Located right in between Mérida and Cancún, Valladolid is the closest city to Chichén Itzá, one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites. But Valladolid, officially recognized as a Pueblo Mágico, is very much a destination in its own right. In the following Valladolid guide, we’ll be covering the town’s top highlights, including fascinating churches, cenotes and a vast collection of Mexican folk art.
Valladolid is a compact city of about 45,000 people, and nearly everything in the guide below can be seen on foot. Be sure to check the end of the article for info on transport and accommodation.
Central Valladolid Guide
Valladolid is centered around Francisco Cantón Rosado Park. And this is the way things have been since before the Spanish arrived. But back then, believe it or not, the spot was once home to a prominent pyramid.
Today, the park’s centerpiece is a fountain containing a sculpture known as ‘La Mestiza,’ an homage to the mixture of indigenous and Spanish cultures that has come to shape modern Mexico.
The woman in the sculpture is seen wearing a traditional Yucatec dress. While the original piece was sculpted in 1924, what we see now is a replica.
But what happened to the pyramid’s stones? They were used to build the nearby Iglesia de San Servacio which now towers over the park.
The Church of San Servacio was originally built in 1545 but demolished in the early 1700s. While the backstory is rather complicated, it involves a political rivalry which led to the brutal beating of a deposed mayor.
The crime was so heinous, in fact, that the new mayor who ordered it was himself sentenced to death, after which the local bishop ordered the church’s demolition.
The purpose was to help erase the memory of the atrocity. But the church would also see violence during the long Caste War which took place from 1847-1901,
The Caste War saw the native Mayans rise up against the Hispanic population in an attempt to form their own state. In Valladolid alone, the war cost tens of thousands of lives and has forever left its mark on the history of the region.
Further east, one can find the bright yellow Church of Santa Ana. Interestingly, the 16th-century church long held most of its services exclusively in the Mayan language, with the exception of mass.
Close to the center, another historical church now hosts the City Museum of Valladolid. Originally the Convent of San Roque, which also doubled as a hospital, the structure now functions as a free museum dedicated to local history and Mayan culture.
While there aren’t a whole lot of remarkable artifacts, don’t miss the side room which contains a fascinating collection of Mayan folk tales. Most of the museum is in Spanish only, but luckily English translations exist for the stories.
Another popular museum in town is called Choco-Story, which details the history of chocolate in Mayan culture. But while entry costs $165 MXN, no chocolate samples are included in the price.
Casa de los Venados
By far the top attraction in this Valladolid guide is not a standard museum, but a private collection owned by American couple John and Dorianne Venator. And the collection happens to be spread throughout the house in which they currently live.
By coincidence, their last name sounds like ‘venado,’ the Spanish word for deer. As deer have long been a common motif in Mexican folk art, the museum has therefore been named ‘House of the Deer.’
The Venators purchased this house in a dilapidated state, and it took them around ten years to bring to its current condition.
The house contains over 3,000 pieces of art accumulated over the course of several decades, and most have them have been purchased directly from the artists.
Interestingly, different sections of the house have been dedicated to certain regions. While, as one would expect, there’s plenty of art from the state of Yucatán of which Valladolid is a part, another area is entirely dedicated to art from Oaxaca.
All visits are guided, with tours available in both English and Spanish. English tours run daily at 10 am, with one or two more later in the day.
While the visit is technically free, visitors are expected to leave a donation of $100 MXN, the proceeds from which go to a local charity.
Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable about the various art pieces throughout the house and went on to explain the significance of various motifs and symbols in Mexican culture. Other pieces, meanwhile, depict important historical figures from the Yucatán Peninsula’s history.
There is art literally everywhere here – even in the bathrooms! Other highlights include the pool area and the kitchen.
While I’ve visited numerous other Mexican folk art exhibitions throughout the region as well as Mexico City, Casa de Los Venados is the best I have yet to encounter.
Convent of San Bernardino de Siena
Another top highlight of this Valladolid guide is the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena, situated an easy walk from the center. To get there, you can walk down the historic Calle 41A, also known as Road of the Friars.
The convent is located in the district of Sisal, which in the 16th century was an independent town. The Road of the Friars was built to connect them and it still largely retains its colonial look and feel.
This is also one of the trendiest parts of modern Valladolid, and you’ll find an abundance of restaurants, cafes and artisanal shops – all of which are a bit on the pricey side by local standards.
Interestingly, amongst all the colonial-style architecture is a solitary traditional Mayan house. It was restored in the ’90s and nobody seems to be living there now, but people do indeed still live in these houses throughout the region.
Before long you’ll find yourself in the neighborhood of Sisal, which is derived from the Mayan word for ‘cold water’ (ziiz-ha). It was probably named after the cenote you’ll find within the convent (more below).
Interestingly, Sisal remained a purely indigenous town until at least the 19th century.
The massive convent, which occupies an area of more than 14,000 square meters, was established by the Franciscan order. Construction began in 1552 before it was completed in 1560. The complex features a church, numerous chapels, lodgings, an orchard and even a waterwheel.
The convent’s interior, which is now a public museum, is open every day except Monday from 9:00 – 17:00. Tickets cost $40 MXN.
Shortly after stepping inside, you’ll soon encounter the waterwheel, one of the convent’s most remarkable landmarks.
It was constructed in 1613 over a cenote, or natural sinkhole, that Mayans have traditionally used to access fresh groundwater.
And during colonial times, the waterwheel fed the water through a piping system to help locals easily fill their vessels.
Interestingly, archaeological excavations have revealed all sorts of artifacts inside, particularly from the Caste War of the 19th century. For example, a wide variety of weapons, including bayonets and muskets, were found in the water.
In ancient times, cenotes also served a cult function, with the Mayans considering them portals to the underworld, or Xibalbla. As such, religious artifacts, such as a device for burning incense during rituals, were discovered in the cenote as well.
Some of these finds, both recent and pre-Hispanic, are on display in a nearby hall within the convent, while photographs detail the underwater excavations that took place in the 1990s.
The main church of the convent was inaccessible at the time of my visit, but it’s most known for its image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Another of Valladolid’s top attractions is Cenote Zaci, named after the old Mayan name for the city. Visiting a cenote often requires a short drive from the nearest town, but Zaci is right in the center of the city! Therefore, it will be easily accessible from wherever it is you’re staying.
Unfortunately, it was closed at the time of my visit, as renovations were taking place in the area around it. There is a restaurant above it, however, and by eating there I was at least able to see it from above (they won’t let you in otherwise).
Whether or not Zaci is swimmable during your visit, there are a few other cenotes that are a short drive from Valladolid.
To the east is Cenote Suytun, a fully closed, or underground cenote. It’s especially remarkable thanks to a small opening through which rays of light shine down on the water.
But like so many pretty things these days, it’s become the go-to place for selfie-takers and Instagram models. So for those who simply want to swim in the water without the crowds, it’s better to look elsewhere.
To the west of town is another closed cenote called Cenote Xkeken. While I’d read that colectivos can take you there, they don’t seem to exist any longer.
Taxi drivers quoted me around 100 pesos one-way, but it all seemed like such a hassle given the fact that visitors cannot even swim freely but must use lifejackets.
For those going to Ek Balam, there’s a cenote right by the ruins that’s open and swimmable. While it requires an extra fee, it’s well worth it to cool off on a hot day.
Just about 15 minutes by bus from Valladolid is an interesting village called Uayma (pronounced like why-ma), which is best known for its remarkable Church of Santo Domingo, arguably one of the most unique churches in all of Mexico.
In colonial times, Uayma was positioned on a road connecting Valladolid with Mérida. Furthermore, it was once a highly important Mayan site, giving the Spanish all the more motivation to build a church here, construction of which was completed in 1680.
Like many churches in the region, it was built using the stones of much older Mayan structures. But its beautiful artwork is truly one of a kind.
The stars are a symbol of Mary, while the double-headed eagle represents the Habsburg Monarchy. Not only did the family control the Astro-Hungarian Empire for centuries, but they also controlled Spain from 1504-1700.
After heavy damage suffered during the Caste War, the church was fully renovated in 2005 to bring it back to its original appearance.
While the inside is also said to be impressive, it was unfortunately locked at the time of my visit. Unsure of what else to do, I took a brief walk around town, where I encountered several other colorful buildings in addition to some traditional Mayan houses.
As the small town doesn’t receive many visitors, a friendly local stopped me on the street, asked me about my travels and warmly welcomed me to Uayma.
Uayma is also home to a small cenote, just a few minutes on foot from the church. It’s not open for swimming but one can still get a clear view from above.
While all the other attractions mentioned in the Valladolid guide above are fairly well-known, a short trip to Uayma is a true off-the-beaten-path experience.
GETTING THERE: Getting to Uayma from Valladolid is simple enough, as long as you know what to do. Despite what locals had told me, colectivos don’t seem to exist, but you can take a regular coach bus run by the Centro bus company.
The Centro bus station is just a block north of the main ADO terminal. While it’s best to go in advance and check, at the time of writing buses depart at 8:40, 10:40, 12:00 and 15:40. The ride lasts just around 20 minutes.
Despite the irregular schedule getting there, buses back to Valladolid seem to run through Uayma hourly.
Given its convenient location between the Rivera Maya and Chichén Itzá, Valladolid attracts a lot of visitors. And as such, the Pueblos Mágico contains plenty of accommodation options to choose from.
As a budget traveler who prefers a private room and bathroom, I found a great deal at Hostal 230 for an average of $314 MXN a night (including VAT). What’s more, is that breakfast is included as well. Looking back, this is the best value I found in all of eastern Mexico.
Even if you want to leave early to explore the ruins, they will give you lunch later when you come back. The place actually doubles as a local Chinese restaurant.
Valladolid is small, so pretty much everywhere is walkable. But I was happy to discover that Hostal 230 is only about a two-minute walk from the colectivo stop for Chichén Itzá, and only several minutes on foot to the shared taxis for Ek Balam.
The best way to get to Valladolid is by bus. You’ll find direct routes connecting it with cities all over the Yucatán Peninsula, including Cancún, Mérida, Tulum and Playa del Carmen.
The main first-class bus terminal is the ADO Bus Station in the center of town. And just a block away is the lesser-known terminal of the Centro bus company, which also runs routes to Izamal (in addition to Uayma in the Valladolid guide above).