Valladolid Travel Guide

Valladolid (Zaci or Saki' in Maya, meaning white falcon) is a tranquil inland city halfway between Cancún and Mérida that merits its exotic nickname, The Sultaness of the East. It is fast becoming a popular alternative to those bigger cities, attracting travelers with its colonial charm and easy access to many Yucatán attractions.

Contemporary Valladolid is a city of about 50,000 people and did a good job of sprucing itself up for the 2010 bicentennial of Mexican independence from Spain. Dramatic lighting enhances the beauty of the main square – called the Zócalo – and cathedral façade; streets have been repaved in the downtown area. Quality lodging has only become more varied, as have both expensive and cheap restaurants. Tour buses now make longer stops in Valladolid on their day trip from Cancún to the globally renowned reconstructed Mayan city of Chichén Itzá. If these temporary crowds mean that Valladolid has lost a little of its former sleepy charm, their presence has translated into greater revenue for business owners to invest in improving the visitor experience.

Valladolid's weather is hot and humid most of the year. January's temperatures average 18-29 degrees Celsius (65-85 degrees Fahrenheit:) and in August temperatures can approach 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). Hurricanes and tropical storms can occur any time between June and November, Yucatán's rainy months.

Some good times to visit are from January 22 to February 2 for the Feast of the Virgin of La Candelaria and June 4, when the city celebrates "La Chispa of 1910" – the Spark of the Revolution – when locals reenact the battle between federal soldiers and campesinos. Mayan traditions enhance traditional Day of the Day activities at the festival named Haal Naal Pixan, which takes place from October 28 to November 2.

Valladolid is the Central Yucatán transportation hub, with ADO, Oriente and Mayab buses offering connections to Cancún, Mérida, Chetumal, Chichén Itzá, Izamal, Tulum, Cobá, Ek Balam – both the archeological site and village – Río Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, and all Mexican points beyond. International and national airlines serve Cancún and Mérida, each just several hours away by car. The expensive toll-way (cuota) provides a fast way to travel east to Cancún and west to the state capital of Mérida. A free highway connects all the towns in between, giving the traveler a close-up view of rural life, but be careful of the ubiquitous speed bumps at the entrance and exit of each town. There aren't always signs alerting you to their presence and just one bone-crushing encounter with the topes, as they are called, will convince you to slow down and enjoy the scenery.

From the standpoint of personal security, you do not need to worry about walking around Valladolid's center – it is very safe. This is a compact city and you will probably not need any other way to get around town than your own two feet. Stroll down Valladolid's loveliest street, the Calzada de los Frailes (Street of the Friars) from the Zócalo to the Ex-Templo de San Bernardino and Convento de Sisal, a former Franciscan church and convent, which dominate a wide semi-circular plaza. Less than one block north of the main square and its superb cathedral is the free museum, Museo de San Roque. Of particular interest are relics from the nearby archeological site of Ek Balam, including the grave of a six-month old infant.

The Sultaness of the East is located close to many cenotes and no visit to the Yucatán can be complete without a dip in their cooling waters. Unique to the peninsula, cenotes take many forms, but all are formed by the partial or entire collapse of the ground covering a deep pool of water. The two cenotes closest to Valladolid are Zaci, located in town just a few blocks from the Zócalo, and Dzitnup, found just 4 km (2 1/2 miles) west of Valladolid off Highway 180.

Valladolid is a convenient base from which to explore central Yucatán state, especially Chichén Itzá, located a 35-minute drive west. The archeological site has not lost any of its impressiveness despite the onslaught of tourists wanting the see North America's only spot on the "New Seven Wonders of the World" list.

A drive north from Valladolid on Highway 265 takes you to the Ek Balam archeological zone, which is a little visited but spectacular Late Classic Maya site. Ek Balam, which means black or star jaguar, was "discovered" only in 1997, and with 45 excavated and unexcavated structures, Ek Balam is the anti-Chichén Itzá – this is the place you should visit if you want to avoid crowds and commune with the spirits of the ancients.

At the northern terminus of Highway 265 about a 1½-hour drive from Valladolid lies the world-famous Río Lagartos Biosphere Reserve. Taking a leisurely boat trip through the reserve, with its lagoons, beaches, and mangrove channels, is a must: on a good day you can see up to 44,000 strolling, skimming, and flying pink flamingoes.

Whether you stop for lunch or spend several days visiting Central Yucatán's diverse attractions, make no mistake: Valladolid is much more than a wide spot on the road between Mérida and Cancún.

Where to Go in Valladolid

TOP PICKS BY OUR LOCAL EXPERTS

CASA HAMACA GUESTHOUSE

Calle 49 N����������202-A X 40

Ex-Templo de San Bernardino and Convento de Sisal

Calle 41 A, Barrio de Sisal

At the Ex-Templo de San Bernardino and Convento de Sisal, visit the elaborate garden well and fountain, and note the church's central altarpiece, which survived the anti-Church excesses of the revolution.

Bazar Municipal

Main Square, corner of Calles 39 and 40

Cheap, good eats are found from early in the morning until very late at night at Bazar Municipal, a traditional open-air covered food court.

La Chispa

Calle 41 #201, between Calles 42 and 44. ½ block off the Main Square

La Chispa is a great place to enjoy the nightlife in Valladolid. Come early to for the food and drink but stay late for the karaoke and dancing.

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