WHY VALLADOLID SHOULD BE ON YOUR MEXICO ITINERARY
Valladolid was a late addition to the places we wanted to check out whilst in Mexico. It curried favour by being conveniently close to one of the major historical ruins in the whole Yucatan peninsula; Chichen Itza. Being just 40 minutes away, and with heaps of Colectivos (mini-bus transportation used by the locals) leaving from as early as 7am, staying here meant we could get to the site as some of the first visitors of the day.
But - plot twist - we found Valladolid to be far more than just a lay-over; full of colourful buildings, pretty plazas & beautiful artisan shops, it warrants it’s very own post. Lucky devil.
Valladolid was built on top of a Mayan town called Zaci, which lent both it’s name to the central Cenote in the town, as well the stones from it’s walls to Spanish colonial buildings. This is a similar theme across the Yucatan peninsular, and Valladolid is not the only Pueblo where you can see Mayan stones & engravings in random bits of church or embedded in house walls.
The enslavement of the Mayan people by the Spanish from around 1545 was consistently challenged (unsurprisingly) by riots & fighting. In1847 one such riot kicked off in Valladolid with colonialists being killed & their homes ransacked. The suppressors response was to execute Manuel Antonio Ay, a Maya Noble & the principal Maya leader of Chichimilá. He was killed by firing squad in the town square. The Spanish went on to ruthlessly hunt other suspected insurgents, indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of Mayans in the process. This massacre catalysed a full uprising known as the Yucatan Caste War, within which Valladolid remained hotly fought over.
see Iglesia de San Servicio (the Church)
Taking up one side of the Town’s main square, the Church is a barrel vaulted Cathedral style building & is open to tour during the day. In the evening it is typically much busier with nuns, worshipers & tourists alike. We wandered past at about 9pm just as a band were playing - all of whom where sat on the stone ledge of the front facade - the most chilled trumpet players i’ve ever seen. Locals & tourists danced in the plaza.
More grim history though i’m afraid. The entire church now faces a totally different way than the original (c.1545) . In January 1703, Miguel Ruiz de Ayuso and Fernando Tovar were elected Mayor and Second Mayor of Valladolid taking the place of their rival, the recently deposed Osorno. Political defeat was not quite enough for Ayuso & Tovar (surprise surprise) and they wanted Osorno captured. He had taken refuge in the church, hiding there until the July of the same year when he was finally found by Ayuso & Tovar’s heavies and beaten to death at the alter. When the Viceroy heard of this, he ordered the deaths of Ayuso & Tovar & the partial demolition of the church to erase the stain on the vestibule steps. The front facade now faces North instead of West, with the new alter as far from the scene of murder as possible.
explore the Convento de san Bernardino de Siena
This impressive building (c. 1552) is the second largest Franciscan construction in the Yucatan, after the Convent of Izamal. It is conveniently located at the end of a long (and very pretty) street lined with the large tropical ceibas trees known as Calzada de los Frailes, connecting the centre of town with the convent. Each evening there is a light show across the convent walls.
VISIT CENOTE zaci
Just a few blocks away from the main plaza, this urban Cenote is worth a look (if anything because it’s so darn close). Locals & tourists alike cool off here if you fancy a dip. As we’ve previously talked about on Instagram, Cenotes were sacred to the Mayans, representing the entrance to the underworld & the source of life. The original Valladolid a.k.a Zaci, only existed as a Myan village due to the presence of this cenote as the source of fresh water.
SHOP ON CALZADA DE LOS FRAILES
This street leading from near(ish) the town centre is long, narrow & lined with colourfully painted, single-story haciendas, many of which have been recently restored or converted into boutiques. From specialist Sombrerias, to artisanal clothing rooms, it is one of the most elegant streets in the Yucatan. Think wooden carts laden with local honey for sale, the smell of fresh tacos swimming from cantinas & little tables for margheritas at sunset… perfect. If only I were still earning a wage and had an empty suitcase…
WHERE TO EAT
Most definitely not here: Oassis Pizzeria Familiar. A back-street cantina well off the beaten path and recommended by a fair few other blogs. Whilst the tortillas were hot, the beers were cold & we both ate for about £5 each, we paid a hefty price for our intrepidness the next day. All of the traveling glamour gone in an instant. It’s redeeming feature (and what coaxed us in) was the presence of plenty of mexican families & a distinctly local vibe - complete with neon pink & green table covers. Our smugness at ‘eating locally’ was short-lived. If you do venture in… don’t order the house special.
Instead head to the covered market on the central square, which is just as authentic and where you can still eat for a couple of £s from a choice of different restaurants crowded around the edge. Fresh encheladas & panuchos stuffed with shredded chicken & beans have the added benefit of being cooked in front of you. A reassuring number of locals take up plastic chairs dotted around the court yard.
TAVERNA DE LOS FRAILES
If you’re feeling (a little) more flush, head to Taberna de los Frailes across the street from the monastery. Try the traditional Maya Cochinita Pibil - shredded pork, baked in Maya spices, served with pickled red onion & hot tortillas. It’s a local favourite and absolutely delicious.
COFFEE BIKE STATION
But first, coffee. Iced blends or hot and fresh - this is a must stop for a pick-me-up whilst exploring the town. Friendly owners, a pretty interior & great music to accompany your drink make this little place a real gem.
WHERE TO STAY
HOSTEL CANDELARIA: £16 / 400 PESOS
Just a few blocks away from the main square, this hostel is bright, comfortable and friendly. Private rooms, mixed or separate dorms and a communual kitchen make this place a good place to check out. A complimentary breakfast, free Wifi and easy bike rental seal the deal. Check the link for a more thorough review from another traveller.
HOTEL PALACIO CANTON: £19 / 500 PESOS
A hotel with ‘character’ this place has rooms of wildly varying size & quality, but each with it’s own bathroom, complimentary breakfast (juice, sweet buns & cake, fresh fruit & strong coffee) & free wifi. If you can, ask to see the room first, and try and get one with a window onto the courtyard. Some of the rooms only have internal windows making them very dark. As with any ‘middling’ accommodation - double check the air-con works or ask for a fan - can you tell we are speaking from experience?
HOTEL VERDE MORADA: from £100 / 2,473 PESOS
I mean - we wish. This place looked absolutely dreamy. Located on the previously mentioned Calzada de los Frailles, it boasts 3 out-door court-yard pools & a hot-tub, free breakfast & restaurant on-site, room service, fresh coffee (all the time) & free wifi - Nick had to drag me from the threshold. Delightfully they will also make you a packed-lunch for any daily excursions you may be headed on. I fear that, being only a week into our year long adventure, stamping my feet and demanding luxury would be a touch premature… give me time.
All in all, we’d urge you not to miss Valladolid when travelling through Mexico. Although small & a little off the beaten track, it’s peace & charm is exactly why you should go. Not just as a base to jump to other sites from, but to experience it in it’s own right: As a historical, authentic & very beautiful town.
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