Looking for the best things to do in Valladolid, Mexico? We’ve got you covered with this Ultimate Guide to Valladolid.
From the colorful facades to the Yucatan cuisine, this picturesque colonial city is the perfect place to visit if you’re looking for an authentic taste of Mexico near the Riviera Maya.
Due to it being a main stop on the tourist bus route from the Riviera Maya to Chichen Itza, it’s not the off-the-tourist-track destination that some might think it is, but it’s much less touristy and more authentic than places like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum.
- A Brief History Lesson
- How to Pronounce Valladolid
- Is Valladolid, Mexico worth visiting?
- Things to Do in Valladolid, Yucatan
- What to See Near Valladolid
- Where to Eat in Valladolid
- Planning a Trip to Valladolid
- Where to Stay in Valladolid
- How to Get to Valladolid
- Other Things to Do in Yucatan, Mexico
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A Brief History Lesson
Valladolid was founded in 1543 by a Spanish conquistador in a different area farther east, but infertile lands and unsanitary conditions forced them to relocate to the current location, the ancient Maya capital of Zací. As was customary, the Spanish dismantled the Maya buildings and used the stone to construct the cathedral and surrounding colonial town center.
In 1847, the city was invaded by rebel Maya forces during the Caste War of Yucatan. Valladolid was also witness to the “first spark of the Mexican revolution,” an insurrection that took place on June 3, 1910 and is recreated annually in the main square.
How to Pronounce Valladolid
Before we go any further, let’s make sure you’re saying Valladolid right when you’re reading this.
Valladolid is pronounced va-ya-DOE-leed and it was named after the capital of Spain at the time of conquest.
The original name of the town is Zací – pronounced Sa-KEE – which means “white hawk” in Yucatec Maya.
TIP: Spanish is not the only language spoken in Yucatan! – there are 68 officially recognized languages in Mexico – so before visiting the Yucatan Peninsula, learn some words in Yucatec Maya. It’s the native language of over 800,000 inhabitants in the Mexican Yucatan and over 6,000 in the Belize part of the peninsula.
Is Valladolid, Mexico worth visiting?
Yes! Valladolid is a charming city that offers a more authentic Mexican experience, especially when compared to mega tourist destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. This historic city of about 50,000 inhabitants has a classic colonial layout with the church and the main square in the center of town.
One of the best things about Valladolid is the amount of color everywhere! You’ll see many of the local women wearing traditional hipiles covered in hand-embroidered flowers. The colonial-era buildings are painted in bright colors that will make any photographer drool.
Valladolid is the perfect place to stay while exploring much of the Yucatan Peninsula.
It’s also designated by the government as a Pueblo Magico, or Magical Town. Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism reserves this prestigious title for places that offer tourists a magical experience due to their natural beauty, cultural heritage, historical significance, unique cuisine, and traditional arts and crafts. Valladolid has a bit of everything on that list.
Things to Do in Valladolid, Yucatan
We spent over a week exploring Valladolid, Yucatan. In no particular order, here’s what we think are the best things to see and do in this colorful colonial town in Mexico.
Relax at the Parque Principal Francisco Cantón Rosado
The heart of Valladolid. This is the main park located in the center of the city, also called el parque (the park). It’s a place where you can grab hand-made coconut ice cream, sit on a bench near the fountain or under a shady laurel tree, and watch the world go by.
It’s also the place where tourist buses drop off their tour groups around mid-day, so avoid going during that time. The best time to go is before sunset when you’ll see performers dancing the regional jarana yucateca.
Visit the Palacio Municipal (Municipal Palace) right across the street. It houses the tourist information office and murals depicting the history of Valladolid.
Also right across the street on the south side is the relatively new (early 1700s) San Servacio – also called San Gervasio – church. The original cathedral from the 1500s was demolished and this newer one was built on the same site. The older churches in town are Candelaria, Santa Lucía, San Juan, and Santa Ana.
Swim in Cenotes
Cenotes are sinkholes created in the fragile limestone surface of the Yucatan Peninsula. Some are completely open, some are half-covered, and some are entirely underground.
Swimming in a cenote is an absolute must on the Yucatan.
And there’s no excuse not to at least see one when in Valladolid because there’s literally a cenote right in the middle of town. It’s an open-air one called Cenote Zaci and it’s located about 3 blocks north east of the town square.
Although it’s not our top choice for swimming in (the water color isn’t that nice), it is the perfect place to enjoy a cold cerveza at the palapa restaurant overlooking its depths or you can pay the $30 peso entry fee and to swim.
Cenote Oxman is located about 25 minutes by bicycle or 10 minutes driving time from Valladolid on the 18th century Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman. It’s an open cenote with a platform and rope swing to jump off from. The entrance fee is 80 pesos.
Cenote Suytun is what I refer to as the “Instagram Cenote” because it’s all over Instagram at the moment. It has a concrete platform in the center and a beam of light that falls straight onto the person standing on it. It makes for a great photo, but it’s not the place to go swimming. We prefer cenotes that are less developed and left in their natural state. Entry is 120 pesos and it’s about 15 minutes driving from Valladolid.
Our top choice for cenotes in the area are Cenotes X’keken and Samula (also called Cenote Dzitnup). These are covered cenotes that are perfect for swimming in. We highly recommend renting a bike and riding over to these cenotes like we did (It’s just 20 minutes away). It was so much fun to cycle through town and then cool off in the refreshing waters of these mystical underground cenotes. Entrance fee is 125 pesos for both.
Stroll Down Calzada de los Frailes
Calzada de los Frailes means Friars’ Road. It’s a narrow road that runs from the Ex-Convent of San Bernardino de Siena into the center of Valladolid. It’s lined with colorful colonial-era homes, boutiques, cafes, hotels, and restaurants.
Shop at Centro Artesanal Zaci and Mercado de Artesanias
Valladolid is known across Mexico for its amazing arts and crafts. Browse through the stalls at the Centro Artesanal Zaci (Zaci Artisanal Center) and Mercado de Artesanias (Artisanal Market) to find beautiful hammocks, hipiles, hats, guayaberas, sandals, and other traditional handcrafts.
Tour La Casa de Los Venados
About a block south from the main square (on Calle 40) lies this private home filled with a collection of over 3,000 pieces of folk art from all over Mexico. Since the American couple that owns the home still lives there, admission is by guided tour only. It costs 100 pesos which is then donated to local charities. English and Spanish tours are available everyday from 10 am – 1 pm.
See the Ex-Convent of San Bernardino of Siena
The Ex-Convento de San Bernardino de Siena is a 16th century convent with original frescoes and a baroque altar made from wood. It was built on top of a cenote called Sis-Ha.
There’s a light and sound show (called video mapping) on the facade of the convent from Wednesday to Sunday at 9 pm in Spanish and 9:25 pm in English.
Experience the Mercado Municipal Donato Bates
The Donato Bates Municipal Market is located a few blocks northeast of the main square. Head here early in the morning to experience an authentic Mexican market. Taste some Yucatecan fruits (like nance, guanabana, zapote, and pitaya), wander through the aisles of hanging meat, or grab a cheap and delicious antojito, or “little craving,” like panuchos or salbutes.
Visit the Museo de San Roque
This 16th century building started off as a cloister and church, then became Valladolid’s first hospital in 1630, and, in 1985, was turned into the San Roque museum. The exhibits focus on the history of Yucatan, especially Valladolid. It has pre-hispanic artifacts and tons of information on the Caste War. We really enjoyed visiting this free museum and the peaceful courtyard in the back.
What to See Near Valladolid
If you’re looking for a more authentic Mexican city than those on the Maya Riviera coast, Valladolid makes the perfect base for exploring much of the Yucatan Peninsula. Here are just some of the many things to see near Valladolid.
The most well-known archeological site in Mexico is also the most-visited due in part to its recent status as one of the new 7 Wonders of the World. To avoid the crowds, stay overnight in Valladolid and get to Chichen Itza right when it opens at 8 am. It’s only about 40 minutes away by car and there are also colectivos (shared taxis) that you can take for less than $5 USD.
Merida is one of our favorite cities in Mexico! A visit to the big city makes the perfect day trip from Valladolid and it’s less than 2 hours away by car. We liked it so much that we extended our stay there to over 3 weeks and wrote a post on 50+ Things to Do in Merida.
There’s something about the ruins at Coba that we just love. I think it’s because it just feels so much more “undiscovered” than the rest of the big sites in the area and you can still climb the pyramid (which is essential to make on my list of favorite ruins). It’s less than an hour away by car.
This magical town is a must-see in Yucatan. From the market to the massive convent, the entire city is painted a bright yellow. It also has multiple ruin sites scattered amongst the colonial buildings that you can visit for free. Plus, it’s just an hour and a half away from Valladolid.
If touristy Chichen Itza isn’t on your bucket list, head to the ruins at Ek Balam. You can actually climb the massive pyramid here and take in the amazing views from the top. Check out our Ek Balam post for info on how to get there.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
This place is paradise. It’s a protected area just south of Tulum and only about 2 hours away from Valladolid by car. Drive down the dirt road with beautiful (swimmable!) lagoons on one side, jungle in the middle, and pristine white-sand beaches on the other and stop along the way to cool off on either side.
Other Things to See Near Valladolid
Here are some other ideas for things to see and do near Valladolid that we haven’t had the chance to explore yet.
- Balankanche Caves
- Rio Lagartos
- Cenote Ik-kil
- Cenote Maya Park
- Uayma Church
Where to Eat in Valladolid
Valladolid is the ideal place to try the local Yucatecan specialties. Unlike the major tourist destinations on the coast, you can still easily find authentic restaurants that cater to the locals’ palates instead of the tourists’ even in the town’s historical center.
What to Eat in Valladolid (and Yucatan)
Local foods to try in Valladolid include panuchos, salbutes, chile habanero salsa (our favorite!), papadzules, lomitos, relleno negro, coconut ice cream, longaniza with eggs, pan de cazón, queso relleno, candied papaya, chicken escabeche, marquesitas, and cochinita pibil (Yucatan’s most famous dish).
For drinks, have a sip of the Yucatec liquor, Xtabentun, made from anise and honey from Mayan bees, or a refreshing agua fresca, made from local fruits.
Restaurants in Valladolid, Yucatan
The best places to find delicious, authentic, and cheap comida Yucateca are the Mercado Municipal (Municipal Market) and Mercado de Comida (Food Market).
Mercado de Comida (also called Bazar Municipal)
This is a food court that’s on the northeast corner of the Parque Principal (main square). It’s where the locals come to grab a bite for lunch. Choose the busiest stall and take your pick of local specialties. My mouth is watering as I write this. It was seriously one of our best meals in Valladolid.
TIP: As usual, our top tip for finding authentic food is to stay away from the restaurants catering to tourists with English-only menus and/or prices in USD. Although they may have the names of local dishes on the menu, the flavor and spices are going to be watered down and (in our opinion) not as good. If you don’t speak the language, download Google Translate for help when ordering off menus. It’s a lifesaver!
Panaderia La Especial
Pan dulce is one of our favorite things to eat in Mexico. It’s the name used for a huge variety of sweet breads baked daily and eaten for dessert, coffee breaks, or even breakfast! Different areas in Mexico have their own unique types of pan dulce, so it’s always fun to go see what they have in a new town. We tried a sweet empanada filled with candied pumpkin here that was delicious!
Cantina La Joyita
If you’ve ever wanted to visit a real Mexican cantina, then this is your spot! We passed by on our way to Museo San Roque – it’s right across the street – on a Friday afternoon around 3 pm. There was a mariachi playing inside and it was so packed there were people standing on the sidewalk outside the swinging doors.
Traditional cantinas serve you a small dish of food with each round of drinks you order (for FREE!). Another good cantina in Valladolid is El Bar Yuk’tko.
Marquesitas at the Parque Principal
You NEED to try this popular dessert! They’re kind of like a crispy crepe, rolled up and stuffed with queso de bola (Edam cheese) and the filling of your choice. We like ours with Nutella. Yes, it sounds weird, but just try it. It’s delicious.
Planning a Trip to Valladolid
Where is Valladolid?
Valladolid is a small city in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It’s conveniently located just south of the main highway that runs from Merida to Cancun. I’ve listed details on how to get there in its own section below.
Best Time to Visit
Valladolid has warm to hot weather throughout the year, ranging from the mid-60s to the high-90s. The most popular time to visit is November through March, which are drier and cooler months.
Annual events include Expo-Feria Valladolid (late-January to early-February) and Primera Chispa de la Revolución (June).
Getting Around in Valladolid
It’s a completely walkable city, so there’s no need to take taxis around town (no Uber yet). The only thing that’s a bit farther away are the cenotes. We used our bicycles that came with our Airbnb to get to these, but you can also rent them in town or get a scooter.
There are also plenty of options for colectivos to take you to nearby attractions and an ADO bus station in case those don’t work.
Is Valladolid safe?
Yes, Valladolid is quite safe. We bicycled throughout the town and walked around at night and it never felt sketchy. As we usually recommend while traveling, don’t wear anything flashy and try not to walk around with your smartphone out. Read our post on Travel Safety 101 for more tips.
Prices in Valladolid are more affordable than the main tourist destinations along the coast, like Cancun and Tulum, but still more expensive than towns in other Mexican states like Oaxaca or Chiapas.
In early 2019, the Yucatan government nearly doubled the cost of admission for the most popular archeological sites in the state. At Chichen Itza, the cost is currently 481 pesos for foreigners instead of the previous 250 pesos. The price increase also applies to Ek Balam and Uxmal ruins, so budget accordingly.
What to Pack
Don’t forget these essentials!
How long to stay in Valladolid?
There’s so much to see and do in this town and the surrounding area! You should stay at least 2 days if you’re passing by or a week if you’re making it your home base to explore the Yucatan.
We stayed a little over a week in Valladolid and really enjoyed taking our time to experience the small Mexican town atmosphere. Sunday ice cream at the Parque Principal, mornings at the mercado municipal, sunset strolls through Calzada de los Frailes, and – my personal favorite – exploring cenotes.
1 Day Itinerary
If you only have one day in Valladolid, these are our top recommendations for things to do. Find a hotel or rental as close to the town center as possible and pretty much everything will be within walking distance.
- Swim in a cenote
- Taste the local specialties at the food court
- Learn about the history of Valladolid at Museo San Roque
- Drink a beer at an authentic cantina like La Joyita
- Walk down Calzada de los Frailes to Ex-Convento de San Bernardino
- Watch a traditional dance at the Parque Principal
Where to Stay in Valladolid
We spent our first 3 nights in Valladolid in an Airbnb studio about 20 minutes from the town center that we managed to find last-minute. It wasn’t our top choice, but it included bicycles and everything else was booked. We moved to a hotel that was closer to the action right after our Airbnb stay was over.
We highly recommend booking your Airbnb in advance (Valladolid can get very busy) and staying as close as possible to the town center. Get $20 off your first stay here.
Hotels in Valladolid, Yucatan
There are plenty of hotels to choose from in Valladolid, but make sure to stay near the town center so everything is within walking distance.
We use and recommend Booking.com to find hotels because they offer free cancellation, a rewards program, and they price match.
Budget: Gayser Apartments
We stayed at Gayser Apartments because it was an extremely good value. We had a studio apartment with sink, microwave, fridge, plates, utensils, and AC for less than $30 USD a night. It’s about a 5 minute walk to the Parque Principal and was absolutely perfect for us.
Mid-Range: Hotel Meson del Marques
This hotel has a great location in a colonial 17th century building right across the Parque Principal in the heart of the historical center. It also has an outdoor pool to cool off and on-site restaurant that supposed to be quite good.
Luxe: Hotel Zentik Project
Beautiful palapa-roof rooms set surrounded by greenery and murals with an outdoor pool and an indoor saline cave pool and spa. It also has an on-site restaurant which features free breakfast. Most importantly, they greet you with a complimentary tequila upon arrival.
How to Get to Valladolid
The closest cities near Valladolid are Cancun and Merida. They both have international airports, though it’s usually cheaper to fly into Cancun. We like to use Skyscanner to get the best deals on airfare.
TIP: The state of Quintana Roo doesn’t observe Daylight Savings while the surrounding states do. Watch for time zone changes when traveling between these areas.
Cancun to Valladolid (toll road)
• Distance: 97.1 miles (156 km)
• Time: 1 hr 48 min
Merida to Valladolid
Distance: 98.6 miles (158.7 km)
Times: 1 hr 45 min
Tulum to Valladolid
Distance: 63.6 miles (102.4 km)
Time: 1 hr 36 min
Since we were in nearby Merida, we opted for an ADO shuttle from Merida’s CAME station to Valladolid. It took about 2.5 hours and cost around $30 USD for both of us. Check out our post on Mexico’s ADO bus system for information on how to check the timetables and save money by buying tickets online.
Get Your Guide offers free cancellation up to 24 hours before activity starts and 24/7 customer service.
TIP: The price of admission for archeological sites in the state of Yucatan about doubled in cost in early 2019. Some tour companies are now passing on this hike in price by the state government to their customers as a “tax.” Make sure to check for extra fees in the tour descriptions.
- Chichen Itza, Valladolid, and Cenote Swim. The classic Riviera Maya tourist activity similar to the tour I did the first time I went to Valladolid. Pickup from Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
- Chichen Itza, Ik Kil Cenote, and Valladolid. Pretty similar to the above, but offers pickup at various cities along the Riviera Maya from Cancun to Tulum.
- Ek Balam Ruins, Hubiku Cenote, and Valladolid. This one takes you to the Ek’ Balam ruins instead of Chichen Itza. Pickup from Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
If you prefer traveling with a tour group and would like to visit Valladolid, consider taking the Classic Mexico Adventure tour by G Adventures. They specialize in small group adventure travel with a focus on cultural experiences and responsible tourism.
Other Things to Do in Yucatan, Mexico
Looking for more things to do on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula? Check out these articles:
- See Thousands of Flamingos in Celestun
- The Most Amazing Beaches in Cozumel
- Mahahaul and Xcalak: The Secret Beach Destinations South of Cancun
- The Ultimate Guide to Bacalar Lagoon
- The Best Things to Do in Mexico’s Walled City: Campeche
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