Valladolid is an old colonial town, nearly 500 years old in fact. It’s situated halfway between the city of Merida and the popular Mexican party town of Cancun. It’s much quieter and smaller than both of these better-known destinations but there are actually plenty of things to do in Valladolid, Mexico. Plus, it makes for a very convenient home base for visiting sites like Chichen Itza and the mystical cenotes in the area.
Some may argue that being less touristy is exactly why it should be a stand-alone destination for those looking for a more authentic Yucatan experience. If you like the idea of staying in a charming, authentic-feeling Mexican Pueblo Magico (Magic Town) close to plenty of sights and with a good selection of activities and restaurants then we suggest you check out Valladolid, Yucatan.
The first time we went to Valladolid colonial town was in 2014. We chose it because it made a good stopover point on our way to Playa del Carmen from Merida. However, we enjoyed it so much we went out of our way to include it in our Mexico itinerary three years later.
Things to do in Valladolid, Mexico
Explore the town on foot
Valladolid, Yucatan is a great town to explore on foot. It is compact, safe and not throbbing with the constant buzz of vehicles. It is also named a Pueblo Magico (Magical Town). This is a program created by the Mexican tourist board as a way to help preserve and promote special cultural, historical and architectural features of small towns and villages throughout the country.
There are over 120 towns in Mexico with this distinction. Some of the best known Pueblo Magicos are Sayulita, Tulum, Isla Mujeres and and Palenque.
Just allow yourself the time to wander the pretty streets full of lovely pastel buildings, colonial churches and little squares. You’re sure to stumble across some hidden gems as you go in search of the more notable sights of the town like the following:
Convent de San Bernardino
This lovely beige stone building surrounded by an inviting green lawn was formerly a convent, church, and fortress. Now it is open to the public to step through the arches and view the large, intricately-carved wooden alter embellished with gold, various 16th-century frescoes, and even a cenote.
In the evenings at 9 pm, there is a fabulous light show projected onto the church’s facade. The 15-minute show is first narrated in Spanish and then repeated in English and tells the history of the town of Valladolid.
Note: Days of the show vary depending on the season.
Parque Fransisco Canton Resado & Catedral de San Servasio
The Catedral de San Servasio dominates one side of Valladolid’s central square named Parque Fransisco Canton Resado. As is the case with all central town squares in Mexico this is the heart of Valladolid. The place where locals come to socialize, enjoy an ice cream, play, listen to music and often even dance. In this square, you will find a lovely fountain, “conversation chairs” and of course food stalls.
The Cathedral dates back to 1545 and is an example of a typical colonial church. It was built on the site on a Mayan pyramid and some of the stones from that ancient structure were used. This was the case with many of the colonial churches and important buildings in the Yucatan when it was taken by the Spanish.
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Calzada de los Frailes
This pretty street connects the town center with the Convent de San Bernardino. It is lined with lovely pastel and richly colored colonial houses and is the pride of the town. Walk this street and you will almost certainly lose track of time as you stop for photos and refreshments at the lovely little restaurants and cafes along the way.
La Casa de los Venados
This is the private home of John Venator, lover of the arts. After retirement, he bought a soon-to-be-demolished historic property and spent the next 10 years bringing it back to life. He then turned it into his home along with a showcase for his more than 3,000 pieces of Mexican folk art collected over 50 plus years. Guided tours are offered for donation and all proceeds go to local charities.
The Zaci cenote is just one of dozens in the surrounding areas but what makes this cenote special is that its located right in the heart of town not far from the main plaza. The cenote can be seen from the park above but when you descend the stone steps you realize it’s actually in more of a cave with a hole in the top letting the sunlight in. Zaci makes a great place to cool off after a day of exploring Valladolid.
Day Trips from Valladolid, Yucatan
Speaking of cenotes there are dozens of them around Valladolid and one of our favorite things is to go cenote hopping. Within an easy taxi or bike ride are Dtzinup/Xkeken, cenote Samuela and Oxman cenote. If you have a car, which can be quite cheaply and easily rented in town, you make it a cenote road trip and visit X’Canche and cenote Ik’Kil. Just pack the car with swimsuits, towels, snorkel gear and plenty of water and hit the road.
Some of the most impressive Mayan ruins in the world are possible day trips from Valladolid. Chichen Itza is probably the best known and is listed as one of the 7 Wonders of the World. Ek Balam is the closest to Valladolid and is not fully excavated giving it a bit of a mysterious vibe. Coba is closer to the sea and is built around lagoons making it a different experience to Chichen Itza and Ek Balam.
Rio Lagartos is a small town on the north coast next to a lagoon of the same name. People go to the lagoon area for the stunning scenery, beautiful beach and abundance of flora, fauna and birdlife. For many, the most interesting feature of Rio Lagartos is the year-round population of flamingos. You can hire a boat to take you out to the flamingo beds and see these unique creatures in their natural habitat. Sunrise and sunset are the best times to go.
Quaint, peaceful Izamal makes you feel like time has stood still here. There are ruins of Mayan temples all around and the hills themselves are said to be one great pyramid. However, today the real draw, aside from the peacefulness, is the fact that much of the town is painted a deep yellow color. This makes for some stunning photos with the almost always backdrop of deep blue sky.
How to get to Valladolid, Yucatan
If you are comfortable with driving in Mexico going by car is the best option. This way you have the chance to stop at the many towns and sights along the way and have the flexibility of your own time schedule. It is a pretty straight forward drive from the main towns in the Yucatan. As mentioned, Valladolid is halfway between Merida and Cancun so from either location you are looking at about 2 hours drive time.
By Public Transit
The other option is to go by bus or collectivo. A collectivo is a van that shuttles up to about 12 people. It is generally the cheaper option but will take longer as it makes lots of stops. For the bus, we recommend traveling with ADO. From Merida or Cancun the bus journey is only a little longer than driving, from Playa del Carmen or Tulum it’s just under 3 hours. The cost for any route will be about 180 Pesos but there is also a discount for purchasing in advance.
Where to stay in Valladolid, Mexico
There are not as many options for accommodations in Valladolid, Mexico as there are in Merida or Cancun but there’s still plenty to chose from. There are hostels, hotels and guest houses of varying price ranges. We always start our search with Hotels Combined as this site shows places and prices from most booking sites allowing you to compare before choosing.
There are also quite a few Airbnb places for rent in Valladolid and the surrounding area. If you have not yet signed up and tried Airbnb we highly recommend it. Plus, if you use our special code you will get a $35 credit on your first stay.
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Everything you need to know about Zaci Cenote
The Yucatan has more than 7,000 cenotes so it’s a good idea to do your research and decide which ones appeal to you the most. Read more about Zaci Cenote and other cenotes in Mexico on The Art of Scuba Diving.
Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.