For years, Valladolid in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula has been an off-beat destination where travelers could escape the crowds that flood the popular coastline towns like Cancun and Tulum. As such, Valladolid has been previously dubbed one of the Yucatan’s best-kept secrets. But not for long! Ever since its inception as a magic town (pueblo magico) in 2012, tourists have been keen to uncover Valladolid and everything this colonial gem has to offer.
Valladolid is rich in things to do – whether its to jump in a freshwater cenote right in town (one of my favorite cenotes so far), waltz around the plaza and markets in search of 16th-century architecture and history, or take a day trip to nearby Chichen Itza or even the Ek Balam ruins.
Whether you’re planning to visit in just one day or several days, here are some of the best things to do in Valladolid, Mexico.
Top 5 Things to Do in Valladolid, Mexico
Truth be told, Valladolid is a charming colonial city that’s largely kept its local flare despite the spike in attention from international tourists.
You can find delicious Yucatecan cuisine, quaint boutique hotels on a budget, and nearby outdoor adventures. Plus, Valladolid has some of the best variety of cenotes that, for now, aren’t as crowded as those surrounding Tulum.
1. Discover the Refreshing Cenotes in Valladolid
The first thing I always do when arriving in a new place is to scout out the area. Where are the shops, the restaurants, the little parks, the markets, and the people? But when I came to Valladolid, I first said, SHOW ME THE CENOTES!
In short, cenotes are freshwater sinkholes that formed millions of years ago after an asteroid impacted Earth and wiped out the dinos. Over time, these caves have filled up with underground water which is sparkling clear and clean. There’s said to be at least 6,000 cenotes spread across the Yucatan Peninsula!
Best Cenotes In & Around Valladolid:
Here are the ultimate cenotes to visit in Valladolid. Starting with one of my absolute favorite cenotes in the entire Yucatan – Cenote Zaci!
Best Cenote in Valladolid: Cenote Zaci is a short 5-minute leisurely walk from the central square in Valladolid. I had no expectations when coming here, and yet I felt blown away! The entrance to Cenote Zaci will take you down a flight of stone steps through a damp covered tunnel until finally it opens up and you see a sparkly teal natural pool. Cenote Zaci is the best cenote for the adrenaline-seekers who wish to jump off the daring cliff! One minute you could be strolling the quaint city plazas in Valladolid and the next, you’re swimming in one of the prettiest cenotes like you’re in the forest or jungle.
Cave Cenotes south of Valladolid: Cenotes X’keken and Samula are two cenotes located at the same site in Dzitnup, about 7 km south of Valladolid. You can snorkel, swim, and photograph the scenic light rays that illuminate the cave’s tranquil interior. These cenotes aren’t as crowded as other Valladolid cenotes.
Most Instagrammed Cenote
Cenote Suytun, known as the most Instagram-worthy cenote in Valladolid, is an impressive yet extremely touristy cenote. No matter the time of day, you’ll find a crowd lining up inside the cenote to take a photo on the iconic circle platform that jets out from the cave walls. A hole in the ceiling above the platform allows light to shine down on you. While picture-taking is good here, swimming here isn’t really great. The water is so cold and you have to wear a life-jacket, despite it not being that deep.
Best Remote Cenote in Valladolid
Cenote Oxman is one of the less crowded yet most scenic jungle-like cenotes, but it takes a 20-minute bike ride to get there. If you want to double up the adventure, a visit to Cenote Oxman might just be the best option.
Cenotes next to the Mayan ruins
Cenotes near Mayan ruins Cenote Ik Kil and Cenote X’canche are two cenotes that you can additionally visit if you go visit Chichen Itza (Cenote Ik Kil) or the ruins at Ek Balam (Cenote X’canche). But these are not technically in Valladolid.
Tips for visiting cenotes:
- Avoid using any sunscreens or lotions, even if they are biodegradable.
- Use a life jacket if necessary and especially for children, as some cenotes are very deep.
- Go during lunch hours or in the late afternoon to avoid peak visiting times.
Valladolid has beautiful cenotes worth taking a dive into. 😉 If you only have one day in Valladolid, your best option is to check out Cenote Zaci for its proximity.
2. Uncover Valladolid’s Colonial Charm & Architecture
San Gervasio Cathedral
Valladolid, Mexico has a rich history and colonial heritage. Founded in 1543, Valladolid has undergone many transformations, but you can still witness its early history even now with the majestic San Gervasio Cathedral, the Candelaria Church, and the popular Convent of San Bernardino de Siena.
The best place to start out your self-guided tour of Valladolid is at Park Francisco Cantón Rosado, right in the heart of Valladolid’s colonial center. Here, you’ll find the San Roque Museum in addition to the famous San Gervasio Cathedral.
Valladolid’s architecture charm is very similar to that of Merida’s – the capital of the Yucatan. And actually, the two have similar styles of streets and architecture. Except Valladolid is on a smaller scale! As you waltz around Valladolid to soak up its colonial charm and history, you’ll notice impressive well-preserved buildings, cathedrals, plazas, and more. It’s quite a mix of historic and modern!
3. Marvel at Nearby Ancient Mayan Cities
We had about 20 minutes of free-roaming time to take pictures before the crowds arrived.
Visiting Valladolid in one day is great, especially if the real reason behind which you’re traveling inland in the Yucatan is to visit the world-famous Mayan city ruins at Chichen Itza, as it’s less than an hour’s drive away.
To save money and for convenience, many people stay overnight in or around Valladolid. We personally did this! But instead, we stayed in a large colonial house even further west of Valladolid in a small town called Uayma (check out Casa de los Pianos – it’s great for large families).
Valladolid tends to fill up its hotel bookings fast. If you’re traveling with family over the holidays, make sure to book accommodation in advance.
If you’re this close to Chichen Itza, you must visit! But be wary: It is unbelievably touristy. Go as soon as the site opens to take advantage of the space without the crowds. They won’t be too far behind, anyway.
Ek Balam Ruins | PC: Canva
Another Mayan ruin site worth visiting while in Valladolid is Ek Balam. For those who didn’t get to climb the stone pyramid at Coba Ruins near Tulum, then here’s another chance. Ek Balam really needs a whole afternoon on its own to visit the 8th-century ruins, plus don’t forget to take a dip in the Cenote X’Canche after your tour.
4. Explore Valladolid’s Rich Culture & Cuisine
Delicious sopa de lima at Maria de la Luz Hotel
Exploring Valladolid’s streets is like candy for the eyes; colorful walls and crafts decorate nearly every surface! If you are wanting to discover the art and culture Valladolid has to offer, then head to the Casa de Los Venados Museum, which houses local handicrafts and traditional Mexican folk art.
This museum is not like ordinary museums, however. The impressive collection of folk art – boasting over 3,000 pieces – is hosted in a private colonial mansion. While there’s no entrance fee, you’re invited to pay at least 5 USD or $100 pesos as a charitable contribution. Tours are available in both English and Spanish.
Try these local Yucatan and Valladolid dishes!
While learning about Valladolid’s art and history is entertaining and educational, don’t forget to explore your taste buds! Lessons can be made from trying a new cuisine, too! 🙂
If you’re out for lunch, order the Valladolid sopa de lima (tangy lime soup) or the longaniza yucateca (smoked pork sausage). Then there are the cochinita pibil (pork with an achiote peppery sauce) tacos iconic of Yucateca cuisine.
Some of the best restaurants to eat in Valladolid are:
- El Atrio
- El Meson
- Maria de la Luz Hotel (where we ate lunch)
- El Jardin de Los Frailes
If in doubt, the restaurants located around the main square all offer local and regional specialties. Typically the further away you are from the cathedral and tourist attractions the better the prices.
5. Uncover Valladolid’s Colorful Neighborhood Markets & Plazas
Valladolid’s quaint streets and colorful walls.
Among many of the calles in Valladolid, Calle de Los Frailes is one of the most popular streets to stroll. Whether its to shop, take pictures against the backsplash of colorful walls, or chat with the locals while grabbing a couple of street snacks.
And if you enjoy open-air markets, there’s one during the mornings in Valladolid known as the Mercado Municipal. Here you can easily pick up budget-friendly handicrafts and souvenirs. You’ll see plenty of locals enjoying their fair share of breakfast tacos and quesadillas and women wearing traditional Huipil skirts. It’s a great place to get a birds-eye perspective into local life in Valladolid!
Valladolid in 1 Day
If you only have one day to visit Valladolid, I’d recommend narrowing down your things-to-do list to just 1-3 items.
Visiting the cenotes in Valladolid is the most viable option. But if you’re really itching to see some ruins, a trip to Ek Balam might be better worth your time since the site is smaller and less fussy to visit than Chichen Itza.
Spend the remainder of your time visiting the main square, the cathedral, and the Mexican folk-art museum. And eating at one cute restaurant. 🙂
Looking for more travel inspiration for Mexico’s scenic Yucatan Peninsula? Start with my Cancun travel guide: 15 Unique Things to Do in Cancun (+ 5 Day Itinerary) or unleash your wild side with a visit to these remote hidden ruins Visiting Calakmul Mayan Ruins: A Journey Into the Jungle.