Did you know? Mexico has 132 “Pueblos Mágicos” (Magical Towns), all of which earn the title due to their historic & cultural significance – and ability to maintain it over time. Each town has something unique to offer, whether it be preserved colonial architecture, ancient archaeological sites, cuisine, handicrafts, special celebrations or other cultural traditions stemming back generations.
In Valladolid, you can experience all of the above! Making this beautiful and bohemian town not only a clear choice for the title, but a clear choice for your Mexico bucket list.
Located right in the middle of the Yucatán jungle, Valladolid was founded in 1543 by Spanish conquistador Francisco de Montejo. Interestingly enough it was originally located some distance away from its current position, later moved due to more favorable land and climate conditions. And if the name sounds familiar, it’s because the city was named in tribute to the then-capital of Spain: Valladolid. Of course, none of this happened without due resistance from the native Maya. A history of revolts spanning centuries eventually culminated in the late 19th century with the Caste War.
Today, Valladolid beautifully and successfully retains both its native Maya origins as well as Spanish colonial influence, resulting in a distinct, authentic and vibrant Yucatecan culture.
Keep reading for some practical info on visiting Valladolid, along with our top 10 list of what to do, eat & see (including where to stay!) in this magical Yucatán town.
Editor’s Note: Travel is complicated right now. While there are many factors that will result in your decision of whether or not to travel, this decision is ultimately your responsibility. Travel rules, restrictions and entry/exit requirements are subject to change frequently. Please check with both your home country’s official advisories as well as those of your destination country prior to traveling for up-to-date information.
Disclosures: Information, prices and timetables listed below are accurate as of time of writing (August 2021), however are subject to change.
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BUT FIRST – LET’S TALK COVID
Within the current climate of the Covid-19 pandemic, Valladolid is now open and welcoming visitors. Hotels, restaurants, shops and more businesses are open with Covid safety measures in place. These include but are not limited to: mandatory temperature checks and hand sanitizer (and/or hand washing) upon entry, capacity limitations, required mask wearing and of course, social distancing. Indoor dining is allowed, although many restaurants here are open-air and/or fully outdoor.
If you do choose to visit now, please be considerate of not only your health but the health of those around you. Practice social distancing. Wear a mask. Mask wearing is not only a courtesy but expected, if not mandatory, when walking around both indoors and outdoors in Valladolid. Support small businesses, street stalls and local vendors and tour guides. The pandemic has had a profound impact on the local economy which will greatly appreciate your support. If you choose to visit Valladolid now, please visit conscientiously and responsibly.
For up-to-date information on Covid-19 in Yucatán, please visit the state government’s official Facebook page here.
ALSO – TRAVEL INSURANCE
Whenever, and wherever, you might be traveling, travel insurance is always a good idea. We personally love SafetyWing for their transparent, easy to understand and thorough coverage starting at just $40.00 USD/month. Their two-tier coverage offers medical benefits in the event of an accident or illness while abroad, in addition to travel benefits such as compensation for delayed trips and lost luggage. Plus, all new SafetyWing policies automatically include COVID-19 coverage. Please note testing for COVID-19 is not covered unless deemed medically necessary by a physician. This means pre-flight tests do not count, nor do antibody tests. Find out everything you need to know about SafetyWing travel insurance, here!
HOW TO GET TO VALLADOLID
There are two international airports relatively equidistant to Valladolid. Cancún International Airport on the Mexican Caribbean coast is a 2 to 2 1/2 drive. Or, you can fly into Mérida International Airport on the other side of the peninsula which is a 2 hour drive (and most likely far less crowded vs. Cancún, fyi).
From either airport you can:
Rent a Car
Road-tripping is always our favorite option personally, and in Mexico we love City Car Rental for their professional, bilingual service and most importantly – transparency. In Mexico, there is a mandatory 3rd party liability insurance on all car rentals that your credit card (no matter what country it’s from) does not cover. Frustratingly, many car rental companies don’t include this in their pricing when you pre-reserve online. Meaning you’ve got a big surprise in store when your car rental budget skyrockets at time of pickup. City Car Rental however includes this, in addition to ALL other applicable taxes & fees, in their pricing at time of online reservation. No surprises upon arrival! We also appreciate their transparent and reasonable security deposit policies, not to mention included, unlimited mileage on all rentals. City Car Rental operates out of both Cancún International Airport and Mérida International Airport.
Take a Private Transfer
This will be your most expensive option but also the easiest. Out of Cancún, we recommend Cancun Airport Transportation for professional, reliable and comfortable rides. Out of Mérida Airport, you can simply walk out of arrivals and take a taxi OR call an Uber. Yes, there are Ubers in Mérida! (Please note Uber does NOT exist in Cancun.)
Take the ADO Bus
For a budget-friendly option you can also take the clean, comfortable and safe ADO bus (A/C, reclining seats and sometimes snacks included!). A head’s up there are no direct Cancun Airport –> Valladolid buses. You will first need to take either an ADO bus or a taxi from the airport to downtown Cancun, then switch to the ADO bus running from downtown Cancun –> Valladolid. Similarly, there are no direct Mérida Airport –> Valladolid buses. You can take a taxi, Uber or an ADO bus from the airport to Mérida Centro. From here you’ll take the ADO straight to Valladolid.
Another head’s up that the ADO website sometimes doesn’t work with foreign credit cards. If you have this issue don’t fret! You can always purchase your ticket for the next available bus upon arrival at either airport. You can’t miss the ADO ticket stand as you walk through arrivals, where foreign credit cards are accepted and do indeed work.
HOW TO GET AROUND VALLADOLID
Valladolid Centro is compact enough that you can easily cover end to end on foot. If needed you can also take a taxi, which you can hail on the street or ask your hotel/restaurant to call for you. Please note that while Uber exists in nearby Mérida, it does NOT exist in Valladolid.
To cover more ground in Valladolid you can also rent a bicycle. Cafeina on Calzada de los Frailes rents them by the hour or day. Or, to really zoom around you can rent a scooter. Scooterent Valladolid has you covered for this.
While a car isn’t exactly necessary to get around Valladolid Centro, having a set of wheels will certainly come in handy to get you to nearby sites of interest including cenotes and archaeological zones. A fair warning there are no car rental locations within Valladolid, so you’ll need to rent beforehand.
You can also get to nearby sites on scooter or via taxi. If the latter, you can even negotiate a flat rate with your driver so he/she waits for you at your destination and takes you back.
WIFI & CELL RECEPTION IN VALLADOLID
We found wifi and cell reception to be stable and reliable all throughout Valladolid Centro, although exact speeds of course vary from hotel to hotel, café to café, etc. If internet connection is especially important to you while traveling, be sure to ask your hotel or Airbnb for their wifi speeds prior to booking. A head’s up that during our recent visit, there was a severe thunderstorm that knocked out power for about half a day. Keep in mind you are in the middle of the jungle and these things can happen.
MONEY, BANKS & ATMS IN VALLADOLID
Many businesses in Valladolid do accept credit cards however some are cash only. Both USD and Mexican pesos are accepted, although it’s always better to pay in pesos. (If you choose to pay with USD you will always end up paying more due to the exchange rates offered by businesses.) Luckily there are plenty of banks with ATMs for withdrawing pesos in Valladolid, including international banks such as HSBC. You’ll find the greatest concentration of banks located right around the main plaza.
TIP: When withdrawing pesos from any ATM, a screen will pop up towards the end asking if you want to “accept the conversion rate.” Always hit DECLINE. ATMs exist to make money, and without fail will always give you a WORSE exchange rate than your bank will. Depending on how much you’re taking out, you could be losing anywhere from $10 – $100+ USD by accepting the ATM’s exchange rate – so don’t do it!
THE LAMA LIST: TOP 10 THINGS TO DO, EAT & SEE IN VALLADOLID
1. Grab a seat in one of the region’s iconic “kissing chairs” in the main plaza (Parque Principal) and watch Valladolid life go by. Also known as “sillas tu y yo” (you & I chairs) or “sillas confidentes” (confidant chairs), the term “kissing chair” isn’t exactly what the seat’s original creator had in mind. According to Yucatán Today:
“A popular local legend tells the story of a man who had a daughter he adored who was being courted by a young man of the village. The father, jealous, asked them as a condition of their courtship that they only venture as far as the benches in the park. They accepted, but the father then realized that the traditional park bench gave them plenty of opportunity to be physically close to each other. So, he decided to create the “silla tú y yo”, [you & I chair] which allowed them to speak to each other and look into each other’s eyes while always maintaining a discreet distance.”
Whether you decide to maintain a discreet distance or not, it’s hard to resist a photo op in these romantic chairs found throughout Mexico’s Yucatán region – especially here in Valladolid!
From Parque Principal, you can’t miss checking out the adjacent San Servacio Church (Iglesia de San Servacio). Originally built in 1545, this historic church was later demolished, then rebuilt in the early 1700s.
2. Wander down Calzada de los Frailes, a historic street filled with charming shops, cafés, boutique hotels and plenty of colorful colonial architecture.
While here, be sure to pop into Kuxtal Arte Popular to browse whimsical Mexican folk art plus, refuel – the espresso here is excellent (hot or ice’d).
3. Head to the Ex-Convento de San Bernardino de Siena at night for its epic videomapping show. Projections light up the 16th century Franciscan facade, telling the story of Valladolid’s ancient Maya origins, Spanish conquest and modern Mexican history. The free show runs nightly* at 9pm in Spanish; followed by English at 9:20/25.
*One night a week the show does NOT play and this night varies. You can check with the Tourism Office in the main plaza (Parque Principal) to find out which night this is during your visit.
During the day, you can also wander around inside the convent. Entry is just $40 pesos (approx $2 USD).
4. Take a free walking tour of Valladolid. Multiple tours are offered daily rain or shine, each exploring a different neighborhood of the city. All tours are offered in both English and Spanish and start in the main plaza (Parque Principal) – look for the red umbrella that says “Free Walking Tour.” You can check with the adjacent Tourism Office to confirm current tour times & routes.
Our pick? El Gavilan Blanco, an unassuming food stall which served up literally the BEST cochinita we’ve had in a long time, if possibly ever. The fact that the stall’s been there for 20 years (run by the same husband & wife team) only adds to its credentials.
This haven of deliciousness doesn’t come up on Google Maps, but you simply need to enter the Mercado and make your way to the bustling food area. You’ll see it located in a corner with “Taqueria El Gavilan Blanco” painted in large black & red letters. You can’t miss it!
6. Have your mind blown by an extensive collection of Mexican folk art at Casa de los Venados. Not a typical museum, this place is actually a private residence housing the owner’s own collection of 3,000+ carefully curated pieces.
The property itself is a historic hacienda dating to the 1600s. It was purchased by the current owner in 2000, and took 8 years to fully restore it to the masterpiece Casa de los Venados is today.
Guests can visit via guided-tour only, offered daily in both English and Spanish. A suggested donation of $100 pesos (approx $5 USD) is donated directly to local charities benefitting the community. Call ahead for tour times and to reserve your spot: +52 985-856-2289
Located just steps from Casa de los Venados, Museo San Roque is also worth visiting (and free to enter!). Housed in a former convent, this place focuses on the history of Valladolid and Maya culture. At time of writing the museum is unfortunately closed, but you can stop into the nearby Tourism Office during your visit to find out if it’s reopened.
7. Explore ancient Maya civilizations at Chichén Itzá and/or Ek Balam. Chichen Itza is larger and arguably the more “important” site historically speaking, although with that be prepared for crowds. For little to no crowds head to Ek Balam. Here you can still climb a towering pyramid and marvel at a series of impeccably preserved stucco sculptures – including spectacular winged figures and a royal tomb lined with sculpted jaguar teeth.
P.S. We have everything you need to know about visiting Ek Balam, including updated ticket pricing and photography rules, here!
8. Go for a dip in Cenote Zaci, a massive natural swimming hole located right in the center of Valladolid. The cenote is half exposed, half covered by a looming cave and complete with idyllic waterfalls.
Did you know? Cenotes (pronounced say-no-tays) were thought by the ancient Maya to be portals to the underworld.
Other nearby cenotes to visit include the insta-famous Cenote Suytun (a 10-15 min drive from Valladolid Centro), Cenote X’canche (accessed from the same parking lot as Ek Balam) and Cenote Ik Kil (just a few minutes away from Chichén Itzá!).
A little farther away from Valladolid (a 35-min drive) you can also visit Cenote Zazil Tunich. During this guided cenote experience you’ll learn fascinating information about the Maya underworld, swim in one of the most otherworldly cenotes we’ve seen, and enjoy an optional 3-course Maya dinner offered inside the cavernous cenote OR above ground. (TIP: We feel it’s worth the extra spend to dine inside the cenote!) Reservations are required and be sure to specify if you’d like the tour in English or Spanish.
9. EAT (& DRINK!). You’ll basically want to eat everything in Valladolid, and here are a few of our fave places to do exactly this:
ConKafecito for an impressive range of coffee drinks and brewing methods, a light offering of sandwiches and pastries, ample seating (don’t forget to look upstairs!), strong A/C and even stronger wifi. For those working-on-the-go, this is a great place to bring your laptop and plug in.
Hostería del Marques. Restaurant of the venerable Hotel El Mesón del Marqués located right in the main plaza, come here for delicious Yucatecan cuisine served in a beautiful courtyard setting. OR, make a reservation for dinner on their newly opened rooftop! Even better, time it with sunset for stunning views of the plaza and San Servacio Church.
Idilio Folklore Cervecero for inventive regional cuisine, local craft beer (get the flight!) and excellent cocktails. Served in a beautiful outdoor garden, this is only reached after passing through a mini museum-gallery in honor of the property’s former owner: famed Yucatán artist Ramón Mendoza Novelo.
Yerbabuena Del Sisal for creative vegan & vegetarian-Yucatecan cuisine (plus delicious fresh juices!) right across from the Ex-Convento de San Bernardino de Siena.
Cafeina & Mezcalería Don Trejo (they’re one in the same) for a solid mix of Mexican & international fare in a dimly lit, lively cantina setting with both indoor and outdoor/garden seating. Located in a historic converted building right along Calzada de los Frailes, expect nightly live music here and plenty of mezcal.
El Gavilan Blanco (located in the sprawling Mercado Municipal) for the BEST cochinita pibil. More on this above in #5!
El Rincón de los Aluxes for delicious international cuisine (still dreaming about their burgers!) and excellent cocktails. Part of the boutique hotel Casa Aluxes, be sure to wander the whimsical grounds before or after your meal.
Wabi Gelato for a late afternoon treat in the form of creamy, housemade gelato. Flavors range from staples like chocolate, peanut butter and mango to the more unique toasted almond or limón with habanero chile.
10. STAY. Catch up on some R&R at our fave boutique hotels in Valladolid:
Casa Quetzal: A beautiful 300-year old property turned boutique hotel just steps from the Convent. This tranquil oasis boasts 10 incredibly charming rooms, a lagoon-like swimming pool, impressive included breakfast and an on-site spa – not to mention magical garden vibes stretching throughout the property.
TIP: Request the spacious, second-floor Junior Suite overlooking the garden & pool. You won’t be disappointed!
The 100-year old property turned family-run boutique hotel offers 6 thoughtfully-appointed rooms, a beautiful swimming pool, included breakfast from an excellent on-site restaurant & bar (see more above in # 9!) and the most whimsical grounds. Plus, an ideal location just steps from the main plaza.
Le Muuch Hotel: Merging colonial style with a modern aesthetic, this adults-only, luxury boutique hotel is located just north of the main plaza. Rooms range from standard to junior suite to master suite, some including balconies, jacuzzis and/or kitchenettes. Take a dip in either (or both!) the covered, indoor pool or outdoor pool and grab a cocktail & a bite at the on-site K’uxub Restaurant.
Verde Morada: Zen vibes await at this luxury boutique hotel located in a restored 19th-century building on Calzada de los Frailes.
Expect stylishly appointed rooms, an idyllic back patio complete with garden, sun deck and swimming pool, and a wide range of coffee drinks and bites from the on-site Café Soletana.
Hotel Zenti’k Project & Saline Cave: For a unique stay just outside Valladolid Centro (a 5 minute drive or 20+ min walk from the main plaza) check out Zenti’k Project. Serious jungle vibes await in colorful, mural-painted rooms (some with bathtubs) housed in palapa-covered facades. Relax in the on-site Zula Spa or grab a bite at Naino Restaurant, both of which are open to non-hotel guests. But the real star here is the property’s heated saltwater pool – located in an underground cave and open 24 hours.
Hacienda Kaan Ac: Head a little further outside of Valladolid (a 10-minute drive from the main plaza) and you’ll stumble upon one of Valladolid’s best-kept secrets. Modeled after a European castle, this historic hacienda dates to the 16th century. It was abandoned for some time following the Caste War and is now in the hands of only the 3rd owners ever.
8 rooms are available inside the hacienda, featuring a mix of original and new furnishings – including 4-poster beds and beautiful marble bathtubs. A night’s stay will set you back $4000 – $8000+ pesos (approx $200 – $400 USD) depending on the room. Or, you can opt for one of the 4 villas also available on the property. These are newer builds and start at $2000 pesos (approx $100 USD) per night.
Even if not spending the night, it’s worth a stop here to wander through the hacienda which acts as a museum. Almost everything you see is original, from the paintings to the ceilings; furnishings to decor – including an impressive arms room.
There’s also an on-site restaurant where, in addition to grabbing a bite and a drink, the server will tell you the history of hacienda. It’s a grand story of love, adventure (pirates included!) and family secrets and, while we’re not entirely sure how much is fact vs. fiction, it certainly brings Hacienda Kaan Ac to life. Head’s up: the staff here only speak Spanish so if you want to hear the full story, best to bring along a Spanish speaker to translate.
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