1. Chichen Itza, Sacred Cenote and Cenote Ik Kil
Voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza is a day trip from Merida you must add to your bucket list.
About Chichen Itza
An ancient Mayan city built approx 1200 years ago and discovered in 514 A.D.
Located in the North of the Yucatan Peninsula, it was an urban hub of trade, entertainment and religion and home to 50,000 people.
Interesting Facts About Chichen Itza:
- Maya astronomy plays an important part in the construction of the city. 365 steps representing the days of the year makes up the famous pyramid, El Castillo. Each side has 91 steps to the top step.
- On the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, the shadows line up on El Castillo creating a serpent shadow that falls down one side of the steps to meet the stone carved head of the serpent at the bottom.
- There is evidence that the Mayans were able to predict the solar eclipses
- The Ball Court where the game Pok Ta Pok was played is the largest in the Americas. Stand at one end of the court and clap to hear it echo throughout the stadium.
- The city met a mysterious end. Its inhabitants abandoned it in the 1400s but there is no evidence why.
- Chichen Itza hosts a light display at night.
When To Visit Chichen Itza:
Chichen Itza attracts over 1.4m visitors per year. Bus tours come from Cancun, Playa de Carmen, Merida, Valladolid and beyond.
To avoid being caught up in the tour groups, I’d recommend arriving before 10am. I got there just after 9am and it was relatively quiet.
It opens at 8am if you’re an early bird.
|Time from Merida to Chichen Itza:||3 hours by second class bus (Oriente) or 1 hour by ADO first class bus.|
|Cost:||Oriente is $95 pesos one way / ADO is $150 pesos one way. PLUS $242 pesos Chichen Itza admission fee excluding tour guide.|
The Sacred Cenote is within the grounds of Chichen Itza.
Why is it sacred? Because it was used by the Mayans for ritual purposes. As a sacrifice to the Maya rain god who was thought to live in the depths of the waters, young women were thrown into the cenote!
Needless to say, there’s no need to pack your bikini for this cenote as you wouldn’t want to swim in it!
Cenote Ik Kil
Idyllic is what springs to mind when I think back to Cenote Ik Kil which is why it makes it to my list of top day trips from Merida.
Dropping 85 ft to the waters surface, overhanging vines softly drape the emerald green waters. I found it a beautiful sanctuary to float and catch the sun twinkling through clouds above.
To enjoy this peaceful serenity, you must, must, MUST arrive before 10am.
For all you crowd haters (my hand’s up too), if you can’t arrive before 10am, I’d honestly save your $70 pesos entrance fee and give this one a miss.
Tours incorporate Cenote Ik Kil as part of their day trip package so hoards of buses turn up throughout the day. Not so tranquil now.
Although beautiful, it’s very much kitted out for tourists – huge car park, a hotel, 2 restaurants, shower and changing area. This is great if you have a family or coming from afar and happy to jump on board the tour bus gang.
However, if you seek out the quiet, there are plenty of other cenotes that are just as beautiful (if not more) to explore in Yucatan.
There are a few cenotes closer to Valladolid that I’ll tell you more about in a post very soon, I promise!
|Time from Chichen Itza to Cenote Ik Kil:||10 mins by taxi|
|Cost:||$35 pesos by taxi + $70 pesos entrance fee|
2. Cuzama Cenotes
This day trip from Merida is one of my highlights from my time in the city.
I spent Christmas Day at the 3 Cuzama Cenotes and what a fabulous day it was!
Located deep in the forest and accessible only by horse and cart, it was a truly off-the-grid experience.
For $200 pesos each (just over £8) we got to visit 3 cenotes which I thought was a pretty good bargain!
Want to know more about my experience, how to get there and tips? Read Christmas Day: A Day Trip to the Cuzama Cenotes
|Time from Merida to Cuzuma Cenotes||1hr 15 mins by colectivo then motortaxi|
|Cost:||$400 pesos per horse and truck for all 3 cenotes|
The beautiful city of Valladolid warrants more than a day trip from Merida in my opinion. I spent 3 nights here and fell in love with its charm.
Smaller in scale to Merida, the city is manageable and can easily be explored in a day.
If a day trip is only possible then this is what I’d recommend doing:
Have breakfast with the locals at Bazaar Municipal.
- Located in the main square, this no frills indoor food market hosts a selection of local cuisine vendors. Portions are generous and prices are cheap!
OPTION 1: Take photos at Cenote Suytun
- I’d only recommend going here if you love photography because the water in Cenote Suyton is brown, slimy and smelly. People do swim in it but I’d advise against it.
- Getting there: We caught a bus from the ADO station costing $14 pesos. It’s about 10 mins out of town so not far at all.
- Coming back to Valladolid: stand on the main round and flag down either the large coaches, colectivos or you can jump in any of the small mini van buses/cars that are blue, green or white. They say taxi on them but it’s more like a bus. Costs $15 pesos.
TIP: The entrance fee is $120 pesos which I thought was extortionate given that the water isn’t swimmable. I wandered around the grounds for a bit first and found the cenote to the left of the entrance past the toilets. Go there and chat to the guy at the ticket desk. I told him we just wanted to take photos and not swim so he charged us $50 pesos each instead. I imagine he just pocketed that money himself, but these things happen all the time!.
OPTION 2: Cenote Zaci
Not a photography lover?
- Opt to take a morning dip in Cenote Zaci
- Located in the centre of Valladolid
Head to Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman
- The Hacienda offers a brilliant deal for $150 pesos you can swim in Cenote Oxman that’s within their grounds, use their pool and spend the $150 pesos on food and drink. Adam and I spent a lovely lazy afternoon there.
- If you literally want to just see the cenote then it’s $70 pesos.
- Getting there from Valladolid: 10 mins by taxi cost $100 pesos. The Hacienda will call you a taxi to take you back.
- Address: Calle 54, Valladolid
I adored wandering the pretty streets of Valladolid. Calle 41A is the main street where you can browse the cute boutiques and the reknowned perfumerie Coqui Coqui.
It’s worth a stop in Tresvanbien for an Argentinian empanada and coffee. Their rustic garden out the back provides chilled Ibiza chill tunes where you can sip on your coffee from a swing chair.
Once you reach the green opening at the end of Calle 41A, the boutique hotel arm of Coqui Coqui is on your right. Their courtyard is exquisite. Drinks are served with complimentary dark chocolate from the local chocolatier.
Dine at El Sazon de Valladolid or El Meson del Marques
El Sazon de Valladolid
- This local hidden gem is especially for meat lovers.
- Try the Bandejas platter for 2 for a taste of typical Yucatan cuisine. It includes:
- Poc Chuc, pork in a citrus marinade served with avocado, tomatoes, rice, tortilla
- Longaniza, a type of chorizo sausage. Fairly dry texture
- Asada, grilled and sliced beef
- Empanadas, meat and/or vegetable stuffing wrapped in baked pastry
- Kibis, originating from Syrian-Lebanese cuisine, I’d describe as a cross between a meatball and a falafel. A doughy wheat that’s rolled and stuffed with ground mince. Served with a cabbage salad
- Silbutes, a chicken taco with pickled onions, tomato, avocado
- Panuchos, the same as a silbutes except the tortilla is stuffed with refried beans. Incredible!
- Be warned, the restaurant isn’t a looker! It’s very basic and has a TV but I still liked it’s authentic charm.
- Open daily until 8pm.
- Address: Valladolid – Cancun 233 AX 48 y 50, Bacalar, 97780 Valladolid
El Meson del Marques
- If you’re looking for a prettier setting El Meson del Marques is your place.
- Dine around the central fountain in this historical hotel’s courtyard.
- Address: Calle 39 203, Centro, 97780 Valladolid.
Drinks at: Cafeina Bistro
Soak up the evening atmosphere outside Cafeina Bistro. This place comes alive later in the evening but it’s a nice spot to people watch before you make your journey back to Merida.
Address: Calle 41A 212A entre 48 y 50, Sisal, 97784 Valladolid
|Time from Merida to Valladolid||2.5hours from CAME bus terminal by ADO bus|
4. Beach Day: Progreso
If city life becomes too stifling, the busy beach town of Progreso is a popular day trip from Merida taking about an hour by bus.
Many residents of Merida own beach houses in Progreso and flock there at the weekends to escape the city.
The beach front is lined with bars, restaurants and craft stores selling a variety of souvenirs.
Eladio’s is a well known restaurant where the more you drink you, the more free tapas they serve you. You can fill up on ceviche, tamales, mole chicken, guacamole and chips. It’s whatever they’re cooking up fresh that day.
TIP: It’s also worth flagging that Progreso is a destination stop for cruise ships. To avoid the influx of tourists, plan your day trip wisely by referring to the cruise ship timetable.
My Beach House in Progreso
Chicxulub is 15 mins by car on the same coastline as Progreso and is a much quieter area in comparison.
Telchac is even further along this coastline.
Both Chicxulub and Telchac are very quiet towns, I’d even go as far to say ghost-like. Catering only for locals who own holiday homes on the beach.
Adam and I enjoyed the peace of our beach house and used the time to work and nip across to the beach to sunbathe for an hour or so each day.
Despite what people say, you don’t need a car. Colectivos regularly run in both directions.
The Downside of Progreso, Chicxulub and Telchac
Firstly, I found the sea very choppy and rough.
Secondly, there was a lot of seaweed, otherwise called sargassum.
The seaweed problem started on this whole stretch of coastline including the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, in 2014.
Some say it’s due to the change in climate and winds, or it could be warmer waters breeding the seaweed faster. Another theory is the result of low level hurricanes that chop up the seaweed leaving it free to float and be pushed to shores by the current.
Whatever the reason, the level of seaweed on the beach changes practically weekly. BUT the seaweed is more apparent in Chicxulub and Telchac because the beaches aren’t lined with hotels so there isn’t anyone to clear it away.
|Time from Merida to Progreso||Approx 1 hour by Autoprogreso bus. Located on Calle 62, run every 10 mins between 5am – 10pm. More Info|
|Cost:||$21 pesos one way / $38 pesos return|
5. Beach Day: Celestun
Adam and I took a day trip from Merida to the sleepy beach village of Celestun purely for its quiet stretch of beach and calm waters. There’s literally nothing there apart from a few beach restaurants and craft stores selling shells and sun hats.
Carry on walking away from the restaurants to nab your own slice of paradise away from the crowds.
Celestun Flamingo Tour
The majority of tourists visit Celestun because it’s a well known habitat for flamingos. It’s initially why I wanted to visit but having arrived I changed my mind and chose to give it a miss. This is why…
As you step off from the bus, you’ll immediately be asked if you’d like to go on a flamingo tour and this pestering continues as you arrive onto the main area of the beach.
Boats are lined up on the shore and there’s a constant flow of tourists being piled in. It just felt too rushed for my liking and as if the tour operators were herding cattle and loading them full into boats.
Apparently the boat takes you through the mangroves where you’re able to watch the flamingoes from a distance in their natural habitat.
The tour guides charge per boat which is $1,500 pesos (£62) and holds up to 8 people so you can choose if you want a more exclusive tour or on a budget and happy to share the experience with others.
A mangrove is basically a collection of trees and shrubs that grow in a swamp and paired with the fact you don’t see the flamingos up close, being charged £62 for an exclusive tour just wasn’t for me.
|Time from Merida to Celestun||Approx 2.5hours by bus. Hourly buses go from Noreste terminal on Calle 50 at 67 between 5am – 8pm|
Progreso vs Celustun, Which to Choose?
If you’re after a fun, lively beach day, head to Progreso.
If quiet, chilled, alone time is more your vibe or you want to see the flamingos, choose Celestun.
Interested in More Day Trips?
If you have more time in Merida, I found Roaming Around the World’s in-depth guide to The 15 Best Day Trips in the Yucatan from Merida invaluable.
|Time Zone:||CST (GMT -6)|
|Credit Cards:||Accepted in most convenience stores, restaurants, bars. Check for “cash only” signs|
|ATMs:||Banks are located near the centre including HSBC. As a general tip in Mexico, draw cash out only during the day and from bank where ATMs are located inside.|
|Getting Around:||Merida is one of the safest cities in Mexico so it felt ok to walk at night. The city has a huge public transport infrastructure including buses, colectivos and taxis. Uber works here but is more expensive than regular taxis.|
|Roads:||Roads are in a grid structure so there are a lot of cross roads without traffic lights. Be extra careful when crossing the road.|
|Driest Months:||December – April|
|Warmest Months:||April – June|
|Wettest Months:||August – October|