Unspoiled Colonial Charm
in the Heart of the Yucatan

[History] [Description] [Location & Directions] [Places to Stay]

Valladolid Cathedral

Our Introduction to Valladolid

We arrived in Valladolid hot, tired, hungry and ill-tempered

Earlier that morning, we had set off from Cancun for Isla Holbox and, on the advice of our ever-friendly but poorly informed concierge, had taken the toll highway.

The road was, as promised, modern, fast and lightly traveled. What our friend did not tell us, because, presumably, he did not know, was that there was no exit for Isla Holbox off the highway. We had the odd experience of driving right over the road we wanted and could not turn around to pick it up for another 60 miles in Valladolid.

It turned out to be a happy mistake. We stopped in at a small restaurant on the corner off the town square and ordered a meal. As we began to recover our spirits, the air was filled with angelic voices.

In the center of the restaurant, three young girls in white dresses were standing on a small dais. Under the watchful eye of an aging hippie expatriate, who we took to be their father, they were singing Christmas Carols, and singing beautifully, all the more beautiful for being slightly, just slightly, our of tune.

The moment was surreal, like something out of a Paul Mazursky movie. In that moment, we were captivated by the charm of Valladolid.

Life in the Slow Lane

In the town's Main Plaza, you can buy handicrafts from Mayan artisans dressed in huipils, dine in a fountain courtyard under the stars or swim in a cenote in the middle of town.

The 500 year old colonial town is halfway between Merida and Cancun and is a good staging point for visiting nearby Mayan ruins.

Sufficiently compact for easy walking tours, it offers visitors a taste of living culture with its unhurried pace of life, pastel-colored colonial buildings and some of the oldest period architecture in the Yucatan.


This was an important religious Mayan city known as Zaci before the conquistadores moved in. It was also the epicenter of a bloody war in the 1800s when the Mayans revolted against the wealthy hacienda owners. Called the Caste War, so named because of the practice of according status based on levels of purity, the Mayans almost drove their oppressors out of the Yucatan. However, they downed their arms when the corn planting season came, and fought a mixed force of Yucatecans and Mexican Army soldiers for several years before losing the city.



San Bernadino Sisal. This is the oldest church in the Yucatan. Built in 1552, the medieval fortress like Franciscan church has beautiful arches, pink and white tiled floors and original paintings between 400-500 years old on its walls. The quiet but overgrown monastery garden has a stone columned gazebo built over a deep cenote.

The Main Plaza is an immaculately maintained shady treelined main square where Mayan women sell the traditional white embroidered dresses, blouses, handkerchiefs, tablecloths and hammocks. Valladolid is renowned for its embroidery and this is the best place in town to buy them. Thousands of birds descend at dusk to their nests in the trees in the park. The Colonial buildings around the perimeter are built over the ruins of Mayan temples with stones recycled from the denuded temples.

Cathedral of San Gervacio Its tall white stone walls overlook the park. Keep a lookout for wonderfully intricate carvings on both sides of its entrance, a beautiful piece of stained glass art above the archway and a spectacular retablo which towers over its altar.

Municipal Palace The City hall is typically period Spanish with graceful arches and an open courtyard, Look out for the listing of the names of conquistadors who founded this city in 1543 after conquering the native Mayans. Large paintings on the second floor narrate the Yucatan’s history.

San Roque Museum This is a tiny museum which displays hundreds of artifacts relating to Mayan daily life from agricultural implements to the years of the Caste War.


Cenote Zaci The water source for the original Mayan city is now located in a small park with traditional stone thatched houses in the center of Valladolid. The cenote, surrounded by big tropical trees with vines hanging over its uncertain depths, is 260 feet deep and offers a refreshing swim in its crystal clear waters. There is a walkway around the entire cenote.

Cenotes Samula and Xke’ken (also known as Dzitnup) The twin cenotes are a breath-taking sight and you can find them on the way to Chichen Itza. You emerge from a narrow tunnel into a light-filled underground caverns which enjoy natural light from holes in the roof of the cenotes. Not only are these two cenotes great for swimming, they are excellent for memorable photo ops.


Valladolid is halfway between Cancun and Merida and only 74 miles away from Cancun. Chichen Itza is 20 minutes to the south west and Ek Balam only 10 miles to the north. An hour’s drive from Valladolid will get you to the flamingo colonies and fishing community of Ria Lagartos.



Car An hour west on Highway 180 or the Merida Libre. From the city of Merida, drive on the Cuota or toll road and take the Valladolid exit. Bus First class buses run from the downtown bus terminal in Cancun to Valladolid


Places to stay

Within the town, the El Meson de Marques is a beautiful converted colonial house with a swimming pool and a romantic courtyard restaurant serving good Yucatecan food. Rooms have generous view of the park and cathedral.


return from Valladolid to