One of Merida’s greatest attributes is its centralized location in the Yucatan, which is why we listed “getting out” as #1 in our Top Things To Do in Merida Travel Guide. With so many adventures around the Yucatan, this hub city allows for countless opportunities to explore it. You’ll discover an abundance of beaches, Mayan ruins, cities, cenotes, and other attractions scattered throughout the land.
All of these day trips from Merida listed here are within a two-hour drive from Merida. There are enough worthwhile Merida day trips to fill an entire one or two-week Yucatan itinerary. Yet even with a few days basing yourself in Merida, you’ll be able to pack in many of these excursions.
In each of our recommendations, we’ve offered both suggestions for tours and DIY directions to independent travelers on how to get to these locations on your own using public transport or rental car. For the independent travelers, a rental car is essential for some of these Yucatan attractions, while other sites can be easily traveled to by public transportation.
Yet a tour from Merida can be a seamless (and often still very affordable) way to visit other attractions, so we’ve suggested specific day trips you can take from affiliates of ours that we’ve used ourself. Sit back and leave all of the logistics to the agency while you get scooped up directly from your hotel and have a guide to fill you with local knowledge along the way.
Best Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan
There are numerous Mayan ruin sites throughout the Yucatan peninsula. The recommendations below are what we think to be some of the best Mayan ruins in the Yucatan. It includes a mix of the most popular, in addition to a few less visited ruin sites that you’ll find off the beaten path.
1) See the Famous Chichen Itza Ruins Without the Crowds
Come and gawk at the enormous Castillo (Kuklakan) temple. Chichen Itza boasts several accolades such as being the largest Mayan archaeological site in the Yucatan, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
But with all of these superlatives, Chichen Itza is an extremely popular Yucatan Mayan ruin site and hence attracts quite the crowds and vendors. Don’t let this deter you from a visit though. Just arrive early, right when Chichen Itza opens, or even a bit before. There are no crowds in the early morning hours and most of those annoying hawkers haven’t even arrived yet.
It’s easy to be among the first few people into this impressive site and we find having an early start here truly makes it such a more pleasurable experience. No crowds, no annoying vendors, and without that harsh midday Yucatan heat. The tourist hoards get bused in daily from Cancun resorts and the Cozumel cruise port, which is a few hours away. They’ll start arriving in large numbers just before midday, so it’s easy to get from Merida to Chichen Itza before the hundreds of tour buses arrive from the Riviera Maya.
You can enter Chichen Itza as soon as 8:00 am year round, so we suggest planning to arrive around 7:45 if your itinerary allows. Or take the Chichen Itza Early Tour from Merida, which will get you there by 10:00 am and still before most Cancun buses.
How To Get from Merida to Chichen Itza:
While you can get from Merida to Chichen Itza using the following four ways, we recommend to either rent a car or take a day tour.
Self drive from Merida to Chichen Itza: It an easy and direct route using 180 to 180D. The nice highway 180D has tolls of $95 pesos, each way. Get off 180D at Piste, using exit 79, and follow the signs to Chichen Itza. Parking fees are an additional $30 pesos.
Merida to Chichen Itza Bus: Buses from Merida to Chichen Itza depart from both the CAME and Noreste terminals for the approximately 2-hour ride. Second-class buses start around $70 pesos each way, while the ADO bus from Merida to Chichen Itza is $150 each way. There are typically 3-4 ADO buses that depart Merida in the morning hours. (Check ado.com.mx for up-to-date schedule.) The problem with the ADO bus is that there is only one return bus from Chichen Itza to Merida each day that’s not until 5:30 pm in the afternoon, leaving you at the ruins for a long time. Therefor, we recommend considering the Your Way shuttle bus instead, which is only a few dollars more and gives you access to the Mayaland Resort and pool.
Taxi from Merida to Chichen Itza: Try to negotiate a $1,000 pesos round-trip fare for a taxi from Merida to Chichen Itza that includes a few hours waiting time at the ruins. Expect to cover tolls ($180 pesos) and parking fee ($30 pesos) in addition to the taxi fare. Once you factor in admission ($242-pesos) and lunch, you can expect the total cost to well exceed US$100 for a couple even if a good taxi fare is negotiated.
Chichen Itza Day Tours from Merida: Chichen Itza day trips from Merida can present good value, given the convenience and all that is included in the price. For example, the Chichen Itza Early Tour from Merida includes hotel pick-up, a full lunch, resort access at the ruins, and a professional guided tour of Chichen Itza. The 8:00 am pick-up will help you get to Chichen Itza before the influx of Cancun tour groups arrive.
These full tours can be a good option to get from Merida to Chichen Itza, not only for the convenience, but because you’ll also get an informative guide who will explain the many details about this impressive ancient site. Yet it’s all the extras that really add value, as some even detour to nearby cenotes before returning Merida. All tours mentioned here include access to Mayaland Resort, in which you can use their private entrance to Chichen Itza and (perhaps more importantly in the mid-afternoon heat) it includes free use of their pool! (Pack a bathing suit.)
See the table below to compare these popular tours from Merida to Chichen Itza. Be sure to click thru the links to confirm up-to-date info, availability, latest reviews, and pricing (sometimes they run deals, in which pricing is actually less than indicated here.)
|Tour||Your Way||Day Trip||Early Tour|
|Length||8 hrs||8 hrs||9 hrs|
|Mayaland Resort access||✅||✅||✅|
|Cenote visit||No||Cenote Ikkil||Xcajum (80p xtra)|
|Cost||$32 USD||$85 USD||$88 USD|
2) Roam Around the Uxmal Ruins
The Mayan ruins of Uxmal are the other major Mayan ruin site within easy reach of Merida. It’s our favorite ruin site to visit and we highly recommend. Go to Uxmal to learn all about the importance of Rain God Chaac to the Mayan inhabitants who once thrived here.
This ancient Mayan site, built between 700-1,000 AD, was once a massive city of 25,000 people living here in the dry jungle of the Yucatan. Today the well-preserved ruins give a glimpse into Mayan history, allowing visitors to immerse themselves throughout the intricate complex that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can actually climb atop and even inside some of the ruins, making for a fun experience and some incredible views! Gaze down and imagine what this impressive site must have been like when the Mayans ruled the land.
The Uxmal ruins are much less trafficked than Chichen Itza, yet are still moderately popular in the afternoons. Arriving early is a good idea to beat any crowds, but it’s really not as big of a concern compared to Chichen Itza. Mornings are still a good bet simply to beat the heat.
Nearby: While in the area, consider combining a trip to Uxmal with a visit to the nearby Kabah ruins and the excellent Choco-Story Museum. (Info on those sites follow in this guide.)
How to Get to from Merida to Uxmal:
Drive from Merida to Uxmal: Take 180 to 261 and it’s a straight shot from there on good roadways. Once outside of Merida, the 80-kilometer drive should take a little more than an hour each way. Consider driving through the town of Muna, not around it using the bypass. Muna has mirador (view point) and it’s worth stopping there for both the views and to take a look at Pedro’s artwork. Parking at Uxmal is $30-pesos.
Merida to Uxmal Bus: Buses depart from Merida’s Terminal de Segunda Clase (TAME) bus station for the ~1.5 hour journey. The fare is $65 pesos each way. The timetable at time of writing shows departures from Merida to Uxmal at 6:00, 9:00, 10:40, 12:00, 14:35, 17:00, and 18.05. There are five return buses from Uxmal to Merida that depart roughly every 2-3 hours. Plan your departure time for approximately a two-hour visit to Uxmal.
Day Tours from Merida to Uxmal:
Day tours to Uxmal can be a very convenient option, including hotel pick-ups, lunch, resort access to cool off in their pools, and to get all the knowledge that a guide can fill you in about the fascinating site. The tours can also be a good bet adding in stops to nearby Kabah and/or the Choc-Story museum. Below is a comparison chart of some of the most popular Uxmal tours from Merida. Be sure to click through the links to confirm up-to-date details, see the latest reviews, and verify pricing (which may be even less than indicated, as they sometimes run deals.)
|Tour||On Your Own||Uxmal, Kabah, & Choco||Uxmal & Kabah|
|Length||10 hours||9 hours||8 hours|
|Uxmal admission||$304-pesos extra||✅||✅|
|Resort w/ pool access||✅ Lodge at Uxmal||✅ Hacienda Uxmal||❌|
|Choco-Story Museum||Yes +$70-pesos||Included||No|
|Cost||$32 USD||$76 USD||$87 USD|
3) Appreciate Having the Under-Rated Mayapan Ruins All to Yourself
About 25 miles outside of Merida are the majestic Mayapan ruins. They are perhaps one of the most under-rated ruins throughout the area (in our humble opinion). The site is not as large or popular as Uxmal or Chichen Itza, but that’s part of Mayapan’s beauty. You will be able to enjoy the ruins all to yourself. Take in its tranquility. Be sure to climb all the way to the top of Temple of Kukulcan and get some postcard worthy photos.
At a mere $35 pesos entrance fee, a visit to these ruins is of incredible value. And after frenzied experiences at other popular ruin sites, you’ll be treated to a quiet and serene experience at Mayapan. For all of these reasons, we put the Mayapan ruins firmly amidst the best day trips from Merida. And it’s among the closest Mayan ruins sites to Merida too!
How to get from Merida to Mayapan Ruins:
Self-drive from Merida to Mayapan Ruins: Take state road Mexico 184, south. You’ll see clearly marked signs for Mayapan, just a bit past the town of Telchaquillo. It’s about a 45-minute drive from Merida. Consider stopping at the town of Acanceh, which is on the way. (There’s more about Acanceh later in this blog post.)
Bus from Merida to Mayapan Ruins: Use the Noreste bus terminal, located here at Calle 67 and Calle 50. Buy a ticket on the Telchaquillo bus, which will get you close to the Mayapan ruins. Be sure not to confuse the ruins of Mayapán (“ruinas de Mayapán” or “zona archeologica de Mayapán”) with the village of Mayapán, which is a completely different place that shares the same name. The bus cost is $25 pesos each-way and departures and returns run about every hour. As this is a 2nd class bus, it makes many stops and will take about 1.5 hours to get to the ruins. It’s better approached by rental car or tour.
Day Tour from Merida to Mayapan Ruin: Although we think a visit to Mayapan is very worthwhile, it is not a common or popular tour in Merida, so you may have trouble finding an operator who offers it. This new (2018) Mayapan tour on Viator is an affordable option that also includes a visit to the Mayan town of Acanceh and a nearby cenote.
Or there’s also this Hidden Treasures Tour that includes a visit to Mayapan, yet further includes lunch, a visit to the most notable convent in the area, and even a tour of the Loltun cave system for a full-on day of exploration!
4) Cruise Over the Hills of the Ruta Puuc
This is a great drive for anyone wanting to explore some of the Yucatan’s less visited ruins. Coast across the hilly and forested terrain and you’ll pass by three separate Mayan ruin sites. This includes Sayil, Xlapak, and Labna.
Each site has its own unique features and feel. Labna has its impressive and elaborate arch that is not to be missed. The Xlapak palace may be smaller than neighboring sites, but has a wild feel to unrestored mounds that remain. Meanwhile Sayil offers still sports a rugged atmosphere with an impressive palace, among other structures.
Each of the three complexes have short trails connecting different structures to one another. While nearby Uxmal and Kabah are largely exposed to the sun, the jungle canopy of trees offers a welcomed reprieve and truly provides a sense of exploration. It’s that sense of discover of these more wild ruins and the lack of anyone else here, that makes the Ruta Puuc such a worthwhile day trip from Merida to take.
Nearby: It’s worthwhile to consider combining a trip on the Ruta Puuc with other nearby attractions in the area such as the Kabah ruins, Grutas de Loltun (caves), Uxmal, and/or the Choco-Story Museum.
Getting from Merida to the Ruta Puuc:
We believe that the Ruta Puuc is best experienced by car. Yet there are some limited bus and tour options for those who may be uncomfortable driving.
Drive from Merida to the Ruta Puuc: We suggest beginning on the east side, starting with Labna and working west. From Merida to Ruta Puuc, take 184 towards Oxkutzcab. From there’s its another 15-minute drive up 31 to the Ruta Puuc turnoff, which is clearly signposted. Continue on the Ruta Puuc to Labna, Xlapak, then, Sayil. Consider further continuing to Kabah and Uxmal to culminate a full day of Mayan ruin exploration.
Ruta Puuc Bus from Merida: Oriente Bus operates on Sundays only, departing at 8am and stops at all three sites on the Ruta Puuc for 30-minutes each. The bus continues on to Kabah (40-minutes) and Uxmal (2-hours). The price is $280 pesos per person, plus ruin site admission fees at your own expense ($469 pesos). This totals $749 pesos for the Sunday outing and returns to Merida around 5:00pm. The bus departs from the Terminal de Segunda Clase (TAME station) on calle 69 between 68 and 70.
Ruta Puuc Adventure Tour from Merida: There is a more formal tour to the Ruta Puuc and Loltun Caves that runs every day of the week and includes transportation, guide, all entrance fees, and lunch for $65 USD. This makes for a nice full day of adventure to all the Puuc Route ruin sites and the rugged cave.
5) Take a Quick Jaunt to the Dzibilchaltun Ruins
The Dzibilchaltun Ruins may not be as large or impressive as Uxmal or Chichen Itza. But it is the closest ruin complex to Merida and includes a artifact-filled museum and an onsite exposed cenote that you can swim in. Another appeal of Dzibilchaltun is that you are permitted to climb on some of the temples here. On a clear day, you can even see the skyline of Merida off in the distance. If you happen to be in the Yucatan during an equinox (around March 21 or September 23), it is highly advisable to visit the Dzibilchaltun Ruins at sunrise to witness the Templo de las Siete Munecas light up, making the doors of the temple glow since they are perfectly aligned with the sun.
If visiting on a hot day (which is just about every day), be sure to bring your bathing suit to take a swim in the refreshing water of Cenote Xlakah.
Getting to the Dzibilchaltun Ruins from Merida:
Driving from Dzibilchaltun: take the Merida/Progreso highway north about 6 kilometers after leaving the outskirts of Merida. Make a right at the signs to Dzibilchaltun, go 4-kilometers before your next right into the ruins. It’s 20 pesos for parking at Dzibilchaltun.
Colectivos from Merida to Dzibilchaltun: Colectivos are frequent and depart from San Juan Calle 69 between 62 and 64. Cost is $11 pesos for the 30 minute trip to the nearby town of Dzibilchaltun Ruinas. Then walk (or take a mototaxi) the remaining one kilometer to the ruins.
Taxis/Uber from Merida to Dzibilchaltun: An Uber estimate is about $200 pesos, each way, although you may have to negotiate with your Uber driver to wait there for the return trip since it is a bit far of a pick-up spot. Taxis have been known to do to do the round-trip from Merida to Dzibilchaltun for $250-$300 pesos including an hour or so of waiting time.
Merida to Dzibilchaltun – By Bike: This cycling trip to Dzibilchaltun is an awesome way to get to the ruins for those who are active!
Tour to Dzibilchaltun: Given how close Dzibilchaltun is to Merida, a tour isn’t really necessary since it can be easily reached by public transportation or taxi at a reasonable cost. But this tour combines Dzibilchaltun & Progreso Beach to make a fuller day trip for those who may prefer a tour. (More about Progreso below.)
Yucatan Beaches Near Merida, Mexico
The beaches around Merida may not have as bright of blue waters or as white sands as in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. But they’re still very nice beaches and you’ll be able to enjoy a much more local beach experience rather than one packed full of tourist crowds or spring breakers. Additionally, you’ll pay a fraction of the cost at restaurants and hotels on these Gulf Coast beaches, compared with the Yucatan peninsula’s eastern shores.
6) Relax on the Beaches of Progreso, Mexico
A short 27 miles from Merida, is the tranquil beach town of Progreso. This is the best Yucatan day trip for anyone who just wants to relax. Go here to escape the city heat and to have some fun in the sun. In Progreso you can take a dip in the warm Gulf of Mexico waters while marveling at the longest pier in the world.
Take a stroll down Progreso’s mile-long malecon lining the shorefront to work up an appetite. When it’s time for lunch, find one of the many seaside restaurants to devour some fresh local seafood. Or pull up a plastic chair at one of the abundant palapa restaurants on the beach to kick back a few cervezas while you bury your toes in the sand.
Tip to beat the crowds: Progreso is a port for Carnival Cruise ships but cruises tend to only come 1-3 days each week. Plan your visit to Progreso when a Carnival cruise is not in port to avoid a large influx of visitors, higher prices at some restaurants, and an abundance of people searching for shore excursions in Progreso. So check the Progreso cruise ship schedule to see which days a ship may be in port during the time you’re visiting. Avoid those days if possible.
Also, Progreso gets packed with Merida residents over the weekends, particularly so during summer. Consider a weekday visit if you want a more tranquil beach experience. Yet we find that the local weekend crowds gives Progreso a fun & festive atmosphere. Fiesta!
How to Get from Merida to Progreso Mexico:
Self-Drive from Merida to Progreso Mexico: If you have a car, it’s an easy straight shot up highway 261. Once you’re out of the city, it’s about a 20-minute drive to the beach. But plan for at least 45 minutes if you’re departing from Merida centro.
Bus from Merida to Progreso Mexico:
A bus from Merida to Progreso, operated by AutoProgreso, runs every 10 minutes between 5:15 am to 10pm. The price is $18 pesos one-way or $33 pesos round-trip. You can catch the bus to Progreso from the Merida terminal on calle 62 between 65 and 67.
Private Transport or Tour from Merida to Progreso: A day tour to Progreso really isn’t necessary. The AutoProgreso buses running every 10 minutes make Progreso easy and inexpensive to get to from Merida. But for those who are more comfortable with having a guide, consider this Dzibilchaltun Ruins & Progreso Beach tour ($55).
7) See Flocks of Flamingos at Celestun
Celestun is a sleepy fishing town on the western side of the Yucatan peninsula. The beaches are decent and you’ll likely have them all to yourself. But the real draw to Celestun is a boat trip through the Reserva de la Biosfera Ría Celestun to see the thousands of wild flamingos that flock here.
If you poke around the swampland nearby, you may be lucky to spot a few of the pink birds. But if you really want to see thousands of flamingos flocking and squawking, you’ll want to take the two-hour boat tour around the Celestun River Biosphere Reserve. This is a top recommendation for any nature lovers visiting the Yucatan! (See what our boat tour of Celestun was like.)
If you arrive to the docks on your own, the 2-hour boat tour will cost $1,500 pesos but you can split that cost with up to 6 other people since the boats fit 7 people total. You’ll have a chance of paying as little as $215 pesos per person if there happens to be the perfect amount of other people to join you on the boat. But this is not a hugely popular tour. So there is a realistic possibility that you may arrive to the boat docks and find no one else there to split the costs. That’s exactly what happened to us during our first visit.
Tip: It is said that the flamingos are most active in the morning, so you may opt to drive to Celestun the evening before and stay overnight in order to be there to catch an early boat in the morning.
Getting from Merida to Celestun:
Self-drive from Merida to Celestun: From Merida it’s about a 90-minute car ride westbound on Highway 281. The docks for the boat tour are well sign-posted about 1.5 km before you reach Celestun’s beaches.
Bus from Merida to Celestun: Celestun can be reached by public bus from the Noreste bus station on Calle 50 at 67. The bus departs hourly from 5:00 am to 8:00 pm. The cost is $47 pesos each way. If visiting only for the boat tour at the Reserva de la Biosfera Ría Celestun, ask the bus driver if he can drop you off there. Otherwise you’ll be dropped off near the beach and will need to backtrack by walking (or take a taxi) 1.5 km to the Reserve.
Celestun Day Tour from Merida: There are many tours you can book that will pick you up directly from your hotel, include an English speaking guide, take you to the beach, and of course the boat ride through the Celestun River Biosphere Reserve to see the flamingos. We have always recommended this Viator Tour to Celestun ($69 USD) given its consistent track record of great reviews. But we’d be remiss not to point out this new less expensive tour of Celestun ($47 USD) that includes all of the same things and throws in dinner too!
For more bang for your buck and a long day of sightseeing, consider taking this combo tour that includes an early morning trip to Chichen Itza and then a sunset cruise of the Celestun Reserve ($69 USD).
Caving and Cenotes Around the Yucatan
A quintessential and very unique experience in the Yucatan is visiting one of the many cenotes throughout the peninsula. Taking a dip in these natural underground swimming holes can be an otherworldly and refreshing experience. There are dozens of cenotes within close proximity to Merida. So what are the best cenotes in the Yucatan? That’s a matter of opinion and can be subject of fierce debate among Yucatan visitors. We’ve listed our favorite below. Get underground!
8) Get Underground at the Cuzama Cenotes
If you were to only visit one set of cenotes, our recommendation is to go to the Cuzama cenotes. The cenotes are impressive but half the fun of visiting the Cuzama cenotes is the process of getting there on a mining cart that’s pulled by a horse! It’s an exhilarating and bumpy experience. During our last visit there were three different cenotes to visit, each with unique characteristics. We’ve heard that now only two of the three cenotes are visited (unconfirmed).
The price to visit the three (or two) cenotes including the rattling horse-cart ride is $300 pesos per mining cart, which fits up to four people.
Don’t just admire the cenotes though. To really experience them in full, you’ll need to jump on in. Bring a mask and snorkel to be able to see the beautiful dark blue abyss below along with interesting rock formations. (Here’s our full blog post from our visit to the Cuzama cenotes.)
How to Get from Merida to Cuzama Cenotes:
Self-Driving from Merida to Cuzama Cenotes: Take Highway 184 to YUC 10 toward Cuzama. Once arriving to the center of town make a right on the road to Chunkanán. Approximately another 2 miles past town and you’ll arrive at an old hacienda, where you’ll find people ready to take you on the horse cart to the Cuzama cenotes. Just be sure you go all the way to the old hacienda. When we went, there were people with signs for the cenotes flagging us down and trying to stop us before the hacienda. We were warned about them and told not to stop, so instead proceeded all the way to the old rundown hacienda. Be sure to ignore the flaggers too, if they’re still there.
Bus from Merida to Cuzama Cenotes: Buses leave the Noreste terminal located on calle 67 and 50 Merida downtown and takes you from Merida to the town of Cuzama. It’s another three kilometers further to the Cuzama cenotes. The bus to Cuzama town costs 18 pesos each way, takes and 1.5 hours, and departs at: 7:45, 9:15, 10:45, 12:30 and 14:30, as noted from the timetable in January 2016.
Colectivo from Merida to Cuzama Cenotes: The colectivo station is located opposite the same Noreste bus station on calle 67. Price is $24 pesos per person, each way. There’s no timetable and they leave whenever full.
When taking a bus or colectivo, you will be dropped in the center of Cuzama and will need to take a motor taxi the remainder of the way to the entrance of the cenotes. So plan on another $25 pesos per person for the motor taxi.
Taxi from Merida to Cuzama Cenotes: From the taxi stand at Santa Ana in Merida, expect to pay $900 pesos round trip to Cuzama but it may require some negotiating.
Day Tour of Cuzama Cenotes: You can book this adventure tour to the Cuzama cenotes ($55 USD) that includes hotel pick-up, guide, the horse ride, all entrances, and lunch too.
Search for Other Cenotes around Merida
There are dozens of cenotes all around the Yucatan. There must be over a hundred of them, if not a thousand! Some are located on private property. There’s also a handful of hidden gems not written about anywhere. We stumbled across one of these secret cenotes near the small town of Tekit. There are no signs and no entrance fees. Just a drive down a dirt road, park, and you’ll have a private oasis completely to yourself. Go on an adventure and discover your own off-the-beaten path cenotes while in the Yucatan. Visiting a centote is one of the best day trips you can take from Merida.
To attempt writing about each of the best cenotes in the Yucatan would demand another article entirely. Instead we’ll round-up some of our favorites and most popular cenotes throughout this region.
- Cenote X’keken and Samula (Dzitznup): Visit these cenotes near Valladolid. (See the Valladolid section that follows for more info).
- Cenote Zaci: Visit this cenote in Valladolid. (See the Valladolid section for more info).
- Cenote Azul: between Valladolid and Chichen Itza
- Xlacah: Located at Dzibichaltun (see Dzibichaltun section of this guide for more info)
- Cenote Kankirixche: Located about a 50 minute drive south of Merida.
- Ik-Kil: Visit this scenic and popular cenote near Chichen Itza.
- Secret cenote: We can’t tell you. It’s a secret! 😉
How to Get to these Cenotes from Merida
Obviously each cenote is located in a different area, yet almost all are best reached by car. Cenote Zaci is within Valladolid and hence can easily be walked to. Similarly, the Dzitznup cenotes are a short cycle or cab ride from Valladolid. Most others will require your own wheels to get to.
9) Go Caving in Grutas de Calcehtok or Grutas de Loltun
If you’re ready for adventure, some of the Yucatan’s largest caves are just a short drive away from Merida!
Grutas de Calcehtok is the largest dry-cave system in the Yucatan. This is the last non-government owned cave in the region, and therefore there is no electric lights installed in the cave. Guests are required to us flighlights, adding to the adventure. The tours provided at the cave are run by a family-owned business (descendants of the man that rediscovered the cave in 1840). A one-hour tour for four people is $200 pesos. Come to Grutas de Calcehtok 9:30am to 3:30pm Monday to Friday, and 8am-5pm on the weekends.
Self-Drive (best method) from Merida to Grutas de Calcehtok: 75 Km Southwest of Merida off highway 184, just past the town of Calcehtok.
Grutas de Loltun is another dry-cave system in the Yucatan. The cave is most known for the amount of ancient Mayan artifacts that have been discovered in the cave, as well as murals by the ancient people. The cave can only be entered via a tour that departs at 9:30am, 11am, 12:30pm, 2pm, 3pm, and 4pm. The tours (one hour and 20 minutes) are usually in Spanish, but can be in English if that is the majority of the language of the people in the tour group.
The Grutas de Loltun are often visited as part of the Ruta Puuc, as they are located near the end of the route. Entrance price to Grutas de Loltun is $105 peso per person and parking is an extra $22 pesos per car.
Getting from Merida to Grutas de Loltun:
Self-drive from Merida to Grutas de Lotun: Follow directions to the Ruta Puuc. Continue down the Ruta Puuc 15 km east of Labna and you’ll clearly see signage and parking for Grutas de Loltun. For a more direct route, access from Oxkitzcab, taking 261 to Muna, then 184 to Oxkitzcab, to make a right on 31 to Grutas de Lotun.
Bus from Merida to Grutas de Loltun: The bus departs from the Noreste Terminal in Merida to the nearby city of Oxkutzcab (8:30 am). The price is $38 pesos for the 1.5 hour trip. Once at Oxkutzcab, you have to take a taxi the remainder of the 7Km to Loltun ($120 pesos).
Grutas de Loltun Day Tour from Merida: This tour visits the Loltun Caves and the Ruta Puuc ruins all in one day. The $65 USD price includes lunch, all entrance fees, and guide.
Historic Cities, Towns, and Villages near Merida
Throuhgout the Yucatan you’ll find a number of interesting towns to poke around. These are big cities like the impressive Campeche to smaller hidden gems not listed in the guidebooks, such as Acanceh. Whether big or small, they all seem to be very friendly and worthy of exploring. Visit the recommendations listed below and find out which cities clique with you.
10) Discovering the UNESCO listed Walled City of Campeche
Campeche is a stunning seaside city with colorful architecture and fascinating history. The historic city is a designated UNESCO heritage site, only about a two hour drive from Merida. The historic center of Campeche is surrounded by a two-mile wall that was built in the 1600’s to protect the city from invading pirates. Today, portions on the top of the walls are used by visitors to admire the beautiful view of the city.
Explore the colorful buildings throughout the walled city and pop inside some of the fort’s bastions which have now been turned into museums and gardens. Climb atop the city’s walls for a birds-eye view of have a leisurely stroll along Campeche’s malecon. There is plenty to do in town. Here’s our top 5 Things to do in Campeche. You may even want to make it more than a day trip from Merida, and stay for a night or two.
Getting From Merida to Campeche:
Drive from Merida to Campeche: It’s an easy 2-hour drive on the well-trodden Highway 180.
Bus from Merida to Campeche: There are frequent buses from Merida to Campeche. The duration is 2.5 to 3 hours and $122 pesos for one-way or $180 pesos for round-trip. Check ADO for up-to-date pricing and schedule.
Day Tour from Merida to Campeche: This day trip to Campeche ($66 USD) includes round-trip transportation, guide, admission fees, lunch, and a visit to the nearby Becal town along the way.
11) Explore Izamal: The Yellow City
A short drive east of Merida is the picturesque city of Izamal. Known as the “Yellow City,” Izamal is a lovely place to spend hours strolling the streets and finding the ancient Mayan ruins which are interspersed all throughout town. Izamal may be one of the best day trips from Merida for photographers. You’ll love snapping photos of all the unique and bright yellow architecture.
The most notable building in Izamal is the monastery: Convento de San Antonio de Padua (free, $5 pesos to enter the museum 10am-1pm and 3pm-6pm Monday to Saturday, 9am-5pm on Sundays). Spaniards came here in the 14th century and destroyed a Mayan temple that was once on this site. They then used the stones of the temple to build the monastery! If you look, you’re still able to see carving designs from the former Mayan temple within the church stones.
Also be sure to visit the Mayan pyramid of Kinich-Kakmo. It’s free (8am-5pm) and well worth trekking up the steep steps for the best panoramic view of Izamal!
A good way to see all of Izamal is from a horse-drawn carriage. $200 pesos will get you an hour tour of the yellow city.
Getting from Merida to Izama:
Bus from Merida to Izamal: There are frequent buses from the Noreste Terminal for the 1.5 hour journey to Izama. Price is $23 pesos one-way.
Driving from Merida to Izamal: It’s about an hour drive Eastbound on 180. Exit at YUC 11, where you’ll see signs to Izamal. There’s plenty of free street parking around the monastery.
Tours from Merida to Izamal:
There’s a day tour to Izamal ($56 USD, GetYourGuide) that includes hotel pick-up, horse drawn carriage tour, guide, and lunch. Or on Fridays only, go to Izamal in the afternoon and stay for the Light and Sound show that begins after nightfall during the Izamal City Tour with Sound & Light Show.
12) Find the Colonial Charm and Cenotes around Valladolid
The quaint colonial town of Valladolid offers a backdrop of beautiful historic buildings, plazas, and even a cenote right in the middle of town, Cenote Zaci. We were very impressed with Valladolid and the other nearby cenotes when we first visited the town a few years ago. Relax in Valladolid’s pleasant square and admire the Church of San Bernardino. Drop into one of the town’s many restaurants to sample the local cuisine.
Combine a day trip to Valladolid with a visit to Cenote Xkeken and Cenote Samula, which is located just a few kilometers outside of town. You can cycle to these cenotes from Valladolid. Otherwise it’s a short and easy drive.
Getting from Merida to Valladolid:
Drive from Merida to Valladolid: It’s about an hour and a half drive from Merida to Valladolid using 180 and 180D. Bring change for 180D, as it’s a toll road.
Merida to Valladolid Bus: There are frequent ADO buses departing from the CAME bus terminal. It’s $100-$200 pesos for one-way to for the 2.5-3.5 hour bus from Merida to Valladolid. Check the ADO website for up-to-date timetables and pricing.
13) Acanceh: A Mayan Temple within a Small Town
Acanceh is a small village located just 19 miles outside of Merida. The highlight of Acanceh is the ancient Mayan temple that’s integrated right within the town. You’ll also find a cathedral at the town square right across from the archeological site.
Acanceh reminded us of a bit of a smaller, less traversed version of Izamal. It’s most certainly a worthwhile stop while in route to Cuzama, Mayapan, or other regional highlights. Yet it may not warrant a trip solely to visit this town on its own. We recommend stopping at Acanceh on your way to another Yucatan location. Plan to spend about 30 minutes or so exploring the little town, visiting the cathedral, and admiring the temple where you can often find a local to provide a brief tour for a few pesos.
Getting from Merida to Acanceh:
Driving from Merida to Acanceh: Take highway 180 and turn left on 184. After about 15 minutes, make a left on 10 to drive the remaining 7 miles into Acanceh.
Bus from Merida to Acanceh: Buses depart from the Noreste Station located on Calle 67 between 50 and 52. The price is $20 pesos one-way and $34 pesos round-trip. Timetable at time of writing shows departures from Merida at 5:30am, 6:30am, 7:30am, 9:30am, 11:00am, 13:00, 14:00, 14:45, 17:30, 18:30, and 20:00.
Day Tour to Acanceh: As this is not a major attraction on its own, there are no known scheduled tours to Acanceh. However, tours to Cuzama and Mayapan will likely pass through town. So if the tour operator is flexible or if you book a private tour, you may be able to ask the driver to stop for a few minutes to poke around town.
Museums & Cultural Attractions
Many of the best museums and cultural attractions in the Yucatan are located directly in Merida. See our Top Things to Do in Merida for several recommendations right within the city. Yet further a field, in addition to the museums and culture experienced at the ruin sites, we recommend a visit to the Choco-Story Museum near Uxmal and also checking out a hacienda.
14) Go Cukoo for Cocoa at the Choco-Story Museum
The Choco-Story museum is so much more than a museum about chocolate. What seems like a total tourist trap, located right across from Uxmal, is actually an extremely well-done museum that goes far beyond the story of chocolate. Mayans are credited with the discovery cocoa after all, so the museum does examine its origins here.
But Choco-Story ultimately delves deep into the Mayan civilization and culture, which we found to be more in-depth and informative than the onsite museum at neighboring Uxmal, or any of the other ruin sites for that matter.
Choco-Story has a unique layout too, as this interactive museum is actually part eco-park, as it takes you into the Yucatan jungle. The museum is sprawled out across a number of open-air huts connected by trails to access. Choco-Story also operates as an animal rescue center, where they are caring for and rehabilitating jungle life such as jaguars that were discovered injured and illegally captured, hence cannot go back into the wild. So you’ll have an opportunity to see these native species. And halfway across the trails, don’t be surprised to find yourself ushered into a private Mayan ceremony. Cool experience!
But a highlight, of course, is tasting the fresh hot chocolate drinks made from an ancestral recipe. There’s additional chocolate to taste in the form of bars, when exiting through the gift shop.
Located next to Uxmal it’s an easy add-on during a day trip to the ruins. And c’mon… it’s chocolate – yum!
Admission to the Choco-Story Museum Uxmal is $70 pesos for adults
Getting to the Choco-Museum Uxmal from Merida:
By Bus or Car: Follow directions provided to Uxmal.
Tour of Choco-Museum from Merida: This tour of Uxmal also includes a visit to the Choco-Story Museum in addition to the Kabah ruins, a full lunch, and and the use of a resort pool to cool off.
15) Step Back in Time at a Hacienda
A quintessential Yucatan experience is visiting an old hacienda, making for one of the best day trips from Merida. Sotuta de Peón is the most popular in the region. Here you can learn how a traditional hacienda operated back in the 1800’s! This hacienda has been immaculately restored to its former glory. Back in the heyday, this hacienda harvested mass quantities of fibers of the henequen plant, which was (and still is) planted throughout the property.
Sotuta De Peon claims to be one of the only (if not THE only) hacienda that still has the ability to process the henequen. The fibers from the plants are ultimately used to make various products such as rope, rugs, and handbags.
A tour of Sotuta De Peon also includes a cart ride pulled by mules and a visit to the cenotes on property, the Dzul-Ha Underground River. Consider coming for lunch.
If driving there on your own, a tour of the hacienda is $500 pesos. For an all inclusive trip to Sotutua de Peon that includes transportation from Merida, the hacienda tour, and lunch is $970 pesos.
There are two tours each day, at 10:00 am and 1:00 pm. Transportation from leaves Merida between 8:30-9:00 for the first tour while transport departs between 11:30-12:00 for the latter tour.
Getting from Merida to Sotuta de Peon:
Driving from Merida to Sotuta de Peon: The drive from Merida takes about a half hour. This map shows directions.
Day tour to Sotuta de Peón: Tour depart from Merida hotels and other locations throughout the city. Visit their website for exact times and locations, or to make a reservation. Price for tour, lunch, and transport is $970 pesos.
Getting Around the Yucatan:
Rental Cars, Tours, and Publics Transport
How you move around the Yucatan is entirely dependent on your comfort level, the destinations you’re trying to reach, your budget, and personal preferences.
Using Public Transportation in Merida
For those comfortable with independent travel, public transportation can be a good consideration to get around Yucatan’s more connected destinations. Frequent buses make day trips to places like Progreso an easy journey. Yet when some of the more far-flung destinations, traveling by bus can be inefficient and difficult. It’s always cheap though!
When using buses, be careful to note the departing terminal, as there are a few throughout Merida. There’s the ADO bus terminal, Segunda Clase (TAME), Noreste, and the AutoProgreso bus terminal to Progreso. Understand which one you need to get to your location. And be sure to know return times for less frequent routes.
Where To Get a Cheap Rental Car in Merida
Rental cars in Merida can be very inexpensive if you book in advance. Renting a car can make for a good way to get around the region on your own terms.
We’re often asked if it’s safe to drive around the Yucatan roads. That’s not easy to answer across the spectrum. Instead we can offer our opinion, for ourselves. We feel comfortable behind the wheel in Merida and the Yucatan, but that’s a personal choice that each traveler has to make on their own. We find the Yucatan highways to be in very good condition, but in rural Yucatan you will encounter hazards such as livestock, potholes, and steep topes (speed bumps), among other obstacles. Other considerations are Merida traffic, Spanish road signs, rental insurance, and navigating through unfamiliar areas. Yet if you’re comfortable driving internationally, rental cars can be a great option.
For good deals on rental cars, we like to use the Priceline Rental Car Search, as we’ve used it to find rental cars in Merida at major agencies for as low as $5-USD per day and less! Most of the main rental rental car agencies (Budget, National, Alamo, etc.) have locations in Merida and they’re all listed on Priceline (often at lower prices than booking direct).
When reserving a car using Priceline (or any site), be sure to note whether the car you’re reserving is manual or automatic. The transmission is always listed, but sometimes it doesn’t stand out. So if you can’t drive manual, be careful to look for an automatic so you don’t show up to the rental agency and get stuck with a stick shift.
Also, pay attention to the location you’re reserving a car. If you’re staying in Merida Centro, we recommend booking at one of the agencies on Calle 60 in between 55 & 57. National, Enterprise, Payless, and others are located there. Meanwhile the Plaza Americana area can also be convenient, and has rental car agencies such as Hertz, Budget, Alamo and more. Be careful not to rent a car from the Merida airport, unless you want to pick it up when flying in, of course.
If you don’t book in advance, usually the best prices we’ve found for a rental car on day-of tends to run around $500-$700 MXN ($25+ USD). For this day-of price, we’ve booked with an agency called EasyWay on Calle 60 and never had any problems. But you’ll likely save more by booking with one of the main agencies in advance.
Using Day Tours to Get Around the Yucatan
Jumping on a tour can be another great way to see some of the main sights of the Yucatan. Many of the tours from Merida are very competitively priced, offering full days of adventure for what can be minimal cost. It’s a seamless and easy way to comfortably be whisked around the main sights. But perhaps the best benefits of taking a day tour are some of the great guides who can fill you in with local knowledge, which you can’t get by traveling independently.
So, where to book a day tour? There are agencies scattered throughout Merida that you can book day tours with once you’ve arrived in Merida. Often this can be the least expensive option for a tour, but it can come at the expense of taking the time to visit different agencies, discussing tours (sometimes in Spanish), and tours may even become booked full during busy times.
Instead, we recommend booking ahead. We love using Viator to book tours in Merida, because they offer a wide variety of tours from Merida, have 24-hour phone support in English, generous cancelation policies (usually free if canceled 7+ days), and have easy online booking (no emails or phone calls necessary). Viator also lists verified traveler reviews, so you can easily vet out the good tours from the no-so-good. They also have a low-price guarantee so you know you paid the cheapest rate. If you find a lower price once you arrive in Merida, Viator refunds the difference.
Yet, you may have noticed that we also listed day tours from GetYourGuide throughout this post. GetYourGuide is another good trusted website to find day trips in Merida is GetYourGuide, which also has a low-price guarantee, English customer support, and lots of Merida day trips on offer.
Some of the tours and pricing are different between the two competing websites, so it can be worth searching both to find days tours that best fits what you’re looking for. Although, we’ve tried to pick out what we’ve found to be the best day tour for the best price within each section of this travel guide.
When comparing tours, be sure check the latest reviews so you can book a good tour with confidence. And be careful to pay attention to what’s included (meals, entrance fees, etc.) and what you’ll need to cover with your own pesos.
Best Adventures in the Yucatan?
Have you been to any of these attractions near Merida? Which are your favorite?
If you’ve found these recommendations to be helpful to planning your trip to the Yucatan, please let us know in the comments. 🙂 Or feel free to ask us any questions about these day trips in the Yucatan.
Also, if you haven’t come across them yet, be sure to check out our other detailed travel guides to Merida Mexico:
- Top Things To Do in Merida Mexico offers several suggestions you can do from right within town.
- Best Restaurants in Merida provides what we think to be some great dining recommendations and also shows where to find all the cheap eats in Merida!
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