Last Updated on July 15, 2023 by Christine Kaaloa
Valladolid is a sleepy pueblo magico (magic town) in the Yucatan, known for it’s authentic Mexican street vibe, its wealth of cenotes and its convenient distance to Chichen Itza. It’s a humble and cozy town that I didn’t immediately fall in love with, but that doesn’t mean you won’t. In this Valladolid travel guide, I’m sharing best things to do in Valladolid and why it makes a great town stay in for a few days.
Sandwiched between Merida and Playa del Carmen, Valladolid is an ideal basecamp if you wanted to visit Chichen Itza, Rio lagartos, Los Colorados, Ek Balaam and Bacalar. It’s a convenient location to drop roots for a few days. I made Valladolid my basecamp for five days for.
Unfortunately, I spent around two days exploring it. I arrived just in time for the Candelaria festival, and it was the highlight of my time there.
Best things to Do in Valladolid
1. Church of San Servacio
The iglesia of San Servacio is hard to miss. It’s one of the top attractions of Valladolid because it is in the main square and hard to miss! During the day it is impressive but at night it is lit up and striking. This 16 century church is unique compared to other churches in Valladolid because it was destroyed in 1705 during the Crime of Mayors and the altar was replaced to face north where altars in other Valladolid churches face east.
2. San Bernardino Convent
San Bernardino Convent is a 16th church fortress that breaks into a complex of buildings and chapels such as a former convent, garden and temple of San Bernadino. It even has a secret underground cenote. On Tuesday and Thursday nights, they have a free video mapping show around 9:30p that runs for around 25 minutes. Bring your picnic blanket and hang out under the stars. Check with your hotel about the dates and times of the show.
I passed by this on a city bus tour. The drawback of city bus tours that are not hop on hop off is that once you see it, you can get a little lazy about returning to it on foot. But next time, I promise I will.
Tip: The colorful Valladolid sign is nearby and an instaworthy postcard shot to get.
3. Francisco Canton Park
Francisco Canton Park is the park in the main square of Valladolid. Around 5pm, the birds begin their migration to the trees in the park. It’s a sight to see as they come in flocks like waves in an ocean and the park is alive with chatter. But it also gets progressively livelier and locals come out to stroll and relax on park benches.
4. Jarana performance
At 5:30p, there is a traditional Yucatan dance troupe performance where dancers dress in costumes and dance in the square opposite of the church. I missed it but still saw another performance with dancers dressed in Mayan clothes. The performers work for tips from tourists and it’s just a fun cultural performance and artists to support.
5. Church de la Candelaria
In the neighborhood of the Candelaria, vvisit the Church of la Candelaria. Locals here, worship Our Lady of Candelaria, believing that she performed miracles for the families of Valladolid as in historical past, we was said to have cured the towns she passed through from smallpox.
6. Candelaria Festival and Carnival
From the end of Januaray to the beginning of Februrary – roughly 2 weeks- Valladolid has a festival in celebration of her. From a carnival to music concerts, boxing, donkey rides and bull fights (please do not support any animal entertainment; it harms and is abusive to the animals). I was fortunate to arrive during this week and they had the largest carnival I had ever seen, with games, food tents and virtually every carnival ride! During day time, there are town parades, as well.
7. Calle de los Frailes
Calle de los Frailes is the colorful and prettiest street in Valladolid. It’s a cobblestone street that is said to be the main attraction that makes is a publico magico. Unfortunately, I mistook it for being this street below, so I missed it.
7. Take the Valladolid Tourism circle bus
Lining the main square park of Francisco Canton is the Visit Valladolid circle bus tour that makes its way around the neighborhoods of the city to give you an overview. Duration is about 1-2 hours.
Unfortunately, there is no English translation at this time. All narrations are in Spanish. I hope Valladolid tourism will include an English version for foreign tourists as there’s quite a few neighborhoods in Valladolid with different charms. The tour is still worthwhile if you’re hoping to see an overview of the city, which otherwise you’d have to walk or rent a bike.
8. Donato Bates Municipal Market
The Donato Bates Municipal Market is the local market where you’ll find women from the Yucatan countryside selling produce and their products. From the outside, the municipal market building doesn’t appear like much is going on. This is what I thought too and missed out on this cool gem.
9. San Juan Church
Saint John’s Church (aka San Juan church) is a simple but historical church that was a gathering spot for a 1910 uprising against General Porfirio Diaz. Parallel to it is a small neighborhood park square. It does not feel as bucketlist worthy as Francisco Canton Park and San Servicio church in the main square but it is interesting to note that each neighborhood in Valladolid has their own local church and main park, which has significance to the locals residing there.
10. Take photos of the colorful backstreets of Valladolid
Valladolid has moments of feeling like an Old Mexico. Occasionally you’ll wander down a street that has colorful colonial architecture and you’ll want to take photos. Observe the varied architectural design of the houses, the ornate style of metal bars they have in their gates and over the house windows, their pets and lifestyle layout.
Okay, I know the photo below isn’t a great example. At the time of writing this post, my Valladolid YouTube experiential video guide is not yet edited, so I don’t have screenshots to pull. Check out my video when it publishes.
What to Eat in Valladolid
11. Agua fresca
Agua frescas are refreshing blended fruit drinks that help you beat off some of the Mexican heat. You can find them in ice cream shops and they cost around 30-40 pesos and you will likely want to buy the largest cup they have to cool you down.
Chaya is a Mexican tree spinach that is a leafy green plant that is ground up in foods like eggs and stir fry.
The Chaya plant is said to be a medicinal superfood, but poisonous to the touch, so it must be prepared just righ. It is said the locals pray to it to ask for permission to use it in their food. So this is a food you’d definitely not want to try on your own at home. Enjoy it as much as you can in Mexico!
Tip: Agua fresca spots sometimes sell a special pineapple chaya agua fresca. The flavor tastes a little like mint pineapple. I bought this in Merida too and it quickly became my favorite drink.
12. Explore street food… and fruits!
If you want to enjoy some of the local street foods, there are vendors roaming on Calle 29 between the ADO bus station and the main square. They sell snack foods from mangoes or oranges with chili powder to tamales wrapped in banana leaves.
Fruits with offerings of chili powder are common in Mexico and it actually brings the sweetness of the fruit out while giving it an earthy twist. It’s weirdly refreshing even on a hot day. I bought a bean tamale from a lady on the street corner. It was actually quite plain but it was roasted in banana leaves which added a smoky flavor of the tamale. I wasn’t fond of it and tried to feed it to street dogs and well, they weren’t interested in it either. But there might’ve been more tamale varieties- I just landed on an unexciting vegetarian one.
Tip: Take a cooking class to learn how to cook Mexican dishes from a professional chef.
13. Alcohol and mezcal shops
The alcohol shops were a curiosity for me and for the serious connoisseur of Mexican alcohol such as tequila and mezcal. These shops treated their alcohol like a cigar store would, with bottles lining the walls with different brands and alcohol proof. Some shops even have a tasting room and will offer you a sample.
FYI: Mezcal is a really strong distilled alcoholic beverage made from agave.
Best Valladolid Cenotes
There are over 5,000 cenotes in the Yucatan and Maya Riviera region of Mexico. Valladolid has several prominent cenotes in its vicinity, including the one housed directly in Valladolid.
Always use reef-safe sunscreen or go without when visiting a cenote. Most cenotes aim to preserve the natural ecosystem of these sinkholes and do not want any chemicals to damage or harm the environment.
Check out my reef-friendly sunscreen guide for details and recommendations.
14. Cenote Zaci
For just 30 pesos, Cenote Zaci is located in Valladolid. It is in the Zaci neighborhood which is a5-8 minute walk from the Francisco Canton Park. Cenote Zaci looks mythical; it’s hard to believe it is located directly in the city. Unfortunately, when I was there, it was closed for renovation.
The best view for photography is the restaurant next to it, but you’d need to buy a drink or meal to get to the viewing deck.
15. Cenote Suytun
Cenote Suytun is the most popular cenote according to Instagram. If you swim, you need to wear life vests (which is provided with your entrance fee. It is a well-maintained cenote and what most travelers don’t know is that it has a smaller sister cenote too. The sister cenote is equally beautiful but not as good to swim in and the waters are a little murky (although I still tried).
Admission is approximately 100 pesos ($5 USD) and it is worth it.
Getting to Cenote Suytun from Valladolid requires a rental car (Discover Cars), taxi or a Mexican collectivo (shared van bus).
16. Cenote Maya Native Park
Visit the largest vaulted cenote- Cenote Maya Native Park. The eco-park is run by Alltournative, a sustainable eco-park operator. The native park is an eco-park experience of a Mayan lunch and spiritual ceremony performed by a Mayan shaman before repelling into the cenote for your adventure.
I did not take this tour. Instead I took one launching from Playa del Carmen. You can see my video tour experience. The video also shows you a comparison between Tulum and Coba before I have my native park experience in their jaw-dropping Yaxmuul cenote.
Best Day Trips from Valladolid
Valladolid is an ideal basecamp for a road trip
If you wanted to visit Chichen Itza, Rio Lagartos /Los Colorados, Ek Balaam and Izamal. When trip planning, I researched the city which had the most convenience to a majority of sites I wanted to visit and Valladolid was it! It’s roughly 1-2 hour’s drive away and the ADO Bus is convenient and centrally located from the main square.
2 hr 22 min Valladolid to Cancun
2hrs from Valladolid to Merida
45 minutes from Valladolid to Chichen Itza
1 hour 45 minutes from Valladolid to Izamel
1.5 hours from Valladolid to Tulum
2 hours from Valladolid to Rio Lagartos
2 hours from Valladolid to Playa del Carmen
Easy to navigate for solo travelers
I knew Valladolid would not overwhelm me as a female solo traveler. While you can easily take day trips from Tulum, Playa del Carmen or even Cancun, these cities are larger, more touristy and expat-ish, sprawling and can take more energy to navigate themselves (although I cannot speak personally for Tulum as I did not spend time there). Valladolid felt like it had less activities, but it did not feel as touristy as the rest. It felt more authentic and down-to-earth, although I heard that is starting to change too.
More affordable destination
As a lesser visited destination, hotels are cheaper in Valladolid and seemed to have a more personal and cozy quality to it. Decent hotels can range $30-$50/night where you might pay more for heavily trafficked towns. As a solo female traveler, it felt safer, more tackle-able and it allowed me to experience a more personal and intimate experience. It was not overwhelming.
Much of the Valladolid centro area can be gotten around on foot, scooter, bicycle and of course, foot.
17. Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza is one of the popular day trip attractions from Valladolid. Built in 900 A.D to 1200 A.D. it is a historical archeological site and civilization named one of New Seven Wonders of the World! I didn’t feel Chichen Itza was a magnimous as Uxmal (my favorite ruin so far!) as far as archeological ruins go, but it’s in the league and you’ll likely want to visit it if you’re planning on Coba and Tulum archeological sites.
You can book a tour with a guide (believe me, you’ll want one, tour or not) or take a collectivo bus from on Calle 46 between 37 and 39. These buses are more like small minivans and they can get packed!
Getting there: You have a few options.
Take a Chichen Itza bus from the ADO station.
For more freedom, rent a car like I did.
18. Rio Lagartos & Los Colorados
One and a half hours away from Valladolid are Rio Lagartos and Los Colorados . They are a perfect getaway to the coastal side of Mexico but you can only get there by hired boat or tour.
Rio Lagartos is a bioreserve of mangrove trees, exotic birds and crocodiles. The boat driver will take you on a safari to spot these inhabitants.
Meanwhile, Los Colorados is a lake with pink flamingos and the waters are said to be pink due to the salt concentration. It was not pink when I visited it and the flamingos were multitudes but sadly they were so far that they looked like pink speckles, but other travelers have marveled at it, so I must’ve gone on an off day. You are allowed to put white mud over yourself as a kind of a mud beauty bath.
Getting to Rio Lagartos: You get to both by car or by day tour. By car from Valladolid it’s about a 1-2 hour drive away and fairly easy to find. A boat captain will likely meet you as you cross into the town and take you to his dock to negotiate rates with you. Or you can show up at the boat docks and inquire about packages. My friend and I paid about $35 USD per person. They wanted to charge us more, but I explained there were two of us.
Note: Your boat or tour guide may be tempted to attract species to your boat unnaturally by chumming the waters with dead fish to attract crocodiles or by waving fish in the air for birds. Ours did. Please ask them to not do this. This creates an unnatural dynamic that is unethical to a bio-reserve ecosystem. It may also create bad practices which are dangerous to this system and for future tourists.
Read my guide on Ethical Animal friendly tips.
Izamal is known for its yellow colonial architecture. It’s known as the yellow city.
20. Ek Balaam
Ek Balaam is a mere 36 minutes north of Valladolid and a medium-sized archeological site. You can easily take in Chichen Itza and Ek Balaam in a day. Ek Balaam is as impressive, but a little more pricy.
During my time, I knew I was visiting Uxmal, Chichen Itza and Tulum and that I’d likely be hiring a guide to appreciate my time there. I knew I was going to hit my maximum of ruins.
Getting to Valladolid
Although the town is quite small, it has a way of feeling large if you’re walking it. In the day time, you’ll feel a dry heat. At night it cools.
Aside from the parks, there are few trees in Valladolid centro, so walking down streets in the afternoon may make you feel lethargic. I wasn’t as inspired to pursue attractions as much as I am.
Bus:The ADO bus offers service to Valladolid so check out their site. You can definitely book in person, with no issue.
Rental Car: Discover Cars is a rental car company with lower prices. Researching rental cars in Mexico, you’ll come across some off-putting high security deposits. Just check around for a rental that you feel comfortable with.
Scooter: Scooters are a super popular form of transportation for locals and the town is quite small and low key. That is one unique aspect I found of this city. You can rent a scooter at Scooter Rent Valladolid. Location: Calle 41 No. 197 x, Centro, it is located on the main street in the centro area
Is Valladolid safe for female solo travelers?
As a pueblo magico (aka UNESCO World Heritage “magic town” in Mexico ) , Valladolid has an old charm that is preserved and maintained. Although you’ll see the occasional wandering street dog (or wandering family dog- I’m not sure that Mexicans always keep them in their yards), I did not see any sidewalk or street trash. The streets felt swept and maintained. I was quite surprised by this. This signals that the town takes pride in their environment. At night, I did walk alone and found it especially safe, although much of my roam took place in well-lit areas with natural street traffic and my hotel was located a stone’s throw from the main plaza. I did have a buddy traveling with me on this trip – it was his first time traveling internationally and he felt pretty safe too.
Valladolid is a charming city but it can take a bit of time to see its real charms. There’s elements that feel shrouded in silence and a little shy and it was a city I found a little more challenging to crack the code about. Walking down side streets, some felt a little like ghost towns at times, with closed doors or a lack storefront signs. There’s also very little trees in Valladolid centro -aside from the main park square- so walking in the midday or afternoon can make you feel sluggish if there’s not an outstanding attraction to give you incentive.
Where to Stay in Valladolid
El Meson de Marques– 17th century colonial architecture, this hotel is located next to Francisco Canton park; it’s as central as you can get. It’s surrounded by gardens and has a restaurant and free parking.
Hotel Zenti’k Project– This hotel sports a pool and underground cave with a saline pool. Location is rated as good but its a little removed from the main square and central activities. This is an Adult only hotel.
Le Muuch Hotel Boutique– A few blocks from the plaza, the chic decor is stunning. It has both, indoor and outdoor pools,offers ala carte breakfast and has an airport pickup from Cancun Airport.
Hotel Quinta Marciala- family owned hotel around 8 minutes walk from the main plaza. This is where I stayed. Charming indoor swimming pool and garden. I stayed in a two-bed room and it was spacious and comfortable. They had issues with water heating. I did not have one hot bath in the entire time I stayed there and was so busy I honestly did not have time to inquire about a room change as the other options were a bit smaller. Local food cafe located directly across the hotel.
Real Hispano– Great location, this hotel is just a few blocks from the plaza, has a pool, is quiet and accommodates families.
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