We used the town of Valladolid as a base to hop to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, but we soon discovered that the city had a few hidden delights of its own. With some excellent restaurants, a bustling plaza and the attractive Avenida de los Frailes, Valladolid was a fascinating place to explore. Not surprisingly, Valladolid is one of the towns designated as a ‘magic town’ by Mexico’s tourist board.
We stayed on the outskirts of town at Quinta Marciala Hotel Boutique. The staff were incredibly welcoming and gave us lots of tips on where to visit in the local area. In general, we found the locals very friendly and helpful. On one occasion, we found ourselves somewhat lost in a shady-looking neighbourhood just as night was falling. Two men came out of the shadows as we walked along. Naturally, we were a little startled. However, they were super-friendly and pointed us in the right direction, laughing good-naturedly at the two hapless foreigners.
Exploring the Ancient World of Chichen Itza
We took a bus and arrived at Chichen Itza at opening time, enabling us to beat the tourist buses. We were so glad that we did – we were able to explore the site while it was still quiet. The most impressive of the Mayan buildings was El Castillo, the centre piece and star of the show. We enjoyed exploring the ruins, but our most vivid memory of that day will be a face-off between two rather large iguanas!
Cycling to the Cenote
On the following day, we hired some bikes and headed out to a cenote (a limestone swimming hole) a few miles out of town. Again, we arrived early and were the only ones there. We headed into the depths of the cave and took a swim in the clear pool with the resident catfish, while bats flew overhead. The cave itself was spectacular with stalactites and weird rock formations. It was an magical experience.
There also happens to be a cenote located bang in the centre of town and taking a dip is the perfect way to cool down when the intense Mexican sun becomes too much. A bar overlooks the cenote, a perfect spot for a post-dip cocktail.
The Incredible Casa de los Venados
Another highlight was Casa de los Venados, an incredible private collection of over 3000 pieces of Mexican folk art which was on display in a beautiful hacienda. We met the owner, John, who puts all visitor donations toward local charities. He lives on the property with his wife, Doriane, and they don’t seem to mind the constant string of strangers walking through the property!
It really was a very special place and took the couple nearly nine years to renovate the house. Tours take place daily at 10.00 am and are free, although donations are welcome. We absolutely loved both the house and the folk art, and can’t recommend a visit highly enough. It’s probably best to let the photographs do the talking!
Yerba Buena – An Organic, Veggie-Friendly Gem
Our favourite restaurant in town was Yerba Buena – a funky little establishment opposite St Bernardino Monastery, which serves mostly organic and veggie food. The ingredients are so fresh and service is friendly and efficient. There’s a lovely little patio out back too. We were given complimentary tortillas and three salsas to start and there is a great choice of dishes from veggie burgers to tacos. They also have a good breakfast menu.
The Most Colourful Street in Valladolid
Avenida de los Frailes is the colourful street which leads to St Bernardino Monastery. It has a scattering of tiny shops including a tequila store and a few gift shops. At the monastery, a light and sound show depicting the history of Valladolid takes place several nights a week.
Saturday Night in the Zocalo
On Saturday night we sat in the zocalo, soaking up the atmosphere of small-town Mexico. A wedding was taking place in the cathedral, families strolled along eating ice cream and restaurants were brimming with diners.
The more we got to know Valladolid, the more we liked it. The locals were friendly, the vibe was chilled and there was plenty to keep us occupied in and around the town. It’s definitely one of those places that deserves more than the fleeting visit that many tourists allow.