A trip to Hacienda Petac will surely include a visit to Mayan ruins, a swim (or several) in a local cenote and, of course, plenty of time dedicated to poolside relaxation. Between morning yoga and lessons on how to cook with the traditional Yucatecan oven, a pibil, it’s easy to forget just how much there is to do in bustling, nearby Mérida. Below, find a list of excursions and activities in our favorite city. And when you’re exhausted from exploring? A massage and a cocktail will be waiting for you.
1. If you plan on being here for an extended period of time, consider taking some Spanish classes. Immersion is a tried and true method. The Centro de Idiomas del Sureste offers Spanish language courses at any level and can be a great group or solo endeavor. We can also arrange group lessons here in the luxury of the Hacienda.
2. Mérida is a city of romantic inclinations. Every Thursday for the past 40 years, the city’s beloved Serenata Yucateca has been performed outdoors at Parque de Santa Lucia. Be sure to see the serenade; it will be the soundtrack to the remainder of your trip.
3. On vacation with your kids? Take them on a walk through a giant aviary at the Centenario Zoo’s bird exhibit or ride the trolley through the park to catch glimpses of the animals of the Yucatan. Thursdays at the Zoo feature live music and dancing and the special show “To Remember is to Live,” which starts at 4 pm.
4. Who doesn’t want to explore the lavish henequen-era mansions of downtown Mérida? The Mérida English Library offers architectural tours of both renovated and to-be-renovated private homes and their gardens every Tuesday during the busy months. Bonus: every week’s tour is different.
5. In need of a pick me up between museums? Swing by Fe y Esperanza, a hole in the wall snack shack that has been popularized for its tacos, tortas, and agua fresca fruit juice. Or, visit Dulcería y Sorbetería Colon, which was founded in 1907 and features tropical sorbets and drinks. They have so many flavors to choose from, it’s hard to pick only one.
6. Sundays in Mérida are the most exciting day of the week. The Plaza Grande transforms to become one part marketplace one part concert venue. Roads are closed to traffic and opened up in the morning to bicyclists and seekers of crafts, antiques, food and drink, then to dancers and singers in the evening still partying from Saturday night.
7. Learn a few dance moves from the locals every Tuesday evening at Santiago Park as a local group plays big band music of the ‘40s.
8. Go cheer for Los Leones, the Yucatan’s baseball team at their baseball stadium, Parque Kukulkan.
9. Eat some botanas, traditional appetizers meant to accompany cocktails. Most local cantinas have their own specialties (as well as their own house bands) but definitely order empanadas and ceviche, and try siquilpac, a dip made of roasted calabaza seeds and tomatoes.
10. Particularly if you’re on holiday with the kids, consider a visit to “Miniaturas,” an aptly named shop that sells the traditional Mexican folk art form. From dollhouse furniture to satirical masks, this fun little shop is perfect for souvenirs that you’ll actually keep. Next, take a visit to the Fonart 100% Mexico store in the Casa San Angel Hotel to see their high quality crafts for sale that come from all over the country.
11. Mérida’s busy Market District, just a few blocks from the Plaza Grande is where you can measure the pulse of the city. From adobo to hand-woven hats to fresh flowers to live chickens, you can find everything here, and people watch as well.
12. Is your Spanish improving? Catch a flick at the Cairo Cinema Café, an independent movie theater and coffee shop where a ticket price includes popcorn and you can bring your own wine.
13. Drink up! The popularized horchata, made with rice and cinnamon, is a wonderfully refreshing drink. But Mérida is all about fresh juices. Sit along the Plaza Grande with an agua fresca made from hibiscus jamaica, limon, sandia (watermelon), cantaloupe, guayaba, pineapple, barley, or chaya (leafy green vegetable with lots of vitamins).
14. Once you’ve experienced true relaxation here at Petac, you’ll want a way to bring the feeling home with you. Hamacas El Aguacate offers traditional hammocks that will help you do just that.
15. Want a traditional Yucatecan outfit to wear on the plane home? Consider a visit to Camisería or Guayabera Jack’s where you can find traditional guayaberas and huipiles and have them custom tailored to fit you.
If you think you’ve seen all that Mérida has to offer and want to explore outside city limits, here are a few day excursions that, while requiring a car and a map, promise adventures in their own right.
1. The Celestún Biosphere Reserve lies west of Mérida in the fishing village of Celestún and is famous for its pink flamingos. The estuary here as the river mixes with the Gulf of Mexico’s saltwater creates the perfect environment for the beautiful birds. You can also take a boat ride to the nearby petrified wood forest.
2. What’s more exciting than exploring Yucatecan caves in which the earliest Mayans lived worshiped, and even left hand prints? If you’re looking for an adventure, about an hour and 40 minutes south of Mérida are the hard-to-find Loltun Caves, used during the mid 1800s as a hideaway during the War of the Castes.
3. There are a number of wonderful museums in Mérida, but one of the most fun is the EcoMuseo del Cacao, about an hour and twenty minutes from downtown Mérida, a museum dedicated to the history, cultivation and uses of cocoa by the Maya. Depending on when you go you can catch reenactments of a traditional Mayan ceremonies and, of course, enjoy some samples.
4. For an overnight trek outside of Mérida, a worthwhile trip is one to Isla Holbox, the island village off the northeastern tip of the Peninsula. Known for its beautiful stretches of beach, it is the only port in Mexico where visitors are allowed to swim with the incredible (and peaceful) whale sharks.