25 Amazing Day Trips From Merida That You Need to Take

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Looking for the best day trips from Merida, Mexico?

You’ve come to the right place because I have called Merida home since July 2019… and in that time, I’ve done quite a few day trips!

I know first-hand that while there’s seemingly no shortage of things to do in Merida itself, there’s also no end to the number of amazing day trips from Merida!

Centrally located in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, it’s location makes Merida the ideal home base for all the amazing day trips highlighted in this article.

From swimming in cenotes to climbing Mayan ruins, strolling the streets of colonial cities to exploring UNESCO World Heritage Sites — and even crossing one of the Seven Wonders of the World off your bucket list — you won’t run out of day trips from Merida, Mexico!


day trips from Merida - Pinteret pin

Map of Merida’s Day Trips

Each day trip mentioned in this article is located within 2.5 hours of Merida. For reference, they have been pinned to this Google map for you!

I also recommend you download an offline map of the Yucatan Peninsula via Google Maps or Maps.me before you embark on any of these Merida day trips… especially if you’re renting a car. If you’re not, no worries! You have plenty of day trip options using Mexico public transportation.

Pro tip: Once you get into the more rural parts of the Yucatan Peninsula, your cell phone signal will start to go in and out. When you’re downloading your map, make sure to also download some travel podcasts 💁‍♀️🎙

podcast cover-woman on a colorful colonial street


CHECK OUT EPISODE #14 | Pt. 1: Travel off the beaten path in Mexico



Merida to Izamal Day Trip

Izamal is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Mexico’s 120 amazing Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns). These two draws make Izamal a very popular Merida day trip.

What is a Pueblo Magico?

Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism has awarded the prestigious designation of “Magic Town” to about 120 small towns in the country. These towns meet certain characteristics including amazing natural beauty, unique cultural history, rich folklore and more.

In the case of the colonial town of Izamal, the magico comes from its one-color esthetic…

colonial town with yellow walls and man on his bike in the street in Izamal, near Merida, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula
One of my favorite photos I’ve taken! Check out my ig for more Mexico photos.

Known as “The Yellow Town,” Izamal is, well — yellow! The word yellow is in italics because all buildings in downtown are painted yellow. 

Yes — all of them!

Downtown Izamal’s small “pueblo” size means you can stroll the whole area in about two hours. Don’t feel like walking? Take the horse-drawn carriage tour to see all the sights, including the Convent of San Antonio de Padua, in town’s zocalo (Main Square).

yellow walls in old city and yellow horse and carriage buggy in Izamal, near Merida, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula

When you work up an appetite, head to Kinich Restaurant or Mercado Municipal De Izamal (market) to try authentic Yucatecan food. If you visit on a weekend, be on the lookout for one of the area’s most interesting dishes, dzik de venado (shredded venison), a local delicacy eaten on weekends.

If you have extra time after seeing the city, Izamal has few amazing, smaller Mayan archeological sites just outside of downtown — Kinich Kakmó Pyramid and the Zona Arqueológica de Izamal.

Follow along on my Solo travel + Mexico travel adventures!



Merida to Valladolid Day Trip

The second Yucatan state Pueblo Mágico on this list, Valladolid is an increasingly popular Merida day trip destination. It is known as one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Mexico — so get your camera ready! 

There are many gorgeous buildings to photograph, especially on Valladolid’s prettiest streets of Calle de los Frailes and Calle 50.

When you’re hungry head to the famous La Casona de Valladolid restaurant, and walk to the back to photograph the large talavera tile fountain.

green and pink buildings in a colorful colonial town of Valladolid, near Merida, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula

Don’t miss the town’s impressive colonial churches — the Convent de San Bernardino de Siena and Iglesia de San Servacio. The Iglesia de San Servacio is Valladolid’s main church; find it in Valladolid’s zocalo (Main Square).

Just outside of the Convent de San Bernardino de Siena, you’ll find another photo op. This is where you’ll see the large, colorful letters spelling out Valladolid. 

tall old stone church with colorful flags flying in front of it in Valladolid, near Merida, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula
The Iglesia de San Servacio in the zocalo (Main Square).

Love art? Head to the Casa de los Venados, a private home-turned-gallery. Owners John and Dorianne Venator open their home once a day at 10am for a tour to see their 3,000-piece collection of Mexican folk art. 

If you want to buy some folk art or artistic souvenirs in Valladolid, head to Kuxtal Cafe & Mexican Art. They sell many styles of folk art, handmade by artists from all over Mexico, at one of the best cafes in Valladolid.

Cenote Zaci natural swimming pool in Valladolid, near Merida, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula
Cenote Zaci, one of the best cenotes near Valladolid.

Best cenotes near Valladolid

Ready to cool off with a swim in one of Mexico’s famous cenotes?

You’re in luck because some of the best cenotes in the Yucatan are located within 30 minutes of Valladolid. These include Cenote Ik-Kil, Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman, Cenote Suytun and Cenote Zaci; though there are certainly others.

Best Valladolid Airbnbs

With just so much to see and do, you might want to make this area an overnight or weekend trip. Here are some of the area’s best Airbnbs in Valladolid.

These are all located in the best part of town, and hosted by Airbnb’s vetted Super Hosts… so all you have to do is book one of these highly-rated homes, and enjoy!

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Campeche City


Merida to Campeche Day Trip

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site — Mexico has an impressive 35 of them — the walled city of Campeche is known as one of the most colorful towns in the country!

The historical significance, however, comes from its fort walls. Located right on the Gulf of Mexico, centuries ago, Campeche’s location made it vulnerable to pirate attacks.

Nowadays, with pirates posing less of a threat, you can take a leisurely walk along the walls atop the Fuerte de San Miguel (Saint Michael’s Fort).

There, you’ll see the old cannons pointed directly at and the Gulf of Mexico, and get some amazing city and water views. It costs about $25 pesos ($1) to walk atop the fort walls along the ramparts, but it’s money well-spent. 

Colorful colonial town of in Campeche, near Merida, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula

Now, back to these colorful Campeche buildings… While most Mexican colonial towns follow a color scheme, the entire downtown Campeche is painted in every color of the rainbow. 

Though not large at only about 20 square blocks, leisurely stroll the entire downtown before stopping at the very instagrammable Altagracia Café cafe for a sweet snack.

A few of Campeche’s downtown streets are pedestrian only, and restaurants have tables set up outside so you can dine and enjoy the colors.

The most picturesque of these is Calle 59, where you’ll enjoy La Parrilla Colonial Campeche, La Parilla and others.

After eating, head to the zocalo (Main Square) and hop on one of the tranvias (trams) for a city tour. At the end of the day, head west to the Malecon (walkway) to catch the sunset on the Gulf of Mexico.

Pro tip: The city and state are both named Campeche.

podcast cover-woman on a colorful colonial street


CHECK OUT EPISODE #09 | How to get awesome solo travel photos

Chichen Itza


Merida to Chichen Itza Day Trip

Does Chichen Itza even need an introduction!? I’ll just say that it’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and Chichen Itza is one of the most popular Merida day trips.

Chichen Itza shares the title of most visited archeological site in the country with Mexico City’s Teotichucan — the two both averaging 2.75 million visitors a year!

Chichen Itza is also another one of Mexico’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and one of the most important Mayan archeological sites on the planet.

Chichen Itza mayan pyramid behind some plants
Chichen Itza’s El Castillo (The Castle/Temple of Kukulcan), the most photographed of the site’s structures.

Pro Tip: Arrive early!

In this case, “early” means right at 8am when they open, or as close to that as you can, as you’ll want to beat the crowds. Getting there early also means you beat the heat.

As with so many of the historic archeological complexes in Mexico, the trees at Chichen Itza have been cleared so archeologists can easily study the site. While that works great for historians, it means shade is at a premium for visitors.

When visiting, you’ll see its iconic El Castillo (The Castle/Temple of Kukulcan), the one in most Chichen Itza photos. There’s also the Temple of the Warriors, Sacred Cenote, Grand Ball Court, Group of a Thousand Columns and Wall of the Skulls.

As you might have gathered, Chichen Itza is big — as in 740 acres big! With a site of this size and historical significance, you’ll want to take a Chichen Itza tour with a knowledgable guide to explain all of the site’s secrets and significance. 

You can also fire an onsite guide; though know during busy times, you might not be able to. Upon arrival, you’ll see many guides by the entrance selling day tours for about $1,000-1,500 pesos ($50-70). If you want to hire a guide onsite, remember to bring enough pesos to pay them.

Chichen Itza Tours

Looking for a more in depth tour, with your transportation from Merida covered? Check out these amazing Airbnb Experiences to Chichen Itza and some additional Mayan archaeological sites.

What is an Airbnb Experience?

While most are now familiar with Airbnbs themselves, the company’s relatively new experiences (tours) are just as amazing!

Similar to traditional group tours, I’m actually a bigger fan of Airbnb Experiences! I’ve done several of these all over Mexico, and think they’re great because:

  • You’re directly supporting a local and the local economy.
  • They are usually smaller groups, which means a more personalized experience.
  • You can instantly book them online, so you won’t have to spend your precious travel time finding a tour company.
  • Like with an Airbnb stay, the guide gets rated at the end, motivating them to do a great job.
  • They are a great way to meet other solo travelers.

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Afraid to Travel Alone? Breakthrough With These 6 Powerful Tips

Best Mayan Ruins Near Merida


Merida to Uxmal Day Trip

Though overshadowed in name by Chichen Itza, Uxmal, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is just as impressive. It is also much less crowded and touristy, seeing only about 10% the amount of annual visitors as Chichen Itza.

Besides the obvious of smaller crowds at Uxmal, you won’t be approached by souvenir vendors, deal with endlessly searching for parking, and all the other perks that come with visiting hidden gems over popular destinations.

Now, I’d personally choose Uxmal in the “Do I visit Chichen Itza or Uxmal” debate, however, I do have a reason that might convince you!

tall stone mayan pyramid of Uxmal, near Merida, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula
El Adivino (Pyramid of the Magician), the largest pyramid at Uxmal.

Can you climb the pyramids at Uxmal?

The top reason to choose Uxmal over Chichen Itza?

You’re actually allowed to climb the structures and one of the pyramids at Uzmal. Chichen Itza does not allow visitors to climb it’s pyramids.

While visitors aren’t permitted to can’t climb the large El Adivino (Pyramid of the Magician), you can climb the nearly-as-tall Great Pyramid right next to it. From the top, you’ll have amazing views of the entire Uxmal site.

You can also get up close and personal with the intricate carved stone on Uxmal’s buildings to see the beautiful design esthetics the Mayan Puuc sites are famous for.

Hotels in Uxmal

Pair your visit to Uxmal with a visit the other four Mayan archeological sites on the Puuc Route, as well as the Choco-Story chocolate museum and Uxmal Mayan Planetarium. Booking a hotel in Uxmal means you can leisurely explore one of the most amazing and unique cities in the Yucatan Peninsula!

mayan ruin site of Labna on Ruta Puuc, near Merida, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula
Labna, one of the five archeological sites on the Ruta Puuc.

Driving the Ruta Puuc from Merida

Uxmal has several buildings in the Puuc style — but it’s not the only with this esthetic. There are actually five archaeological sites along what is called the Ruta Puuc (Puuc Route), a 19-mile drive.

These other four sites, Labna, Kabah, Sayil and Xlapak, all feature the same stone carving esthetics and Puuc-style elements. 

Aesthetics aside, another amazing thing about seeing these lesser-known sites is that there’s a good chance you’ll have them all to yourself.

Pro tip: Unless you hire a taxi or driver for the day, you’ll need your own rental car to do the Ruta Puuc.

podcast cover-woman on a colorful colonial street


CHECK OUT EPISODE #11 | 5 reasons Mexico is perfect for U.S. travelers

#7. COBA

Merida to Coba Day Trip

The Coba site is in the state of Quintana Roo, home to Tulum, Cancun and Bacalar Lagoon, “the Maldives of Mexico.” If I had to pick a favorite site in this area of the country, it is definitely Coba. 

Coba is more of a complete Mayan city than most other Yucatan sites. Many people will even rent a bike to see the whole place, or hire a rickshaw-style bike to take them around.

When I visited, I walked with a tour guide; it was about five miles of walking in total, which is a bit of a trek. Combine this walk with the climb up Coba’s largest pyramid, Ixmoja, and you’ll definitely get in your steps for the day.

Pro tip: Bring insect repellent; Coba is deep in the jungle!


Mayapan & Nearby Cenotes

Another of the lesser-visited Yucutan archaeological sites, but again, this usually means you have the whole place to yourself! You’re free to climb all the structures and explore virtually uninterrupted.

If you’re planning to visit, combine it with a stop at some of the cenotes near Mayapan to cool off. Here are some of the best ones nearby: Cenote Nah Yah, Cenote Telchaquillo and Cenote Suem.


Dzibilchaltun & Cenote Xlach

Dzibilchaltun (pronounced zee-bee-shal-tune) is the closest Mayan ruin site to Merida. Though small, there’s also an onsite museum with Mayan artifacts and a cenote to swim in called Cenote Xlacah. 

Pro tip: Many people go to this site just for the cenote, so head there early to beat the crowds.

Progreso Beach


Merida to Progreso Day Trip 

Puerto Progreso is the closest beach town to Merida, and also one of the best places to windsurf in the Mexico.

As the “puerto” in the name might have cued you in to, this is also a cruise port.

On days when a ship docks, expect thousands more people than usual in this chill beach town. If you’re looking to have Progreso all to yourself, check to see if there’s a cruise docking before you visit.

small beach town of progreso, near Merida, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula

Once you arrive in Progreso, stroll down the Malecon (walkway) for a bite to eat and to get a better feel for the town. Find your favorite spot to rent a beach chair from (about $100 pesos/$5), or head to a Progreso beach club.

Two of the best beach clubs in Progreso are Silcer Beach Club and El HaGuay.

El HaGuay is located right next to the giant, colorful Progreso letters, on the eastern end of the beach. They let you have a beach chair for the day for free, as long as you order food and drinks.

Silcer Beach Club is located closer to the center of town, and generally more of a party atmosphere than El HaGay.

For a sunset dinner, head to the western end of the beach to eat at one of Progreso’s best restaurants, Eladio’s Bar. For a fancier atmosphere, check out Crabster Seafood & Grill and Almadia.

Merida to Progreso Bus

Don’t feel like driving? No worries, there’s an easy way to get to Progreso from Merida — the Auto Progreso. Auto Progreso has a private bus terminal, and (usually) hourly departures to Progreso from Merida.

Pro tip: Check the schedule before heading to the terminal!

Best Beaches Near Merida


Looking for quieter, more relaxed beaches? Sisal, and the other Merida beaches listed below work perfect!

Sisal has a cute pier to walk down, a few places to eat/drink — and little else. It is where Merida locals head for an alternative to the livelier Progreso beach.

I usually opt to rent a chair under one of the palapas outside of my favorite restaurant, Muelle de Sisal. Rentals are about $50-75 pesos ($3-5) for the day. Pro tip: If you order food from there, you can also use their bathroom all dayWin-Win!

long dock on a the water covered in beach sand and people walking on it, in Sisal, near Merida, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula
The pier in Sisal. | Photo by José Angel Vera Félix

FUN FACT: In 2020, Sisal was named one of Mexico’s 120 (or so) pueblos mágicos! Wondering… What is a pueblo mágico? The name translates to magic town, and Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism awards this honorary designation to small towns in the country with certain characteristics including amazing natural beauty, unique cultural history, rich folklore and more.

Mexico’s Pueblo Mágico program is similar to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site designation — just limited to Mexico 🇲🇽

palm trees and huts on a beach in San Crisanto, near Merida, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula
San Crisanto’s beautiful beach. | Photo by Gaspar Emilio Segura López

San Crisanto Beach & Mangroves

Personally, I find San Crisanto the prettiest of Merida’s beaches. There’s always more coconut trees than people, so this is the place to relax and be in quiet, beautiful, uninterrupted nature.

You can rent a cabana for the day for about $75 pesos ($3), but be sure to either pack a cooler with lunch and drink, as there’s no restaurants on the beach.

You can also make this more of a complete day trip with a boat tour through the mangroves and a stop at the Ojo de Agua swimmin’ hole. 


Telchac Puerto & the Pink Lakes

Telchac Puerto is a small fishing town. The boats pull right up the sand on the area’s not-al-all crowded beaches. There’s also a Malecon (walkway) along with beach and an also small downtown where you can buy snacks and drinks.

The coolest thing around Telchac is the Laguna Rosada (Pink Lagoon). In case you didn’t know, Mexico has pink lakes in the Yucatan Peninsula!

You’ll find info about the more famous ones, Las Coloradas, if you keep scrolling; but know they are quite far from Merida. If you want to see the ones closest to the city, head to the pink lakes of Laguna Rosada.

the pink water in the las coloradas lakes, near Merida, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula
Some of Mexico’s famous pink lakes at Laguna Rosada in the Yucatan. | Photo by Ricardo Rosales

Chelem Beach 

The final beach town is the most up-and-coming for expats moving to Yucatan’s beaches. Chelem is still on the quiet side, but you’ll find a few more amenities here, like stores and restaurants.

Chelem beach is well known for those looking to see some of the area’s wind flamingos. The large flock usually hangs out around Chelem from about June-December.

You’ll find many boat operators along the beach offering tours to see the flamingos in the Ría Chelem.

Las Coloradas (The Pink Lakes)


Merida to Las Coloradas Day Trip

Las Coloradas (The Blush) are Mexico’s famous pink lakes in the Yucatan Peninsula. These pink lakes gained popularity after a viral ig photos a few years back — but if you don’t know how to properly visit Las Coloradas, it might not be such an Instaworthy trip.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to visit the pink lakes of Las Coloradas:

woman making a heart shape with her two hands at the pink lakes of Las Coloradas, near Merida, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula

Why is the water pink at Las Coloradas? 

Las Coloradas has pink water because of the red algae, plankton and brine shrimp that live in this salty water. The salt content in this water is so high, this area has been used as a natural salt mine by the Mayans for centuries.

In fact, the flock of wild Yucatan flamingoes that live in this part of Mexico drinks this water, which in turn keeps their feathers pink!

What is the best time to see the pink lakes in Mexico?

The pink color of the lakes shows brightest on very sunny days. Keep this in mind if you plan to make the trip from Merida. On overcast, non-sunny days, the water will not be vibrant pink.

For photography, the lakes show brightest during (approx.) 11am-1pm, when the sun is directly overhead.

The lakes are pink year-round, so the real factor is the sun… meaning definitely check the weather report before heading there.

Can I swim in Las Coloradas? 

A few years back, the Mexican government stopped allowing swimming. The reason for this is that the salt content can actually be toxic on the skin.

While there’s no one around monitoring if you go in or not, there’s also not a hospital too close to Las Coloradas, so don’t risk your health and safety for a photo.

Las Coloradas Tours

It’s not super easy to get to Las Coloradas unless you have a car. In fact, even after you arrive in the closest town, Rio Lagartos, you’d need to coordinate a boat to take you over to Las Coloradas.

The easiest way to see these pink lakes?

On a tour, like the Chichen Itza & The Pink Pools Tour. This amazing tour goes to both Las Coloradas and Chichen Itza, so you can cross two places off your bucket list in one day!



Merida to Celestun Day Trip

Located in the small town, fishing village of Celestun, you’ll find the Ría Celestún Biosphere Reserve. This large nature preserve is the best place to see flamingos near Merida.

The large flock of featured Yucatan residents travel throughout the peninsula during the year, so they move between a few places. The best time of year to see them in Celestun is from December-February, though they do live in the area from November-April.

a large flock of flamingoes in the water in Celestun, near Merida, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula
A sea of flamingos in Celestun.

Besides flamingoes, this is the best place to kayak in the Yucatan. The secluded beaches of Celestun are also beautiful, so head to one of the thatched-roof restaurants for some fresh ceviche after a long kayak ride.

Want to take a kayak tour? Check out the Kayak Tour on the Emerald Coast.

Rio Lagartos


Merida to Rio Lagartos Day Trip

Besides Celestun, you can also head to Rio Lagartos (Alligator River) to get your Yucatan flamingo fix! They stick around this area in large numbers from March-June, though you can usually see at least some year-round.

The Rio Lagartos natural areas are known for having the best bird watching in the Yucatan Peninsula. This area is home to more than 300 hundred species, so it’s a birdwatcher’s paradise. 

Besides birds, many take a boat tour into the river, where like the name implies, you’ll likely see some alligators. On my tour, we saw quite a few.

The boat tour also goes to an area where my tour group covered ourselves in the natural clay for a baña Maya (Mayan bath)!

Best Haciendas Near Merida


Hacienda Santa Cruz

Looking to have a spa day in Merida? Look no further than the gorgeous Hacienda Santa Cruz. This gorgeous, restored 17th century hacienda is the perfect place to relax all day in a beautiful setting.

Stroll the grounds to see the gardens, eat some brunch, and then head to the Mayul Spa treatments that range from homey facials to hydromassage to a traditional Mexican temazcal ceremony.

yellow hacienda yaxcopoil, near Merida, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula

Hacienda Yaxcopoil

Hacienda Yaxcopoil (pronounced yash-coh-poh-eel) was built way back in ca. 1650. It has been fully restored, and is incredibly gorgeous. In fact, it’s known as one of the prettiest haciendas in Merida.

As with most of Merida’s best haciendas, this one is mostly rented out for private parties and events. When not rented out, you can visit and tour the grounds.

The inside of the house itself is basically a museum. From the outside, you can tour the beautiful grounds and see all the old machinery used to make Merida’s main export — sisal, a thick, sturdy agave-plant fiber used to make twine.

natural swimming pool in Cenotes Hacienda Mucuyche, near Merida, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula
Cenote Carlota at Hacienda Mucuyche. | Photos by Doug S

Hacienda Mucuyche

The grounds of this 18th century hacienda have been left in semi-ruin, but that’s all part of the effect.

Honestly, Hacienda Mucuyche and its cenotes look like something from another planet — it’s kind of Garden of Eden meets The Blue Lagoon, if you can picture that.

In addition to the gorgeous “shabby chic” hacienda vibes, there’s two cenotes onsite, Cenote Carlota and Cenote Azul Maya. They are super refreshing to jump in for a swim after your guided tour of the grounds.

Pro tip: They only offer tours Monday-Sunday from 9am-3pm.

Cenotes Hacienda Mucuyche, the facility’s official name, also has a restaurant, regular swimming pool, lockers and more. It is arguably one of Merida’s most instagrammable places and quite possibly the best Yucatan hacienda for a Merida day trip.

Best Cenotes Near Merida

The final section of this Merida day trips guide is all about visiting cenotes! These amazing natural treasures offer some of the best things to do in Merida during your trip. 

…but first, let’s clear a few cenote FAQs up.

Cenote FAQ

Here’s everything you need to know before you visit a cenote!

  • Cost: Cenotes have entry fees, though they are minimal. The more popular ones that provide amenities like restrooms, on-site restaurants, etc., should still cost no more than $300 pesos ($15) to enter. Most are closer in price to about $50-100 pesos ($2.50-5).
  • Cash Only: Bring cash to cover both your entry and food. Most cenotes are in rural areas, and won’t have WiFi or the ability to take credit cards.
  • Accessibility: Different cenotes have different levels of accessibility. Many will have well-maintained stairs with handrails, especially the more popular ones. Some have make-shift stairs, and some have ladders.
  • Water shoes: Water shoes really help! As cenotes are natural pools, most have slippery rocks, muddy ground, etc. Water shoes also help you not slip in general, especially when walking down any staircase entryways. (I see this a lot!)
  • Life Jackets: I have never been to a cenote that didn’t provide or rent life jackets; but if you can’t swim, you might want to do additional research on the cenote(s) you’re visiting.
  • Sunscreens and lotions: Don’t apply sunscreen, lotion, insect repellent — anything — before getting in a cenote. Many require you to rinse off before entering, so even putting anything on will be a waste.
  • Photos: Want those people-less Instagrammable cenote photos? Go on a weekday, and arrive early! You also might want to bring one of those waterproof phone holders that go around your neck.

What is a cenote?

To make a long story short, cenotes are basically underwater sinkholes containing crystal-clear, freshwater. They are only found in a few places on Earth, with the largest concentration in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where there are close to 6,000!

We can see and swim in them because the limestone once covering the water has collapsed and/or eroded throughout Earth’s existence. ⁠

The limestone once encasing some cenotes has fully collapsed, leaving the “pool” completely exposed above-ground. There are other underground cenotes that you access by going into a cave! They are both amazing, in their own ways.⁠

Now that we know what a cenote is and how to visit a cenote, let’s check out some of the best cenotes near Merida.

cenote ik-kil swimming hole with vines hanging down into it, in Valladolid, near Merida, Mexico Yucatan Peninsula
Cenote Ik-Kil, one of the most popular cenotes in the Yucatan.

Cenote Ik-Kil

Cenotes come in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of convenience for visitors. What I mean is that some will have onsite bathrooms, some won’t; some have restaurants and/or sell snacks, some don’t; some have stairs leading into the cenote, some ladders, etc.

Cenote Ik-kil is one of the easiest cenotes to visit because it has everything you’d need. As you might have noticed, Cenote Ik-Kil is also quite stunning.

It almost looks otherworldly! You might think there’s no way to have a bad time here, but there is. Let me explain…

Best time to visit Cenote Ik-Kil

As one of the most Instafamous of all the cenotes in Mexico, combined with its proximity to Chichen Itza, makes Cenote Ik-Kil the one on everyone’s radar. During peak hours/days, expect about 200 people swimming with you in that beautiful blue cenote water.

The key to visiting is of course: Timing.

If you can, go on a weekday. If you only have the weekend, arrive right when they open. 

Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman natural swimming pool, in Valladolid, near Merida, Mexico Yucatan Peninsula
Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman

Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman

Considered one of the best cenotes near Valladolid, Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman, is a great option if you want that Cenote Ik-Kil look, and less of it’s crowd. They also have a fun rope swing to enter the cenote with.

This cenote is located on the ground of Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman, so you can even get in a little hacienda tour before or after your swim.

Cenote Zaci natural swimming pool, in Valladolid, near Merida, Mexico Yucatan Peninsula
While pretty, the Cenote Zaci waterfall is man-made; and they only turn it on over the weekend.

Cenote Zaci

This cenote is located only a few blocks from downtown Valladolid. With such easy access, this one is a favorite for both locals and visitors alike. In fact, locals seem to treat Cenote Zaci as the town swimming pool!

As Valladolid is a relatively small pueblo, there aren’t too many locals to compete with for space, though of course, weekends are much busier than weekdays.

Pro tip: There’s an onsite restaurant and if you spend $100 pesos ($5) on food/drinks, they let you go in the cenote for free.

Cenote Santa Barbara natural swimming pool, in Valladolid, near Merida, Mexico Yucatan Peninsula
One of the Santa Barbara cenotes. | Photo by liongrrl

Santa Barbara Cenotes

The Santa Barbara are located in the pueblo (small town) of Homun. There are a few cenotes you can access from the Santa Barbara entry point. In fact, there are so many cenotes in Homun, if you wanted to do the most epic Merida cenotes tour, this is the perfect town.

Santa Barabara has one of my personal favorite cenotes in Homun, but don’t miss the other great ones. These include:

  • Cenote Yaxbacaltun
  • Cenote San Antonio
  • Cuzama Cenotes (group of cenotes)
  • Homun Cenotes (group of cenotes)

There’s plenty of restaurants in this area as well, so be sure to sample some traditional Yucatecan foods, like cochinita pibil (underground slow-cooked pork), sopa de lima (lime soup with chicken), and papadzules (egg enchiladas with pepita salsa).


Cenote X’Batun

I’m sure you can agree after seeing so many cenote photos, that it must be hard to pick a favorite… but Cenote X’Batun is mine! 

Why? You’re probably wondering.

I have a few reasons:

First, it’s never crowded. This off the beaten path cenote is not on many tourist radars, so any time I’ve been, there hasn’t been more than 10 people there! 

Second, it is located only about 45 minutes from Merida, and very close to the beautiful Hacienda Yaxcopoil. You can combine these two stops for an easy Merida day trip, and be back in the city for a nice dinner.

Third, there’s actually two cenotes here, an above ground one, and an underground one. Meaning, you get to experience both the best of both worlds at Cenote X’Batun.

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CHECK OUT EPISODE #11 | 5 reasons Mexico is perfect for U.S. travelers

Is Merida, Mexico Safe?

First off, let’s answer the question that I get asked (by far) more than any other… Is Mexico safe?

This question is tricky, because I believe no place on planet Earth is 100% safe. However, I do my best to address the Mexico safety question in this blog, Mexico Solo Travel: How to Be Safe & Crush It.

But, in short:

Yes — Merida consistently ranks as not only one of the safest cities in Mexico, but one of the safest in all of the Americas.

podcast cover-woman on a colorful colonial street


CHECK OUT EPISODE #03 | My take on solo female travel safety in Mexico

Should I get Travel Insurance?

For me, this answer is a wholehearted HELL YES!

As they say, you can’t put a price tag on peace of mind. Also, many years ago, someone wise told me it’s bizarre to insure a hunk of metal (our car), and a pile of bricks (our home), but not our body!

I’ll be honest, when I first started traveling solo, I wasn’t insured. However, after years of solo traveling, I wised up… now, I even have a whole page of this website dedicated to travel insurance, because it’s just that important!

If Mexico travel safety is on your mind, get your free quote below now!

Renting A Car in Merida

The easiest, most convenient way to see all the Merida day trip destinations listed in this article? A rental car, of course.

For convenience and ease of rental, pick your rental car up when you arrive at Merida International Airport. If not, there are a few additional places to rent a car in Merida.

Start your car rental search with Discover Cars. They have several rental car locations in Merida that you can choose from.

pink flowers on a tree on a pretty street called Paseo de Montejo in Merida, Mexico Yucatan Peninsula
The beautiful Paseo de Montejo has many things to see and do — and few of the car rental companies in Merida.

Merida hotel and Airbnb parking

Many Merida Airbnbs, hotels and hostels offer parking; but always double check parking policies before booking.

Need a Merida Airbnb?

I compiled a list of the best Airbnbs in Merida for you! These are all located in the best parts of town, and hosted by Airbnb’s vetted Super Hosts… so all you have to do is book and enjoy!

🏡 Never used Airbnb before?

Try it out using my discount code, and get up to $65 OFF.

Do I need Mexican car insurance?

While it will cost you about $35 per day, you really should work Mexican car insurance into your travel budget. Typically, you’re not covered through your U.S. company when you drive in another country.

Many people have credit cards that claim to offer foreign car insurance. However, I have heard enough horror stories from other travelers and expats about card companies not paying because of fine print, that I now strongly advocate for Mexican insurance.

I recommend renting with Discover Car, and opting for full coverage insurance.

Is the Yucatan Peninsula safe for driving?

Known as one of the safest states in Mexico, driving in Yucatan is as well, quite safe. Scroll down to see tips you need to know before you drive in Mexico.

podcast cover-woman on a colorful colonial street


CHECK OUT EPISODE #08 | Alex’s 35 Tips for Traveling to Mexico

Tips for Driving in Mexico

  1. Rent with a reputable company! I’ve tried cutting corners with rental car costs, but as they say, “you get what you pay for.” For a reliable Merida rental car, I recommend Discover Cars.
  2. Don’t drive at night. After several years traveling and living in Mexico, and hearing this same warning over and over (mostly from Mexicans), I’ve had to accept that there’s truth to it. Many people do not consider it safe to drive at night. 
  3. Always use the couta, or toll, roads. Yes, they cost money, but they are much better maintained and generally considered safer. Pro tip: Bring cash for the tolls.
  4. Download any offline map you’d need for travel. I recommend Google Maps or Maps.Me’s offline maps. Pro tip: Your signal will go in and out as you travel through more rural areas.
  5. Download some podcasts while you’re at it!
  6. Don’t forget Mexico’s speed limit signs are in kilometers per hour, not miles per hour. Pro tip: Don’t worry about conversion math here; just make sure the speed limit sign number matches your speedometer number.
  7. Do not use your cell phone while you’re driving! Not only is this unsafe, it is also illegal. In fact, even having your phone in your hand is a ticket-able offense, so try not to even hold your phone while driving.
  8. The rumors are true about the cops expecting bribes! If the cops pull you over, and they only will if you give them a reason to, they will expect a cash “payment” (read: bribe) in exchange for not ticketing you.
  9. Mexican roads are notorious for their abundant amount of topes (speed bumps). Pro tips: Keep your eyes on the road, as topes don’t always have signs alerting you to them.
  10. Mexico’s gas stations are not self-serve. When you stop for gas, an attendant will pump it for you and take your payment. These people don’t actually work for the gas station, and rely on tips. When they finish, it’s customary to tip them at least $10-20 pesos ($0.50-1).
  11. Mexico’s traffic lights go from green to yellow, to flashing yellow for a few seconds, to finally, a red light.
  12. Make sure you purchase Mexican car insurance. You are generally not covered in any way through your U.S. company when you drive in another country.
  13. Most travel insurance policies cover driving. Get a free quote from World Nomads, one of the industry’s biggest travel insurance companies.

Merida Bus Travel

No interest in driving? No problem at all!

Mexico actually has an amazing public transportation system. From buses to colectivos (shared vans), rest assured you can easily get to every place in this article — even if you’re not driving to them.

Mexico’s largest bus company is called ADO. They have daily and sometimes multiple trips per day to/from the majority of places listed here. When I’m traveling, this is the company I check first.

Monumento a la Patria carved stone monument with Mexico's flag on top in Merida, Mexico Yucatan Peninsula
The beautiful Monumento a la Patria, located on Merida’s Paseo de Montejo.

ADO has large buses, think tour bus size, with big comfy recliner seats and outlets at each one to charge your gadgets. You can buy your bus tickets online in advance, or by showing up to the bus station about 30 minutes before your departure to buy them.

Now that you have a better understanding of how to rent a car in Merida, and how to use Merida’s busses — let’s look at the 25 most amazing day trips from Merida that you need to take!

Have any favorite day trips from Merida, Mexico?

Please let me know in the comments down below!

Enjoy these related blogs!

¡Hola Chicas!

👋 I’m Shelley, a former Miami travel magazine editor who ditched the office for the world! I started this blog & podcast to help women like you cross Solo travel & Mexico travel off your bucket list…


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A Solo travel meets Mexico travel podcast!

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I’d L❤️VE to hear your thoughts…


  1. Lisa

    I absolutely love how colorful each and every one of these locations are! who knew there were so many neat places to explore in this part of mexico! adding it to my bucketlist!

  2. Shannon

    Great info! The cenotes all look amazing!

  3. Courtney

    Merida is one of the first places I want to visit once I feel comfortable flying again. (Especially since it’s getting cold where I am!) I love this list, and thank you for sharing these lesser known day trips, too. I had never heard of the ‘Magic Town’ designation, but that sounds like a great travel planning tip to look for when visiting other cities in Mexico, too. I was thinking of a week or two, but now I wish I had a whole month to visit!

  4. Megan

    I totally want to go to Celestun now and see the flamingos!

    • Shelley

      Megan: It’s such a cool experience to see so many of them in the wild… I believe there are something like 30,000 that live there.

  5. Krista

    I would love to visit those Mayan ruins! Great list of day trips you’ve put together, they all look incredible.

  6. Nina Clapperton

    Mexico is always truly stunning, but your photos make it more so. I love the bright pops of colour, especially as Canada gets drearier and drearier. Saving for future trips!


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