Located in the center of the Yucatan Peninsula, Valladolid is a top pick for how to experience true Mexican culture.
Don't get me wrong, I love a good beach vacation to the beautiful resort towns located along the Yucatan's eastern coast.
However, cities like Cancun, Tulum and Playa Del Carmen are fairly commercialized and don't offer a true glimpse into what life in Mexico is really about.
In this post we'll highlight my favorite activities you won't want to miss out on when visiting this gem in the heart of the Yucatan!
Have a specific question about visiting Valladolid? Jump ahead using the table of contents below
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Convent de San Bernardino de Siena
The first location in Valladolid that we will cover in this guide is one of its most recognizable structures.
Convent de San Bernardino de Siena dates back to the mid 1500s and is one of the cities oldest structures. It serves as a reminder to the Spanish colonization of this area that influenced much of the architecture that we can still enjoy today.
Soak up the Convent's history touring the inside and by walking the courtyard.
Outside is a large green space with park bench seating.You'll find many locals enjoying the surrounding park area during the day.
We stayed at a really cool historic AirBnB (check it out!) located right on the square. If you have the opportunity come back in the evening to the see Convent completely lit up.
Don't forget to get some photos in front of the giant Valladolid sign - you can't miss it! There's also a really cool bar & restaurant with live music in the evenings across the road we visited called Los Frappes that's worth checking out.
Parque Francisco Canton Rosado
If there's one place in Valladolid you're most likely to fall in love with - this is it.
Maybe it was the perfect weather in the evenings? Or the massive flocks of birds flying in at dusk. Whatever the reason, there was something magical about strolling around the town square, eating ice cream and hanging out amongst the locals.
The beautiful Iglesia de San Servacio towers over the park and you can find street food vendors peppered throughout the space.
Shops, bars, restaurants and hotels line the outside of the park.
Near the parks center you'll find plenty of seating and a beautiful fountain. Grab a snack from one of the nearby vendors and take in the relaxing vibes.
Iglesia de San Servacio
As far as beautiful historic churches go, not many are familiar with the Iglesia de San Servacio.
Built in the mid 1500s, it was later destroyed at the direction of Bishop Pedro de los Rios Reyes. It was eventually restored in 1705 to its current state.
While the building can certainly hold its own in terms of curb appeal, I think what really sets it apart is how much it dominants the city's otherwise limited skyline.
You can also pop inside - although when we visited you couldn't get very far. The church sits directly along the city center park, you can't miss it!
Eat street food on the main square
No trip to Valladolid is complete without hitting the street food vendors situated at the city center park. Try the marquesitas - they're like a waffle crepe rollup with Nutella, banana and cheese. Tasty things they are!
Or how about corn on the cob slathered with cheese and butter? Another local option totally worth trying.
The vendor pictured here was whipping up what I can best describe as a Tostitos Walking Taco. You'll find ice cream vendors and people selling other convenience items such as bottled water.
Between the street vendors and surrounding restaurants, there are plenty of great culinary experiences in the city.
Visit Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza was voted one of the New 7 Wonders of the World in 2007.
And one of the best perks of staying in Valladolid is that it serves as an excellent jumping off point for visiting this ancient wonder.
Chichen Itza is only about a 40 minute drive west from here versus nearly three hours from Cancun. This will also make it easier to arrive right when the area opens to beat the long lines.
You can book your tickets online in advance here which I also recommend. Arriving early will also help you beat the intense Yucatan heat!
There's a cafe where you can purchase coffee among other things and a couple of restaurants. If you plan on doing any souvenir shopping while in Mexico this is a great place to do it. There is quite literally an endless sea of locals selling crafts throughout Chichen Itza's grounds. Budget 3-4 hours of your day to spend here.
Cenote Ik Kil
Minutes from Chichen Itza - Cenote Ik Kil is one of Mexico's most visited cenotes.
If you're visiting Chichen Itza this is a must see as well. Located just a few minutes down the road, Cenote Ik Kil is the Yucatan's most recognizable Cenote. Much of this cenotes popularity can be attributed to its proximity to Chichen Itza.
If you visit Chichen Itza around 8am right when it opens, you should find yourself arriving at Ik Kil in the late morning, before the brigades of tour buses arrive.
Not only does arriving at Ik Kil early save you from standing in long lines, but you'll have an easier time taking phots and swimming in the Cenote when there are fewer people around.
The area can become quite crowded in the afternoon. Depending on how long you want to swim around in the Cenote (it's not that big) I'd budget 60 - 90 minutes for this stop.
A swim in the cool waters of Ik Kil is the perfect way to cool off after a long morning of touring the grounds of Chichen Itza!
Cenote Suytun is known as an Instagram favorite. Travelers stationed in Valladolid can access this cenote quite easily as it's located just 15 minutes from the city.
The 'arrive early, beat the crowds' spiel applies here as well. Not just to avoid the lines but because the swimming area can get crowded!
If you've been scrolling through photos of visitors standing on the stone platform that extends out into the water beware. The water levels in this cenote fluctuate and can rise high enough to completely submerge the platform which will make standing on it impossible.
While Cenote Ik Kil was a fun experience, the vibes are Suytun are superior. The swimming area here is completely enclosed save a small hole that pokes through the top of the dome above the walking platform.
If you packed water shoes for your trip this is a great place to have them. The stairs leading down into Suytun are steep and can become quite slippery after visitors leave a trail of water on them as the day progresses.
Of all the sights we saw during this particular trip to the Yucatan, Cenote Zaci was by far my favorite.
Imagine if your community swimming pool was actually an enormous cenote located in the center of town.
That's Cenote Zaci.
From the main town square keep walking another 5-10 minutes east you'll stumble upon the entrance. There is an entrance fee but it was only 30 pesos or about $1.50. Be mindful to access the restrooms here you'll also need to pay a small fee so have some cash handy.
We hung out around the water for about an hour during my visit but you could easily spend an afternoon here if you have extra time.
There are ledges here that allow for cliff jumping. Even if that isn't you cup of tea it's fun to hang out and watch those brave enough to take the leap.
If you're hungry there's a restaurant situated at the cenote. I've read good things about it but we opted to eat dinner that night back around the main square given it's close proximity.
Check Out Local Restaurants
Valladolid's tropical climate means you'll have pick of the litter when it comes to excellent outdoor dining options. One of my favorite ways to find great dining options abroad is to ask around. Bar tenders, baristas, tour guides and others are not only willing to offer up great suggestions but generally jump at the opportunity to recommend their favorite local restaurant.
Be sure to do some exploring of your own, but I've also compiled a list of places I visited and would recommend during my trip to Valladolid for your convenience:
Los Frappes - My favorite place to grab drinks in the evening. Three story bar and restaurant with live music on the open air roof. Located near the Convent. Restaurante El Atrio del Mayab - How can you not fall in love with this place. The food is amazing but the ambiance is even better. Sit outside - you'll find a large fountain area that's home to a turtle and giant buddha statue. This restaurant is located along the main city square.
ConKafecito - Looking for a European style coffee shop? Located near the Convent along the main road, this is a great place to grab coffee while on the go. Libranos del Mal - The vibe on the lower levels is something between a sports bar and night club. Located near Zaci we ate here after visiting the Cenote and were able to snag a seat on the roof. The chicken burrito was excellent. Mezcaleria Don Trejo - Sexy guacamole anyone? Any restaurant with a menu item called 'Sexy Guacamole', sidewalk seating and specialty tacos is going to be an instant hit with me. San Giovanni Trattoria - Okay so to be clear I didn't come to Valladolid with the expectation that we'd be eating fancy Italian for dinner. HOWEVER, we heard about this place on at least three separate occasions between talking to our AirBnB host, expats and locals.
Shop Like a Local
Another perk of getting inland to experience what Mexico really has to offer involves a much more enjoyable shopping experience than what you'll find in the tourist heavy areas.
Along the eastern coast you'll find the same "local crafts" in every single souvenir shop and pay prices that are geared towards tourists.
While there are still some shops that are geared towards tourists you'll find much better variety and authenticity in Valladolid.
We picked up a pair of handmade leather sandals at d'Artesano near our AirBnB and the Convent. Be sure to pop in and browse their leather goods when you're in Valladolid.
Supporting local artisans is both a fun and rewarding experience. If you're planning to visit Chichen Itza, be sure to budget some souvenir money (and space in your bag) for there as well!
Other things to know about Valladolid
Be careful drinking water and ice
The #1 rule of visiting Mexico is to be careful about drinking the water when you're not visiting a resort or hotel with on site purification systems. Bottled water is readily available everywhere you go in Valladolid.
Yes - this even applies to ice, in the evenings I'd favor bottled beer over house cocktails on ice! Also - consider purchasing a filtration bottle to cut back on buying plastic bottles.
Cell service in Valladolid
Although cellular data speeds were a little slow, we never had any issues getting cellular service around Valladolid.
When relying on my phone for GPS and directions, there were a few times when we were far outside of Valladolid (traveling between Chichen Itza and Cancun) where it was spotty.
Spanish is the native tongue
Valladolid, Chichen Itza and the Cenotes listed here are all tourist friendly areas which means you can get around without speaking the local language.
However, I'd recommend brushing up on your basic Spanish phrases before you visit. Locals appreciate the effort and it'll make your experience more fun and immersive if you try!
Check Airbnb for accommodations
You'll find decent hotels in Valladolid bordering the main square and Calle 41A. If you want a more immersive experience I highly recommend booking an AirBnB.
You'll see what it's like to live more like a local and have the opportunity to interact with your host. We stayed in a 300 year old AirBnB with modern updates across the street from the Convent!
A few driving tips
Driver's in Mexico are much better about using the left lane to pass than Americans. Expect to be passed.
ALSO - there is one major difference driving in Mexico you need to know.
If you are turning LEFT along a highway that permits passing in the oncoming lane you MUST wait for traffic BEHIND you to clear before turning.
The car behind you has the right of way to pass you before you have the right to turn. Many highways in the Yucatan are like this.
Bring a travel backpack
You'll want to keep extra water on you, especially if traveling into the Yucatan during the hotter summer months. Cameras, gear to swim in the cenotes, snacks and whatever else you need.
I'd recommend investing in a decent travel backpack so you can be more mobile. Hiking stores like REI have great lightweight and ergonomic options for travelers.
Tips for using gas stations
You won't find gas stations throughout the Yucatan nearly as frequently as in the USA so it's wise to fill up your tank more often.
In Mexico attendants will pump your gas. I've read stories about people claiming the attendant tried to over charge them. Just make sure they're resetting the price on the pump to zero when servicing your vehicle and you shouldn't have any problems.
Try to have pesos to pay with, but you'll find most gas stations accept credit card as well.
Utilize Google Translate
If you haven't used it before be sure to download the Google Translate App. Being able to type in and translate text is useful enough, but there's more to this app if you dig deeper.
Use the 'Camera' tool and snap a photo of a sign or menu and.. voila! Google imposes the translation over the text in the image!
Pesos are king
While most places around Valladolid are willing to accept USD, you'll typically be charged a worse exchange rate or find that the price has gone up slightly. This isn't their local currency so don't be surprised if people charge you a convenience fee on top of the price in Pesos.
How do you avoid this unnecessary cost? Bring pesos!! The cheapest way to obtain pesos is usually to call ahead to your local bank and do the exchange before you leave. Dollars are still a welcome form of currency, particularly for tipping, if you're visiting any of the resorts along the coast.
Relax - it's perfectly safe
Mexico has gotten a bad rap historically for being 'unsafe' in some people's eyes. To the extent parts of Mexico are unsafe - that concern shouldn't apply to the Yucatan.
Actually it's quite the opposite.
You'll find that locals here are extremely friendly and the atmosphere is safe and accommodating to tourists. I've spent nearly a month in the Yucatan across three visits and never found myself in an unsafe situation.
Arrive early for Chichen Itza
If I'm not traveling, I'm not much of a morning person.
But if I'm trying to do some site seeing abroad you can find me waking up at the butt crack of dawn.
Why? I hate waiting in long lines more than I hate waking up super early!
If you're looking to get cool photos at the Cenotes before crowds arrive earlier is generally better. Visiting Chichen Itza? Get there EARLY to avoid the crowds and to avoid wasting hours of your vacation in queue.
If you haven't spent much time outside of the United States, you'll be surprised that in many parts of the world public restrooms require a small fee to enter.
Less common in the resort areas of Mexico, if you travel inland to Valladolid the practice is more common.
Be sure to arrive in Mexico with some pesos in coin form handy to avoid being turned away when you really gotta go!
Looking for quick advice on how to book your next trip?
It's easy to forget how much time, effort and planning can go into putting together a vacation.
Booking flights, shuttles, rental cars, hotels, activities and making sure you've packed everything you'll need for where you're going is no small task!
Not to mention all of these things tend to add up in cost very quickly. With so many things that can go wrong what's a savvy traveler to do? Read my post on travel planning hacks that's what!
In that guide I will highlight all of the strategies I use to streamline the trip planning process while making sure I cover all of the tricks I use to save money along the way.