One of the best aspects of living long-term on the ground in any given destination is that you have more opportunities to explore the surrounding countryside and villages in comparison to backpackers who are just flitting through for a two or three-night stay. It’s the difference between skim-reading the novel and actually reading the whole thing cover to cover.
While I’ve been to Valladolid in the past, our recent day trip over the holidays with Ryan and Angela from Jets Like Taxis along with Devlin from Dream In Reality was jam-packed with over 500 photos shot, 2 hours of video footage filmed (including two Life on the Road entries for International Travel Writers), a massive lunch and two naps in between (there and back again via ADO). The following post is our adventure for the day, complete with a Viajes Con Cristina episode to boot
One of the first things you notice between Cancun (and the Riviera Maya as a whole) and Valladolid is the architechture. While most of the modern Riviera Maya has a history of less than 50 years (with the exception of the Maya ruins; I’m talking cities here), while walking the streets of Valladolid you are struck with a sense of age.
The buildings here have actually seen things over the years. They are crumbling in some places, well-kept in others, but the overall style is more colonial than what you’ll find throughout the Riviera, and there’s quite a bit of history to the place, from the churches to the cenote to the surrounding ruins of Chichen Itza, Ek Balam and beyond.
But Valladolid is about more than just the architecture and the Maya ruins surrounding. There’s also a long and convoluted history to the town that dates back to 1543, when the the first official town of the same name was founded some distance away in the municipality of Tizimin by the nephew of Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Montejo.
However, after only a couple of short years, the Spaniards were in misery due to the heat, humidity and the mosquitos, so they relocated to the current location where the Maya people had an established village known as Zaci or Zaci-Val, build on top and around the cenote Zaci that now sits in the heart of the current city. Natural air conditioning, if you will, plus a fresh water supply.
Granted, the natives didn’t take too kindly to the Spaniards just moving in and taking over, and there was a bloody series of revolutions and wars fought afterwards. For more information on the history of Valladolid, you can read the Wiki or this excellent article on Yucatan Today.
While it’s certainly a town that I’d consider worth spending at least a few weeks to even a few months in, there’s not much there in terms of infrastructure, which makes it difficult for those of us who work online and need banks + reliable Internet and the like.
That being said, if you are looking for a place to spend a few days while exploring the surrounding countryside, Maya ruins, cenotes and thousands of years of history, this is easily one of the better places in the Yucatan to do so…especially if you like the quiet life of the village as opposed to the city living you’ll find in Merida, Cancun or Playa del Carmen.
Don’t forget the zocalo, as well. Just like every other town in Mexico, this is the beating heart of the cultural scene, as well as one of the primary open markets where you can pick up souvenirs and the like. There’s always something going on, especially Friday, Saturday and Sundays, the traditional day off for Mexicans, and when the majority of people come in from the surrounding pueblos for some downtime with the family.
I find it to be one of my favorite day-trips from Cancun, and I’ve stayed the night while exploring Ek Balam to the north. But there is something to keep in mind: Valladolid is a tourist destination. Which means anything in the center of the town is going to be tourist-priced (we stopped for coffee at a place in the morning and a simple coffee + milk was 50 pesos). If you want to go cheap and only pay 50 pesos for a plate of beans, tortillas, meat and water of the day, you’ll find plenty of corner stalls serving up staple foods.
Our phenomenal lunch, courtesy of the El Meson De Marques hotel, cost five of us around $100, which was pretty damn cheap considering the quality of the place (20 bucks a pop for what I consider to be one of the best meals I had throughout 2013), but it’s certainly more than what you’ll pay four or five streets out…but then again, if you go four to five streets out you’ll be eating typical Mexican fare (tacos and quesadillas and sopas and cheap staple foods) as opposed to Yucatan specialties.
There’s also an open market with fresh juices, vegetables, fruits and meats as well as plenty of street food if you are into it, over on the north end of the town, north of the cenote. But if you want cultural specialties (see Yucatan dishes), you’ll find the best restaurants near the zocalo, as well as the Cenote Zaci Restaurant, but be prepared to spend 20-30 dollars per person to eat a decent meal.
All in all, if you enjoy the quiet life and want to set up shop in a backwater colonial town and spend a few months writing your next book, building your website, working on building up your brand platform and the like, this is one of the perfect places to do so. Or if you just want a quiet, out-of-the-way place to enjoy a few weeks of downtime, I highly recommend Valladolid. If you need infrastructure and banking, you’ll be better off going to Merida or Cancun/Playa del Carmen.
Don’t forget to check out the video below and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to shoot us a mail!
If you are looking for more information on Cancun or Mexico in general, you can pick up our Live Like a Local guide for the city, packed with other restaurant recommendations, apartment and condo referrals, tips on navigating the public transportation system, local negotiation tips and strategies, market and discount day overviews and more!