Bus tours of the city are a good way to get your bearings straight, and to get a sense of which places in Mérida  you’d like to return to spend extra time (and which not). There are two bus operators that give city tours; though different, both provide a good lay of the land.
As the name suggests, Camioncitos Multicolores (Calle 55 at Calle 60, tel. 999/927-6119, US$7 adult, US$4 child) are multicolored open-air buses used for two-hour guided driving tours of the city, with explanations in English and in Spanish. The route includes drive-bys of the historical center and outlying neighborhoods. Tours leave at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 7 p.m. Monday–Saturday, and 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday. Look for the multicolored bus in front of Parque Santa Lucía on Calle 55. Reservations are not necessary.
Turibus Circuito Turístico (Hotel Fiesta Americana, Calle 56 at Av. Colón, tel. 999/920-7636, www.turibus.com.mx , 9 a.m.–9 p.m. daily, US$10 adult, US$5 children under 12) operates a fleet of apple red double-decker buses that have all-day “hop-on hop-off” service along a preset route; the stops include Fiesta Americana Hotel/Zona Hotelera, the central plaza, Museum of Anthropology, Itzimná church and park, Gran Plaza mall, Monumento a la Bandera, and Parque Las Americas. Buses pass any given stop approximately every 45 minutes. Multilingual recorded explanations of various historical buildings and points of interest also are played along the way.
Mérida’s narrow streets were originally designed for calesas (horse-drawn buggies) and you can still ride one through the historical center where mansions with carved facades, stone gargoyles, and wrought-iron fences still stand (although some much better than others). Sunday is the best day to hire a calesa as many streets are closed to vehicular traffic and the rest are relatively quiet; other days, you’ll have to share the streets with the exhaust from passing cars. The easiest places to hire a calesa is either at the Plaza de la Independencia or in front of the Hotel Fiesta Americana (Paseo de Montejo at Av. Colón). Drivers are typically at both sites 8 a.m.–midnight daily. Tours last between 30–90 minutes and range from US$25–35. Definitely agree upon a price before sitting down for the ride.
The city tourist office (central plaza, Calle 62 between Calles 61 and 63, tel. 999/942-0000 ext. 801119) offers a free walking tour Monday–Saturday at 9:30 a.m. in English and Spanish. The tour lasts 1.5 hours and focuses on the buildings around the Plaza de la Independencia. To sign up, just go to the tourism office at 9:15 a.m. on the morning you’d like to join the group.