Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula may draw crowds for its white-sand beaches, but inland, the bustling city of Mérida is a must-experience blend of local life, delicious food and rich history. Founded by 16th-century Spanish conquistadors on the site of an ancient Maya settlement, the city enjoyed decades of prosperity as the world’s leader in rope production made from henequen agave before falling into a period of slumber in the early 1900s.

Today, passionate entrepreneurs are breathing new life into the city, with bustling markets, impressive museums and impromptu dance performances on the streets. And, with jungle-fringed cenotes and archeological sites nearby, lounging on a beach will be the furthest thought from your mind. 

No matter where the day takes you in Mérida, you have to eat. Here are the best places to taste the local flavours, from morning until night.

9 a.m.

Photograph by @travelinglamas

On every street corner vendors sell café de olla, a sweetened coffee beverage made with cane sugar and cinnamon. For something a little more chic, head to Manifesto: Casa Tostadora Calabrese, a café and coffee roaster serving espresso drinks made from Oaxacan beans. 


Photograph by @travelinglamas

Across Central and South America, ceviche is traditionally eaten in the early afternoon to ensure the freshness of the day’s catch. Come midday, Marlin Azul is filled with diners sharing plates of it, or enjoying shrimp cocktails and other raw-seafood delights. 

4 p.m.

Photograph by @travelinglamas

Mérida’s year-round balmy climate calls for chilled afternoon treats. There are ice cream parlours and paleterias across the city, but Pola Gelato Shop serves the most inventive flavours. Order a scoop of guanábana sorbet and watch the world go by from the nearby Parque de Santa Lucía.

7 p.m.

Photograph by @travelinglamas

Margaritas, mezcal and Modelo beers are as much a fixture of cantina culture as the swinging doors and convivial vibe. Inspired by Mexico’s old-school drinking dens, La Negrita attracts a young and young-at-heart crowd for pre-dinner drinks, botanas (snacks) and live music.

9 p.m.

Photograph by @travelinglamas

Dinner in Mérida ranges from street-side taco stands to fine-dining establishments. K’u’uk brings together the best of both worlds, with chef Pedro Evia putting a high-end spin on traditional Yucatecan dishes like pork-liver tamales and corn esquites

[This story appears in the February 2020 edition of WestJet Magazine.]