Merida is a city in the heart of the Yucatan - far removed from the resorts of Cancun and Quintana Roo. It is best known for its indigenous culture and languages, superb food scene, and archeological sites. Given the number of excellent day trips that travelers can make to nearby ruins, cenotes, and cultural hubs, Merida is easily the best base from which to explore the Yucatan.
From ancient Mayan temples to pristine biosphere reserves and a pink lake, here are the best day trips from Merida.
Chichen Itza is one of Mexico's most visited and well known archaeological sites, but few tourists to the region realize that it's closer to Merida than to Cancun. Located just an hour and a half away from Merida, these Mayan ruins in Mexico truly are one of the wonders of the ancient world. Heavily restored in recent decades, Chichen Itza is the clearest and most vivid example of the technological, cultural, and artistic prowess of Mayan civilization. Chichen Itza grew to prominence from the eighth century CE onwards, but by the time the Spanish colonists arrived many centuries later, the Mayan population center had shifted to Merida.
If you're looking for Mayan ruins that are even closer to the city center, then the archeological site of Dzibilchaltun is a short trip from Merida, just 30 minutes to the north of the city. Even if the surviving temples aren't nearly as imposing as those at Chichen Itza, their history is perhaps more fascinating. Dzibilchaltun was inhabited long before Chichen Itza, and while other Mayan cities rose and fell from power (many being abandoned entirely), Dzibilchaltun was a thriving city of tens of thousands when the Spanish arrived and conquered the peninsula in the 16th century.
The Yucatan was the center of southern Mexico's Mayan civilization, and so it's no surprise that there are many more archeological sites to be found near Merida. One of the best day trips from Merida for history buffs is to the ruins of Uxmal. This former Mayan center is just an hour south of Merida, and day trips constantly depart from the city.
Best known for the well-preserved Pyramid of the Magician, Uxmal's temples stand out for their smooth walls, a stark contrast to the stepped pyramids of other Mayan sites. Uxmal is great to explore during the day, but stay until dark and you'll catch the fabulous light-and-sound show that lights up the ruins magnificently.
Campeche City is one of the longer day tours from Merida, but this colorful seaside city is well worth an outing. Campeche is two-and-half-hours away from Merida and is the capital of Campeche state.
You’ll be crossing state borders as you travel from Yucatan to Campeche, and along the way, you’ll pass the sunny coastal scenery that’s found all along the Gulf of Mexico. Campeche City was an important trading port and fortress for the Spanish conquistadors, who built it atop an existing Mayan city.
The colorful streets and houses of the colonial quarter are surrounded by high walls and stone towers that face out to sea, a testament to the fact that Campeche City played a prominent role in the history of piracy and was often raided for its wealth.