Discover Mayan Ruins, Secret Cenotes, and Pink Lakes on These 10 Day Trips from Mérida, Mexico
While Mérida has more than enough to offer visitors, these 10 day trips will allow you to discover the magic and charm of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
Mérida has been chosen as one of Fodor’s top places to visit in 2019 for reasons that might not seem clear at first glance. Behind the colorful, sometimes worn-looking walls, are speakeasies, art galleries, small luxury boutique hotels, and some of the best food in all of Mexico. But while you could spend all your time in the city, there is more to explore with just a few hours’ drive from Mérida, from cenotes to lagoons with thousands of flamingos.
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Just an hour and a half from Mérida on a straight, skinny road to the sea is a lagoon and a small fishing village called Celestún . You could spend your time on the beach here, but the main reason to visit is to get on a small boat for a mangrove tour. You might see a crocodile or two, but you’re sure to see hundreds, if not thousands, of flamingos. Unless you speak Spanish, there won’t be much information from your boat driver. You can expect to pay 1,500 MXN per person for a tour that lasts about two hours.
One of the seven man-made World Wonders of the World (and UNESCO Heritage Site) is just an hour and twenty minutes from Mérida. Wake up bright and early (and if you’re a planner, get your tickets online ahead of time to skip the line) to get there when they open at 8 a.m. to avoid crowds and heat. Hire a tour guide to learn about the Mayans who built these incredible pyramids in 600 AD and hear the stories about ball games, sacrifice, and panthers.
Head out of town for about 3 hours to a small village called Rio Lagartos , where all your Instagram and pink Pinterest dreams will come true. It’s the location of the famous pink lake . With new interest in it, the government has now said you cannot swim in it (and to be honest, you wouldn’t want to). Salt water from the ocean has come into these lagoons and with the high levels of pink plankton and algae, the water has naturally turned a magical pink. There’s not much to see nearby, but the pink lake is like something out of a fairytale.
Not up for the crowds of Chichen Itza? While the main pyramid at the World Wonder is worth seeing, many people prefer the larger grounds and less crowded ruins at Uxmal . Just an hour from Mérida, these ruins actually cover a lot more ground than Chichen Itza, and you can climb on them. On the way to Uxmal, you pass by Muna point (the very low but still highest point in the Yucatán) where you can see Uxmal from afar.
Just an hour from Mérida is a cute town called Izamal , where every building is painted yellow. This was named as one of Mexico’s “Magic Pueblos” by the government in 2002. The Spanish built a Monastery there, which is second in size only to the Vatican—in fact, Pope John Paul II visited Izamal in 1993 and held mass. This town is not only beautiful, but it holds cultural significance as a place of pilgrimage for Catholics.
After Mérida, Valladolid is the next coolest city to visit in the Yucatán state. The main draw is its famous cenote, Cenote Suytun . The sun hits a jetty that goes out into the cenote at just the right light to make it one of the most magical sites (and best Instagram photo-ops) you’ll see in Mexico. Try to reach the cenote by 9 a.m., right when they open. While the cenote is the main draw, Valladolid town stands on its own. While not that different from Mérida, it’s smaller, less touristy, and feels more off the beaten path.
Progreso is the closest beach to Mérida. From the center of town, it takes about 30 minutes to get there. While it’s a cruise port and not the most beautiful beach in the world, it has sea, sand, and piña coladas—it can be just what you need when the heat in Merida gets to be too much. The strip of beach is lined with shops and restaurants. For breakfast, eat at Milk , for a cheap boozy coconut shrimp kind of day, hit up Eladios, and for a nicer lunch with family, go for Crabster . If you head down to the far end where the “Progreso” sign is, there is a beach bar with a pool and swim-up bar called El Pez Gordo .
If you aren’t into a crowded beach and prefer a remote paradise, then drive just a little further past Progreso to San Crisanto. It’s called the coconut grove by the locals and along the highway, you’ll see flamingos and pink salt lakes. (But don’t get out of the car, because as the signs caution, there are crocodiles). The undeveloped beach has no beach bar, restaurant, or hotel, but there are some cabanas for rent. Make sure to bring your own towels and a cooler with all the essentials for a day at the beach.
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On the very edge of the Yucatán is a small state and city called Campeche . It’s colorful, colonial, cobblestoned, and cute as ever. One of the main draws here other than utter adorableness is Fort San Miguel , a walled-in city built to defend against pirates. While you’re here, grab lunch at the most popular seafood restaurant in town, La Pagoda .
In the Yucatán, there are thousands of cenotes, which are underground pockets of fresh water. These cenotes were created by the meteor that killed the dinosaurs, which hit at what is now called the Chicxulub crater. If you ask any local where the best cenotes are, they will tell you Homun. Homun has three popular cenotes and when you arrive at the main one, Santa Barbara, you will take a 10-minute horse and carriage ride to the other cenotes. The other two—Cenote Xoch’ and Chaksikin—are less-developed, while Santa Barbara has life jackets and a drink stand. You get a variety of cenotes with this day trip, so there’s something everyone will love.