You meander down narrow cobblestone streets, past houses painted in a multitude of pleasing pastel shades. The small colonial houses are framed against a clear blue sky, making their cheerful facades look even more vibrant. After strolling down many streets enjoying the faded colonial architecture, you eventually come to a wide square with a beautiful park in the centre. Behind the park stands a tall, splendid baroque cathedral with it’s towers thrusting triumphantly into the azure sky. Welcome to Vallodolid, a city that’s easy to like but hard to leave.
Vallodolid is a small, beautiful city full of colonial architecture. It’s only a couple of hours from the resorts of the Mayan Riveria, yet feels a world away. It’s not just the clocks that have changed here either; gone is the mostly drab modern architecture of places like Cancun, to be replaced by traditional houses and mansions painted in a multitude of pleasing shades. The narrow roads are still covered in traditional paving stones. Old churches and Cathedrals dot the city, giving it a timeless feel. This is without mentioning the delicious (albeit heavy) Yucatic food, which is reason enough to visit the city. The charms of this place are myriad, so let this guide help you make the most of your stay.
History Of Valladolid
Vallodolid was founded in 1543 by the Spanish, although it was moved to it’s current location in 1545, where it was built on top of a Mayan town. It quickly became one of the most important cities in the Yucatan peninsula. In 1847 the city was the start of the caste war, where the native Mayans rebelled against Landino control. The city was sacked by the Mayans in 1848, before being recaptured in…. The caste war would go on intermittently until the 1920s, but Valldoldid continued to thrive during this period. Many of the houses you see in the city today were built in the 19th century.
The Cathedral de San Gervasio
This beautiful, impressive Franciscan cathedral dominates the southern side of the central plaza. It was orgianlly built in 1545, but was demolished and rebuilt in 1706. Being from the UK I wasn’t that impressed with the interior of the cathedral, it’s quite austere and not a patch on most of the medieval cathedrals in Britain. However the exterior of the building is magnificent.
Parque Fransisco Canton Rosado
The central plaza of the city is a grand, handsome space. The square is dominated by a nice park featuring a beautiful fountain, with plenty of shady spots to sit down and take in the atmosphere. The plaza is surrounded by elegant colonial arcades, containing numerous cafes and restaurants, not to mention the Cathedral and a museum. Like in all Mexican cities the square comes alive in the evening; with vendors setting up shop and the locals coming out to enjoy the social atmosphere. It’s the perfect spot to people watch and enjoy the ambience of this wonderful city.
A city centre is the last place you would expect to find a large, tranquil cenote surrounded by a verdant park, but that’s exactly what you’ll find here. Located just a 10 minute walk from the central square, this cenote is like entering another world. The cenote is one of the deepest I went to in Mexico, the placid water is at the bottom of a 40 metre high sinkhole. There are natural shelves you can sit on at the waters edge, and they have installed a handy rope across the centre of the pool.
This was actually my favourite place in Valldolid. I spent a great few hours swimming in the pool and sitting at the waters edge, allowing the little fish to clean my feet. Bats live in the cavern and regularly fly high overhead too.
The entrance fee is 30 pesos.
The Former Convent de San Bernardino de Siena
This beautiful, well preserved former convent is one of the best sites in the city. It’s a 10 walk south-west of the central plaza, and is surrounded by a tranquil park. The convent was completed in 1560, and is the second largest Franciscan construction in the Yucatan. Walking around the building was very peaceful and meditative. The buildings clearly haven’t changed much since the 17th century, and there is a small museum inside telling you about the history of the building. There is even a cenote in the convent grounds.
30 peso entrance fee.
Museo De San Roque
This small but interesting museum is worth a look around while you’re in the city. It’s inside a 16th century building that used to be a convent. It contains a few exhibits about the history and culture of the region. It’s not the most well organised Museum, but it has a few old artefacts. There is a garden in the courtyard that provides a nice place to relax.
The Palico Municpal
Tucked next to and above the tourist information centre is this hidden gem. I didn’t even know this place was here, and simply stumbled upon it whole exploring the area. The Palico Municipal contains a small museum and art gallery. The paintings showing the history of the area are particularity striking, I spent 20 minutes just admiring these amazing paintings. The building itself is another beautiful relic from the colonial era, and you can walk out onto the balconies for nice views of the square. I recommend coming here in the evening to watch the sunset.
Sights around Vallodolid
There are a number of excellent sights around Vallodolid, that make this city a great base to explore this region from. The magnificent Mayan ruins of Chitzen Itza are just 40 minutes away by bus. The smaller but much quieter ruins of Ek Balem are also less than an hour away.
Check out my guides on these two Mayan sites for an in-depth look.
If you are still craving more cenote action after visiting cenote Zaki, there are two cenotes located opposite each other 7km south of the city. Cenote Dzitnup and Samuel are both quiet, relaxing sights with some interesting rock formations. Lets face it not much is better than swimming in a cool rock pool on a hot, tropical day.
It costs 65 pesos to enter each cenote.
Final Thoughts on Valladolid
Valladolid was easily one of my favourite cities in Mexico. The city is charming, beautiful and extremely well preserved. Coming to this city from the Mayan Riveria felt like stepping back in time. Gone were the hordes of tourists and concentrate buildings, to be replaced by colourful old colonial buildings and a strong local culture. The locals are friendly and helpful here too, which combined with the complete lack of hassle and scams helps make it a great place to stay.
It’s a fantastic place to visit, and if you are in the region it should be at the top of your list of places to go.
Getting there and away: The ADO bus terminal is just down the road from the central park, and has buses to destinations all over the Yucatan. It takes two hours to get to Tulum, and under three hours to reach Playa Del Carmen. There are several seemingly random spots around the city where you can get colectivos and shared taxis to different destinations.
For Ek Balem shared taxis leave from Calle 44 between Calles 35 and 37.
Accommodation: There is a decent range of accommodation in the city, from bargain basement hotels and cheap hostels to boutique hotels. I stayed at Hostel Gayser, which has cheap, clean rooms and a good location: it can be quite noisy though.
I’ve heard good things about Hostel La Candelaria, which is set next to a beautiful park in the north of the city centre.