Traveling to Merida, Mexico with kids? With its warm climate and equally warm people, colonial architecture, tons of free cultural events, and unforgettable Yucatecan cuisine, Merida is the perfect base to explore the peninsula. Here are the sights we most enjoyed in the historic downtown of Merida, Mexico, plus different ways to tour the city.
In 2013 I spent the summer based in Merida, Mexico with kids (4 kids ages 5-8) and we had a blast exploring not only the city, but the entire Yucatán! Hopefully you’ll be inspired to start planning your own amazing trip to tropical Merida, Mexico with kids!
1. City Tourist Office
Next to the cathedral, their bilingual helpers have current information on cultural events, bus schedules, maps; they can answer any question you need (or know how to find the answer) such as calling around for a good price for rental cars, and they even offer free walking tours of the city at 9:30am daily. Open 8-8 M-Sat, 8-2 on Sunday. Your kids won’t mind stopping by because it is air conditioned, has water to drink, and chairs to sit on.
2. La Plaza Principal
The main plaza in Merida, Mexico is known by many different names including La Plaza de Independencia, la Plaza de Armas, la Plaza Grande, Plaza Mayor, or most commonly, la Plaza Principal. During the hot summer days, people quickly cross the plaza on their way to work or class- but the plaza comes alive at night with kids running all over (see our video!). Note: many of the plazas in Mérida have free wifi, which is why you always see young adults on their devices.
Sundays are crowded with people, vendors, food, handicrafts: there is music, dancing, and a market of local souvenirs. Kids love the colorful stands of knick-knacks, can try some delicious snacks (mine love the corn on the cob- or cups of corn: esquites), and of course enjoy the folkloric dances. Sometimes they even have shows for kids.
3. Heladería El Colón
Heladería El Colón is an all-natural, fruit sorbet shop conveniently located on the main plaza: when looking at the cathedral, it will be on your left under the arched walkways. Try a new flavor: corn, coconut, mamey, mango, chocolate (so good!), limón, guanábana, and more. Champolas are their specialty, with a scoop of ice cream floating in milk. The perfect place to stop after walking around in the humidity, or during the quick afternoon rain- plus they have bathrooms in the back!
Originally the Mayan city of T’ho, Mérida was founded by Spaniard Francisco de Montejo in 1542 when the Spanish conquered the area and dismantled the existing pyramids right near where the historic center is now. As the Spanish arrived in the Yucatan, it was common to construct cathedrals in the area- often times deconstructing Mayan ruins and using the enormous stones (as was the case here).The stones of these pyramids were used to build the cathedral that sits in the main plaza today! The Rennaissance-style Catedral de San Ildefonso is the oldest cathedral in North America, with construction beginning in 1561 by hundreds of Mayan workers. My kids were impressed by the enormity of the structure, as well as the history of the building materials.
5. La Casa Montejo
The Montejo family- who founded Mérida- lived in this incredibly preserved mansion on the main plaza from 1500s, that was still in use until the 1970s. Parents will enjoy the Spanish colonial architecture, grandiose furniture and decor, and the interesting history given on the free tours. My kids liked the painted ceilings in the dining room (made to look like skylights!) and the ending mural with the building of the Casa de Montejo. Like all museums in Mexico, it is only open Tuesdays through Sundays. Also note: the ATM in the entrance is always open if you need cash!
6. The Governor’s Palace
Similar to most main plazas in Mexico and Latin America, the Governor’s Palace is right on the Plaza Principal, to your left when looking at the cathedral. This lovely colonial style building has a large courtyard and interior balconies. It’s free to wander around and admire the modern murals by Fernando Castro Pacheco. The plaques explain aspects of Yucatecan life, history, and the clash between the Spaniards and the Mayans. Don’t forget to look out the windows onto the plaza below! This is a great stop if you’re walking around and caught by one of Merida’s quick, afternoon downpours.
7. Paseo de Montejo
Paseo de Montejo (Calle 58 at Calle 45) is an elegant, tree-lined boulevard with modern sculptures and 19th century mansions that have been converted into restaurants, nightclubs, boutique hotels, shops, office buildings and museums. The wealthy henequén plantation owners built their mansions here and modeled it after the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
Take a tour of the Paseo de Montejo in a calesa (horse-drawn carriage). If you head to the street next to the cathedral and around the main plaza you can catch one for around $20 (250 pesos).
On Sundays they close the Paseo de Montejo to car traffic and open it to people on bikes.We had fun walking through the Sunday art market just south of Avenida Cupules.
8. Open Bus Tour
Besides the walking tour at the tourist office, or the horse-drawn carriage tours by the cathedral, you can also take a tour with the Carnavalito bus parked in Santa Lucía Park (see below). The your leaves at 10 am, 1 pm, 4 pm, or 7 pm and costs around $7 (90 pesos). Alternatively, the Turibus leaves the main plaza every couple of hours for a few bucks more. This double-decker red bus hits almost all of the same sites, but sitting up top assures you great views (and lots of sun, bring your sunscreen!).
9. El Parque de Santa Lucía
This plaza, located just 3 blocks north on Calle 60, is a wonderful walk from the bustling centro histórico. Every Thursday night, head here for the “Serenata Yucateca,” which has been running for 40+ years (some say with the same announcer!). The traditional Yucatecan costumes, dances, and music start at 9pm, just when the air is comfortable and the streets are packed with families. Arrive early if you’d like a seat!
Sunday mornings, there’s a flea market in the Parque Santa Lucia. It’s very small, but we found these lovely replicas of the Mérida picture street signs. There are lots of little treasures to browse, and then you can walk down to the main plaza and hit the bigger artesanía market.
10. La Chaya Maya and Ki’Xocolatl
On Calle 62 x 57, near the Santa Lucía Plaza, you can try the most typical dishes of the Yucatán, in a lovely setting at the Chaya Maya. Chaya is a special plant similar to spinach- you can see the plant in the restaurant, and taste the delicious chaya lemonade drink. With such a large group eating there a couple of times, we tried almost everything on the menu. My kids loved the cochinita pibil, the vaporcitos (like tamales), and the sopa de lima (see above!).
For dessert, head across the street back to the Plaza de Santa Lucía to Ki’Xocolatl: claimed to be “the best chocolate in the world,” who are we to disagree? They sell chocolate, cacao beans, plus soaps, lotions, and other items made of cacao butter. My kids favorite treats were the icy, chocolatey drinks we would sometimes buy as a reward for hiking up ruins all day in the heat and humidity. *Note: clean bathrooms for customers! 🙂 An extra excuse to buy chocolate!
I hope you enjoyed our tour and suggestions for visiting el Centro Histórico in Merida, Mexico with kids! Watch for more articles soon on Mayan ruins, museums, ecological tourism, beaches, and more.