The most languidly tropical of Mexico’s colonial cities, Mérida is a city of whitewashed facades, Moorish-style Spanish houses with deliciously shady, palm-filled patios, tall and plain 17th-century churches, and an unhurried street life. It is also at the center of the Yucatán’s distinctive culture, making it the best place to see and shop for traditional crafts and souvenirs.
Visitor Information: Palacio Municipal, Calle 56A, No. 242; (999) 925 5186;
Palacio del Gobernador: open 8am–9pm daily
Museo de Antropología: Palacio Cantón; (999) 923 0557; open 8am–5pm Tue–Sun; adm $5; www.inah.gob.mx
Gran Museo del Mundo Maya: Calle 60 Norte, No. 299 E, Unidad Revolución; (999) 341 0435; open 8am–5pm Wed–Mon; adm adults $7; children $1; www.granmuseodelmundomaya.com.mx
Set next to the cathedral, the elegant seat of the Yucatán state government was built in 1892 to replace a Spanish governors’ palace. Its patios, open to the public, are decorated with striking murals by Fernando Castro Pacheco, telling the story of the Mayans.
The astonishing portico of the first Spanish stone house completed in Mérida, in 1549, bears a very graphic celebration of the Conquest.
This museum has a fascinating array of exhibits from the Mayan world, and an impressive sound and light show on Fridays and weekends.
Built between 1562 and 1598, this is the oldest cathedral on the American mainland (in the entire continent, only Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic is older). Massive and monumental, it was built in the sober style of the Spanish Renaissance, with a soaring facade and relatively few decorative flourishes.
This spacious square was the heart of the Mayan city of Ti’ho, and so was made into the new city’s hub by conquistador Francisco Montejo, when he founded Mérida in 1542. It is still surrounded by the city’s main public buildings, while its colonnades and benches set under giant laurel trees provide favorite meeting places.
Laid out in the Yucatán’s early 1900s boom in the style of Parisian boulevards, Paseo de Montejo is lined with magnificent mansions, some using Mayan iconography.
This is the shopping hub of the Yucatán, with stalls piled high with food, hammocks, sandals, Panama hats, and embroidery.
One of Mexico’s most important archaeological museums is set in the grandest of all the Paseo Montejo mansions, built for General Francisco Cantón between 1909 and 1911. It has many treasures excavated from sites across the Yucatán, and is especially rich in ceramics and jade. It offers an overview of the Mayan world that illuminates visits to the site.
The arcaded square of Santa Lucía, dating in part from 1575, is the most romantic of all Mérida’s old squares. Free concerts of traditional music take place here every Thursday.
The Jesuits built this church in 1618, favoring ornamentation and a little flair over the plain style of the Franciscans, who built most of the city’s other religious buildings.
Walk around the Plaza Mayor on most evenings and you’ll see groups of men in threes, dressed in white shirts and black trousers, and carrying guitars. These are the Yucatán tríos, traditional troubadours available for hire to play romantic serenades. They can be hired to entertain at a party or wedding, or you can have them sing there on the square.