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Both the capital and the largest city of the province of Yucatán, Merida is a cultural and governmental hub in the Yucatán Peninsula. Constructed by the Spanish during the 16th century on the site of the ancient Mayan center of T'hó, the city represents one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the Americas, and reflects a mix of Maya, Mexican, and European influences. Colonial architecture, picturesque squares, vibrant markets, and access to some of the province's most incredible Maya ruins make Merida a destination with ample things to see and do.
Merida's streets are arranged on a grid system, making it an easy city to navigate and explore. Right at the center, the peaceful Plaza Grande reflects both the city's rich history and relaxed atmosphere. To the north, the market district and the Paseo de Montejo beckon with a wealth of opportunities for shopping and dining.
Lined with shady trees, benches, and Spanish colonial buildings, Plaza Grande is the place to begin exploring Merida. Alongside architectural treasures like the 16th-century Merida Cathedral—the oldest of its kind on the continent—and the plateresque-style Casa Montejo, sidewalk cafes and ice cream shops make this square a delightful place to spend an afternoon.
Modeled after the Champs-Élysées in Paris, the wide boulevard of Paseo de Montejo was constructed in the 19th century and lined with grand mansions for the city's elites. Some of them survive today, and the area is also home to posh hotels, restaurants, and trendy clubs.
The lively market district is where locals and tourists like come to shop in Merida. The largest market in the area, Lucas de Galzez, offers a feast for the senses, brimming with fresh produce, meat, flowers, spices, and locally made clothing and crafts.
From stunning architecture to fascinating museums, Merida contains an enchanting mix of historic and contemporary sights. In addition to its colonial-era cathedral and the Casa Montejo, the Plaza Grande features 19th-century government landmarks including the Governor's Palace and the Palacio Municipal. Next door to the Merida Cathedral is the Museo MACAY, an art museum featuring the works of contemporary Mexican artists. The contemporary Gran Museo del Mundo Maya pays tribute to the Yucatán's Mayan heritage. After browsing an impressive collection of ancient relics, as well as sections devoted to modern-day Maya culture, head north to the Dzibilchaltún to explore the Mayan ruins just outside the city. At the Museo MACAY, art enthusiasts can marvel at the works of Gabriel Ramirez Aznar, Fernando Castro Pacheco, and Fernando García Ponce.
Merida serves as a convenient starting point for day trips to the region's ancient Maya archaeological sites. Join a group tour of the UNESCO-listed ruins of Chichén Itzá, or let a private guide introduce you to the incredible ruins of Uxmal. In the modern-day cities of Izamal and Valladolid, remnants of the Maya civilization coexist with Spanish architecture, bearing witness to the area's pre-colonial and colonial history. If you're eager to immerse yourself in the natural splendor of the Yucatán, embark on a snorkeling tour that plunges you into mysterious underground cenotes, or visit the vibrant Caribbean flamingos at the ecological reserve in Celestun. Merida also offers opportunities to take a bite of its delicious culinary heritage—take a lesson in preparing classic Yucatán dishes with a local, or taste your way through the city's best street food.