Valladolid isn’t on the travel route for many backpackers in Mexico’s Yucatan – but maybe it should be. We hadn’t planned to go to Valladolid either, but after we’d headed through the beach towns of Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, we were ready to go inland to explore some of the Mayan ruins and local towns before our month of house sitting in Merida.
After looking at Google Maps, Valladolid was the obvious next destination. We didn’t have high hopes for the city because we knew it would be a small place and we hadn’t heard anyone else talking about it. As it turned out, that was exactly why we liked it so much! Valladolid has an authentic and local feel to it.
Valladolid is a small but pretty, pastel-coloured colonial city. Valladolid attracts far fewer tourists than the beach towns in the Yucatan and many backpackers just stay for one night while passing through to Chichen Itza and other destinations. Not us though, we stayed here for a whole week!
Best Things To Do in Valladolid
If you’re backpacking in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, then here are all the cool things to in Valladolid (and the even cooler things to do outside of Valladolid):
Parque Fransisco Canton Rosado
Parque Fransisco Canton Rosado is Valladolid’s central square. It’s surrounded by historical colonial buildings and the Catedral de San Gervasio sits on one side of the square. Locals stop by the square to admire the fountain and couples hang out on the round-backed white chairs that face each other. There are a couple of food stalls in the park, including a man selling really good coconut ice cream.
During our week in Valladolid, there was some kind of event or party going on nearly every evening in Parque Fransisco Canton Rosado. On Sunday night, an older crowd of locals come to dance the night away to a live band in the street. We also saw a motorbike festival and a concert in the park. All of the events were free to attend and everyone was welcome.
San Bernardino Convent
The Ex-Convent of San Bernardino is about a 15-minute walk from the centre of the city. The convent is a beautiful stone building and you can enjoy sitting outside on the patch of green grass in front of it. While we were in Valladolid, there was a light show projected onto the convent every evening at 8pm showing the history of Valladolid. Don’t miss the cute cafe, Yerba Buena, just across the street if you’re in the area during the day-time.
Calzada de los Frailes
Calzada de los Frailes is the street which extends from the town centre down to the San Bernardino convent. It’s tipped as being the most beautiful street in Valladolid and it’s not hard to see why. Both sides of the street are lined with gorgeous colonial houses. Be sure to walk this route when heading to the convent.
Cenote Zaci is a pretty spectacular sinkhole located right in the city, located only a few blocks up from the main square. We’d overheard people saying it wasn’t that impressive, but we thought it was incredibly impressive! We had no idea what to expect when we walked down the stairs into the cenote but we stared in awe once we saw the huge, half-exposed cavern and deep pool. The cenote costs 30 pesos per person to enter.
Casa de los Venados
Just a two-minute walk from the main square, Casa de los Venados is a private home and Mexican art collection. There are over 3000 pieces of art in the collection, sourced from all over Mexico. A tour of the house starts at 10am every day. There is a recommended donation of 80 pesos per person, which goes to local charities.
Day Trips from Valladolid (or Why Backpackers Really Go To Valladolid)
There’s one BIG reason why backpackers should really go to Valladolid, and that’s it’s close proximity to all the other awesome sights in the area. Valladolid is a really excellent base for day-trips to Mayan ruins, cenotes and to see flamingoes.
There are some spectacular Mayan ruins within easy distance of Valladolid. The most famous of these is Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the new seven wonders of the world. Make sure to visit Chichen Itza early in the morning to avoid the crowds and the midday heat. Cobá, Ek Balam, Aké, Mayapan and Uxmal are some of the other notable Mayan ruins nearby. We’d highly recommend checking out Cobá and Ek Balam, as well as Chichen Itza.
Cenote Samula and Cenote Xkeken
These two neighbouring cenotes are much more touristy than Cenote Zaci, but they’re also a little more exciting too. Both cenotes are covered underground caves and Cenote Xkeken (also known as Cenote Dzitnup, the name of the neighbouring town) has particularly impressive stalactites. Cenote Samula is rounder and has álamo roots stretching down into the water. There are little fish and slightly larger black fish swimming in both the cenotes; they’re absolutely harmless though the little ones are keen to nibble your feet.
You can pay for a single ticket for 65 pesos to just one of the cenotes or you can buy a combined ticket for 100 pesos to visit both. We personally thought it was worth checking out both. The cenotes are a 5-minute walk from each other. You can reach the cenotes by collectivo next to the main ADO bus station in Valladolid.
Flamingoes at Rio Lagartos
We were all set to go flamingo watching at Rio Lagartos but when we woke up in the morning there was a massive rainstorm and the street outside has flooded. We – sensibly – decided that watching flamingoes on a boat in the rain wouldn’t be fun, even if the boats were running in that weather. Nonetheless, Rio Lagartos looks like an awesome day or two-day trip where you can hire a boat and guide to watch the thousands of flamingos at sunset.
Vegetarian Food in Valladolid
Don’t go to Valladolid for the food. After having incredible vegetarian food in Tulum and Playa del Carmen, Valladolid was a spectacular let-down when it came to eating out. Eating good vegetarian food in Valladolid proved to be more of a challenge than we’d hoped. We came across a few okay vegetarian restaurants in Valladolid.
Restaurants in Valladolid
Valladolid’s Food Court
When we first arrived in Valladolid, we dumped our backpacks and headed out in the heat ready to demolish a good plate of rice, tacos or whatever we could get our hands on. It was pretty obvious that the ‘place to be’ for food was the covered food court on the corner of the main square.
When you walk in, all the vendors selling food down the side squash their bellies on top of the metal gates and frantically wave menus at you. None of the places were particularly appealing; we accepted the menu of the cleanest looking one.
We ordered from the few vegetarian options: a plate of rice and plantains, and papadzules, which is a traditional Mexican dish of boiled eggs rolled in corn tortillas and smothered in tomato and pumpkin seed sauces. The food cost 70 pesos per plate and was passable.
Yerba Buena is located in a charming yellow-painted building opposite the beautiful San Bernardino Convent. The menu was almost all vegetarian and there were a lot of good breakfast options that made it hard to choose. I went for a bowl of oatmeal with rice milk, while Luke risked the baked eggs. The place had lots of potential and the food was nice but nothing to write home about unfortunately.
If you need some good wifi, then Squimz is the place to be. We ate some decent plain pancakes and had coffee. Both times we went (for the wifi), it was totally empty.
La Oasis Restaurante
We were recommended La Oasis Restaurante by our Airbnb host. It’s a favourite amongst Valladolid locals and it’s easy to see why. At lunch times, portions sizes are manically huge and the waiters just seem to keep throwing out complimentary food. Vegetarian meals were really sloppy eggs, beans and tortillas that were absolutely saturated in sauce. The juices were good.
Cafes in Valladolid
The Coffee Bike Station
Okay, The Coffee Bike Station was amazing! It was hands down the best place we went in Valladolid and really the only place worth going to. It’s predominantly a coffee shop with locally-sourced and organic coffee, but they have a few snacks available. We ate some freshly baked bread with cranberries and blackberries toasted and served with the most delicious honey.
La Casa Natural
La Casa Natural was very quiet and tranquil. It has a nice menu of vegetarian and vegan sandwiches and light lunch foods. The prices weren’t great for the small portion sizes, and again, nothing to write home about.
Our Advice: Cook Your Own Food
Our advice for vegetarians in Valladolid is to cook your own food. Eventually, we gave up on eating out at restaurants in Valladolid and decided to start eating in instead. You can grab a big stack of 50 tortillas for just 10 pesos from any corner shop or supermarket. Avocados are also widely available, so you can easily make your own homemade guacamole.
Where to Stay in Valladolid
While you might not initially think of accommodation as a reason for backpackers to visit a place, actually it is. Accommodation in Valladolid was much cheaper than accommodation in Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, making it a worthy base for backpackers in Mexico’s Yucatan. Our hunt for good wifi in Valladolid seemed never-ending and led us to stay at two different hostels and an Airbnb in Valladolid.
Hostel La Candelaria
Hostel La Candelaria was hands down the best hostel in Valladolid. We’d even go as far as to say it’s the best hostel we stayed in during our travels in Mexico and Central America so far. Hostel La Candelaria is a colourful space with a laid-back vibe. The hostel is spread out over a garden area with a larger outside kitchen at the back and a small kitchen inside. Breakfast is included and is served up under the trees in the outdoor kitchen. We enjoyed hotcakes (what Mexicans call pancakes) and fruit in the morning.
We only stayed one night and absolutely did not want to leave. We got a much better deal on room price by turning up on the day and were glad we didn’t book online for this one. Travel blogger Brittany has a very thorough review of Hostel La Candelaria that you should check out. We paid 400 pesos per night.
We booked Hostal Gayser before we arrived because it was the cheapest accommodation in Valladolid. The hostel itself was good enough if you just want a place to lay your head. The deal breaker was that the wifi pretty much never worked. We paid 300 pesos per night.
Greisy’s Airbnb Place
We finally settled on staying at Greisy’s Airbnb place because the wifi was good. We had a self-contained room with an en-suite. Greisy was the most welcome and hospitable host we’ve ever had on Airbnb. She brought us over a coffee pot and coffee, as well as a small two-ring stove top to use in the small kitchen area outside. This is a really centrally located Airbnb and great for couples on a budget. We paid 460 pesos per night.
First time using Airbnb? Get £20 off your first stay.
Backpacking in Valladolid
Valladolid is the perfect destination for backpackers travelling inland from Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum. It’s also a good half-way point for backpackers who are travelling across to Merida on the other side of the Yucatan. Putting the average food aside, we really loved Valladolid. The city was small and had a quintessential Mexican feel to it. If you’ve only got a short time backpacking in Mexico’s Yucatan then it’s not an essential stopping point, but if you do have time then definitely stop by to enjoy this charming city.
One word of warning: It’s ridiculously hot in Valladolid. It’s in the hottest zone of the Yucatan and without the sea breeze that towns like Cancun and Tulum have, Valladolid is really hot. Expect temperatures to be 5-8°C hotter than the coastal towns, and bring your sunscreen.
Have you been backpacking in Valladolid? How did you like it?