Sightseeing in Valladolid
The small city of Valladolid (population 50,000) is an easy two-hour drive from either Merida or Cancun using the nicely paved 180D toll road. You can rent a car and drive yourself, or if you want to make things really easy, you can take one of the many buses that travel there several times each day. In short, the ADO buses are clean, comfortable, convenient, and cheap. (You can read more about them on our Mexican Bus Ride post.)
Valladolid is only about 30 miles from Chichén Itzá. So if you stay there, you can get up in the morning, grab a quick coffee and pan dulce, and be on-site at the ruins shortly after the gates open at 8:00AM. This gives you the double win of beating the crowds and, more importantly, beating the sun. (Seriously, you do NOT want to be standing around in the scorching Yucatan sun during mid-day.)
Keep in mind that Valladolid has a lot more to offer than just being close to Chichén Itzá. It’s very nice city that has a wealth of history, cool museums, and some really nice shops, not to mention a refreshing cenote that’s located downtown. Oh, and don't worry about food! There are plenty of restaurants to choose from.
Valladolid is laid out in a very straightforward grid that radiates from the city center which is the Parque Principal Francisco Canton Rosado. Surrounding this central park are the main streets of Calles 41 and 39 which run east-west and Calles 42 and 40 which run north-south.
The park itself is a very pretty square that’s lined with trees and filled with paved pathways and sturdy benches. In the evening, it serves as the main gathering place for people to meet and visit. There are small stands selling snacks as well as street vendors hawking their handicrafts. All in all, it has a very pleasant atmosphere (although all the birds squawking from the trees does get a little intense at dusk).
Every Mexican town, no matter how large or small, has a main cathedral. In Valladolid it’s the San Servacio church that’s located directly across the street from the Parque Principal. It looks like a postcard, complete with two huge towers accented by giant palm trees. It was originally constructed in the mid-1500s during the time of the conquistador Francisco de Montejo, but was later demolished and rebuilt in the early 1700s due to a political atrocity that occurred there. (In short, in 1703, the ousted mayor of Valladolid hid in the church to avoid arrest. He was later found there and beaten to death within the grounds. As a result, the church was considered “desecrated” and was ordered to be rebuilt.)
Valladolid also played a key role in the Caste War of the Yucatan. Maya and mixed Spanish-Maya creoles rebelled against the strict laws that precluded them from owning land or holding positions of power, not to mention the heavy taxation that was imposed on them. This long-running conflict was kicked-off in 1847 when the Mexican government executed one of the key Maya leaders in Valladolid’s Parque Principal. Even though the Caste War officially ended in 1915, small battles continued in the Yucatan region until the mid-1930s.
In my opinion, there are a couple of must-see museums to visit while you’re in town. First, there’s the Casa de los Venados (House of the Deer), a private home with more than 3,000 pieces of Mexican folk art on display. Tours are given each day at 10AM for a cost of $100 pesos (about $5 USD) per person.
The second museum is one that we kind of stumbled upon, but we were really charmed by it. It’s the MUREM (Museo de Ropa Etnica de Mexico) located near Parque San Juan. This small museum houses nearly 100 outfits from 25 different indigenous and ethnic groups from across Mexico. It was amazing to see all the different styles and materials, including intricately embroidered cotton huipils from the Yucatan, heavy sheepskin shirts and wool shawls from the Chiapas Highlands, and Spanish-influenced styles from Mexico City with lots of sequins, ribbons, and laces.
If you’re in looking for souvenirs or gifts, there are all kinds of handicrafts and foods to be found throughout Valladolid. There are shops galore around the Parque Principal. Most sell a variety of leather goods, woven clothing, and home goods. One of my favorite finds was the Melipona bee honey. These little stingless bees are indigenous to the Yucatan Peninsula. In addition to being a tasty treat, Melipona honey has some medicinal value; it is high in antioxidants and contains inflammation-reducing properties.
We also had great fun strolling along the cobblestone street of Calzada de los Frailes (Friars’ Road) which runs diagonally from the corners of Calles 46 and 41 down to the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena in the Sisal neighborhood. Historically, Sisal was where the Mayan people lived separately from the Spanish residents (remember the Caste War from above?). The convent was used as a means to convert the Maya to Christianity. Now, this lovely street is full of pretty pastel houses, shops, and cafes.
Finally, no trip to Valladolid would be complete without going to Cenote Zaci. It’s located right in town at the corners of Calles 37 and 34. There’s a $20 peso (about $1 USD) entry fee. If you decide to take a dip, keep in mind, it’s very deep. The shallow area is about 75 feet, and it goes down to nearly 300 feet! If you don’t want to take the plunge, there’s a free viewing area in the café located above the cenote. (By the way, the food at the café is quite good and reasonably priced too!)