Valladolid, Mexico is a AMAZING hidden gem deep in Mexico's Yucatan jungle. I've spent months traveling the Yucatan peninsula, and I firmly believe that visiting Valladolid is one of the absolute best things to do in Mexico.
Why do I say that?
Well, Valladolid, Mexico is quite simply one of the most vibrant, authentic places you'll find in a country that's chalk full of them.
To help you plan your visit, this post will cover the best things to do in Valladolid, the best hotels in Valladolid, where to eat and drink, plus a ton more useful and practical info!
There's a ton of information in this Ultimate Guide to Valladolid, Mexico, so I suggest clicking on the below Table of Contents to skip around within the article.
UPDATE: Valladolid was just selected as one of the top emerging destinations in North America for 2019
Oh, and before you go be sure to check out these 17 Insanely Useful Travel Tips for Mexico!
I’ve spent the better part of five months traveling in Mexico’s Yucatan. And, while there are a lot of awesome places on the peninsula (e.g., Celestun, Bacalar, Tulum’s beaches), when people ask me what they should see I always tell them that Valladolid should be at the top of their Mexico bucket list!
Most of all, Valladolid is still off the beaten path. So it offers an opportunity to experience authentic Mexican culture and history that you just candidly can’t find very easily in the heavily-touristed beach towns like Cancun and Tulum.
Despite the fact that a million tourists whiz by it every year on their way from Cancun to Chichen Itza, the town itself is still blissfully untouched by the worst ravages of tourism.
From wandering its colorful streets, to exploring the cenotes of Valladolid, to immersing yourself in Mayan culture and history, there are so many things to do here.
A visit to Valladolid should be on every traveler’s list!
How incredible is Cenote Suytun?
Easily one of the coolest things to do in Valladolid is to visit some cenotes!
What’s a “cenote,” you ask?
Well, a cenote is basically a swimming hole where the limestone bedrock has given way to expose spring water underneath. Picture a natural swimming pool in the middle of an Indiana Jones movies. There are tends of thousands of them in Mexico’s Yucatan, and some of the best cenotes are in the area around Valladolid.
There is even one, Cenote Zaci, within walking distance from the main square! For 30 pesos, it makes for a great place to take a dip and cool off (bring a swimsuit and a towel!). Or venture a little further to check out the stunning cave at Cenote Suytun, or chill out at the cenote and adjoining swimming pool at Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman.
Whatever you pick, swimming in a cenote is one of my top recommended experiences while in Mexico.
Chichen Itza (totally not a staged photo…)
Taking a trip to see Chichen Itza is easily one of the most popular things to do in Valladolid, Mexico. And it’s no wonder why: after all, this incredible complex of Mayan ruins has been named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World!
But also with that distinction has come a ton of people. Picture this: loads and loads of tourist buses hoarding in thousands of visitors each day from Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Cancun to Valladolid to see Chichen Itza and a cenote or two.
But here’s the good news: if you’re staying in Valladolid overnight, you have a leg up on visiting this site before the crowds get there. Just get up early and try to be at Chichen Itza before 9:30 am when the buses start to roll in.
The site opens at 8 am and you can get to Chichen Itza from Valladolid three different ways: the best way in my opinion is to simply hop in a collectivo minibus with the locals (it costs only 40 pesos each way and is much easier than it sounds). You’ll find them at a small station on Calle 46 between 37 and 39. You can also take one of the handful of ADO buses that ply the path, or rent a car and drive (just be sure you’ve got travel insurance covering Mexico!).
Sure, they aren’t as famous as their sister ruins at Chichen Itza, but you’ll have far fewer tourists to contend with at the Ek Balam archaeological site.
And these ruins are no slouch either: this complex is so huge that at one point around 800 AD it was home to over 20,000 people!
Again, the best way to get there is by taking a collectivo, though you could also hire a taxi or make the 30 minute drive north in a rental car. Check out this post for more detail on how to visit Ek Balam.
Produce at the mercado municipal
The best part about visiting Valladolid is the opportunity to experience real Mexican culture. And there’s no more authentic experience than browsing the colorful stalls at Valladolid’s Mercado Municipal.
You can find everything from vegetable vendors to butcher shops to handicrafts at this large covered market just a few blocks from centro. Even if you’re not planning to buy anything, just wandering the stalls and soaking in the colors and smells is an awesome way to experience the character of Valladolid.
How cool is this street?
Perhaps one of the prettiest little streets I’ve seen anywhere in Mexico, Calzada de los Frailes is a quiet mostly-pedestrian street whose colorful walls and doorways just cry out for a photographer’s lens.
You’ll find a handful of restaurants and cafes, and a number of fashionable boutique shops selling hip clothing, purses, and more.
There’s no specific “thing to do” here, but that’s all part of the fun! A walk down Calzada de los Frailes shouldn’t be missed during your trip to Valladolid.
If you wander to the end of Calzada de los Frailes, you’ll end up at Parque Sisal, which houses the Convent of San Bernardino of Siena.
The building may not seem the most impressive until you realize that it’s nearly 500 years old! You can poke around inside or head up the bell tower for views of the plaza.
And, if you’re lucky enough to be there on the right night, you can come back after dark to see the convent lit up by a light show! The free “video mapping” show runs Wednesday through Sunday at 9 pm in Spanish and 9:30 pm in English.
The Valladolid sign in front of the convent
Come on, we all know you want to show off how cool you are for exploring Mexico off the beaten path.
So bust out your phone, fire up Instagram or SnapChat or whatever the kids are using these days, and pose for a photo in front of this colorful Valladolid sign (you’ll find similar signs in nearly every Mexican town, by the way, though I’m not sure if there’s a prize for collecting them all).
The sign is located in Parque Sisal just in front of the convent.
If we’re being honest, I took a pass on these little guys. But you should give it a shot! Of, if you prefer your food without legs still attached to it, try a cochinita pipil, a traditional Yucatan dish involving slow-roasted pork with a tinge of orange flavor.
My top choice for food in Valladolid, though, is to hunt down one of the carts in the main square dishing out marquesitas: a delicious desert that is sort of like a Nutella and cheese crepe (trust me, it’s better than it sounds!).
The town’s main cathedral
The most recognizable point of interest in Valladolid is the towering Iglesia de San Servicio (sometimes called the Cathedral San Gervasio) located just south of the main square.
The Spaniards built this cathedral over a demolished Mayan pyramid, using some of the pyramid’s stones to build the cathedral itself.
Snapping a photo of this iconic symbol of Valladolid is definitely one of the top things to do in Valladolid – just be sure to see it during the daylight and by night, as the view is entirely different. The cathedral still holds regular services, but when there isn’t one you can wander inside to marvel at the intricate detail of the interior.
The colorful Jarana dance performed in Valladolid’s main square
Walk through Valladolid’s main square, Parque Francisco Canton, and you’ll likely find traditional Mayan dancers or a colorful troupe showing off Jarana, a traditional dance in the Yucatan.
Sure, it feels just a tad touristy (they put on the shows for tips from the visitors, after all) but the crowd is hardly enormous and the quality of the performances is surprisingly awesome! Come just before dusk for the best chance of catching one of these shows.
Chocolate + mango = amazingness
If your legs get tired from walking around the old town, swing by this tiny gelato shop for a serious treat. There are only a handful of flavors on offer at any given time, but the owner will let you try them all.
I couldn’t make up my mind, so somewhere I settled on a combination of Mayan chocolate and mango yogurt. It paired better than you might think!
Wabi is located near the main square on Calle 41 between 38 and 40. It opens from noon to 10 pm.
At the corner of Calle 41 and Calle 38 you’ll find a tiny hole-in-the-wall cantina and bar that’s something of a local icon in Valladolid.
So swing open the saloon doors of La Joyita, settle in to one of the small bar’s stools, order some mezcal, and brush off your Spanish for some friendly chit chat with the locals!
One of the things that makes Valladolid so beautiful is the plethora of colorful colonial walls. They make for excellent backdrops for photographs, or just a pleasant vista to enjoy as you stroll down the street.
For bonus points, see if you can find an iconic Volkswagon beetle parked in front of a colorful wall (extra bonus points if the car matches the wall!).
A Yucatan spin on Huevos Rancheros at La Ville Bistro
Valladolid may be small, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some awesome places to eat here. From hip Italian bistros to traditional local fare, there’s something for every type of foodie in Valladolid.
The best part?
The prices are significantly less than in the beach resorts!
Here’s some awesome choices for quality restaurants in Valladolid, Mexico:
The start of a good night out in Valladolid!
Look, you don’t come to Valladolid because you want a nightlife destination. But I’d be lying if I didn’t also admit to having faced a few serious hangovers after nights out in Valladolid! There aren’t a ton of nightlife options here, but the ones that do exist are high quality.
Favorite bars in Valladolid include:
Whatever your travel style, there are a ton of awesome hotels in Valladolid, Mexico. I’d recommend picking something within easy walking distance to the center, but that shouldn’t be hard as the town isn’t very large! All of the following accommodation picks have excellent locations:
[affiliate disclosure: if you book your hotel through the below links, you help keep this site running!]
Instead of shelling out for a hotel, why not rent an entire apartment through Airbnb and have access to a full kitchen, more space, etc.?
And if it’s your first time using Airbnb, you can get $40 off your first booking with this link!
Valladolid doesn’t have a commercial airport, so you’ll need to fly into either Merida or Cancun and then either take a bus, rent a car, or take a tour to get you to the city. Here’s a quick guide to how to get to Valladolid from other major destinations in the Yucatan:
You basically have two options to get from Cancun to Valladolid, Mexico:
First, you can rent a car and drive. Driving in Mexico is easy but be careful, because car rental companies are known to advertise low prices and then charge loads for “mandatory” insurance.
Second, my preferred method is to take the ADO bus. They are clean, comfortable, and reliable. In Cancun, the ADO station is located across from the Hotel Plaza Caribe (you can find a complete guide to the station here). The bus journey from Cancun to Valladolid takes about 2 hours. You can check timetables at the ADO website. Just be aware that many American credit cards don’t work on the site, so you may have to go to the bus station to buy tickets directly.
Third, you can take a tour.
Click here for here for my full article on How to Go from Cancun to Valladolid, with specific step-by-step instructions.
Again, you can rent a car from any number of rental agencies in downtown Playa del Carmen.
Or take an ADO bus. Just be aware that there are two ADO terminals in Playa del Carmen: the “turistica” terminal at 5th Ave and Benito Juarez, and the larger “ADO Alterna” station at 20th Ave and Calle 12. Most buses to Valladolid leave from the latter, but not all do – so be sure to check!
From Merida, it’s about a 1 hour and 45 minute drive to Valladolid. I’ve found that renting a car in Merida is much easier and cheaper than in Cancun (I recommend Montejo car rental).
The main tourist ADO station in Merida is at the Fiesta Americana. Most buses stop here and then continue on to pick up additional passengers at the ADO CAME station in the northern part of the city.
PS – if you’re in Merida, be sure to check out my guide to visiting the amazing flamingos at Celestun!
That’s it for this Ultimate Guide to Valladolid, Mexico! I hope you enjoy this incredible town as much as I do. If you enjoyed this article (or even if you didn’t!), I’d love to hear from you! Just scroll down and leave me a comment.
Also, if you’re traveling to Mexico, be sure to check out my post on how you can use a cool trick to get a free Lonely Planet Mexico download!
Oh, and if you’re on Pinterest, be sure to pin this post for later here:
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Nate Hake has traveled to 65+ countries across six continents around the world and blogs about his travels at TravelLemming.com. He is from Denver, Colorado, recently concluded a six month stint living in Mexico, and is now currently traveling in Thailand.