Valladolid stole my heart the very second I got off the bus. It’s not a flashy city, but rather one of those places that you start appreciating for its simplicity and authenticity. It’s all in the little details: a colorful building, a lamppost, the intertwining of lights and shadows on the walls of the convent at sunset, the benches in Plaza Mayor, the night Mass outside, the ice-cream carts, the art shops along the Calzada de los Frailes…
Many tourists visit Valladolid on a day trip from Cancun, Playa or Tulum, but you get to appreciate its beauty in full only if you stay in town for a few days. It’s also a great base for excursions to Ek Balam, Coba, Chichen Itza and countless cenotes in the area.
Best of Valladolid
1. Relaxing and people-watching in the Plazas
Each neighbourhood in Valladolid boasts its own plaza (square), the beating heart around which the local life revolves. In the plaza, usually overlooked by a church, you’ll find events, food stands, music, a playground area for kids, a coffee shop or two and these amazing benches designed in a way that forces you to look your interlocutor in the eyes when you talk. [I love those benches. So much so that if my life plans don’t work, I’m going to enter the bench business trade and export them everywhere]
The main square is called Parque Francisco Canton and it’s usually the most lively and popular with tourists. In my opinion, the plaza has a whole new vibe and atmosphere at night, so check it out at different times of the day if you can. Sit on a bench with a book or simply observe the people around you, imagine the stories that brought them there, write your journal, take pictures. For a more local feel, head to the neighbourhoods of la Candelaria, Santa Ana or Santa Lucia.
2. Casa de los Venados
Casa de los Venados was the best surprise in town. If you like Mexican art (and I don’t see how anyone wouldn’t love it), make sure not to miss it. Casa de los Venados is the private residence of John and Dorianne Venator, an American couple in love with Mexico, who spent the last few decades collecting Mexican folk art. They bought the house in October 2000 and after 12 years of renovations they finally moved in with all the art they collected (more than 3000 pieces). They still live there, but they open the house to the public at 10 am every morning for tours in English and Spanish. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. I couldn’t recommend it enough.
3. Calzada de los Frailes and its traditional shops
La Calzada de los Frailes is a fairly narrow and partially cobbled street built in the 16th century to connect the city of Valladolid to the village of Sisal. Nowadays it’s flanked by the most amazing artisan shops: from clothes to chocolate to jewelry to textiles to local cuisine restaurants, you’ll find everything you need to take your souvenir shopping to the next level. Don’t miss the Casa Maya, a traditional Mayan house still inhabited to this day.
4. Convento de San Bernardino
To Europeans, who are familiar with this kind of architecture, the convent may not seem really impressive, but it’s still worth a brief visit in my opinion. The public park outside the building is usually quiet and especially beautiful at sunset. And the colorful Valladolid sign is here as well, so if you want to snap a picture for your travel journal you have to stop by.
5. Cenote Zaci
You love cenotes but finding the way to get there stresses you out? Valladolid has the perfect solution for you: a cenote in the city centre! Cenote Zaci is right in the heart of the city and it costs only 30 pesos for the whole day (multiple entries allowed during the day).This cenote is mainly used by locals, so it’s usually very quiet. Just outside, there is a traditional restaurant and a small artisan market with local souvenirs and art. No restrooms nor changing rooms are available on site and most of the floor is wet, so bring with you only the essentials.
If going 5-10 km out of town doesn’t bother you, definitely check out Cenote Samula and Xkeken and the Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman.
6. Shop at the local market
The first time at a local market can be quite overwhelming: it’s crowded, hot, loud and at times “bloody”. If blood makes you uncomfortable, skip the meat section, where butchers proudly hang pig heads and/or bodies, chickens, etc. Wander around the rest of the market and buy local fruit, vegetables, spices and sauces. Consider having a meal inside as well: the food stands are really cheap and 100% authentic. After going in circles for three or four times I got an extra spicy powder to bring home, some fresh watermelon slices for lunch and a small pudding-like traditional sweet.
7. Day trips to Mayan ruins
Who goes to Yucatan and doesn’t visit at least one archaeological site? Exactly, no one.
Valladolid is conveniently located close to at least 3 incredible sites: the world famous Chichen Itza and the least famous but equally amazing sites of EkBalam and Coba. You could easily get to Tulum as well, but I would give priority to the other three.
Specific posts on each site will be published in the upcoming weeks, but in the meantime I’ll give you a few general tips:
Leave early from Valladolid (by colectivo or bus), your goal is to be there at 8 am sharp when it opens. I got there at 8 am and there was already a short queue, but if you get there later in the day, be prepared for a long wait under the sun to get your ticket. Other benefits of arriving early: there are fewer people on the grounds and the annoying souvenir vendors are only starting to set up their stuff, so the chances of them leaving you alone are higher.
Great underrated site. Never too crowded, but if you get there early, you may even have the pyramid all to yourself! From Valladolid, the only way to get to Ek Balam is by colectivo taxi. Head to Calle 44 between calles 35 and 37 and you’ll find a bunch of taxis lined up, going to different destinations. The car will wait to have 4 passengers before leaving, so remember that it won’t probably leave right away. The fare is 50 pesos per person and the ride will take approximately 30 minutes. Same thing on the way back, taxis will be waiting in the parking lot outside the site.
Another really beautiful site, home to the highest pyramid in the area (42 m and climbable). The 120 steps are quite high and uneven, but the climb is not too hard and the view from above is amazing! The pyramid tends to get quite crowded, so head there first if you can and then explore the rest of the site. After visiting the ruins, you can also take a cenote tour and explore 3 cenotes only 10 minutes away from there. The easiest way to get to Coba from Valladolid is by colectivo.
Valladolid in a nutshell
Getting there: It’s super easy and cheap to get to Valladolid by ADO bus from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Merida. For discounts up to 50%, make sure to check 1-2 days in advance on the ADO website for compra anticipada tickets.
Getting around: Valladolid is small, so walking is the best way to explore the city. To go to the cenotes or the ruins, you’ll find most colectivos on calle 41 and taxis everywhere.
Accommodation: There are a few very centrally-located hostels in Valladolid at very cheap prices. I stayed at the Hostal 5 Calles, which is very basic but overall comfortable and clean. They have a garden where you can camp with your tent, a swimming pool (sadly empty when I was there) and bicycle rentals.
Where to work: I found an incredibly cute organic café behind the main square called Café del Profesor Pitagoras. The decor is all philosophy-themed, they have a nice selection of smoothies and vegan food, a lovely table on the terrace, plus WiFi and power outlets to get some work done. And the staff is really friendly and helpful. Highly recommended.
Safety: Valladolid is really safe. I walked around by myself at night in dark alleys, early in the morning in dimly lit alleys, under the sun and under the rain and I never had any problems at all.
To wrap things up, the best advice, as usual, is to just wander around town, get lost in the narrow streets, observe how locals live… and you’ll have a wonderful experience in Valladolid. 🙂
If you still have doubts or questions or you just want to share your experience, let me know in the comments!
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For more destinations, in Mexico and abroad, take a look here.
Comprehensive travel guide: Lonely Planet Mexico 15th Ed.: 15th Edition