We only decided to come to Valladolid as a gateway to seeing Chichen Itza. I have a pathological aversion to crowds and, having done a bit of research, learned that the ancient Mayan city has a tendency to be standing room only after a certain time in the morning. Consequently, being 2 hours closer to the ruins than the thousands of tourists at Cancun and Playa del Carmen seemed like an attractive option. However, what we found in Valladolid was much more than proximity to Chichen. It’s an attractive, bustling little colonial town, with enough to see and do to keep you busy for 3 or 4 days easily. Here’s what we learned:
Mexico doesn’t really have a train network (well, if it does, nobody told me). Therefore, buses are the best way to get around and thankfully, they are a) plentiful and b) good. The ADO bus network connects most sizeable towns one way or another, and the fares are pretty decent too. If you are super organised you can get your tickets in advance and pay the “compra anticipada,” which is the advanced ticket price available up to a day or two before, and it’s normally about a third cheaper. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a Mexican bank account you can’t use the website, so you have to go to the bus station to get your tickets. If you aren’t organised, you can usually just rock up on the day and hope there is some seats left on the bus you fancy.
Regarding Valladolid specifically, there are ADO buses that run from Cancun, Merida and Playa del Carmen (that I know of). We got the one from Cancun, it took about 2 hours and cost MXP$174 each (about £8.50).
There are other bus companies available – Oriente is one – which are somewhat slower due to stopping to pick people up on the way. We took one of these to Chichen and back. Because of this they are somewhat cheaper and they do a job, but I’d recommend the ADO ones if time is of the essence, especially if you have onward travel booked.
Valladolid itself isn’t particularly large. We found everything we needed was within walking distance, even in the blistering heat. A few people we met at our hostel had decided to head out of town a bit and had rented bikes – given the state of Mexican roads and driving we elected to give this a miss, but we were assured it was quite safe. Lastly, there are loads of taxis in the town centre near the bus station which can be hailed easily.
We stayed at Hostel Candelaria. It was conveniently located about 5 minutes’ walk from the bus station, in a lovely little square with a few cafes. It had decent free wifi, a nice breakfast included, helpful, English-speaking staff, a lovely garden and a well-equipped outdoor kitchen and eating area. My only gripe was a lack of air conditioning, which was unfortunate but kind of inevitable at the price. Would definitely recommend.
Given the whole reason we initially chose to visit Valladolid was to go to Chichen, I’ll give it its own guide. However it does the town a disservice to mark its highlight as its immediacy to somewhere else. Highlights in the town itself are:
- Casa de los Venados – A 17th Century colonial mansion, converted by its American owners into something of a shrine to contemporary Mexican folk art. The house, which also doubles as an occasional boutique hotel, offers guided tours (in English as well as Spanish) around the owners’ private collection of over 2000 pieces of Mexican art. The tour even takes you into the living quarters of the couple who own the house where we were fortunate enough to meet John, one half of them. He explained to us that all the proceeds of the house go towards charities aimed at improving the health and quality of life of local people. Entry is by donation only, but the recommended amount is MXP $80 (less than £4), which is absolutely worth it.
- Parque del Centro – Colonialism has a lot to answer for, but it doesn’t half leave behind some pretty places. This park in the middle of town (name’s a bit of a giveaway) is lined with trees, providing some much needed shade in the middle of the day, and is a nice place to chill with an ice cream and watch the world go by. It’s also right next to the Iglesia de San Servacio, an incredibly pretty 16th century Spanish church.
- Cenotes – As with so much of the Yucatan peninsula, the area around Valladolid is dotted with cenotes, limestone sinkholes down to the water table, perfect for swimming. There are at least 5 within a 7km radius of the town centre – Zaci, Suytun, San Lorenzo Oxman, Dzitnup and Samula. Each offers something slightly different, some are underground, some exposed. We went to Zaci because it was so near, actually in the town itself, and it only cost MXP $30 for as long as we wanted. Zaci is up to 100m deep in places so it’s great for leaping into – make sure you watch someone do it first before you decide to throw yourself off a high ledge though, you can’t see very far down into the dark.
Food & Drink
We didn’t find gastronomy high on Valladolid’s list of attractions. That’s not to say we didn’t have nice food, just that our budget tends to take us to more casual (fine, cheap) establishments. My personal highlights were Tamales, a local speciality, at Las Palapita de los Tamales on the corner of Calles 42 and 33, and lunch at Loncheria el Amigo Casiano. The latter was a Trip Advisor recommendation but didn’t fill us with hope when we saw it – it is a tiny cafeteria with a little cart out the front under a red awning. The staff speak no English but we got by with pointing, and were so glad we did. We ordered some fried corn tacos with spicy chicken filling and they were the best tacos I’ve ever eaten, and for MXP $10 (50p!) each. Find it on Calle 37, between Calles 38 and 40.