The soul of the Yucatán Peninsula is well concealed. Go and find it in the cowboy land of Yucatán, around colonial Valladolid.
Here are some suggestions for those who want to spend a night or two in the town and take a few day trips round. First of all, while in town, do visit Casa De Los Venados and all the other sights; for details check my post Valladolid. In the evening, go to the main plaza and sit on a bench in the park. This is when the local bands come out to sing and dance.
Below are my recommendations for day trips around Valladolid. Click on the links to get more details and guidance on how to get there.
Out of the city, you can go to small villages, such as Uayma, Kikil and Tizimín. Think of it as a Convent Route. Each village has an ex-convent and a church built by the Spanish conquistadores. The one in Uayma is unique because it is decorated with starbursts and rosettes, while the Kikil church is now just a skeleton of its former glory but it is very romantic. In Tizimín, in addition to the convent and the church you can browse a local market and also a small history museum.
Temozón, Kikil and Tizimín are the heart of cattle country, the leading beef producers in the state. If you take this route all the way up to the Gulf of Mexico, you will see not just convents and churches, but cattle ranches and vaqueros (cowboys) loping along the sides of the country roads.
And then there are cenotes everywhere around Valladolid. There is even one cenote right in the middle of the city, Zací, bearing the name of the original Maya settlement on this land, before the arrival of the Spanish who defeated the local king. From a number of cenotes, here are a few of my favourites: Suytún, Zazil Tunich, Kikil, Hubiku, Maya Native Park, Samulá, X'Kekén.
If you love ancient history, do venture to the Maya ruins of Ek' Balam and Kulubá. The former has an amazing stucco mask of the Witz, Mountain Monster, at the entrance to the king's tomb. The latter has similar masks but the site is formally not yet open. However, it is accessible on a dirt road, via the rancho Emanuel. It is a fantastic feeling to be at the ancient site by yourself. For that, you will need to rent a car; there is no public transport to these places.
Boat trips and Birdwatching
If you are a nature lover, continue your journey all the way to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico; it is about an hour's drive from Valladolid (this is cowboy land, full of cattle ranches). Here you can go to the beach Cancunito to collect sea shells and admire the unique pink lakes (there aren't many in the world) in the village of Las Coloradas, or take a boat trip in Río Lagartos, for bird watching, including pink flamingos. The village of San Felipe is the most colourful in Yucatán and from there you can also take a boat trip to Isla Cerritos (the former port of Chichén Itzá) or the nearby beaches (Playa Bonita).