The Yucatan was an important area for the ancient Maya, and the civilization has left its mark. As a result you can watch a demonstration of the Mayan ballgame every Friday in Merida’s main square.
The wealth of Merida was made thanks to the trade in henequen, an agave plant that can be turned into a fibre. To this day the lavish mansions built by wealthy families in the 19th-century can be seen on the avenues leading away from the main square.
Many of these old estates were once used to grow henequen, but these days they serve as tourist attractions. The whole area surrounding Merida is dotted with them, but there are some within half an hour drive of town. Hacienda Xcanatun is just on the outskirts of the city.
As part of a drive to encourage cycling, several of the main avenues in Merida are shut to cars from late Saturday night to late Sunday. Take out a rental bike and join in as residents enjoy their city, including the impressive Paseo Montejo with its old mansions.
These traditional little bars are ten-a-penny in Merida, and provide a great window into local life. In many places you’ll be given a small plate of snacks with each beer you order.
Spend an afternoon wandering the labyrinthine alleyways of the Lucas de Galvez market to get a flavour of local life. Sample some of the food and drink or stock up on souvenirs to take home.
A short drive away from Merida is Celestun, known for its population of flamingos. Book a tour and get out to watch them.
Another part of the Mayan legacy in the city is the food. Go for a meal at traditional eateries such as La Chaya Maya to sample the best of the local cuisine.
Merida has an impressive array of cultural institutions, including a number of art galleries and the Museum of the Mayan World. The latter is particularly impressive and makes for a must-see if you’ve got the slightest interest in Mayan history.