Hit the Road: The Best Day Trips from Mérida

Seen everything in Mérida? Hit the road and enjoy some of these fun day trips from Mérida and see more of beautiful Yucatán

As much as you might enjoy exploring Mérida’s many wonderful attractions, it’s worth noting that there are plenty of great sightseeing opportunities located within an hour or two drive from the Yucatán capital. Best of all, a variety of convenient transportation options, such as buses, rental cars, and guided tours, are all available to get you there. 

Whether you live here full-time, part-time or are on vacation, here are a few fun and safe Mérida day trips worth considering.

The Best Day Trips from Mérida

The Maya City of Chichén Itzá

The pyramid of Kukulkan at Chichén Itzá represents the 365 day Mayan Haab calendar by way of its 364 steps, 91 on each side plus the temple atop. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht best day trips from Merida
The pyramid of Kukulkan at Chichén Itzá is a must-see on a day trip from Mérida. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

One of the most revered pre-Columbian sites in Yucatán, Chichén Itzá is an absolute must-visit. Located approximately 75 miles from Mérida, this ancient and carefully restored Mayan city is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offering fascinating insights into the advanced astronomical and engineering prowess of the Maya. 

The star here is the iconic El Castillo (Temple of Kukulcán), a nearly 100-foot tall structure that’s in precise alignment with the equinox sun. Other notable structures include the Temple of the Warriors with its impressive columned halls, the chilling Wall of Skulls (Tzompantli), a large square platform believed to have displayed the heads of sacrificial victims, the Great Ball Court, and the Sacred Cenote. Be sure to also spend time in the brand new Chichén Itzá museum.

To get from Mérida to Chichén Itzá, drive for about 1.5 to 2 hours via Highway 180 or take a comfortable ADO bus from Mérida’s main terminal. Guided tours are also a great option, providing historical context and ensuring you don’t miss anything along the way. Arriving early is advisable to avoid the heat and the crowds. Combining Chichén Itzá with a visit to nearby Cenote Ik Kil can make for a fun and refreshing end to the trip. 

Go Wild at Celestún Biosphere Reserve

Flamingos at Celestún Biosphere Reserve one of the best day trips from Merida
Flamingos are Yucatán’s most beloved bird and can be seen with a visit to Celestún Biosphere Reserve (Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine)

Just 59 miles west of Mérida, Celestún Biosphere Reserve is a must-visit for wildlife enthusiasts. This important coastal region of mangroves and beaches is famous for its large populations of pink flamingos, with boat tours available to get you up close to these magnificent creatures. In addition to exploring this unique ecosystem, tours typically include a stop at the reserve’s freshwater springs for a swim.

When you’re done exploring the reserve, head into the town of Celestún itself for a meal at a restaurant offering fresh seafood catches of the day. Don’t forget to explore the town’s great beaches and take a dip in the Gulf of Mexico. 

While accessible from Mérida via a 90-minute drive along Highway 281, those without a car can hop aboard one of the regular buses at Mérida’s Noreste bus station. 

The Ancient Maya Ruins of Uxmal

he charming house of the Turtles gets its name from the many stone turtles which adorn its facade. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Uxmal’s House of the Turtles gets its name from the many stone turtles that adorn its facade Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Located just 50 miles south of Mérida, Uxmal is celebrated as one of Mexico’s most complete pre-Columbian sites. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it dates back to the 6th century and, unlike Chichén Itzá, exhibits minimal Toltec influence. It’s worth visiting for its prominent Puuc architecture, a style characterized by thin limestone facades with intricate square or lattice patterns atop smooth walls. 

The many panels adorned with Chac masks, representing the rain god and featuring long curved noses and depictions of serpents with rigid bodies, are also worth seeing. Other highlights include the Pyramid of the Soothsayer, at 115 feet, the site’s tallest structure, and Temple I, the oldest building and famous for its door lintel inscribed with its construction date (AD 569) and sculpture of Queen of Uxmal.

It takes about an hour to drive to Uxmal along Highway 261, and buses and guided tours are also available. These tours often combine visits to other nearby sites such as Kabah. A visit to Uxmal can also include a stop at Museo Choco-Story Uxmal, where you can learn about the history and significance of chocolate in the region. 

Take a Beach Trip to Progreso

Beaches on the Gulf of México are sunny and superb. Just remember to apply enough sunscreen. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
Progreso’s beaches overlook the Gulf of Mexico and make for an excellent day trip destination. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The town of Progreso is an easy day trip from Mérida and is perfect for those wanting to spend time on the coast. Just 25 miles to the north, Progreso boasts beautiful sandy beaches, a lively waterfront promenade, and Progreso Pier, the world’s longest pier. This nearly five-mile-long landmark offers great views over the Gulf of Mexico. 

Other fun things to do in Progreso include checking out the beach clubs, perhaps stopping to rent a beach chair and umbrella to soak up some sun, and enjoying water activities like kayaking and paddleboarding. Another must-do is dining at one of the town’s many seafood restaurants, which serve delicious fresh dishes like ceviche and grilled fish. 

To get from Mérida to Progreso, drive north on Highway 261, a journey of about 40 minutes. Buses from Mérida’s Autoprogreso terminal run frequently and are an affordable and convenient option.

Tour the Haciendas and Cenotes Route

Aerial view of the northern section of Hacienda Yaxcopoil where henequen (also known as Sisal) was processed for export. Photo: Carlos Rsoado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine 
Aerial view of the Hacienda Yaxcopoil where henequen was processed for export (Photo: Carlos Rosoado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine)

Exploring the haciendas and cenotes around Mérida offers a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty and can be accomplished as part of a fun day trip. The region’s “henequen haciendas,” so-named for their former roles in the sail-making industry, provide a fascinating glimpse into Yucatán’s colonial past. Popular examples include Hacienda Yaxcopoil and Hacienda Sotuta de Peón, both of which have been restored and offer guided tours showcasing their architecture, machinery, and opulent living quarters. 

Combining this historical tour with visits to nearby cenotes, such as Cenote Ik Kil, Cenote Xlacah, and the Cuzamá Cenotes, is a great idea and a great way to cool off. 

Renting a car is the most convenient option if you’re planning on tackling this trip. It allows you to visit multiple sites at your own pace. Organized tours are also available and often include transportation, making it easy to explore without the hassle of navigation. Swimming in the cenotes is a must, so bring swimwear and a towel. 

Related: Luxury & Elegance at the Best 5-Star Hotels in Mérida

Bryan Dearsley
Bryan Dearsleyhttps://rileymag.com/
Contributor Bryan Dearsley is a travel writer and editor, and Co-Founder of the Riley network of luxury lifestyle websites.
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