Enjoy the real Yucatán in Valladolid

Yucatan Peninsula is without no doubt a territory to be roamed, toured and traveled. Archaeological sites, natural beauties and colonial cities adorn all this vast territory. As the closest city to Chichen Itza, we stopped to take lunch in this delightful city of Valladolid and we soak up up the real Yucatán.

In the great Yucatan tourism boom of 2012, Cancun, Chichen Itza, Merida and Tulum were the most visited places on the peninsula. Valladolid, named “The Sultaness of the East”  is the only small colonial city halfway between Merida and Cancun that hasn’t drawn the masses descending upon the Yucatan‘s popular tourist destinations. The city’s economy is based on commerce and small-scale manufacturing rather than tourism and people are friendly and informal. Valladolid has gained more tourists since the Chichen Itza ruins were named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

 

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Valladolid is the perfect departure point to start with, if you want one day tour to Chichen Itza & Cenote Zaci.  You must leave in the morning and come back to spend the night exploring this lovely colonial city. We haven’t spent the night in town, because our tour-bus was waiting to take us back to the hotel!

But I will give you 10 good reasons to stay in old Valladolid for its own sake!

History

Some of the most significant events in Mexico history took place in Valladolid. Francisco de Montejo the Younger conquer Yucatan Peninsula in 1540 and made Valladolid one of his first three Spanish strongholds. In 1847 the War of the Castes, the longest and most devastating war in Mexico‘s history, started in Valladolid. In 1910, the Mexican Revolution began with the signing of the Dzelkoop Plan in Valladolid. The citizens of Valladolid who were martyred in that revolution are commemorated in the city’s Parque de los Heroes.

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Kissing on “lovers chairs” in the main plaza 

The main plaza, though it was renovated in 2009, it remains very much an old Colonial square. Maya women who once hung their brilliant embroidery on the fence for sale were moved to stalls in the Bazar Municipal across the street. If you want to photograph people, ask them the permission. Some of them think that your camera could steal their soul.

On the south side of the plaza is San Gervasio Church, the most imposing building built in 1545.

Valladolid has this great zocalo in the central park, called Parque Francisco Cantòn Rosado, where are plenty of benches and “lovers chairs” for couples to sit in and look into each other’s eyes. Kissing on this two S-shaped chairs made to face each other is so romantic! It’s such a great way for people to spend a relaxing afternoon with one another.

Do like the locals, have a seat and spend some time with your lover and just kiss!

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Walking on the streets of Valladolid

Wandering through the streets of Valladolid is so peaceful because you can come in contact with the simple life, a life that flows at its own pace. As you walk, you will find the neighborhood tortilla shop, the shop around the corner that sells on credit, the wonderful smell of freshly baked bread, the dressmaker, the ice cream cart, the old beauty shop. Without even noticing, your pace will slow down because no one is in a rush here.

I liked the architecture and the colors of the old town and the fact that the city is not too overrun by tourism!

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La Casona de Valladolid 

“La Casona” is a 120 year-old house, an example of colonial architecture with enormous, wooden, chocolate brown doors and the best Yucatecan food in the region. A team of experts and food lovers create panuchos, lime soup and roasted suckling pig just like they would in any traditional Yucatecan home. At “La Casona” you can truly experience Valladolid and its lifestyle in its archways, in the delicious Yucatan cuisine, and mainly in the charm and warmth of its people.

Yucatan’s cuisine is an essential part of its culture. Just as it is its history, the Yucatecan cuisine has a great recognition worldwide. “

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Calzada de los Frailes

If you want a sunset stroll to remember follow the “Walk of the Friars” from downtown to the Franciscan monastery of San Bernardino de Siena. The diagonal cobblestone street is lined with huge clay planters and lovely restored Colonial homes.

Be sure to visit the imposing Franciscan Convent of San Bernardino de Siena 1552-1560. It was the first church built in American soil. The monastery, built in 1552, was sacked during the War of the Castes but still has its fine Baroque altarpiece and some striking 17th century paintings.

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The word pollos means chicken. Seeing pollos painted on a wall means lunch is ready.

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Valladolid English library

The Valladolid English Library, which was opened in 2011 on Valladolid’s Parque San Juan, loans out its collection of English-language books on all sorts of topics, including some rare titles on Maya history and culture. The library was modeled after the one in Merida, and like Merida‘s it hosts a Language Exchange Hour that allows you to practice your Spanish with native Spanish speakers and help them learn English in return.

In December, the topic was – what else? – the Maya calendar.

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1 Tequila, 2 Tequila, 3 Tequila, Floor!

When we think about Mexico, there’s one thing that definitely comes to mind…tequila!

Although we’re not too keen on doing shots of the stuff, we do love having margaritas. Since we were traveling through the land of tequila, we figured we should check out where it comes from, how it’s made and of course, do a couple of tastings.

There’s nothing like 3 tequila shots at 11 am to wake a person up! But it’s even better when it’s fresh artisan tequila and accompanied with a personalized tour of an agave farm and the tequila distillery.

Valladolid’s Mayapán Distillery produces some very good Mayapan from Jalisco-grown agaves.

We took a taxi from the center of Valladolid (40 pesos) out to the Mayapan Distillery, which is set on a beautiful acreage. As we were pulling up, we could immediately see the blue agave plants poking out of the ground. We didn’t know much about tequila, we didn’t even know that it was made from this particular plant! We learned that it can’t technically be called “tequila” unless it’s from the state that the city of Tequila is in Jalisco. It’s the same deal as with Champagne. We watched and learned about each step of the tequila making process, explored the cactus museum and sampled 4 of the distillery’s  finest products!

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Churches 

The Main Square and seven different neighborhoods each one with its own church make up the Historic Center of Valladolid. One of the most beautiful churches is La Candelaria Church, built in the 16th century in honor of the Virgin of La Candelaria, patroness of the city.

Saint Anne’s Church is the first church in Valladolid for the indigenous people. Catholic doctrine was taught here to the natives of the ancient city of Zaci. Another important church is San Juan de Dios, that was constructed in 1780 and dedicated to John the Baptist.

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Museums

Casa Los Vernados is a must-see mansion. Daily tours starts at 10:00 am, with a suggested donation of $5. Open less than two years, Casa de los Venados is a private collection of Mexican folk art. The renovated house is a work of art all on its own, but its highest purpose is to display John and Dorianne Venator‘s vast collection of Mexican folk.

A block east of the plaza,  Museo San Roque has a suitably cool, hushed atmosphere. In this unique museum, you can discover the history of the ancient city of Zaci, making it a must-see site. The models and exhibits offer a fine overview of arts and crafts from surrounding Maya villages, as well as ancient stone masks, pottery and bones unearthed at Ek Balam.

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Flamingo side trip

The Biosphere Río Lagartos , 50 miles north of Valladolid, is a refuge for the largest nesting flamingo population in North America. It’s one of the biggest and most important mangrove areas from Yucatan Peninsula, being a complex of terrestrial ecosystems, sweet and salty water mix. You must book a boat tour through the mangroves to see the flamingos at their feeding grounds!

Las Coloradas, about 30 kilometers east of Río Lagartos on the northern Gulf Coast, has an amazing color and it’s known for its salt fields. Huge piles of salt greet visitors on their way into Las Coloradas, looking for all the world like massive snowbanks… it takes a while to remember that you’re in Southern Mexico.

We didn’t really stay long in Las Coloradas; besides the strange nature which you can see from your car window, this isn’t exactly a “touristy” kind of town. But if you’ve got some time to kill, it’s worth the short detour from Río Lagartos!

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And the most important reason for visiting Valladolid are the Ruins!

Just 40 minutes away, Valladolid is the best base for visiting the New World Wonder – Chichen Itza. After we discovered this beautiful colonial city and swim into Cenote Zaci, our next stop was the largest and most famous ancient Maya site in Yucatan.

Read the next post on my blog aboutThe Wonders of Chichen Itza!

For a contrast with Chichen Itza‘s crowds, hawkers and climbing ban, you can also venture 18 miles north of Valladolid to Ek Balam (Mayan for “Black Jaguar”). This city, excavated only in the past 15 years, dates back to A.D. 100.  It’s 100 foot El Torre – significantly taller than Chichen Itza’s El Castillo – is open to climbers, giving a 360° view of the surroundings.

 

Valladolid has that perfect touch of magic that makes it a city that needs to be strolled and discovered!

Have you ever heard or visited Valladolid in Mexico? Did you like it?