Merida, Mexico

By Don Murray

Where is Merida?


Near the northern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, about 22 miles south of the Gulf of Mexico, lies the regal colonial city of Merida. This beautiful, vibrant city of some one million people offers culture, sports, modern infrastructure, world-class affordable medical care, and handy access to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s easy to understand why Merida has long been a favorite of expats. It is also among the most historically significant cities in all of Mexico.

Capital of the state of Yucatan, Merida’s ancient roots go back to, what was formerly, the Maya city of Tho´, also known as Ichkaanziho´. And it is Merida’s rich history and current indigenous influences, mixed with a modern lifestyle, up-to-date infrastructure, and a reduced cost of living that has attracted large numbers of expats.

Appreciation for Merida, its rich cultural heritage and gorgeous architecture, often comes from understanding its painful history. Merida endured a significant amount of trauma before emerging as it has.

Though bravely battling against an overwhelming Spanish force of Conquistadors armed with broadswords, various gunpowder weapons, and shielded with metallic armor, Tho´s Maya warriors were outmatched against their invaders. With only wooden clubs, cotton padding on their bodies, and using crude spears and flint-tipped arrows, the fierce Maya men fought and died trying to repel the invaders. They eventually lost the protracted battle and the city of Tho´ fell to the Conquistadors in 1540 and was renamed Merida after a favored city in Spain.

But the fighting continued for another two centuries as the Maya resented being invaded and enslaved. In fact, not only did the Spanish want to extract all the wealth from Mexico and its people, but they were also under orders of the catholic church to destroy sacred Maya temples and build catholic churches to convert the indigenous people to Catholicism.

Grand temples as well as shrines and other Maya structures were deconstructed using enslaved Maya labor. The Conquistadors then ordered that the enormous carved stones were to be used to construct Catholic churches and other public buildings and some large residences that still stand today in Merida’s central historic district. The Maya carvings on the stones are clearly visible. These architectural shrines to ancient history provide a breathtaking backdrop to the city.

Merida is believed, by many historians, to be the oldest continually occupied city in the Americas. It is a stunningly beautiful city, its rich history on display through its architecture and the strong indigenous influence of its people.

The delicious regional food competes with the architecture for your attention and one cannot look at any building in the large historic district without being forced to feel something about the way that this city and all colonial cities came to be.

Retire in Merida


While no city has it all, Merida comes pretty close. For expats leaving the first world comforts of the USA, Merida will provide an easy transition when compared to many other options.

First, high speed internet is readily available throughout most of the city and offered by several providers. Coming and going from Merida is a snap with freeways and highways connecting to the Riviera Maya on the Caribbean coast as well as connecting to a good highway system throughout Mexico. And of course, there is a modern International Airport which makes airline travel readily accessible.

Shopping is an essential part of life as we all need food, clothing, and having a good wine in the refrigerator is always a good thing. Merida offers a plethora of shopping options from large open markets to small shops, strip malls, street vendors, and big box stores. It’s all here.

Mexico offers an easily obtainable retirement visa, providing for quick, permanent residency for those meeting the simple qualifications. The straight-forward process begins at the Mexican consulate in your home state. There, the consulate officer will verify your income based on the documents you provide, review a nominal number of other documents and your completed application. After a short interview, if approved, you’ll likely depart with your permanent residency visa affixed to the inside of your passport.

All legal residents over the age of 60 qualify for a discount card from INAPAM (Instituto Nacional para las Personas Adultas Mayores) facilitating discounts on a wide variety of goods and services.

Public transportation is available throughout the city by utilizing a combination of taxis, buses, and small vans called colectivos. Prices are geared toward the local population and are more than reasonable—cheap in fact. Bus and colectivo fares run from 25 cents to 60 cents.

Medical care is some of the best in the world with many doctors speaking English and modern hospitals to provide for any surgery needs. And it’s affordable by participating in one of two national health care programs; either Seguro Popular or the IMSS program. In fact, it is cheap enough to simply pay for routine doctor visits and prescriptions out-of-pocket with hardly a bump to your budget. Nearly all medications can be purchased directly from the pharmacy without a prescription (narcotics and strong antibiotics are obvious exceptions) and cost only a fraction of prices north of the border.
Merida has a significant population of expats. Both the U.S. and Canada are well represented as well as many countries from Europe and Asia. Facebook hosts a number of expat groups for Merida.

Lifestyle in Merida

Those who live in Merida enjoy warm weather year around. In fact, the one complaint that could be made about the weather is that it can get hot…really hot. Some summer days can hover above 95 degrees Fahrenheit so air conditioning in homes and cars is common as are small plunge pools for your home.

Merida is a city chocked full of culture. There are seven institutions of higher learning to include traditional universities, colleges, and technical schools. There are eight or ten museums displaying a variety of items to include traditional and indigenous items.

Often called the White City for the number of colonial structures, all painted white, Merida is a city that loves its art and artists. Hosting around seven or eight active galleries, Merida even has one entire street devoted to original sculptures, the Paseo de Montejo. Each year, the city installs one new original piece from a local artist along with an additional piece from an artist from another country.

Merida is home to the Yucatan Symphony Orchestra. Music lovers can enjoy traditional classical performances along with Jazz and Opera performed at one of the six active theaters.

Expats seeking books in English will be thrilled with the Merida English Library. Not only a resource for thousands of English books, the library also serves as a hub for expats to mix and mingle and often assists with the organization of meetings and functions.

And speaking of language, the Spanish spoken in Merida and the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula, is different from the Spanish spoken in the rest of Mexico. Yucatan Spanish retains a heavy Maya influence, both in the sound and rhythm of speech, as well as the definition of some words and phrases. As the Yucatan Peninsula is separated from the rest of Mexico, the normal blending and melding of a language, without such isolation, has not occurred as it has throughout the rest of Mexico.

Cost of Living in Merida

Like all of Mexico, Merida offers a reduced cost of living when compared to most places, north of the border. This is explained by low labor costs as well as reduced cost for materials and essentials. Due to the low wages, the market will simply not bear the sort of profits normally built into goods and services, north of the border.

Whether you rent or buy, housing costs are affordable for almost every budget. The singular exception may be related to purchasing and restoring one of the many colonial homes available for restoration. While their prices are very reasonable, the cost of the refurbishment may quickly reduce your bank account. That said, many expats have enjoyed taking on that challenge with great results.

Below is an example of a monthly budget for a couple living in Merida:

Rent three-bedroom apartment (Downtown)$550 to $850
Utilities (Electricity, Water, Gas)$60
Internet High Speed DSL Unlimited$24 to $30
Total$1,434 to $1,740