See another side of Mexico's gorgeous Yucatán Peninsula as you venture beyond Cancún to the region's heart: Mérida. Over seven days, you'll explore this Spanish-colonial gem of a city (the capital of the province), plus embark on day trips to beaches and the famous cenotes in the area. For a bonus, take a day trip to Chichén Itzá, one of the most impressive ancient Maya ruins in the Yucatán.


  • Explore Mérida's colonial heart on walking tours
  • Visit the awe-inspiring pyramid at Chichén Itzá
  • Take a cooking class and visit a chocolate museum
  • Discover the Río Lagartos and enjoy a tequila tasting

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Mérida, Optional Activities Mérida
Day 2 Visit Chichén Itzá, Cenotes & Izamal Quad Tour Mérida
Day 3 Day Trip to Uxmal, Cenotes & Cacao Museum Mérida
Day 4 Market Tour & Cooking Class Mérida
Day 5 Ría Lagartos Tour, Tequila & Mezcal Tasting Mérida
Day 6 Free Day in Mérida Mérida
Day 7 Depart Mérida  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Mérida, Optional Activities

Merida is the capital of Yucatan
Spend time in Plaza Grande, the colonial heart of Mérida

Welcome to the Yucatán! This state in southeastern Mexico straddles the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean and is famous for its popular resort cities of Cancún and Tulum. On this week-long getaway, you'll be venturing farther afield to the region's capital of Mérida. This is the part of the Yucatán most tourists never get to see, with a wonderfully well-preserved Spanish-colonial city located next to some of the most incredible wonders in the region.

Upon arrival at the airport, your driver will pick you up and transfer you to your hotel in Mérida's historic center. After checking in, you can head out and explore. Mérida's history runs deep, evident by the historic landmarks and plazas around town. It was founded in 1542 over the ancient Maya city of T'ho, with the Spanish leveling that city's five pyramids. Then, in 1598, they unsubtly used the pyramid remains to build Mérida's Cathedral. Mérida's famous church remains to this day, its twin belltowers looming large over the Plaza Grande, the city's main square.

Day 2: Visit Chichén Itzá, Cenotes & Izamal Quad Tour

See the "Yellow City" of Izamal by quad bike
In the morning, your driver will pick you up for the two-hour ride east to Chichén Itzá, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. This UNESCO World Heritage Site covers 4 square miles (10 sq km) and was first settled in the fifth century. It then enjoyed an impressive 1,000-year run as one of the great cities of the ancient Maya kingdom. Highlight ruins you'll see on a guided tour include the iconic El Castillo (a majestic pyramid that rises 79 ft/24 m), the Jaguar Temple, the House of Eagles, and El Caracol (a circular observatory), plus the largest ball court in Mesoamerica.
After Chichén Itzá, you'll drive to nearby Cenote Tsukán. The Yucatán region is known for its thousands of cenotes, which are limestone sinkholes often filled with water. These geological formations have cultural significance, as they were sacred to the ancient Maya. The cenotes were primary water sources and symbols of life, death, rebirth, and fertility. Cenote Tsukán is particularly impressive, as it's part of an underground cavern with long stalactites hanging over a turquoise lagoon.
After a swim at Tsukán, you'll head back toward Mérida, stopping at Izamal. This well-preserved colonial town is known as the "Yellow City of the Yucatán," as its historic buildings are painted canary yellow and surrounded by cobblestone streets. You'll get to see this heritage town in a unique way—by zipping around on a quad bike. After an hour's ride around the village and its 16th-century Convent of San Antonio, you'll get back in the car and return to Mérida.

Day 3: Day Trip to Uxmal, Cenotes & Cacao Museum

See the pyramids and sculptures at the Maya site of Uxmal
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Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Head out for another full-day tour, this time traveling 1.5 hours south of Mérida to Uxmal. Along with Chichén Itzá, Uxmal is one of Mexico's most important ancient Maya archaeological sites. Located in the low hills of Yucatán's Puuc region, Uxmal's early structures here date to the sixth century CE, and the city was a major seat of power until its influence waned in the 10th century. Embedded in its ruins are ornate friezes, sculptures, and carvings that archaeologists regard as some of the finest architectural sculptures in the ancient Maya world. You'll see all this and more on a guided tour.
When you've finished at Uxmal, you'll drive north about 45 minutes to Cenotes Hacienda Mucuyché. This historic site includes the remains of an 18th-century hacienda and plantation, plus two stunning cenotes. While here, you can take a dip in the sapphire blue waters of cenotes Azul Maya and Carlota. The latter earned its name when the empress of Mexico (Charlotte of Belgium) visited in 1885—supposedly, she was the first person to bathe in its waters.
End the day with a visit to a nearby cacao (cocoa) museum. Cocoa is a fundamental ingredient in regional Mexican cuisine dating back to the days of the ancient Indigenous peoples. At this interactive museum, you'll learn the history of the cacao crop in Mexico, plus taste a traditional spiced chocolate drink that the Maya enjoyed. You can even participate in a workshop and learn to prepare your own chocolates. At the end of the experience, you'll return to Mérida.

Day 4: Market Tour & Cooking Class

Learn the secrets to preparing traditional Yucatán cuisine
In the morning, you'll transfer 45 minutes outside Mérida to Hacienda Sotuta de Peón. This 19th-century estate is surrounded by acres of henequen fields and is today part of an agritourism restoration project. On a three-hour tour of this working farm, you'll glimpse the Yucatán's colonial past as you travel around the property on mule carts and learn how henequen (a plant in the agave family whose fibers are used to make twine) is cultivated. Before leaving, you can head down into a cavern and take a dip in the refreshing cenote of Dzul Ha.
Afterward, you'll return to Mérida and visit a local market. This is the first stop on a half-day workshop to learn the secrets of traditional Yucatán cuisine. After picking up fresh produce, you'll take the ingredients to a local cooking class, where your expert instructor will guide you through making several Yucatecan dishes. At the end of the tour, you'll enjoy the food you've created.

Day 5: Ría Lagartos Tour, Tequila & Mezcal Tasting

Visit the natural wonders of Ría Lagartos, like Las Coloradas

Head outside of Mérida for more adventures, this time on a tour of the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve—one of the main flamingo nesting areas in the Yucatán Peninsula. With a local guide, enjoy a fun-filled and educational afternoon with a boat ride through this natural reserve. See pink flamingoes foraging in the waters and learn about the biodiversity of the mangrove ecosystem.

The tour includes views of Las Coloradas, beautiful salt ponds that sport pinkish hues due to their high salt concentration, plus a soak in an exfoliating Maya mud bath. You'll disembark on the beach and apply the white clay that is extracted from the sand, which contains minerals, salts, and algae—all very beneficial for the skin. Afterward, rinse off in the ocean and enjoy free time on the beach before returning to Mérida.

Finish the day with another tasting tour. This time you'll enjoy samplings of Mexico's two most famous spirits: tequila and mezcal. Each comes from a different region—tequila from the Jalisco region and mezcal from the state of Oaxaca. During this two-hour tasting experience, you'll learn how the spirits are manufactured and savor their distinct flavors—one sip at a time.

Day 6: Free Day in Mérida

A cenote in the Celestún Biosphere Reserve, an easy day trip from Mérida
Today is yours to enjoy Mérida however you like. There's much to see and do here, both within the historic center and outside of it. If you're up for a beach day, head north of the city to the stunning Costa Esmeralda. Or travel west to the Gulf of Mexico and visit charming fishing villages like Sisal and Celestún. If you like, you can head to some of the cenotes near Mérida. There also are attractive options south of the city, like Hacienda Mucuyché and Santa Bárbara.
For culture lovers, you can explore some fascinating Maya ruins off the tourist trail. These include Aké and Mayapan, located about 40 minutes outside Mérida. There are fine museums in Mérida, too. One of the best is the Mayan World Museum of Mérida, which boasts a collection of more than 1,000 pieces reflecting the daily life of the Maya. 

Day 7: Depart Mérida

Sunset over Mérida's historic center and Plaza Grande

Your week-long adventure in and around Mérida has come to an end. At the appropriate time, a driver will transfer you to the airport, where you'll catch your flight home. Adiós!

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Map of Best of Mérida: Off the Beaten Path in Mexico's Yucatán - 7 Days
Map of Best of Mérida: Off the Beaten Path in Mexico's Yucatán - 7 Days