There is a lot to see and do around Mérida: Maya ruins, colonial churches, cenotes, caves, bird-watching, mountain biking, snorkeling, and repelling, and more. Guided tours are a practical way—and in a few cases, the only way—to see and do it all. But don’t feel bound by set trips—small tour companies often customize outings to fit travelers’ particular interests and stamina.
Tour prices vary widely, from US$40 day trips to week-long tours that cost over 1,000 bucks. Be sure to ask about extra costs, like admission to the ruins, and whether trips include guide service or simply transportation. Popular package tours include must-sees like Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Celestún, and cenote tours. Private tours may cover the same places, or venture into less visited ones, and often focus on specific themes, like Maya culture, or birds and wildlife.
Ecoturismo Yucatán (Calle 3 between Calles 32-A and 34, Col. Pensiones, tel. 999/920-2772, www.ecoyuc.com.mx) offers excellent outdoors tours, including to Calcetok caves, Celestún, and biking to nearby cenotes, haciendas and archaeological sites. The agency is also known for customized 7–15-day tours that range as far as Campeche’s Río Bec region and Akumal on the Caribbean coast.
Iluminado Tours (tel. 999/900-1414, www.iluminado-tours.com) specializes in multiday tours that combine visits to places like Ek’ Balam and Izamal with an emphasis on Maya spirituality and personal enlightenment. Popular tours include the “Mayan Wisdom” and “Ixchel Mayan Goddess” programs. Run by a Canadian expat in association with local experts, including a former director of Chichén Itzá. Longer tours must be booked well in advance, while day trips can be arranged with less notice.
Yucatán Backroads Tours (Calle 53 between Calles 66 and 68, tel. 999/924-0117, www.yucatanbackroads.com) is operated by seventh-generation Meridiano Ivan R. de Leon. His all-day “Yucatán Insider” takes you to villages, cenotes, working haciendas, and small Maya ruins, using the region’s numerous and fascinating back roads. Friendly and extremely knowledgeable, de Leon can tailor tours to your interests, and does not combine parties, so you are sure to get the trip you want with the people you want.
Yucatán Trails (Calle 62 between Calles 57 and 59, tel. 999/928-2582, yucatantrails [at] hotmail [dot] com, 9 a.m.–6:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Sat.) is a reliable agency offering all the most popular package trips, including cenote tours, Uxmal and Kabah, and Chichén Itzá. Groups are relatively small, and most trips include a multilingual guide.
Nómadas Travel (Calle 62 at Calle 51, tel. 999/924-5223, www.nomadastravel.com) is the travel agency run out of Nómadas Youth Hostel. Guests of the hostel get discounts, but trips are open to anyone who’s interested, like birdwatching in Celestún and snorkeling in cenotes.
Turitransmérida Calle 55 between Calles 58 and 60, tel. 999/924-1199, www.turitransmerida.com.mx, 8 a.m.–1 p.m. and 4–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–1 p.m. Sat.) may be Mérida’s largest tour operators, with a fleet of buses and various excursions offered daily. The quality of tours isn’t bad, but groups can be up to 40 people in high season.
© Gary Chandler & Liza Prado from Moon Yucatán Peninsula, 9th edition