It is unfortunate that most visitors to the Riviera Maya don’t get to fully experience just what the Yucatan Peninsula has to offer. There is the rich Mayan history as well as the colonial past with 500 year old cities.
Valladolid Yucatan -a colonial city
Valladolid (by-ah-doh-leed) is one of these colonial cities that has been on the rise with tourism in the past few years. We could not be happier that this small town is getting a continual renewal of it’s colonial buildings and tourist facilities. It is like a living museum. You can still see traditional Mayan dresses being worn and traditions being carried out that are centuries old. At first glimpse, Valladolid may seem like just a stopover for going to Chichen Itza on a bus tour, but with a good guide or a good plan, you can spend an amazing day or several days here. (Be sure to see map at the bottom of this article for all locations.)
We are bringing you a two part series on this small town because there is so much that it offers to those that choose to visit and explore a little. This article will focus on the center of town and what there is to see. The second article will focus on the sights and attractions around Valladolid.
See our Video Tour of Valladolid here
In 2012 the city of Valladolid became designated as a “Pueblo Magico“. This is a program to promote towns/cities around the country that offer visitors a “magical” experience – by reason of their natural beauty, cultural riches, or historical relevance. The towns have to be supportive of preserving whatever makes them unique and special and be accessible to tourism. By receiving this designation in 2012, it only confirmed what tourist already knew that visited this small city in the center of the Yucatan, it is a magical little place.
Here is why Valladolid is special. It has a colonial center with pastel colored buildings, much of which has been preserved. The city was founded at its current location in 1545. The city was built on top of the Mayan city of Zaci. The stones of the Mayan city were used to built the colonial buildings. Today the name Zaci is found in a few places, namely the large cenote in the center of town (calle 36 and Calle 37). For those wanting to see a cenote with easy access, this is right in town and only cost a few pesos to get in. (15 pesos last time we checked).
Visit the colonial heart of Valladolid Mexico
The main park is called Park Francisco Cantón Rosado. It is an excellent place to sit in the heat of the day and watch the city go by. There are a few good ice cream shops where you can get something cool and sit in the park enjoying it. On Sunday the park and the streets next to it are closed off for live music and dancing. The innocence of it will transport you back to a simpler time. So if you can, arrange to be here on Sunday evening. You will find many arts and craft stores around the main square. Traditional Mayan dresses, napkins with embroidery, honey products and leather goods are all good things to buy here.
The main church on the square is the Cathedral of San Gervasio. The original church no longer stands but this one is still impressive being rebuilt in 1706. Services are still held in the church and this give you an opportunity to see the church in action.
Opposite the church is on of the most popular restaurants in Valladolid called El Meson del Marques. It makes for a great dinner spot in its colonial courtyard. Even if you are not going to eat here, you should peak in. Also on the opposite side of the park from the church is a green building with arches. This is a food stall area that has small vendors serving up local food. Look for Mayan cuisine like poc chuc or longaniza, a type of sausage that is a local specialty.
San Roque local history of Valladolid museum
Just off the main square is the San Roque Museum. Located on Calle 41 near 38th. It is a small homage to the area and it s development through history. It is free to go in. Most descriptions are in Spanish so if you don not read Spanish there is still enough to see and keep you interested for your visit.
Casa De Los Venados Museum
A real hidden surprise in Valladolid is the “Casa de los Venados” Located on Calle 40 between Calle 41 and Calle 43. This private home is a collection of Mexican folk-art and contemporary art. The house is amazing and so is the collection. Tours are in English and Spanish everyday only at 10a.m. A donation is requested for the tours which goes to help local communities receive medical care. You may even get a tour from the owner. Just arrive at the property just before 10am and enjoy this excellent collection and home tour. It is something you would not expect in find in this small town.
Another area of the city is the Candelaria neighborhood. Located at the intersection of Calle 44 and 35. It is just a few blocks northwest of the main square. This area is named after the Candelaria Virgin Saint which is celebrated every February 2nd. The lovely red ochre church and pleasant square make for some lovely photographs. Also check out the Italian café and restaurant facing the square or an ice cream shop for a little treat.
Calle Los Frailes in Valladolid Mexico
Calle Los Frailes is a well preserved diagonal street that has a lot to offer to tourist. Check out Coqui Coqui, a perfume shop that had preserved ancient Mayan combinations of scents into lovely perfumes. The shop is very nice inside as well.
At the end of Los Frailes is the massive former convent of San Bernardino de Siena. This colonial jewel was built in 1552. The building once functioned as a Franciscan monastery and also as a fort to protect themselves from the rebel Mayan threats. This construction possesses a cenote which was utilized by franciscans for irrigation.
There is a small entrance fee charged to visit the inside of this structure.
Inside there is a museum where you will see many things that were dredged out of the cenote on the property. These items where thrown in over the centuries.
After walking around the Convent and Los Frailes you will most likely need a drink. There is a great place just nest to the Convent on Frailes called Taberna Los Frailes. grab a drink and enjoy the semi outside restaurant with beautiful passion fruit vines covering the patio.
How to get to Valladolid, Yucatan
You have two ways of driving to Valladolid from Playa Del Carmen. Route #1 is by taking the new 305 highway from Playa Del Carmen. This is a toll road but will save you about 50 minutes of driving compared with the next option. Route # 2 takes you toward Tulum and then toward Valladolid. ( See our driving in the Yucatan article here for some tips on this journey)
If you are going to take the bus, there are local and express buses there. We recommend ADO bus because the local cheaper option is more for people that are commuting to places in between. Ado busses for Valladolid leave from the Station on 20th Ave and 12th St. in the center of Playa Del Carmen. The bus takes between 2 hr. 40 min- 3 hr. 10 min. depending on which bus you take. Checking the schedules online at ADO’s site is a bit confusing because you have to enter the Playa Del Carmen Station on 5th Avenue to get the schedule. Check when you buy your ticket to make sure where it is leaving from. Also buy your tickets in advance as this route can be popular and will fill up.
Restaurants to check out in Valladolid Yucatan
There are a few places to mention here that are good places for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Restaurants here tend to be better for some meals or only open part of the day. See our complete guide to restaurants here in Valladolid.
On the main square there is a food market with several local stalls serving up local specialties. This is a good place to get a quick lunch. This is opposite the main church. Once you enter there will be people standing in front of their stands waving to you with menues and listing all the things they have. Don’t feel rushed to make a decision and walk down the line of places to see if one seems good for you.
Taberna is at the end of Calle Los Frailes near the convent. This is a good place to stop and have a beer or cocktail on a hot day or lunch or dinner. This is a more upscale restaurant. If you go for dinner don’t expect it to be crowded and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere by the convent.
Paakal is a small local place with a cute garden. This is a very affordable place with a small and fresh lunch menu. This small places is just a few blocks off the main square but one of those local finds with good value food and good taste. At night they make tamales and serve then on the other side of this restaurant. Check our video for scenes of this restaurant to see what we mean!
El Meson is the main nice restaurant in town. It is right on the main square. This is a colonial courtyard where you can have regional food. It is romantic and upscale. They have regional cuisine and the prices are not the highest that they could be. This place is good to take a large group, but make a reservation. Try the jicama margaritas.
El Jardin de los Frailes is on the Calle de Los Frailes. It is a nice garden restaurant off the street and offers regional cuisine. This is a very nice setting with even a small Mayan house replica at the entrance. This is a good place for lunch or dinner. Prices are a good value and the atmosphere is very good as well.
Maria De La Luz Hotel serves a good breakfast. This is open to the public. They have a mini buffet with typical eggs, hotcakes, juices and fruit. The hotel will remind you of a Florida hotel from the 1960’s. The buffet is served by the pool and is a nice setting.
El Atrio is right next to the church on the main square. This restaurant has a nice garden in the back and for being in such a prime tourist spot the restaurant has decent prices and good regional cuisine including homemade tortillas for your meal.
Best Hotels to stay in Valladolid Mexico
Because there is so much hidden things to see in and around Valladolid you should spend the night if you have time. Here are some options for in our guide for the best hotels in Valladolid here.
These are just some of the things you will find in this Valladolid Yucatan. In Part 2 we will discuss the surrounding area of the colonial city.
Also be sure to read and see our video of a bike tour around Valladolid. Bikers Zaci is a great tour company that will take you on the back roads of the Yucatan. This is a very affordable tour and a great way to see a local side of Mexico.