we got back to Mérida,
- Traffic-wise, rural driving is fine, but driving during rush hour in Mérida was scary to say the least.