Last Updated on July 26, 2023 by Nellie Huang
Come for the impressive Mayan ruins, stay for the colonial charm of Valladolid. Get to know the city inside out with my list of fun things to do in Valladolid, Mexico.
Calm and unpretentious Valladolid is one of the best kept secrets of the Yucatan Peninsula. Despite being the closest town to Chichen Itza, Valladolid is surprisingly quiet and laidback. Many visitors pass through Valladolid on their way to see the archaeological sites nearby, but few actually stay and get to know the town.
Listed as one of Mexico’s pueblo magico (magical towns), Valladolid is lined with cobblestoned streets, pastel colored houses and old colonial buildings converted into art galleries or indie boutiques. It also has a large Mayan population — you’ll see plenty of locals walking around in traditional dress and lots of the restaurants serving typical Mayan dishes.
Since moving to Mexico, we have made it our mission to explore as much of Mexico as possible, and Valladolid has definitely set the bar high. If you’re an independent traveler like us, we recommend spending a few days here and checking out these things to do in Valladolid.
Table of Contents
- Things to Do in Valladolid
- 1. Swim in Cenote Zaci
- 2. People Watch at the Zocalo
- 3. Marvel at the San Servacio Church
- 4. Snack at the Mercado Municipal
- 5. Wander along the Calzada de los Frailes Street
- 6. Enjoy Lunch at Meson del Marques
- 7. Visit the Casa de los Venados
- 8. Explore the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena
- 9. Watch Traditional Jarana Dance
- 10. Try Traditional Mayan Cuisine
- Things to Do Around Valladolid
- Day Trips from Valladolid
- Valladolid Travel Guide
Things to Do in Valladolid
1. Swim in Cenote Zaci
Valladolid is unique in the fact that it boasts a cenote right in the center of town: the Cenote Zaci. Unique to the Yucatan Peninsula, cenotes are sinkholes filled with natural underground water that you can swim in. The ancient Mayans believed that that cenotes were their portal to the underworld, and used some of them for religious rituals.
While Cenote Zaci is not the most spectacular of the cenotes in Valladolid (scroll down for more), it’s still worth a visit as it’s just a 10-minute walk from the center. There are multiple spots where you can jump in from all different heights.
Cost: 30 pesos to swim
2. People Watch at the Zocalo
As with every other town in Mexico, Valladolid has a main square (Zocalo), and it’s known as the Parque Principal Francisco Cantón Rosado. This leafy square features water fountains, trees, lots of benches and little snack stands.
You’ll also find the iconic “confidant chairs” here, which are commonly found all over Yucatan. It’s said that their design were inspired by the “butacas confidentes” (confidant armchairs) from the French Renaissance period.
3. Marvel at the San Servacio Church
Overlooking the main square is the prominent Iglesia de San Servacio. The original church was built by Priest Francisco Hernandez in the mid-16th century, but it was demolished in 1705 and restored in the following year.
The cathedral was built with parts of ancient Maya temples and buildings after the Spanish invaded. The Cathedral itself is incredibly beautiful with many symbolic architectural details.
4. Snack at the Mercado Municipal
Just a few blocks from the city center, the Mercado Municipal (main market) is a lively place bustling with activity in the morning. This is one of the best things to do in Valladolid for foodies and market lovers. This market only opens until 1 to 1 pm depending on demand, so you best come early. This market has several sections, ranging from fresh fruit stalls to tortilla stands. Grab an elote (corn on the cob) or tamales for a mid morning snack or almuerzo.
5. Wander along the Calzada de los Frailes Street
One of the best things to do in Valladolid is to wander around town aimlessly. It’s such a pleasure strolling along the streets, admiring the pastel colored houses and wondering what surprise is in store around each corner.
The most photogenic street in Valladolid is the Calzada de los Frailes, which has been tastefully restored with indie boutiques, museums, and small cafes. Be sure to stop at Idilio Folklore Cervecero, a stylish restaurant that offers a small museum and beer tasting sessions.
6. Enjoy Lunch at Meson del Marques
For a proper meal, head to the hugely popular Meson del Marques (a favorite among locals and visitors). Overlooking the main square, this restaurant is a fixture in Valladolid’s culinary scene.
The traditional music in the background, lush patio, and the papel picado (banners) hanging overhead, all come together to create a welcoming atmosphere. It’s also a great spot to try Yucatan regional dishes like panuchos de cochinita (fried tortilla with pulled pork). Read more reviews here.
7. Visit the Casa de los Venados
Just off the main square, this art museum is housed in a dark red colonial building. Casa de los Venados is actually not a museum, but actually a large house that the owners open up to the public for tours at 10 am everyday.
Inside you’ll find a stunning renovated hacienda housing one of the largest collections of pre-Hispanic Mexican artwork in the country. To visit, it’s a 60 pesos or $5 minimum donation that goes to the Charitable Foundation for the Arts and Education.
Cost: 60 pesos ($5)
8. Explore the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena
Considered to be one of the oldest colonial sites in the Yucatan, the former Convent of San Bernardino de Siena dates to the mid-16th century. The building itself isn’t exactly impressive, but the museum inside is quite insightful. There’s even a cenote on-site, which was used as part of an irrigation system.
You can also catch a light and sound show at the convent every night at 9 pm. We didn’t see it, but if you’re a night owl, it can be a fun thing to do in Valladolid since there isn’t much of nightlife here.
9. Watch Traditional Jarana Dance
Every evening at 530pm, you’ll find traditional Jarana dance shows at the Parque Principal (main square). The dancers are usually dressed in colorful garb and they put on quite an entertaining show. Yes it’s touristy, but you won’t find large crowds here. Plus it’s free — you’re only expected to pay a small tip.
10. Try Traditional Mayan Cuisine
Ix Cat Ik Mayan Cuisine is a unique place to learn about Mayan staples and try some typical Mayan dishes. It’s not a fancy restaurant by any means, just a simple eatery that hones in on traditional Mayan ingredients and cooking methods. The staff is knowledgable and happy to share what they know about Mayan cuisine.
Ix cat ik is actually a type of chili that the Mayans use in their cooking — be sure to try the ix cat ik margarita which really kicks a punch. I also enjoyed the kaax píbil, chicken wrapped in banana leaf and cooked on a fire pit. The restaurant is about a 10-minute drive from the center, so you’ll need a taxi to get here if you don’t drive.
Things to Do Around Valladolid
11. Photograph the Stunning Cenote Suytun
As you can tell by now, I’m a big fan of cenotes. They’re amazing creations of Mother Nature, and each one of them is unique. We’ve been to quite a few cenotes by now, but my absolute favorite is the Cenote Suytun. This is my top recommendation for things to do in Valladolid.
Yes, it’s risen to enormous fame thanks to Instagram, but it’s one of those rare few places that’s actually as magical as it appears in photos. I took the following photos with my iPhone (no filter!) and didn’t need any fancy photography equipment.
If you visit first thing in the morning (9am) like we did, you’ll avoid the crowd and be able to capture the famous sunbeam (provided it’s sunny). It’s only a 12-minute drive from Valladolid. Read my guide to Cenote Suytun.
12. Explore Chichen Itza
This is what brings so many people to Valladolid! Easily the most popular archaeological site in Mexico, Chichen Itza is just a 40-minute drive from Valladolid. The important Mayan-Toltec city features some of the best preserved carvings and temples in Central America.
The Temple of Kukulcan is the most iconic landmark here. Dedicated to the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl, the temple has 91 steps on each of its four sides, adding up to 365, the number of days in a solar year. The Temple of Warriors features 1000 columns that represent the Mayan soldiers, and the Temple of Skulls depict intricate carvings that tell the gory events that took place here.
I recommend getting here at 8am, before all the day-trippers arrive from Cancun around 10am. Be warned: there are hundreds of vendors all over the site and they can be pretty relentless. If you prefer to have a guide, check out this private tour that has raving reviews.
Cost: 539 Pesos (US$26)
TIP: Many archaeological sites in Mexico are free or discounted on Sundays for Mexicans and local residents. If you have a Mexican ID or residency visa like we do, be sure to show them to get free entrance! Read my guide on how to get to Chichen Itza.
13. Float in Cenote Ik Kil
No trip to Chichen Itza is complete without a swim in the Sacred Cenote or Cenote Ik Kil, a sinkhole that is connected to Chichen Itza by a raised pathway. It’s said that this large natural well may have given Chichen Itza (“Well of the Itzáes”) its name.
The use of the Sacred Cenote was exclusively ceremonial. Over the years, the water has yielded many artifacts including gold, jade, copper, shells and the bones of around 200 people who were thrown in as a sacrifice.
This cenote isn’t my favorite, as it’s the most commercialized that we visited (artificial stairways, lookout points and too many tour groups). But with an almost perfect circular opening and lush green vegetation dangling over the water, the cenote definitely has a stunning setting.
Cost: 150 Pesos ($7.50) per person
14. Explore Ek Balam Archaeological Site
If you’re looking to get away from the crowds and explore a less-visited archaeological site, I recommend checking out Ek Balam, 30 minutes from Valladolid. It’s equally impressive but far less commercialised (you won’t find any vendors here!).
It’s also still possible to climb to the top of the pyramids. At 100 feet (29m) high, the Acropolis is the tallest structure in Ek Balam. A spectacular view awaits at the top: ancient pyramids poking above the tree canopy and lush green jungles for as far as the eye can see!
Midway to the top of the pyramids is the tomb of Ek Balam’s powerful ruler, Ukil-Kan-Lek-Tok, who reigned during the city’s peak in 800 A.D. The tomb is being restored, but you can see carvings, paintings, and murals.
Cost: 400 Pesos ($20) per person
15. Swim in Cenote X’canche
By now you’d have noticed that most ancient cities were built next to major cenotes (as their source of water and/or sacrificial site). Ek Balam is no exception — next to it stands the wild and stunning Cenote X’canche.
We absolutely loved the wild and atmospheric setting of this cenote. It’s surrounded by the jungle, with tree roots hanging over the spearmint blue water and rickety wooden bridges running along the sides of the cenote. There’s also a zipline over head, which our 6.5 year old daughter loved!
Best of all, it was actually empty when we visited on a Saturday afternoon, and we had the whole place to ourselves.
Cost: 80 Pesos ($4) per person and 100 pesos ($5) for the zipline
16. Feel like an Explorer at Coba Ruins
Further away from Valladolid is an even larger and far less visited archaeological site. The ancient city of Coba dates back to as early as 100 AD and the huge complex features several different temples and ball courts.
Similar to Ek Balam, the ruins of Coba have not been fully restored and they’re located within the dense jungle — which really add to the atmosphere. Most people rent bikes to get from one part of the ruins to the next, but you can also hop on a tricycle and someone will take you.
The largest structure here, Noohoch Mul, reaches 137 feet (42m) and it’s the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula. Every blog I read said that you can climb it, but climbing was prohibited during our recent visit (September 2021). I saw someone climbing it and told him to read the sign! Please do not be the idiot that breaks the rule.
Cost: 80 pesos ($4) per person for entrance and 100 pesos ($5) to rent a bike
17. Swim in the Trio of Cenotes at Coba
As with the other ancient city, Coba is located right next to three cenotes: Cenotes Tamcach-Ha, Choo-Ha and Multum-Ha. All three cenotes are underground caverns accessible by steep spiral stairways.
Of all three cenotes, Choo-Ha was definitely my favorite one, with hundreds of stalactites hanging from the cavern’s ceiling. I loved the fact that these cenotes were off the tourist trail and hardly mentioned in most travel blogs.
Cost: 55 pesos ($3) for each cenote or 165 pesos ($8) for entrance to all three
Day Trips from Valladolid
18. Wander around the Yellow City, Izamal
A 1.5-hour drive away from Valladolid is Izamal, one of the most photogenic towns in the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s nicknamed the Yellow City for good reasons — there are more yellow buildings here than anywhere I’ve seen.
Besides the ridiculously cute architecture, there are also Mayan ruins in the center of town that are worth seeing. Izamal makes a great stop enroute to Merida, the biggest city in Yucatan. Just estimate to spend around an afternoon here, as part of your Yucatan road trip.
19. Explore the Cultural Capital, Merida
Further northwest from Izamal is Merida, a 2-hour drive from Valladolid. The colorful city is known as the cultural capital of the Yucatan state, thanks to its treasure trove of historical monuments and rich heritage displays. For culture vultures, visiting Merida is definitely one of the best things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula. But I would recommend spending at least a few days in Merida, as the city is definitely worth a longer stay. Check out my comprehensive Merida travel guide.
20. See Flamingoes and Pink Lakes of Rio Lagartos
For a more nature-focused day trip, head 1.5 hours to the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Known for its wildlife, Rio Lagartos is located at a lagoon and natural reserve. This makes it a perfect habitat for wild birds, including flamingos.
The pink lakes of Las Coloradas are 10 miles (16 km) east of Rio Lagartos – just follow along the beach road. The lakes are actually as bright as they look in pictures. Plankton and red algae live in these salt flats, giving them their distinct pink color.
The best time to visit is in July-August and March, due to the 6-month evaporation process. If you don’t have a car, I recommend booking a daytrip to Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas.
Valladolid Travel Guide
Mexico Travel Requirements
Mexico has no travel restrictions, and there’s no need for proof of vaccine or PCR tests on the plane or ferry. Anyone is welcomed to travel to Mexico.
However, I always recommend travelers to buy travel insurance, whether you’re traveling for a year or a week. Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date. Refer to my travel insurance guide for more details.
How to Get to Valladolid
Located in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Valladolid is within easy reach from popular beach towns like Cancun, Tulum and Playa del Carmen. It’s easy to rent a car and do a road trip in Yucatan, as many cenotes and archaeological sites can only be reached by car. I always book my car rental online on Discover Cars, as they have consistently given me the best prices and service.
If you can’t drive, the ADO Bus is a good alternative as it’s reliable and punctual. It connects all of the following towns with Valladolid, and you can easily book your tickets online.
- From Cancun — 2 hours (96 miles or 155km)
- From Playa del Carmen — 1h 35mins (87 miles or 140km)
- From Tulum — 1.5 hours (62 miles or 100km)
- From Merida — 1h 45 mins (99 miles or 160km)
Driving from Playa del Carmen to Valladolid
The route from Playa del Carmen to Valladolid is an excellent route as the 305 highway is new. There are no portholes or speed bumps, unlike on the other roads. But it’s a toll road and the toll is pricey, at 280 Pesos (US$14) each way.
We drove the route on the way there, from Playa del Carmen to Valladolid, and it took 1.5 hours. On the way back, we took the route to Tulum via Coba as we wanted to visit the Coba archaeological site. It took about 1 hour more (factor in around 2 hours to visit Coba), but it’s definitely worth a stop.
How to Get Around Valladolid
Valladolid is a small town, and you can easily get around on foot. We drove here from Playa del Carmen, but parked our car at the hotel in the center of Valladolid and walked around town.
To get to the cenotes and archaeological sites nearby, you will need to drive, rent a bicycle or catch a taxi. Many hotels offer bike rentals for around 20 to 25 pesos ($1) per hour. If you prefer to take taxis, expect to pay 100-200 pesos for a ride to nearby cenotes or Mayan ruins.
The Best Time to Visit Valladolid
With warm tropical climate, Valladolid is considered a year-round destination. In general, the best time to visit Valladolid is between November and March, when the temperatures are at their mildest and skies the clearest.
June to August is the warmest time of the year and it gets extremely humid. August and September are the rainiest months in Valladolid — we visited in September and it rained a lot but it was still hot.
Where to Stay in Valladolid
I recommend staying close to the Zocalo (main square), or no more than a few blocks away, as you can then walk everywhere in town.
Budget: Casa Hipil
A lovely homely budget option, this place feels more like a guesthouse than a hotel and even has a lounge and communal kitchen. It’s warm and welcoming with clean and comfortable en suite rooms. Check rates here.
Mid Range: Colonte Hotel Origen
With a boho chic interior, this boutique hotel has Tulum vibes and stylish furnishings that exude rustic luxury. We stayed at this mid range hotel on my birthday and enjoyed the small, intimate setting and delicious breakfast! Check rates here.
Luxury: Le Muuch Valladolid
A gorgeous boutique hotel oozing lots of colonial charm, this is the most luxurious option in Valladolid. The elegant hotel features lush gardens, swinging hammocks, and romantic four-poster beds. Check rates here.
Couples: Hotel Zentik Project & Saline Cave
Wish we could have stayed here, but it’s an adults-only hotel! This unique hotel has treehouse-style rooms and two 24-hour pools, including a magical saline cave pool. Check rates here.
What to Eat in Valladolid
The Yucatan Peninsula is famous for its distinctive regional cuisine. Valladolid is a great place to try them, as well as more traditional Mayan cuisine. Here are some local dishes worth trying:
- Huevos motuleños— fried tortillas topped with eggs, red onion, habaneros, refried beans, green beans, cheese, plantains, turkey ham, and a spicy salsa roja
- Sopa de lima — a lime broth with chicken or turkey, lime juice, topped with fried tortilla strips
- Cochinita pibil — slow roasted pull pork
- Papadzules — corn tortillas dipped in a sauce made from pumpkin seeds flavored with epazote
- Panuchos — refried tortilla stuffed with refried black beans and meat
- Queso relleno — Edam cheese filled with ground beef and pork, almonds, raisins, green pepper, and local spice
Where to Eat in Valladolid
Meson del Marques is our favorite place to eat in Valladolid. This landmark restaurant is a go-to for both locals and visitors. It’s a great spot to try Yucatan regional dishes like panuchos de cochinita (fried tortilla with pulled pork).
Casa Conato Cultural 1910 is another place we really enjoyed. The yard offers alfresco dining amidst a lush garden and an eclectic mix of ornaments and artwork. On weekend nights, you’ll find Mexican live music playing here.
Restaurante El Atrio del Mayab has a nice lush backyard with great cocktails. The food is fine, but overpriced in my opinion. Just come for drinks to enjoy the gorgeous atmosphere.
Ix Cat Ik Mayan Cuisine is a unique place to learn about Mayan staples and try some typical Mayan dishes. It’s not a fancy restaurant in any way, just a simple place that hones in using traditional Mayan ingredients and cooking methods.
Further Reading on Mexico
Hope you found this list of fun things to do in Valladolid useful! It’s definitely a place worth adding to your Yucatan itinerary. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions about Valladolid.
For those who are planning to travel more of Mexico, check out other articles I’ve written on Mexico:
- Cenote Suytun: My Complete Guide
- How to Get from Cancun to Chichen Itza
- The Ultimate 10-Day Yucatan Road Trip
- My Recommended 2-Week Mexico Itinerary
- 33 Fun Things to Do in the Yucatan Peninsula
- 30 Best Things to Do in Merida
- 30 Fun Things to Do in Tulum
- 15 Cool Things to Do in Cozumel
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