Spending your family vacation in the Mexican City of Merida is an excellent choice – it’s one of our favorite places in Mexico. It really is no wonder so many Digital Nomad families are choosing to settle there in the colonial city.
Merida is often referred to as the cultural capital of southern Mexico. This vibrant city has a thriving local culture with so many fun things to do for the whole family. The city offers an interesting mix of colonial and Mayan culture. From archaeological sites to contemporary art, there are Merida attractions for every taste.
In this article, we are going to walk you through some of the best things to do in Merida with kids and share our knowledge on finding the best family-friendly accommodations, the coolest local food restaurants, and top cultural events in the city center.
PS. If you are thinking of moving to Merida Mexico with children, then you need to read this book my friend Cassie wrote!
Did you get insurance yet?
If you are planning a trip right now for you and your family, then you NEED to think seriously about insurance. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that you need to be prepared for anything! I’m pretty sure we have all had travel plans messed up because of COVID and not all insurers covered this. So you need to find an insurer that covers travel disruption due to COVID-19, World Nomads, Safety Wing, or Travel Insurance Master are the ones to go for.
World Nomads is great for incidents that happen prior to your trip, so if you get sick or are unable to travel due to travel restrictions some of their policies will cover that as cancellation cover.
I also use Travel Insurance Master for some short vacation type trips as they are cheaper than World Nomads a lot of the time.
If you are doing shorter trips or a longer backpacking trip then WorldNomads or Travel Insurance Master are the best option. If you are a digital nomad or planning travel of at least 6 months then go for SafetyWing.
Is Merida Mexico Safe For Kids?
Merida is widely considered the safest city in Mexico thanks to its low crime rate and high arrest rates. I’ve spent a lot of time there and know many ex-pat families who have made Merida Mexico their home.
While there is crime and risks to living in any city. Merida Mexico is about as safe as you can get. Merida has little cartel activity compared to the rest of Mexico, and the city is well-equipped with surveillance cameras and police officers, making it an ideal destination for families and solo female travelers alike.
Best Intro to Merida: Take the Free Walking Tour of Merida
The fastest way to orient yourself in any new place is to take a free walking tour and Merida has a couple of them to choose from.
The free walking tour of Merida takes you around the Historic City starting in Plaza Grande. The super friendly guides will show you around the city center while giving you a brief guide to Merida’s history and offering you some tips on where to find the best local food and local markets.
A walk through Merida will provide you with a great overview of a large number of cultural sites in Merida’s city center.
If you’re only in town for a few days then you should make your first stop on this Merida free walking tour.
How To Get To Merida Mexico
Being a capital city, one of the best things about visiting Merida is that it is easily accessible from all over Mexico. You can get a direct bus from Bacalar, Tulum, Playa Del Carmen, and Cancun. All of the buses stop in Valladolid. If you are traveling from Playa del Carmen to Merida, you will likely have to stop in either Tulum or Cancun.
If you want to travel on an ADO bus, we recommend going in and booking at least 3 days before. We paid $500 pesos for booking the day before to get to Merida. Our return fare, which we booked only 2 days before, cost us $300 pesos. That’s a $10 difference! You can also get some good deals booking with Mayab, which is also done at the ADO bus station. We honestly wouldn’t bother trying to book online with them as the website is awful and the app is no better.
The best way to book buses online in this region of Mexico is through GuateGo. You will pay a couple of dollars more, but it’s honestly worth it to save time stressing when you arrive at the bus station, which can often be a bit hectic, especially with kids in tow.
What To Do In Merida
Just a heads up: Merida is not a place for maps and plans – it is for getting lost and wandering the streets while waiting for the magic to find you. So if you are a planner like us, we recommend you to try and keep an open mind when visiting Merida so that you will not be disappointed.
Yes, this is a city guide including things to do in Merida. Still, our number one advice for anyone traveling to Merida is to be spontaneous. Even with kids. Merida is a cultural hub and there are performances everywhere: on the streets, in the theaters, and on erected stages in the main plazas. If you are there over the weekend, you will be spoilt for choice.
If you pack out your time in this Mexican city with too many plans of places to visit and things to do in Merida, you may miss the unique opportunity to witness some of the best Mexican and Mayan cultural performances happening on the streets.
The difference between visiting Merida on the weekend rather than in the week is that there is a lot more fun things going on in the evenings, with free outdoor performances and street food.
But be aware that weekends can be slow as many places close early and the city walking tour doesn’t run on Sundays at all. Also if you want to do a day trip to Progreso beach, the Mayan Ruins, or the Cenotes it’s worth being aware that they are always very busy on Sundays as locals get free access to many attractions.
If you can’t deal without at least a few bullet points for plans, then here are a few things to do in Merida Mexico:
TAKE THE FREE WALKING TOUR OF MERIDA
As I’ve already mentioned there are two free walking tours of Merida: one is at 9:30 am and the other one is at 6 pm. Both of the free walking tours in Merida meet at the Merida tourism office on the main Plaza.
We would also recommend you to also look into doing a Merida market tour, something that has been on our bucket list forever.
Walk along Calle 60
If you continue walking along the Calle 60 just to the front of the cathedral, you will encounter many beautiful historic houses and smaller squares.
As you wander around you will notice many examples of neoclassical architecture. Look out for the luxury boutique hotel, Mansion Merida.
Swim in Cenotes
Merida gets incredibly hot during the summer months. It’s one of the hottest places in the whole of Mexico! So where better to cool off from the summer heat than in a cold Cenote?
If you don’t know what a Cenote is, it’s a natural sinkhole and they can be found all across the Yucatan Peninsular.
DO A MERIDA BUS TOUR
There are two bus tours you can take: one is a big red bus that looks new and leaves from the main plaza. This tour is only in Spanish. If you want the tour in English, you need to walk up to Santa Lucia Park at 10 am as the bus with a bilingual English and Spanish guide leaves from there.
This is a rickety old bus made of wood. For the same price and probably the exact same route. Plus, you can get some really cool shots that you can only really get from the perspective of the Merida tour bus.
VISIT SOME OF THE PLAZAS
There were 3 areas that we bounced in between Plaza Grande (the main plaza in the center of town), Parque de Santa Lucia (smaller parr with some nice restaurants and the big kissing chair), and the area just south of the Monumento A Los Montejo (normally closed off to cars at weekends).
These were the main three areas that had lots of things happening at the weekend. So if you walk between the 3, you will be sure to find something interesting happening!
Attend One of Merida’s Annual Festivals
Merida has several annual events that are mostly held in the Plaza Grande. It’s worth considering the calender when deciding the best time to visit Merida.
That said, Merida has a lot of fun family activities for everyone year-round especially if you are interested to learn more about Mexican culture. Click here to view this year’s calendar.
The highlight of the year is in January with the annual Merida Fest which spans over a week. When you visit Merida in January make sure you don’t skip a stroll on Plaza Grande, which precedes a stunning fireworks show to celebrate.
Experience Pok Ta Pok: Representation of the Mayan Ball Game
The tradition of this ancient sport is preserved through this daily event which takes place at Cathedral. On Wednesday, you can see the team fight while the tradition of traditional live music complements the spectacle. While this game is played today for demonstrative purposes (for tourists) in Mayan tradition this was a highly competitive game often involving fireballs!
Go Organic at the Saturday Food Market
The farmer’s market in Merida runs on Saturday mornings between 7:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. For those wanting to cook in Merida, there’s lots of good food available: organic meat, produce, fresh bread, olive oils, artisan foods, and much more.
The food market in Merida is located on Call. 33 DD #498 in el partito de Dolores Patrón in Merida – 977071.
VISIT A MUSEUM OR TWO
There are a lot of museums in Merida. If you love learning about history or are looking for a wet-weather activity, then visiting a museum is a great option. Here are some of our favorite museums in and around Merida:
MACAY – Contemporary Art Museum
Museo de Arte Popular de Yucatan – Casa Molina
Museo National de Antropologia – Palacio Cantón
In Museo Del Chocolate Yucateco, you can learn about the history of chocolate in the Yucatan Peninsula and its role in the Mayan culture. Near Uxan, you can also visit Choco-Story for a brief history (and some samples) of chocolate. Don’t miss it!
Not really a museum, but Parque Zoológico del Centenario (Merida’s Central Zoo) is also worth visiting with kids.
WATCH A PERFORMANCE IN ONE OF THE THEATERS
There are free events every day in Merida but if you fancy something a bit more special, then how about a trip to the theater? Be sure to dress up a bit! You can check out the schedule of free and paid performances in Merida here.
Merida Travel Tips: HOW TO GET AROUND IN MERIDA
Within the city of Merida you can walk or bike everywhere you need to go. The ADO bus station is located slightly to the south of the cultural center where most of the hostels are, and although it is a 20-minute walk in the heat – so long as you don’t have a huge backpack -, it is mostly fine to walk. Although in the heat no one would blame you for grabbing a cab!
Remember that taxi drivers love to add $5-$10 pesos to a tourist’s fair! Always fix the price before you get it. Then when they say the price, suck your breath in and say “¡oh, es caro!” (oh that’s expensive), then offer him $5 pesos less. Or just suck it up and pay, it’s really not a lot and you can just think of the extra as a tip.
For the rest of our time in Merida, we walked everywhere. There are tourist buses if you want to do a tour of Merida without spending hours walking around in the heat.
Another possible option is to rent a car for the week. This way you are free to explore Merida and the surrounding areas as you wish. We would 100% recommend this option if you are traveling as a family or a group in Merida with kids.
Driving in Mexico is very straightforward. Although watch out for the rental companies and their added charges, and if you plan on using your credit card insurance coverage, make sure to give them a quick call first as many don’t cover you for Mexico.
The Best Day Trips in the Yucatan Peninsula From Merida
Visit the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza
This had to be the top one, really. If you come to Merida and don’t visit one of the 7 New World Wonders you must be crazy! Visiting this UNESCO world heritage site is a must-day trip when you are in this part of Mexico.
The Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza are about an hour away from Merida, making it the perfect day trip.
You will want to get there before the hordes arrive from Cancun, so ideally before 10 am. It is a 2-hour journey from Merida to Chichen Itza. Your best options are the bus, taxi, or self-drive, or to avoid stress then take a guided tour. However you get to Chichen Itza, try and get in early one so you avoid the crowds.
When you get to Chichen Itza I’d strongly recommend hiring a tour guide to show you around as they will be able to give the kids all of the historic information about this World Wonder.
I have visited Chichen Itza several times now. And I can honestly say it’s worth hiring a tour guide. The first few times I missed half of the park and got non of the Mayan culture or historic information. If you are going to bring history to life for your kids, maybe as part of your World Schooling program, then you really need a qualified guide.
Chicken Itza often has interesting cultural events throughout the year and an evening light show (in Spanish). You can get all of the information here.
PAY A VISIT TO PROGRESO BEACH
Puerto Progreso is the nearest beach in Merida and is regarded as one of the best beaches in the Gulf of Mexico. The most convenient route from Merida to Progreso is on the auto-Progreso bus, which costs around $21 per person ($1,220 USD).
Related Article: 15 Merida Beaches in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Find the place to rent beach chairs and head to Progreso’s best club, Silcer Beach.
VISITING UXMAL AND KABAH
These ruins are just behind Chichen Itza on the importance scale. Both are UNESCO sites and both are 100% worth a visit. If you are self-driving, it’s pretty easy to find your way here. Otherwise, we would recommend taking a tour to Uxmal and Kabah. It is possible to do both on public transport but it can take a long time and be tricky if none of you speaks any Spanish.
VISITING MAYAN RUINS
If you want to visit a Mayan site that isn’t crowded, then opt for the Mayapan Ruins! Known as the last great Mayan capital of the Yucatan peninsula, Mayapan is a great day trip from Merida.
VISITING DZIBILCHALTUN RUINS
If you are on a family budget, then this is the day trip for you! You can very easily take a day trip here by colectivo. As well as the ruins, there is a cenote very close and it is one of the most beautiful cenotes in Mexico.
Your accommodation will be able to give you the most up-to-date information. But here is what we were told: go to Calle 62 between 65 and 67. There you can take a colectivo ‘auto Progreso. Just tell them Ruinas Dzibichaltum. Be warned, it will drop you off about 1k from the ruins so make sure you have some good walking shoes and sunblock ready!
The entrance fee is $152 pesos and the colectivo costs $11 pesos.
There are actually a lot of amazing cenotes near Merida that you really should check out if you have time.
Where To Eat In Merida
We are going to list a few restaurants you should definitely check out in Merida. We ate some amazing empanadas in some of them but the rest of the good food we ate was on the street. So our advice is: skip the restaurants and head for the streets!
Look out for the places with big queues and lots of locals around. Many places have plastic tables and chairs so you can sit while you eat. Not only will you get a real taste of Merida but you will also save a lot of money.
A normal meal will be between $70-$200 pesos depending on where you go. If you stick to street food in Merida then you are looking at $50, including a drink. We found plenty of veggie and vegan restaurants in Merida and there were even lots of veggie street food options.
If you prefer a restaurant though, here are our top 3 recommendations in order:
This was the place we ate the most amazing empanadas. The staff was really nice and helpful and the prices were very good. Plenty of veggie options and fresh juices, too.
This place is on most people’s list of restaurants to visit. While it was lovely and we enjoyed our meal there, it was expensive for what it was and the quality wasn’t great. Expect a beautiful venue, live music, and street food that will cost you 3 times as much as it would on the actual street. Although the pizzas looked AMAZING!
This is a great option if you are into healthy food and especially for veggies.
Family-Friendly Accommodations In Merida For All Budgets
Hotel Hacienda Mérida VIP
If you want some great Instagram shots, pick this hotel. Or if you just want to relax in a little luxury that doesn’t break the bank this is our top pick. The pool is to die for and it is in a great location, too.
The Diplomat Boutique Hotel
This is without thought the top pick for Merida if money is no object. They have everything you would expect from a top-end boutique hotel and more. They have almost perfect reviews online for a good reason.
Casa Lecanda Boutique Hotel
If you are traveling with older kids (18+), Casa Lecanda Boutique Hotel can be a great option as it is a top-end adults-only luxury hotel with amazing reviews, and the pictures online really don’t do it justice.
Our Final Thoughts On Merida
So that’s our quick and dirty guide to things to do in Merida Mexico with kids. If you think we have missed anything important, let us know! So if you can spend at least a week here, we promise you will not regret it.