When I visited Valladolid, Mexico, for the first time, I was on a Mexico road trip with my sister and we simply happened there as we wanted to break the journey from Merida to Tulum, on the other side of the Yucatan Peninsula. We hadn’t read much about it, so the city caught us completely by surprise – a pleasant surprise, that is!
Indeed, there are more things to do in Valladolid than you probably imagine, and it’s not by chance that the city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998. Valladolid is packed with beautiful churches, colonial architecture, colorful streets, a lively market. The center has lots of great restaurants and bars – this is where we had the best margarita of our entire trip! And close to town you’ll find some of the most impressive cenotes in Mexico, as well as stunning Mayan sites.
While Valladolid, Mexico, is central enough in the peninsula that you can visit it on day trips from either Tulum or Merida, I recommend spending a couple of days there to soak in the lovely atmosphere. Continue reading this post to discover all the things to do in Valladolid and its surroundings.
The Best Things To Do In Valladolid, Mexico
Pay a visit to the 16th-century Convent of San Bernardino of Siena
Situated a 15-minute stroll from Valladolid’s main square, the former Convent of San Bernardino of Siena is an amazing place to visit. This convent was built in the 16th-century as a major headquarters for the efforts of Franciscan monks to convert the Mayan population to Christianity.
After the Convent of Izamal, the Convent of San Bernardino of Siena is actually the second-largest of its kind in the Yucatan Peninsula. You can step inside for 40 Mexican Pesos ($2 USD), where you can see a stunningly carved wooden altarpiece, paintings and other artistic artifacts from the 16th century. Swing by at 9:00 pm for a light show that illuminates the exterior.
Take yourself on a walking tour of Valladolid
The town of Valladolid is totally charming, and one of the best ways to take it all in is to simply walk around. Luckily you don’t have to do this by yourself, there’s actually the chance to embark on a free walking tour (you just have to tip the guide).
These walking tours begin at 7:00 pm and can be picked up at the tourist information center in the main plaza. They explore the main heritage and historic sites of the city, including storied churches and museums. It’s easily one of the best things to do in Valladolid when you first arrive, as you can get a good introduction into Yucatan culture and the history of Valladolid.
Check out the architecture at San Gervasio Cathedral
San Gervasio Cathedral, also known as the Church of San Servacio, is the centerpiece to Valladolid’s main square and a must-visit when you’re in town. The imposing Baroque church is dominated by two soaring bell towers and surrounded by palm trees.
It was originally built in the 16th century by the priest Fernando Hernandez, but was sadly demolished in 1705. It was restored the following year in 1706, where it has stood ever since. Night time sees the exterior of the church lit up, but go in the daytime and you can enter the church and admire the interiors. On Sundays the services attract crowds for a great atmosphere.
People-watch by the fountain
The main square in Valladolid is where everything happens. People meet, families spend time hanging out, musical performances take place, local dances are performed, and then there are also some incredible restaurants. It’s easy to see how it’s the center of the action in town.
A good vantage point to take it all in are its famous, and pretty cool, white love chairs (both seats point in opposite directions from each other). So, all you need to do is take a seat! As evening falls, the atmosphere becomes more lively, the square lights up and it comes alive with people coming and going, staying and playing.
Hit up the quirky Casa de los Venados
Casa de los Venados is actually a private home that doubles up as a museum. Opening its doors to the public every day, this is a cultural center that’s decorated in a colorful collection of Mexican folk art. With over 3,000 pieces on display, Casa de los Venados (“House of the Deer”) claims to be home to the largest private collection of folk art in Mexico.
It’s free to enter Casa de los Venados, but the owners do request a small contribution for a guided tour. The artwork is spread around the house, and not in the typical art museum fashion. Items can be found in the kitchen, the dining room, the bedrooms and in outdoor areas. Visiting really is one of the most off the beaten track things to do in Valladolid.
Go shopping along Calzada de los Frailes
Calzada de los Frailes is a charming cobbled street that runs all the way from the center of Valladolid to the Convent of San Bernardino of Siena. Recent renovation has taken place, which means that the facades of the colonial-era buildings look as resplendent as ever.
Strolling along here, you’ll get to take in the colorful houses, which actually date back to the 16th century. Also known as Calle 41A, this historic street is also known for its shopping; it’s the location of Coqui Coqui, a famous perfumery, and other high-end boutiques, as well as plenty of restaurants and cafes to punctuate your wanderings.
Learn all about the Yucatan Peninsula at Museo de San Roque
Situated inside a 16th-century convent, the Museo de San Roque plays host to exhibitions that tell the history of Valladolid and the surrounding region of Yucatan. The museum provides a wider insight into life in the area, with numerous interesting objects and artifacts on display.
Here you can learn more about Mayan legends and tales, thanks to informative signage and testimonies gathered from sources throughout the region. Free to enter, there’s also a tranquil garden to find a peaceful moment to unwind.
Check out the Mercado Municipal
If you are in search of local things to do in Valladolid, head to the Mercado Municipal. The market is located a couple of blocks from the northeast of the city center and it’s not a tourist place at all! You will be able to buy cheap clothes, fruits, vegetables and other fresh produce, flowers, and there obviously are lots of places to eat – which are super budget friendly.
Go underground at Cenote X’Kekén and Cenote Samula
Valladolid is a well known jumping off point for exploring the famed Cenote X’Kekén and the neighboring Cenote Samula. Just a 15 minute drive outside of town (or a 45 minute bicycle ride), these two cave cenotes are incredibly spectacular. While they’re renowned for the small openings in their roofs, a mystical atmosphere as light filters in, they’re also famed for their protrusions of impressive stalactites.
They’re easy to visit on the same day. Simply take the staircase down into the cave of either and you’ll be able to swim around and admire the eerie cave setting, and enjoy the cool and refreshing waters of the cenotes themselves.
Make sure to read my post The Best Cenotes Near Valladolid.
Admire the stalactites at Cenote Zací
By now you definitely know that visiting cenotes is one of the best things to do in Valladolid. Here, you don’t have to go very far to find a cenote – in fact, Cenote Zací is situated a mere 10-minute stroll from the center of the city. Part of a cave system, you can take a refreshing swim here alongside other tourists and locals, and take a break from that warm summer heat.
Visiting Cenote Zací makes for a great way to cool off when you’re exploring the sights of the city. The entrance is only 30 Mexican Pesos (that’s $1.50 USD), making it very affordable. And if you don’t want to swim, that’s ok: the viewing platform allows you to soak up the lush natural setting instead.
Go on a day trip to Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas
For when you want to get out of the city and explore some of the nearby nature, you should definitely make sure that you make time to spend the day at Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas. An hour and a half drive from Valladolid will take you to Rio Lagartos.
This small fishing town on the Gulf of Mexico is an idyllic spot for nature enthusiasts – it’s actually home to the largest amount of flamingos in Mexico (apparently, it’s two to three flamingos to every Mexican!).
Situated within the Reserve de la Biosfera Ria Lagartos, this is a strikingly beautiful stretch of mangrove-edged estuary. Here you won’t just see crowds of pink flamingos – you’ll also be able to spot tiger herons, snowy egrets and snowy white ibises (and then there are the crocodiles, too).
Nearby, Las Coloradas is an unbelievable part of the same reserve. It’s here that visitors will find pink lakes. These huge salt evaporation ponds have become a popular hotspot, due to their striking pink color, and can be easily visited from Rio Lagartos.
Marvel at a wonder of the world at Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza is easily the most famous Maya monument anywhere in Central America. Luckily, it can be reached in a heartbeat on a day trip from Valladolid. If you don’t have much time in this part of Mexico, and you only see one Mayan ruin, Chichen Itza should definitely be the place you go – whether you take a tour, a bus or if you drive there yourself.
It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s easy to see why. These are the best preserved Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula, and are dominated by the imposing Temple of Kukulcan. The ancient city thrived between 600 AD and 1200 AD, and is an impressive example of Mayan architecture.
For a guided tour of Chichen Itza, click here.
Embark on a road trip to Merida
Merida is the capital city of the Yucatan Peninsula, and it is a beautiful colonial city in its own right. Also known as the “White City”, Merida is actually less touristy than other destinations in the Yucatan Peninsula, making for a fascinating day trip from Valladolid (around 2 hours by car).
A blend of old and new, the city has a rich gastronomic scene with lively local markets that overflow with exotic produce. Exploring Merida means discovering colorful colonial houses, grand architecture, beautiful cathedrals, and pretty parks and plazas. It’s a safe and picturesque city to spend the day.
Read my post The Best Things To Do In Merida.
Explore the ancient Mayan city of Ek Balam
The archaeological site of Ek Balam is situated 15 miles (24 km) north of Valladolid. Translating to “Black Jaguar”, the ancient city of Ek Balam was at its height between 770 and 840 AD. These Mayan ruins are notable for being home to the tomb of the Mayan King Ukit Kan Lek Tok’, situated in the largest pyramid on the site.
You can tour the remains of the settlement and check out the views of the surrounding jungle landscape from atop the temple. Interestingly, because Ek Balam hasn’t been fully excavated, it feels like you’re exploring it for the first time.
Check out Izamal, The Yellow City
If you have your own car, you can actually visit Izamal on the way to Merida – it’s about 1.5 hours drive from Valladolid. Known as the Ciudad Amarilla (Yellow City), you can easily guess how the city got its nickname: each and every building is painted in yellow. The main sight in town is the Convento de San Antonio, but a short walk from the city center will take you to some lesser known Mayan ruins – the pyramid of Kinich Kakmo – from where you can enjoy great views.
Eat lunch (or breakfast) in the main square
Surrounding the main square of Valladolid are numerous restaurants where you can tuck into traditional Yucatan cuisine – this is one of the best things to do in Valladolid! It makes for a great spot to enjoy a relaxing afternoon. There is plenty to choose from to suit various budgets and dietary requirements.
One of the best places is Restaurante El Atrio. This much-loved establishment features refreshing drinks, fresh ingredients, and Mayan food. It’s a particularly good spot for breakfast, surrounded by the oasis-like garden.
There’s also Las Campanas – a good place to enjoy a lunch, it’s laid-back, unfussy and with many options for local food and drinks; sometimes there’s even live music here.
Stop by one of Valladolid’s many coffee shops
Another way to take a break when you’re out and about exploring the city is to stop by one of the numerous coffee shops in Valladolid. Coffee is a popular beverage in Mexico – it’s grown and produced here, of course – and Valladolid, like many cities, features a selection of places to get a great cup of joe.
One of the best is ConKafecito. Here you can also pair your coffee with a hearty lunch (they’ve also got Wi-Fi and air conditioning).
Elsewhere, another popular choice is Tresvanbien, which has a small, picturesque garden where you can sip your coffee. But for something more quirky, try Cafe Arte: a small coffee joint with a charming local feel to it.
Chill with an ice cream from Wabi Gelato
When you fancy something sweet, and you want to cool down, one of the unmissable things to do in Valladolid is to make a beeline for Wabi Gelato. This cute little ice cream joint may be compact, but the ice cream on sale here is totally delicious. Without a huge range of flavors on offer, the homemade ice creams are served in a handful of rotating flavors (depending on the day).
The flavors themselves are quite unusual: lime and mint, lemon chili, and pineapple cilantro. The authentic gelato and the amazing flavors, as well as the pretty interiors and the friendly local owner make this easily one of the best foodie spots in Valladolid.
Make sure to have dinner at Ix Cat Ik
Ix Cat Ik is known for its real Maya cooking, and is one of the top restaurants in Valladolid. Here you’ll find fresh corn tortillas, sopa de lima, and empanada de chaya. Dishes here are interestingly cooked in a traditional Mayan wood-fired oven that’s built into the ground itself – you can see this if you’re in the garden.
If you’re not a meat-eater, don’t worry: there are a selection of vegetarian dishes on offer at Ix Cat Ik. If you’re in the mood for drinks, then you’ll be happy to note that the cocktails here are delicious, too. All in all, complete with the friendly staff and great service, you should definitely schedule a dinner at Ix Cat Ik during your stay.
Practical Guide To Plan Your Trip To Valladolid, Mexico
Where to stay in Valladolid, Mexico
There are lots of excellent accommodation options in Valladolid, Mexico, suitable for all budgets and taste. Here are a few recommendations:
CASA QUETZAL BOUTIQUE HOTEL – This has to be one of the best places I’ve ever stayed at. My sister and I booked it by complete chance and we could not believe our luck, and it is actually super budget friendly. Rooms are decorated in traditional Yucatan style; there is a beautiful garden with a pool; and breakfast is scrumptious. It’s mere steps away from the city center, too.
HOTEL POSADA SAN JUAN – The spacious rooms in traditional style and with beautiful tiles are set around a lush garden with a small pool perfect to jump in at the end of a day out.
HOTEL PALACIO CANTON – This is a perfect choice for travelers on a budget. Rooms are on the small side, but fully equipped for a great stay. Breakfast is included in the price of your stay.
How to get to Valladolid, Mexico
Valladolid doesn’t have its own airport, so if you are coming from Mexico City you will have to fly into either Merida or Cancun, and then take the bus or – better – rent a car and drive there. Otherwise, Valladolid is very easy to reach from Merida, Cancun, and even Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
Getting to Valladolid from Merida
Mexico is the perfect destination for a road trip, and with so many places to visit in the surroundings of Valladolid, I do recommend getting a car for your trip. The drive from Merida to Valladolid is under two hours if you drive directly there, but along the way you can actually stop in Izamal, Chichen Itza and one of the many cenotes in the area.
However, if you prefer moving around by public transport, you can count on ADO buses, which have several daily departures. The ride lasts around 2 hours and 15 minutes and tickets start at 276 Mexican Pesos (around $14 USD).
Getting to Valladolid from Cancun
Valladolid is an easy two hours drive from Cancun Airport or Cancun City.
There are no direct buses from the airport to Valladolid, so if you want to travel by bus you’ll have to go to town and change there. Buses depart regularly throughout the day – the first one around 4:00 am and the last one at 9:30 pm. Tickets are as cheap as 274 Mexican Pesos (about $14 USD) for a one way ticket.
Getting to Valladolid from Playa del Carmen or Tulum
The easiest way of getting to Valladolid from Playa del Carmen is by car. You need to drive along 305D highway, which is a toll road, and then take 180D. Alternatively, you can go to Tulum and take road 180 from there – this is not a toll road. It takes about two hours if you take the toll road, or about two hours and 45 minutes if you go via Tulum.
If you wish to travel by bus, ADO has regular daily departures from Playa del Carmen. Buses take around 2.5 to 3 hours and cost as little as 206 Mexican Pesos (little over $10 USD).
Buses from Tulum take around 1.5 hours and start at 130 Mexican Pesos ($6.5 USD).
Guided day trips to Valladolid
If you are short on time, you can visit Valladolid on day trips from Merida or Cancun. Tours usually go to Izamal as well. Some tours include Chichen Itza and one of the Yucatan cenotes.
How to move around
My sister and I explored Valladolid on foot – the center is small and perfect for a stroll. Some of the cenotes are at a stone’s throw from the center of town and you can either walk there or rent a bike – it costs about 25 Mexican Pesos per hour (that’s little over $1 USD). Taxis are also available – but most taxi drivers speak little to no English.
If you wish to push yourself further – ie on day trips to Izamal or Merida – it’s best to have a car.
Make sure to read my other posts about Mexico:
- The Best Travel Tips For Mexico
- The Best Day Trips From Mexico City
- The Best Things To Do In Puebla
- The Best Beaches In Mexico
- The Best Things To Do In Yucatan
- What To Eat In Mexico
- How Not To Get Sick In Mexico