A short distance — yet seemingly a world away — from the rowdy, touristy beach resorts of Cancún and *Cozumel that make up the *Yucatán of cliché. Mérida (map) is the cultural center of southern Mexico, boasting a panoply of excellent museums and attractions, a vibrant street life, and a wealth of historic colonial-era architecture (centered on the Plaza de la Independencia, map) that’s second only to Mexico City on the national scene.
Mérida has one of the largest centro histórico districts in the Americas (surpassed only by Mexico City and Havana, Cuba). Colonial homes line the city streets to this day, in various states of disrepair and renovation.
One of the oldest developments in the city, home to the well-known Parque de las Américas (map). The place is a meeting point for neighbors and for afternoon walks.
From Mérida, it is easy to take day trips to a vast array of destinations: archaeological sites, ecological parks, typical villages, caves, beaches, colonial missions and more. Take your time and really explore the Maya sites, walk for miles along the Gulf of Mexico, attend a village festival, photograph the wildlife.
A range of street food is available, especially at Mercado Lucas De Galvéz (map), the central food market. This is also a good place to shop for local specialties, including queso mennonito, an unpasteurized cheese made in the nearby Mennonite community.
Mérida Fest. Entire month of January. Sponsored by the city, this annual festival commemorates the founding of Spanish Mérida in January 1542. All arts are included, with many performers coming from across Mexico to participate. Most events are staged in open spaces and free to the public.
Carnaval de Mérida. Date varies, ending at the eve of Ash Wednesday; mid-February through early March. An annual event with a week of celebrations leading to up to Fat Tuesday. Mérida has one of the five most important carnavals in Mexico.