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bineba Valladolid - A travel report by Sabine
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Valladolid,  Mexico - flag Mexico -  Yucatán
9411 readers

bineba's travel reports

Colonial Valladolid in the Heart of the Yucatan

  11 votes
Page: 1 2
Halfway between Cancun and Meridia and not far from Chichen Itza you find this gem of a Colonial Mexican city, with a rich history and plenty to offer whether you stay for a few hours or a few days. I would recommend a few days.

Valladolid is a very colourful city
Valladolid is a very colourful city
If you want to experience the Yucatan that isn’t too prominent on the tourist map, Valladolid is perfect. Most buses to and from Chichen Itza (about 45 km to the west) will pass through the city and might even stop at the main plaza where Mayan women sell their handicrafts, but you only have to walk a block in any direction and you’ll find yourself immersed in a busy, bustling Mexican town with hardly a gringo in sight.

Valladolid has a very interesting, but also very violent history. It used to be a Mayan ceremonial centre called Zaci in pre-Hispanic times until it was taken over in 1545 by the Spaniards. It was fought over by the Mayans, without any success, and developed into colonial town. The Mayans were forbidden to enter parts of the city and lived in villages surrounding it. In the 19th century, during the so called Caste War, Valladolid saw its darkest hours. The Yucatan political situation was unstable, they wanted to break away from the Mexican union and this was taken as an opportunity for Mayan rebels to try and recapture Valladolid in 1847. Many thousands of people, both Spanish and Mayan, lost their lives during this time.

Dictatorship and the Mexican Revolution, which started here, brought more hardship, but today Valladolid is a pretty, peaceful town, serving numerous little Mayan villages in the area as a trading and agricultural hub. It has also been awarded the title of ‘Ciudad Heroica’ by the Yucatan government.

It is easy to navigate your way around Valladolid, the streets are numbered and odd numbered ones run from east to west and even numbered ones from north to south. Saying that, there are quite a few one-way streets, so you have to keep your wits about you when driving around.

Valladolid makes an excellent base to visit one of the many attractions nearby: Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, Cenote Dzitnup, Coba or to the coast and Rio Lagartos, famous for its flamingos at certain times of the year.

Favourite spots:
Tree of Life
Tree of Life
My favourite pastime was wandering or driving around the streets and soaking up the atmosphere. There are seven neighbourhoods each with their own distinctive church and plaza to explore. Sit down on a bench under a tree and just enjoy.

Valladolid is a very colourful town, with buildings painted in every hue of the rainbow. I was quite surprised to learn that this is only a very recent development and houses used to be whitewashed until the late 1990’s.

I also loved the many craft shops and one of the best (not cheap, but worth it, as all the merchandise is genuine – not a ‘Made in China’ label in sight) is right by the main plaza. It is called ‘Yalat’ and I spent more (time and money) than I wanted to. The Tree of Life in the picture costs several hundred dollars and has been made by one of the most famous folk artists in Mexico. I couldn’t afford it, but bought a couple of candlesticks in a similar design made by his granddaughter. They also sell delicious Mayan chocolates.

What's really great:
Cenote Dzitnup
Cenote Dzitnup
For a completely unique experience go and visit one of the cenotes in the area. The Yucatan has no surface rivers, but fresh water is found in underground rivers, some of them connected by caves for hundreds of kilometres. Cenotes are sinkholes in the limestone. They can be overground, looking like lakes, but the most spectacular ones are found in caves.
There is a surface cenote in town, Cenote Zaki, but swimming is not permitted. It is notable though, as it was the fresh water source for the ancient Mayan Zaci.

7 km west of Valladolid are 2 cave cenotes, Cenotes Dzitnup (or Xkeken) and Samula. They are opposite each other and easily reached by car or bike. We went to Dzitnup and after a steep and sometimes slippery climb down a narrow walkway, were rewarded by the fantastic sight of turquoise water under a cathedral-like dome, stalactites and a hole in the roof illuminating the crystal clear water. The water was cool, but not too cold and little black fish were flitting around.

San Bernadino de Siena
San Bernadino de Siena
The most impressive sight in Valladolid itself is the church of San Bernadino de Siena and the former monastery Convento de Sisal, especially if you arrive just before sunset when the buildings are bathed in a golden light.

Built in the 16th century, this is the oldest permanent church in the Yucatan and located nearly 1 km from the city centre. It was built by the Franciscans both as a church for the Spanish and as a missionary for the Mayans.

All the churches in Valladolid are quite different from each other. San Juan is almost white and has twin spires. Santa Ana is bright yellow with white trimmings and no spire at all.

Not so much a sight, but something I really liked, were all the brightly-coloured advertisements painted directly onto houses and walls. What a great idea. Bad news for sign makers though.

Valladolid travelogue picture
Hidden behind a virtual jungle of a garden on Parque San Juan is one of the most welcoming places I have ever encountered. Casa Hamaca is a bed & breakfast run by Denis, an American, with the help of his all Mayan staff. (
The house is beautiful, filled with Mayan arts, crafts and murals. Hammocks (hamacas) are everywhere including all the bedrooms, which have all been individually decorated.
Breakfast was a feast. Sophie, the cook, outdid herself and we were treated to fresh fruit, Danish, granola, freshly made tortillas and guacamole, huevos rancheros, yoghurt, freshly squeezed juice and coffee. Needless to say, we skipped lunch.

But there is much more to this place. Denis provides the rooms to Mexicans wanting to learn English and Casa Hamaca is also used as a base by people doing volunteer work in the Yucatan. It’s a great place to meet people. And to top it all, Dennis is a qualified therapist, so you can have a massage or a spa treatment.

Valladolid didn’t seem to have a hopping bar scene, but I might be wrong there, as I was not particularly looking for one. We ate quite late and had cocktails in the restaurant. People seemed to congregate in cafes and in the main square after dark. There seemed to be quite a few bars in the neighbourhoods, but I have no idea how rough and ready they are.

Parque Principal
Parque Principal
The main square, or Parque Principal, is definitely the place to hang out. Plenty of park benches or ‘confidenciales’ (love seats), laurel trees with masses of birds that do go a bit mad and noisy at dusk, a fountain with a statue of a Mayan lady wearing a huipile (the traditional dress), taco-stands, sweet-vendors, Mayan women and their pretty children selling handicrafts (mainly embroidery) – all looked over by the Cathedral of San Gervacio. On Sunday evenings, dances are held in the park, as they have been for centuries.

The Palacio Municipal, which has a few nice murals and statues, is on the eastern side of the plaza. Most ATMs and the post office can also be found here.

The historic Hotel El Meson del Marques and huipiles
The historic Hotel El Meson del Marques and huipiles
We had a wonderful meal in what is probably Valladolid’s most historic restaurant in the Hotel El Meson del Marques, north of the main square.

Tables are set up in the courtyard around a fountain and it is very romantic in the evening by candlelight. The food is Mexican with Yucatan specialities featuring heavily.

I had the Sopa de Lima, a chicken soup made with strips of tortilla, tomatoes, peppers and lots of lime.
My main course, which I had heard a lot about and was dying to try, was Cochinita Pibil. Pork is marinated in achiote, a special paste made out of chillies and herbs, and bitter orange juice, wrapped in banana leaves and then baked. It was delicious.
I did bring back a packet of achiote and have tried to recreate this dish at home – it wasn’t half bad, even if I say so myself.

Another famous dish of the region is the Pollo oriental de Valladolid, a casserole with chicken, onion, garlic, cloves, chillies and, again, bitter orange juice.

Other recommendations:
The Acropolis of Ek Balam
The Acropolis of Ek Balam
The Mayan ruins of Ek Balam (Black Jaguar), 30 km from Valladolid, have only been excavated since 1998 and what has been discovered is truly impressive.
The site is small and compact and mercifully empty of coach loads of tourists. After entering through a four-sided arch, you can see the Oval Palace, a smallish ballcourt, and a few more buildings in various states of excavation. But the main draw is the Acropolis, a multi storey pyramid/temple/palace. Climbing up the stairways (32 meters to the top) isn’t easy, it’s very steep and there are no railings or even ropes, but you have to make the effort to see the temple (El Trono) found about two thirds up. Its entrance is a giant monster mouth and it is flanked by so called Mayan angels.
The views from the top of the pyramid are incredible and on a clear day it is said you can see Chichen Itza and Coba.
Remember I said climbing up isn’t easy? Climbing down was worse – I made a very undignified backward descent on all fours.

Published on Tuesday November 25th, 2008

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Sun, Dec 07 2008 - 10:27 AM rating by rangutan

Great, excellent detailed report. Time well spent.

Tue, Dec 02 2008 - 06:17 AM rating by louis

Sabine, as always your reports are first class. Great reading and super photos, what I can expect more ...

Mon, Dec 01 2008 - 02:15 PM rating by jorgesanchez

first i thought that you wrote a report about valladolid in spain, castilla and leon. but no, it is about mexico. well done.
greetings from timbuktu

Thu, Nov 27 2008 - 05:40 PM rating by mistybleu

What a great report; a real enjoyable read.

Thu, Nov 27 2008 - 12:00 PM rating by marianne

Very informative and great photos

Wed, Nov 26 2008 - 02:35 AM rating by gloriajames

I would love to shop for the colourful and unique folk art & crafts, and try the yummy chicken dish.......though not sure if i want to climb the acropolis. Great report! 5*

Tue, Nov 25 2008 - 06:11 PM rating by robynallen

You gave a great all round read and very informative. Chicken dish sounds lovely!

Tue, Nov 25 2008 - 05:57 PM rating by bootlegga

I love these 'off the beaten path' reports.

Tue, Nov 25 2008 - 05:07 PM rating by krisek

Sabine, thank you for a very nice report. Some history, architecture, and memories of breakfast and chicken :) Great pictures, too.

Tue, Nov 25 2008 - 04:31 PM rating by pesu

As to climbing down - man muss sich nur zu helfen wissen!
Thanks for sharing this appetizing report about Valladolid. I knew nothing about cenotes up to now. Very impressive!

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