Before my first visit to Mexico, I had assumed my trip to the Yucatan Peninsula would be marked by lazy days lounging at the infinity pool and nights of excess at the all-inclusive bars. But that was before I ventured outside the resort walls of Cancun and into the historical treasure-chest that is Valladolid.
The small city of Valladolid is located just a few hours north of Cancun. The town is filled with typical remnants of the Spanish colonial era, from the pastel stucco buildings to the striking cathedral in the center plaza. But despite the strong evidence of Spanish colonialism, authentic Mayan cultural traditions permeate everyday life. From the enticing smell of slow-roasted pork and the distinctive tones of the Mayan language to the huipil (indigenous tunics embroidered with flowers) worn by the women who walk the cobblestone streets—Valladolid is a charming town unlike anywhere I had been before.
It’s this unique fusion of Spanish and Mayan cultures that draws a thriving community of artists and expats to escape in Valladolid. It’s also why so many tourists are falling love with the vibrant alternative to Cancun and the Riviera Maya.
Ready to fall in love with Valladolid? While my favorite part about the city was simply wandering around and observing the cultures, there are plenty of things to see and do along the way. Here are five of my favorites:
1. Visit Ek Balam
Ek Balam is new to the tourist scene, archeologists having only begun restoration in 1997. However, the site itself is anything but new; Mayans are thought to have occupied it sometime between 100 BC and 300 AD. Only the center of the ruins have been excavated, but here lies the Acropolis Temple, easily the most impressive at 95 feet tall. Visitors can climb the six levels to the top of the Acropolis for a fantastic view of the surrounding landscape. (Something you can’t do at the more renowned Chichen Itza.)
2. Cycle to Oxman Cenote
There are over 6,000 cenotes in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. A visit to these unique bodies of water is a must, both for their alluring beauty and the insight they offer to Mayan religious beliefs. Oxman Cenote, just a short bike ride from Valladolid, is known for its remoteness and signature Tarzan-like swing. The adjacent Hacienda, changing rooms and pool make it easy to spend the entire day here.
3. Tour the Mayapan Distillery
For many, Mexico is synonymous with tequila—and for good reason! Don’t miss a visit to the Mayapan Distillery to experience a traditional craft tequileria. The group tours take you through the entire tequila making process, then end at a station where you can sample multiple different kinds. At only $4 per person, this tour is almost a steal!
4. Watch Momentos Sagrados Maya
This outdoor theatre production explores a typical day in traditional Mayan culture. The cast are some 300 local Mayans, adults and children alike. The colorful clothing and depictions of cooking and dancing are nothing less than charming. But the show is not only a great way to learn about Mayan culture, it is also a powerful way to continue the tradition for Maya people today. You can learn all about the show and watch a video preview on this awesome blog post by Goats on the Road.
5. Sleep at Casa Hamaca
If you love unique bed and breakfasts that give back to the local community, then you’ll adore Casa Hamaca. What distinguishes Casa Hamaca from the rest is the Mayan culture it so elegantly preserves and promotes, and which it so tastefully threads throughout every aspect of the hotel. Additionally, owner Denis promises you’ll “Check in as a stranger, check out as a friend”. It was certainly true for me!
Have you been to Valladolid? What did you love?