Capital of the state of Yucatan, Merida (MAY-ree-dah) lies 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the western Yucatan gulf coast and the beach resort of Progreso. It makes an excellent base for exploring the Yucatan's awesome Mayan treasures and is also a fascinating colonial city destination in its own right.
This is one of Mexico's most hospitable and nostalgic colonial cities, even with a population of around over 1 million. Similar to the city of Oaxaca, Merida combines colonial-era architecture with a rich Indian heritage. Attractions center around the city's lovely Plaza Mayor, bordered by graceful buildings and shade trees. Many of the city's older buildings, dating back to the 17th and 18th century, have white and pastel exteriors.
Numerous museums and markets bring alive the area's fascinating Mayan culture, while surrounding the city are some of the world's most important ancient archaeological sites. The cities of Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Sayil, Kabah, Labna, and Edzna are within a 160 km. (96 miles) radius of Merida.
Historically, Merida stands alone for it's unique variation of tropical colonialism. Like many other colonial cities, Merida was founded on the exact site of an existing indigenous ceremonial center. In colonial times it was a frontier outpost and commercial center. Surviving a bloody rebellion by Maya descendants in the 1840's, Merida began a period of prosperity in the late 1880's as they were the world's leader in exporting henequén (used to make rope). That guided the city's development more toward Europe than Mexico due to the lack of rail and road links to the rest of Mexico.
This combination of wealth and a flirtation with 19th century European culture launched a period when Merida was considered the "Paris of the West". You can still see the architecture and city layout with several grand mansions and palaces which line the elegant Paseo Montejo, a tropical Champs Elysées on the city's outskirts.
Merida's visitor attractions include historic sightseeing, gateway to the Mayan world, excellent shopping (Mayan art, hammocks, unique native crafts) and a leisurely tropical pace. Lodging ranges from colonial bed & breakfast inns to modern highrise hotels.
Merida is also an important access point for an ambitious multi-national promotional effort known as Mundo Maya, or Mayan World. This effort aims at unifying the tourism development, protection, and promotion of a region rich in Mayan archeology, ecotourism opportunities, and cultural diversity. Four countries, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, have joined Mexico in this unprecedented effort.
Below you will find specific and common information on how travel to Merida, types of accommodations, getting around town, currency and communications. Please make sure you are familiar with what you need to enter Mexico from the Mexican Customs Office.
Quick Note: Many visitors are confused by the listing of addresses in Merida. The city has it's own unique method. For example, an address might be listed as Calle 60 #565 x 55 y 57. This translates to Street 60 #565 between streets 55 and 57. Basically the "x" stands for "between" and the "y" is "and". You'll also notice that even-numbered streets head north-south and odd-numbered streets east-west. With such long streets in the city grid, this ingenious way of marking addresses makes it easier to find your location.
Merida has an international airport. Flights arrive at Miguel Cresencio Rejón International Airport (MID) daily (Tel: (928) 928-6790). The airport is
6 miles (12 kms.) southwest of the city. The airport is modern and has several shops, restaurants, bars, and rental car agencies.
From the airport, taxis ($10 to El Centro) are available. Rates depend on where you are going and you purchase tickets outside the terminal to your left. Most major rental car companies have
airport counters. Some hotels have free shuttles, or may charge a small
fee, inquire with your hotel.
Merida can be reached by driving from Cancun (4-5 hours) on a toll
road which becomes Hwy. 180. Tolls are in the $20-$30 range each way. You can also take the free road from Cancun which will add some hours onto your trip. Coming from the south from Campeche on the other extension of Hwy. 180 (free road), the drive is around two hours and it is a well-maintained road.
If you do drive your vehicle to Merida, you must have Mexican auto
insurance, it's the law. Please look under the Travel &
Lodging directory for a list of companies.
The first and second class bus terminals can be found 4-5 blocks southwest of the Zocalo in the vicinity of Calle 70 and Calle 69. Most bus companies head out to many cities in the Yucatan and Mexico. If you are interested in visiting Progreso, there is a specific station for the AutoProgreso bus line at Calle 62 x 65 y 67. Their buses leave every 12-14 minutes for the 20 minute trip to the coast. Riding the bus is one of Mexico's best values for travel.
The Peso presently values between 9-9.5 Pesos to 1 US dollar. Banks
generally have the best exchange rates & open at 9am (M-F), make
sure you check what hours they do money exchanges. Lines may be
longer at banks, but rates are probably a little better than exchange houses.
Money exchange houses or Casa de Cambios are found in Merida and will exchange money throughout the day and into the early evening. Check with your hotel also as they may exchange money. Both are probably more convenient than the bank.
Some of the larger establishments will readily accept US currency. The issue in that case will be the exchange rate that they offer; it is advisable to ask first in order to avoid any disappointments. Many businesses will not be able to make change for anything higher than a $20 U.S. dollars so it is a good idea to carry small bills with you, or pesos. Most businesses outside of Merida will not accept foreign currency.
Credit Cards are accepted by most of the hotels, with
some or no surcharge, but not all of them. ATM's are found throughout town and can be used to secure funds, although it will be in Pesos. This is one of the easier ways to travel, although there will be a small fee attached to your withdrawal. While you are planning your trip, make sure that you carry - or have access to, enough cash or traveler's checks.
Time & Pace
Merida is in the Central Time Zone and does observe daylight savings
time. Businesses are open throughout the day. Since Merida doesn't really have slow season (except in the hottest months of July-August), the traditional siesta isn't usually observed except in some of the small towns outside the capital. Siesta or the mid-day break is a
tradition that reflects not only the necessity of avoiding heat-related
fatigue, but is also a traditional time to spend with family, eat the meal of the day and recharge the batteries so to speak.
You can call (direct dialing) and fax to anywhere in the world from
Merida, using the facilities at your hotel or at Larga Distancia office. You can purchase prepaid phone cards them throughout town. Internet access is available throughout Merida in "cyber cafes", you'll see them on every street near El Centro and even some hotels may offer the service.