In southeastern Mexico, tucked within the Yucatan Peninsula, the charming city of Merida is coming into its own. Historic colonial buildings and museums combine with inventive restaurants, trendy boutiques and green spaces – particularly Celestun, a wildlife sanctuary abounding in pink flamingos – plus a relaxed vibe that’s well-suited for families.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Merida works very well as part of a beach and cultural itinerary if combined with neighboring Progreso or Campeche.
With less than a million residents, Merida is small enough to explore at your own pace. Start at the zocalo, the main downtown square, where you’ll find the historic cathedral with horse carriages parked outside and pastel-hued government buildings. It’s worth popping into the Palacio de Gobierno, the government office building, for a bit of historical context. The second-floor hall features detailed murals and paintings by artist Fernando Castro Pacheco that highlight the state’s history, from Spanish conquest to the sisal plantations that helped Merida prosper in the 20th century.
Several archaeological sites and Mayan ruins tours – that pair with exquisite Mexican cooking classes – are accessible from Merida, including Chichen Itza, which is about 90 minutes away. It is recommended to visit the stepped pyramid complex en route from Tulum to Merida with a guide to lend some context. El Castillo, the name given to the main pyramid, is both imposing and breathtaking, with open-jawed serpent statues at the base of the stairways.
Excitingly enough, some of the best cenotes in Mexico are nestled along the Meridian landscape. One of the most famous and popular of these cenotes, Cenote Ik Kil, is a very deep, but open-top cylindrical cenote. It’s proximity to Chichen Itza, and it’s natural beauty, have made it a choice stop for the multitude of bus tours that visit the area. If you visit Chichen Itza with a cenote tour, chances are this is the one they will take you to. It’s been very well developed to handle the tourism safely, so is also good for families. It’s certainly worth a visit, and if you arrive before 11:00 AM you can beat the crowds.