Not far from the Yucatan capital of Merida, Valladolid is a delightful Spanish colonial town consisting of narrow cobblestone streets lined with pastel-colored houses. Tucked away from the crowds of tourists, the vibe of Valladolid is reminiscent of “old Mexico.” Whether you spend your days strolling around the central square, admiring the well-preserved architecture, exploring some of the pre-Columbian Mayan ruins, devouring tasty Yucatan food, or swimming in the area cenotes, Valladolid Yucatan will not disappoint.
- Valladolid at a Glance
- Is Valladolid Safe?
- Getting Around
- 1 Colorful Streets of Valladolid
- 2 Convento de San Bernardino Siena
- 3 Francisco Canton Rosado Park
- 4 San Servacio Cathedral
- 5 Bazar Municipal
- 6 Casa de Los Venados
- 7 Cenotes Near Valladolid
- 8 Ruins Near Valladolid
- 9 Izamal
- 10 Beaches Near Valladolid
- What to Eat in Valladolid
- Where to Stay in Valladolid
- About the Author
Valladolid at a Glance
Valladolid was declared one of Mexico’s “Pueblos Magicos” (magical towns), a distinction given to towns based on their natural beauty, rich culture, and/or historical relevance.
Travel Lemming’s annual Emerging Destination Awards included Valladolid as one of its nine best-emerging destinations in North America for 2019 because of the bustling markets, spectacular cenotes, and fascinating Mayan ruins.
- Founded: May 28, 1543 by Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Montejo
- State: Yucatán
- Population: 48,973
- Area: 431.4 sq mi
- Elevation: 30 ft.
- Currency: Peso
- Average Temperature: 85°F
- Motto: Cuatro Veces Heróica (Four Times Heroic)
Is Valladolid Safe?
With so much media attention given to violence in Mexico, you may be wondering if Valladolid is safe. Well…yes, it is. The incidences of gang and cartel violence are for the most part confined to areas on the US/Mexican border and the west coast areas of Sinaloa and Colima.
The Yucatan Peninsula and Valladolid in particular, have a reputation of being the safest places in Mexico. There is virtually no violent crime happening in Valladolid. It’s a very peaceful and slow-paced town that I found relaxing and fun to explore.
Before visiting any destination abroad, I always recommend two things.
- Check the US Government Travel Advisory site before visiting any foreign country;
- Register with the US STEP program (Smart Traveler Enrollment) so the US government can always track you down.
IMPORTANT! Even though Valladolid is considered safe, you should never travel to any foreign country without travel insurance! Random, unplanned things can happen. I was involved in a horrendous car crash in South Africa in 2014. Click here to compare prices on travel insurance.
It’s easy to get around Valladolid. Simply slip on a pair of comfortable walking shoes and off you go. Most of the city’s sights are within walking distance of each other, as are some fantastic options for quintessential Mexican accommodations.
I’d also advise renting a car. Chances are you already have one because Valladolid has no airport so you’d land in either Cancun or Merida. The drive from either of these cities (we’ve driven from both) is easy and well-marked. Plus, there are lots of activities within two hours of Valladolid, so a car is the best way to explore the area.
The Mayan culture is very prominent in Valladolid, from the local traditional dress, street food and language, to handicrafts. If you are interested in learning about indigenous culture, history, language, or food, Valladolid offers a colorful, hands-on experience.
Keep in mind that most of the locals don’t speak English, but they are warm and friendly. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love engaging with locals when traveling. Unlike the more touristy destinations in the Yucatan, e.g. Cancun and Playa del Carmen where the majority of folks around you are from other foreign countries, you’ll have opportunities to socialize with Mexicans who are happy you are visiting their beloved town.
All of the clothing, souvenir, and specialty shops are locally owned. You won’t find chain stores or American goods other than Coca Cola which does enjoy large consumption in Mexico.
Here are my favorite things to do in Valladolid Yucatan.
1 Colorful Streets of Valladolid
One of the most enjoyable things to do in Valladolid is to just stroll around the charming streets. Soak up the vibrant atmosphere and admire the facades and architecture of the colorful buildings. This is particularly true on the 16th-century Calzada de Los Frailes, where every house is a different color and there are unique designs on the doors and windows. You’ll also find boutique shops, cafes, and restaurants as well.
2 Convento de San Bernardino Siena
Convent de San Bernardino was constructed around 1552 to serve the dual purpose of a fortress and a church. Located in the neighborhood of Sisal, it is the second-largest Franciscan church in Yucatan after the Convent of Izamal, with large gardens at its entrance. If you have only a limited amount of time in Valladolid, I recommend that you make this your top attraction. The vestibule itself has beautifully carved altar and remnants of ancient art and the orange-pink interior of the rest of the building is stunning and quietly eerie.
3 Francisco Canton Rosado Park
Valladolid has an attractive green space right in the middle of the colonial buildings overlooking the Cathedral of San Servacio. Locals and visitors alike hang out at Parque Fransisco Canton Rosado, which has a fountain, interestingly-shaped metal benches, and chairs. Vendors and stalls line the park, selling souvenirs, balloons, ice cream, tacos, cheese-corn, and other street food. The park was built in 1900, and the fountain in the middle is a tribute to La Mestiza, a woman of mixed races – a result of the historic fusion of Mayan and Spanish cultures. The park is a great place to chill out or people-watch.
4 San Servacio Cathedral
Built by Priest Francisco Hernandez in 1545, San Servacio is a tall, impressive Spanish colonial church located on the southern side of the main square in the center of Valladolid. Interestingly, the original church was built with stones from a Mayan temple. It was demolished in 1705 but restored a year later with a new position for the altar that faces Rome, and a façade that features a coat of arms carved in stone.
5 Bazar Municipal
You can’t miss the multi-arched market hall in the center of town. This was my favorite place to eat, which may explain why there were so many locals here. The authentic Yucatan food was fresh and cheap and served with plastic utensils and plates, cafeteria-style. You can also shop for inexpensive clothing, local produce, and fresh flowers in this buzzing market, too.
6 Casa de Los Venados
While exploring the city center, don’t miss visiting the Casa de Los Vendos. This fascinating folk art museum holds the largest museum-quality collection of Mexican folk art in private hands. The expansive, hacienda-style private estate was purchased in 2008 by American expats John and Dorianne Venator. Their collection of contemporary and Mexican folk art is massive – with over 3000 vibrant pieces that they allow you to examine up close.
Tours are free, but they welcome donations. “The legacy will continue after we are gone,” explains John. “The house, the collection, and an endowment will pass on to a private foundation which is charged with continuing to use the house as it is currently being used to the public benefit.”
7 Cenotes Near Valladolid
It would be an absolute mistake to visit the jungles of the Yucatan and not experience the natural phenomena cenotes. Cenotes are natural pools below the surface of the earth which have been exposed after a collapse of the limestone bedrock. There are quite a few of these sinkholes in and around Valladolid to choose from, depending on how far you want to venture. It’s a ton of fun to swim in a fresh, crystal-turquoise cenote. Alternatively, if the water is too cold for you, you can simply relish a respite from the heat while admiring the stalagmites and stalactites all around.
Cenote Zaci is an oasis right in the middle of the city, making it a convenient option, especially if you do not have a rental car. This cenote is part of a cave system, part of which is filled with water where visitors can either take a relaxing swim or explore.
Just a short drive from Valladolid, stunning Cenote Suytun beckons with its shallow, emerald waters deep inside a rocky cave. A large cleft in the top of the cave creates a stunning sunlight opening that shines directly into the pool.
The most striking feature of Cenote Suytun is the stone pier that jets into the middle. Visitors walk into the middle of the pier and bask in the exquisiteness of the cavernous space enveloping you.
Cenote Samula, also a short drive away, is a completely underground cenote that is fun to explore.
8 Ruins Near Valladolid
Visiting the incredible Mayan ruins is a must-do while visiting Valladolid. There are three of these civilization remnants within an hour of the town, each with its own set of charms.
First, if you want to visit Mayan ruins without the crowds or don’t have a car, then head to Ek’ Balam. While covering a smaller area than some of the more famous ruins, the site is still impressive and has a stunning grand pyramid that you are still allowed to climb. Ek’ Balam (“black jaguar” in Mayan) was a functioning city between 700-1000 A.D. To-date, only a fraction of the site is excavated and several trails meander through the trees, providing visitors a chance to explore more of the site.
At its peak of civilization, the ancient Mayan city of Coba had an estimated 50,000 inhabitants. Built between 50 – 100 AD, the main ruin is the ancient Nohoch Mul Pyramid, which offers a steep, 130-step 137-feet climb to the top for dramatic panoramic views of two lagoons. There’s also the Xiabe/Crossroads Temple– named for its location at the intersection of three different sacbeob (roads).
Chichen Itza, one of the 7 Wonders of the World, is the most famous and well-excavated of the Mayan ruins in the Yucatan. A largely populated pre-Columbian city more than 1,500 years ago, the ancient city is scattered with ancient temples, observatory, ball court, carved pillars, and other architectural marvels. The highlight of Chichen Itza is El Castillo, the exquisite 100-foot stone pyramid.
Chichen Itza can get ridiculously crowded, but as most of the visitors arrive on buses from the Cancun area, if you visit when they open first thing in the morning, you can beat the crowds.
About a 1.5-hour drive from Valladolid, the splendid colonial town of Izamal, aka “the yellow city,” boasts appealing streets of brightly-painted ochre-colored buildings. Like Valladolid, Izamal is a Pueblos Magico. Founded between 750-200 BC, it was once one of the most important Mayan civilizations, even surviving the Spanish conquest. Be sure to explore the magnificent Instagrammable Franciscan Monastery in the center of town and order some delicious Pork Filete a la Yucatan at Kinish restaurant!
10 Beaches Near Valladolid
While Valladolid is inland, it’s easy to include beach time while vacationing here. Approximately two hours away, Rio Lagartos, Cancun, Progreso, and Isla Holbox are spectacular beaches with sugar sand and shimmering ocean and/or lagoon water ranging from turquoise, aqua, emerald, and even a pink lake (Las Coloradas)!
What to Eat in Valladolid
Sopa de Lima – Mayan chicken soup made with chicken, lime juice, and crispy tortilla strips
Salbutes –Yucatan dish of deep-fried corn tortillas topped with pulled chicken or turkey, lettuce, tomatoes, and sliced avocados
Tamales –starchy dough filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables then steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf
Elote Helado – ice cream with corn in it
Sis-Ha – local fish dish served brewed cervezas called La Ceiba
Papazules – rolled crisp tortillas covered in a creamy and cheesy sauce
Panuchos –open face taco laden with shredded meat and toppings
Queso Relleno – hot, cheese-stuffed tortilla
Cochinita pibil – roasted suckling pig
Where to Stay in Valladolid
You won’t find any chain hotels or luxury resorts in Valladolid. Instead, you’ll find small, utterly adorable and authentic boutique hotels and haciendas offering a personal experience, which frankly, I always prefer.
We stayed at Casa Hamaca Guesthouse, whose location in the historic district just steps from the main plaza could not have been better. From the moment we sauntered through the gates surrounded by the tropical jungle grounds, we felt like we were transported to another place and time. The 8-room Spanish colonial hacienda features a veranda overlooking tropical gardens, a private swimming pool, and numerous hammocks scattered throughout for guests to relax. Rooms are perfectly and vibrantly decorated in traditional Mexican design and furnishings.
Owner and American expat Denis Larson is quite the host! He takes his breakfast on the outdoor veranda with his guests every morning and is always available to answer questions or give recommendations. His hospitality truly exemplifies “mi casa tu casa” (my home is your home).
In fact, when we were visiting, Denis took us to an open house in the nearby downtown hosted by the owners of Coqui Coqui, an upscale perfume shop. The event was to promote a local manufacturer of sisal handbags. It was a great time to meet and mingle with expats from Europe as well as locals.
Valladolid is one of the most authentic, safe, and affordable colonial towns in Mexico. If you’re looking to see the “real Mexico,” – a place where ancient traditions and history fuse seamlessly with friendly locals and delicious food, look no further than Valladolid Yucatan. It’s one of those rare places that will bring on a warm-and-fuzzy remembrance many years after you’ve left.
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.