Here is what I did and what I recommend in my own version of 48 hours in Merida:
Experience the Plaza Grande: Sit and watch the world go by as you enjoy the center of this colorful Colonial City. A good place to do this is from the Sorbeteria Colon, on the north side of the Plaza, which has been there for almost 105 years. The sorbet is really outstanding, so I was there three times. I loved the coconut and the banana. Guanabana is also supposed to be good.
On the south side of the Plaza Grande is the Museo de Casa Montejo at Calle 63 no. 506. This is a must for your list. Now owned by Banamex, this is a 16th Century home that was built by Don Francisco de Montejo with a wonderful façade. You can tour several of the rooms which have beautiful furniture and paintings. Through its Fomento Cultural Banamex, Banamex is a major supporter of traditional Mexican folk art. There is wonderful store on the site selling works by some of the great artists working today. This is similar to the store they have in San Miguel de Allende.
On the west side make sure to see the Palacio Municipal, which also has a tourist office. It is an impressive red colored building built between 1734 – 1736. During the Festival de la Ciudad, it is the backdrop for several concerts as well as for fireworks in the evening.
On the east side is the Catedral de San Ildefonso which was built in 1561. The façade and towers are impressive as is the altar containing a huge wooden carving of Jesus on the cross.
Next to the Catedral, in the Pasaje de Revolución, is the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Yucatán or MACAY. I really enjoyed the abstract works by Fernando García Ponce and Gabriel Ramírez Aznar and a temporary exhibition of paintings, lithographs and sculpture. I would definitely recommend some time in the museum. There was also an architecture exhibition of award winning projects in the area. Outside of the older city center, I was impressed to see some wonderful contemporary work being done.
The Pasaje de Revolucion was just redone with a new glass domed ceiling and was dedicated while I was there. It is a beautiful arcade between the Catedral and the Museo.
Also on the North side is the very green, Palacio de Gobierno. The courtyard, with murals by Fernando Castro Pacheco, is worth the visit. Make sure to see the second floor for more murals and a beautiful ballroom richly decorated with more art by Pacheco. The views of the Catedral and the Plaza Grande are really good.
On Sundays there are many food stands set up near the Catedral that open for the day. Going north on Calle 60, it is often closed at night, particularly on weekends where many of the restaurants have outdoor seating with live music. It seemed like there was music everywhere! Further north on Calle 60 is Parque de Santa Lucia where you can often hear music or see locals dancing.
A few blocks west of the Plaza Grande is Instituto de Cultura de Yucatan/Museo de Arte Popular de Yucatan at Calle 50 A No. 487. It is located on a lovely quiet square. I was impressed with a temporary exhibition on folk art featuring the 200th anniversary of the Revolution in 2010, and more impressed by the permanent collection in the upstairs galleries. I was pleased to see some of the same artists that I have in my own folk art collection.
Teatro Jose Peon Contreras: Located at the corner of Calle 60 and 57, this is a beautiful Opera house designed by an Italian architect, Enrico Deserti, and built between 1900 and 1908. I was unable to attend a performance but took a brief tour of the beautiful theater with domed ceiling and the portico on the second floor. On the left side of the lobby there is a temporary exhibition space where I saw an excellent contemporary art show sponsored by the government.
Museo Regional de Antropologia Palacio Canton, Paseo de Montejo 485 at Calle 43: This is a very interesting museum featuring exhibitions of the Mayan people of the Yucatan with many pieces featured that were excavated at the various temple sites. I was fortunate to listen to a lengthy description of the Mayan Calendar and the upcoming date of December 21, 2012, when the calendar ends by a US archaeologist. I hate to alarm you but according to him, this happened before around 3,000 BC and nothing happened then, so don’t charge a lot on your credit cards expecting the world to end and you won’t have to pay back the money. The Palacio Canton, also designed by Italian architect Enrico Deserti, is really gorgeous and there is an exhibit on the second floor showing the history of the home and the family who lived there.
La 68 Casa de Cultura on Calle 68 north of Calle 55: This is well worth a visit. There is a store with nice art and folk art pieces from local artists. There is an attractive restaurant in the garden serving local specialties including many types of quesadillas. There are also films and documentaries shown in an outdoor setting Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. On Saturdays there is an Ecobazaar featuring organic products.
Festival de la Ciudad: The festival in January with daily free events in music, dance and other programs.
Paseo de Montejo: Start at the beginning and walk north where you well see some wonderful homes that line the street. Some great examples include Las Casas Camara o Gemelas (Twin Houses) built by brothers in 1906 in a French eighteenth century style are at Paseo de Montejo 495 between 43rd and 45th. The gates and ironwork are beautiful. Further up see Casa Peon de Regil, at Paseo de Montejo 471 at Calle 35, which was completed in 1905 and is considered one of the best to see. Casa Medina o Peon del Minarete at Paseo de Montejo 473, with Moorish influences, and Quinta Montes Molina at Paseo de Montejo #469, between Calles 33A and 35, is open for tours to see the furnishings, rugs and furniture. Further up the Paseo, at Prolongacion de Montejo, there are many stores, bars and restaurants.
Noche Mexicana: On Saturday nights, at the base or Remate Paseo de Montejo, is a fun street festival with music, food vendors and other vendors selling their art and other items. I saw two different bands the night I was there. It was predominantly locals when I was there. You can sit in the seats or sit at the tables on the outdoor terrace of the Hotel Casa San Angel.
Also at the Hotel Casa San Angel is Fonart 100% Mexico Hecho a Mano, Montejo #1 at Calle 49, which is a really great folk art store with pieces from all over Mexico. Also operated by them is a Pineda Covalin store which features wonderful women’s accessories and scarves, men’s ties and some beautiful silk ponchos for women.
Mercado Lucas de Galvez: I walked south and east of the Plaza Grande to this large Mercado. I love markets and it was filled with people buying gifts for Three Kings Day which is the traditional day of exchanging gifts for the children.
Since my trip, the new Gran Museo del Mundo Maya has opened in Merida at Calle 60 299-E, Revolucion. It features exhibitions on the Mayan and Spanish history and cultures. You should definitely check it out as the architecture looks incredible.