This article focuses on Valladolid a colonial town (and Pueblo Magico) located in Yucatan, Mexico.
Today, we are going to get lost and dream in a heroic city.
I am pleased to present to you the small city of Valladolid, located in the Yucatan Peninsula. It is also known and the Heroic City or The Sultan of the East. Her motto is “Cuatro Veces Heroica” or Four Times Heroic.
Valladolid is not that well known among visitors to the states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo. Some people visit for a few minutes as part of an all-day Chichen Itza tour. And it is precisely the famous Mayan city that brought me here.
See, I really wanted to take my time to explore Chichen Itza. I wasn’t that enthusiastic about taking a day tour from Cancun. First, the drive is about 2 to 3 hours each way. Additionally, some of these tours reach the ruins in the afternoon when they are packed with hundreds of tourists.
Looking for options on where to stay close to Chichen Itza, I stumbled upon Valladolid. After reading some info about the city (and looking at some pictures), I was sold. I stayed in Valladolid for two nights.
And thank goodness, it turned into a fantastic experience. I feel like a got a taste of the real Yucatan. I am so grateful for skipping horrific Cancun (more on that at another time).
Valladolid’s original name was Zaci or Zaci-val (like the cenote found on the town). When the Spaniards arrived in the area, the Mayan structures resembled those of Valladolid, Spain. And that is how the town got its name. The conquistadores ended up using the stones of the Mayan buildings to give life to their own constructions.
The city played an important role during the Yucatan’s Caste War (approx. 1847-1901). During this revolt, the native Maya of the peninsula reveled against the residents with European blood. History books recount how this bloody conflict lasted more than half of a century.
Others claim that this war lasted about 85 years. A lot of Mayas moved to British Honduras (today Belize) trying to find peace. It is also accepted that the first spark of the Mexican Revolution was ignited here.
Nowadays, Valladolid is a charming colonial town. It is known for its colorful houses, elegant churches, authentic food, and traditional clothing. I strongly urge you to consider this town. It is located 45 minutes from Chichen Itza (you can reach the ruins by colectivo). There is 1 cenote in town and 2 nearby.
You can ride bikes around Mayan towns. You can enjoy the real atmosphere of the peninsula. There is something about this little town that is not easy to find somewhere else.
What to See in Valladolid
If you visit Valladolid, don’t miss the following spots.
Life in this town (like many Spanish colonial towns) revolves around the Main Plaza.
Here, you can admire the San Gervasio Cathedral. In my opinion, this building is simple but full of charm.
Or you can walk, observe and eat a snack in the Municipal Park.
In reality, you don’t have to make plans in this town. A simple stroll thru the streets will reveal a lot of beautiful features. Take it slow and pay attention to the details.
The town’s most striking street is the 41A, better now as La Calzada de los Frailes. This street was a shortcut friars used to get from downtown to the Church of San Bernandino (which was also a convent). You are going to end mesmerized after witnessing the many colors in the houses’ facades.
And of course, at the end of the Calzada de los Frailes you are going to end face to face with the Church and Convent of San Bernandino. This is also a perfect place to watch families flying their kites.
Let’s say you are not easily impressed by colonial architecture. Well, it doesn’t matter because Valladolid is full of tradition. It is common to see men and women wearing typical Mayan clothing (the ladies’ dress is called huipil).
But I also witnessed other things that make this town unique.
For example, I saw a brightly painted bakery.
To my surprise, I passed by a huaraches shop. Huaraches are a type of shoes used by many Mexicans (there is also a dish called huaraches but the dish takes its name from the shoe). It is the first time I see a shop like this. Fascinating!!
I also noticed people in Valladolid use a little cart to move around and to transport goods.
However, my favorite sight was a kid carrying his homemade kite. He used some wooden sticks and a big piece of plastic (a bag) to make the kite. I wonder if it took flight at all.
I stayed in the Candelaria Park area and was able to contemplate this singular space under different lights.
Cenotes In and Near Valladolid
If you are in Valladolid, you have to visit a cenote.
A cenote is a deep natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Although a lot of them follow this description, some of them also exist at the bottom of the caves.
They are characteristic of the Yucatan Peninsula. However, they occur in other parts of Mexico and Central America. Sinkholes in other parts of the world are sometimes called cenotes (even though they are not technically cenotes).
Yes, believe it or not, towns in the state of Yucatan can have a cenote in the middle of local businesses. Amazing, right? Well, Cenote Zaci is located a short walk from Valladolid’s main plaza.
Swimming and snorkeling are permitted here. Now, this cenote looks really deep. A lady who swam in it gave me confirmation. She told me she felt like in a bottomless pit. She felt something she hasn’t experienced before (it wasn’t like swimming at the sea or at a pool).
Cenote Xkeken or Dzinup is considered one of the most beautiful (and we are talking about hundreds of cenotes). It is located about 2.5 miles from the center of Valladolid. It is safe to ride a bike to the area. Alternatively, a taxi can take you there (and to the Samula Cenote across the street).
Tip: Remember to haggle in order to get a good price.
Well, this cenote felt different because it is located inside a cave. There is only a small hole at the top letting natural light in. Artificial light provides a hint of clarity.
I felt in a different world. The place was extremely humid and hot. It was hard to breathe. There were amazing rock formations everywhere. It was like a prehistoric or raw vision.
Note: If you look at pictures of Cenote Xkeken, you will probably find photos of a beautifully lighted cenote. Well, this happened when sunlight enters the space directly above the cenote. The rest of the time, the cenote is mostly dark.
If you visit the Xkeken Cenote, it feels almost obligatory to visit its sister sinkhole. Across the street, you can enter the world of the Samula Cenote. Don’t get fooled to think all cenotes are equal. Each of these is worth a visit.
I was amazed when I entered. In this case, the light was entering beautifully the cave. I felt in paradise. Long tree roots entering the cenote thru its upper aperture. Shallow and clear water. Blackfish resembling miniature sharks. One word: lovely.
The Windows and Doors of Valladolid
I am a big fan of windows and doors. For a person like me, Valladolid was heaven. I lost count of how many pictures I took. Anyway, here are some of my favorite ones.
When I see my photos of Valladolid, I smile. The town is full of colors, traditions, nature and friendly people. Who wouldn’t smile remembering a place like this?
What to Eat in Valladolid
Mexico is a huge country (take a look at a map if you don’t mind). Regional specialties abound. And here is the thing; a lot of them are not that popular outside the country. You may found a regional-centered restaurant here and there but, overall, it is like finding a needle in a haystack.
For example, the food from the Yucatan Peninsula can be considered a hidden treasure among the regional cuisines. Yes, you can find the basic staples that distinguish Mexican food here.
However, there is an extra layer of ingredients and techniques which makes the delicacies prepared in this area unique. Mayans, Spaniards, French, and others have left boosting flavor traces in the food.
I bet you are not familiar with the food of the Yucatan. How do I know? Because I wasn’t before my visit to the area last year. And let me tell you, I have tons of Mexican friends and have eaten in many good taquerias around Los Angeles.
Here is a sample of what you can find in the area:
Pollo or Cochinita Pibil
Chicken or pork marinated in achiote (annatto), sour orange juice, peppercorns, garlic, cumin, salt, and then wrapped in banana leaves and baked. This dish can also be made with pork (cochinita pibil). A dish you should definitely try for lunch or dinner.
Panuchos and Salbutes
Pre-cooked tortilla with shredded chicken and garnished with lettuce and onion. The difference between panuchos and salbutes is that the first has refried beans inside the tortilla.
Pavo en Relleno Negro
Turkey meat stew cooked with a black paste made from roasted chiles, a local version of the mole de guajalote found throughout Mexico. The meat soaked in the black soup is also served in tacos, sandwiches, and even in panuchos or salbutes.
A delicious soup made with shredded chicken, bits of fried tortilla, and lime juice.
Tender slices of pork marinated in sour orange juice, grilled and served with a tangy sauce and pickled onions. Some restaurants offer a chicken version.
Chopped hard-boiled egg rolled up in a tortilla and covered with pumpkin seed sauce.
Frijol con Puerco
The Yucatecan version of pork and beans. Chunks of pork cooked with black beans served with rice and garnished with radish, cilantro, and onion. This is a regular Monday dish in most Yucatecan homes.
A scrumptious breakfast of tortilla, covered with refried beans and a fried egg and then smothered with tomato sauce, peas, chopped ham, and shredded cheese. Usually served with some fried banana slices.
A “gourmet” dish featuring ground pork inside of a carved Edam cheese ball served with tomato sauce and gravy.
Where to Eat in Valladolid
During my visit, I was really excited about trying some of the typical dishes. My hotel manager suggested the Municipal Bazaar. This place consists of various establishments selling a huge range of regional meals at rock bottom prices.
I ordered the Yucatecan sampler consisting of Poc Chuc, Pollo Pibil, and sausage from the area. The dish came with rice, beans, and salad. My husband ordered the turkey panuchos.
Other restaurants to try include Taberna de los Frailes, El Mesón del Marques and La Calzada.
Note: You will definitely get a better taste of Yucatecan cuisine in the state of Yucatan than in cities located in the state of Quintana Roo.
Have you visited Valladolid?