When it comes to small provincial towns, it is up to us to make the most of them.
I first came to Valladolid in 2013, with my family, just one week after we moved to Mexico to live. Although we had already decided to live in Playa del Carmen, we were just checking out the options nearby.
We had our best dinner in Mexico so far on that occasion, in La Casona de Valladolid, just off the zócalo (main square) in street 41. It is actually a hacienda with elegant balconies, a large veranda and a courtyard with a lovely fountain. They don't serve dinners here any more (last time I checked was December 2016), only lunches, so if you are just stopping by at the end of the day, this place is not for you (although they do have a high-end craft and souvenir shop).
We also got pretty smashed on tequila that night, with my husband and my son, in a bar opposite the restaurant. The bar is closed now but at the time it had posters of Mexican revolutionaries and some gun replicas. What an introduction to Mexico! And a barman called Angel. Well, that night he was a devil and he got us trying all kinds of tequilas with and without chillies, with and without sangria, with and without orange, then chillies again and then some mezcal. As far as I can remember!
Valladolid is sort of in the middle, wherever you go in Yucatán, so I've been back many times. It's exactly half way between Mérida and Cancún and only 29 miles east of Chichén Itzá.
So you can stop here after your trip to Chichén Itzá, Ek' Balam, or Río Lagartos. Or you can plan staying here (come by ADO bus) for a few days and make the trips from here. I will never forget the one night we stayed here!
There are seven colonial churches in this provincial town. However, if you are here for a short stop, you will only have time for the Cathedral of San Gervasio, on the south side of the Zócalo park. It was completed in 1570 by the Franciscans, then badly damaged during the caste war (1847-1852) between the Maya and the Spanish and rebuilt again in 1702.
My current favourite activity when stopping in this town is just sitting on a lovers' bench (designed for two people facing each other) in the main park and having an ice cream.
If you are here on an organised tour, they will usually give you half an hour and you can do a quick visit of Ayuntamiento, the Town Hall, where they have a dramatic display of large paintings of Mexican history on the first floor (free entry).
What else to do in Valladolid? One block east of the Zócalo (main square) is the Museum of San Roque, which houses hundreds of objects about the life of the Maya.
What might appeal even more is the private home museum Casa de los Venados where they have a collection of Mexican folk art. You would have to come here at 10am when they open the door and offer the only tour of the day (in both English and Spanish).
The Calzada de los Frailes (Calle 41A) is a ten-minute walk south from the town square. This street consists of colonial homes with great architecture and it ends at the park of the ex-convent San Bernardino de Siena (street 49/50) in the Sisal neighbourhood. The Convent was built in 1552 by the Franciscans over the vault of a very large cenote. You can still see the ancient garden. The monks raised all their own food; they planted huge orchards and vegetable gardens and had fresh water from the cenote. A large hydraulic wheel was built at the opening to the cenote in the 17th century. Later still, the deterioration of Valladolid after the bloody phase of the Caste War included the convent. It has been repaired and used as a hospital since.
After all that walking you can cool off in cenote Zací, three blocks from the main square (at Calle 36 between Calles 37 and 39) and have lunch after your swim as there is a restaurant on the property. Cenote Zací takes its name from the pre-Hispanic settlement city on top of which Valladolid was founded. Zací in Mayan means 'white hawk'. In 1543 the Spanish conquistador Francisco de Montejo the Younger led a war against the Cupul royal family, who ruled Zací and the neighbouring area (including Ek' Balam city), in an attempt to conquer them. He built Valladolid on top of the Mayan temples, as was then common practice by the Spanish. The white hawk of Zací is the coat of arms of the city until today.
As for a nice dinner, we now go to Atrio del Mayab, just next to the church on the main square, because I just love restaurants with gardens, particularly in the hot climate. The food is always good here. Atrio de Mayab serves Yucatec specialities and even Yucatec beer called Ceiba. I had tortillas with chicken on my last visit. They serve Pico de Gallo (fresh tomato salsa) as a free starter and we were also offered Sikil Pak, Mayan dip made of pumpkin seeds, absolutely wonderful. I will definitely try this recipe. There is a lady who makes fresh tortillas on the spot.
Mix & Match:
How to get there:
You can take a bus from Cancún (2 hours), Playa del Carmen (2 hours), Mérida (just over 2 hours) or Tulum (1 h 30 min). If going by car, Valladolid is just off the toll highway (180D); the exit is about 3 mi/4.8km north of the centre of town. The old highway (180) runs east-west through the centre of town.