Valladolid is a lovely colonial city in the state of Yucatan. It has historical, natural and cultural treasures, including impressive churches and charming neighborhoods. The city was founded by Francisco de Montejo in 1543 and is the second most important city in the state after the capital of Mérida, and is located roughly at a midway point between the capital and the tourist destination of Cancun. Valladolid's streets and buildings retain a strong sense of the past. This peaceful town is a great place from which to explore Yucatan state. Here are some things to do during your stay.
Discover Colonial Architecture
The heart of Valladolid is its central plaza. This cheerful green space is great for people watching, but is also the best spot to begin your explorations. The imposing San Servacio church is on the south side of the plaza. The original church in this spot was demolished in 1705 and the construction of this one began the following year. Also be sure to visit and take a tour of the church and former convent of San Bernardino de Siena, the Yucatan's most complete historical convent complex.
Stroll or Cycle the Streets and Neighborhoods
Exploring the city streets on foot or alternatively, on a bike, as many locals do, you'll soon realize why this town was named one of Mexico's "Pueblos Mágicos". The historical buildings are interesting to see, but you'll also find the locals are friendly and tourism here is low-key. There are several bike rental shops throughout the town, where you can hire one for a few hours and set off on your own, or join a tour to take you to some of the special spots in and around Valladolid.
Swim in a Cenote
You're probably aware that there are cenotes (fresh water filled sinkholes that are great for swimming) all over the Yucatan Peninsula, but you might be surprised to find that there's a large cenote located just a few blocks from Valladolid's main square. Zací cenote is an impressive 147 feet in diameter with stalactites hanging from the roof that partially covers the water, offering a shaded area to swim. This is the perfect spot to cool off on a hot day! There's also a restaurant, which brings us to the next point...
Sample Yucatecan Cuisine
The food in the Yucatan varies from what you'll find in the rest of Mexico, with local Mayan ingredients and cooking techniques meeting European flavors to create interesting combinations. There are many local specialties to try, such as sopa de lima, panuchos, papadzules and cochinita pibil. Don't miss the chance to sample these Yucatecan dishes and others during your stay. Some great restaurants include Yerbabuena de Sisal and el Atrio del Mayab, both of which serve many of the local specialites.
Explore Ancient Maya Sites
There are several Maya archaeological sites that can be visited as day trips from Valladolid. The impressive and most visited Maya site, Chichen Itzá is close by, as is the less well-known, though no less impressive site of Ek Balam, which has 45 structures, many still covered by jungle. Ek Balam means "the black jaguar" or "bright star jaguar" and is perfect for travelers looking to explore a bit off the beaten path. You can still climb some of the pyramids, offering great views of the surrounding scenery.
Visit Casa de los Venados
Valladolid is home to an extraordinary privately-owned folk art museum with pieces from around the country. John and Doreen Venator from the United states purchased the 400 year-old run-down historical home in 2000 and lovingly restored it. Now known as Casa de los Venados (House of the Deer), it houses their private folk art collection, the largest privately owned collection in Mexico. The Venators still live on the premises, so visiting hours are restricted. Arrive at 10 am any day for an informative tour of the museum.
Learn About History
Visit the San Roque Museum where you can learn about this area's history. The peaceful present-day aspect of the town belies its troubled history. The indigenous people of the Yucatan rose up several times against the Spaniards, and one of the main battles of the War of the Castes took place in this town. Located in a former convent dating to the 16th Century which later served as a hospital, the San Roque museum has exhibits and displays about the history of Yucatan state, as well as the present-day Maya culture and traditions. The museum is small but informative and admission is free, so it's worth a stop, if only for a quick look.