As soon as I got out of the bus terminal in Valladolid last Sunday, I knew that I would like the place. Here was a real Mexican town, with colourful colonial buildings to boot.

Under an overcast sky I walked the four (long) blocks to my AirBnB accommodation, located right next to the main square, in an old colonial house. This house actually consisted of the host’s office on the ground floor, and two large rooms with shared bath and a “kitchen corner” upstairs. My room, with the cutesy name “Casa Mariachi”, was large and nicely furnished, while the shared shower room and toilet were the size of closets. The other room was occupied by a nice Austrian/German couple.

Besides being a pleasant-enough colonial town (pop: 49,000), Valladolid is also a good base from which to explore the famous Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, several cenotes, and even another Mayan site called Ek’ Balam. Although I was in town for three full days, I didn’t visit that many things because I kept meeting people! I’m not complaining. This is actually a good thing after the lonesome feeling I experienced in Isla Mujeres. However, I have to say that the “density” of the encounters surprised me. 🙂

After settling in on Sunday I went out for a meal (late lunch/early dinner, it was 4 pm) at the restaurant around the corner. A few minutes later, an English-speaking woman asked if she could join me as I got the last outdoor table. Jennifer was a backpacker in her late 50’s on a long-term trip. We had a good chat and parted ways in a rainstorm a few hours later.

The following morning, I stumbled by chance on a nice cafe called Squimz which had good cappuccino and several breakfasts, many of them egg-based. There I met Lina (German girl) who asked me a travel-related question and we started chatting. Later that morning I met my AirBnB neighbours and we had coffee and a chat in our “kitchen” (I’m using quotes because the kitchen was really just a desk with dishes, breakfast food, a toaster, and a coffee machine on it. No sink and no fridge. (We had mini-fridges in our rooms.)

I did manage to visit the main plaza, the cathedral, and a few downtown blocks that day though. I was surprised by the plainness of the church, especially the lack of interior adornments. Also, within a couple of blocks of the main plaza, the facade of the houses started looking in need of a coat of paint and a little restoration.

Chichen Itza

On the second day (Tuesday), I took the first bus out to go visit Chichen Itza, a 50-minute ride. I ran into Jennifer again (who was now travelling with a new man-friend she made at her hostel). Once at the ruins I met Taru, a nice Finnish woman in her 30’s. She asked me to take her photo and then if I would mind some company. So we ended up visiting the site together.

It was a good idea to arrive early since by 11:00 all the tour buses from Cancun were pulling in and the site got a lot busier (although things are so spread-out that you don’t actually feel crowded). Chichen Itza opens at 8:00 am, and now charges a stiff 216 pesos ($18 CAD) admission fee. Guides are on offer, but unless you are with a group, you probably won’t want to fork out the 600 or 700 pesos they are asking for. (Tours in Spanish are the cheapest.) A little further in, one guide did offer to guide me for 400 pesos though, but that was still beyond my budget.

I spent three hours at Chichen Itza, and quite enjoyed it. The first building you see upon entering the site is the 25-metres high pyramid called El Castillo which is the most impressive. The ruins date back to 600-900 AC and have been partially restored. Take a look at the photos below.

More exploration in town

Back in town, Taru and I had lunch in the gardens of restaurant El Jardin de los Frailes, where we shared a couple of vegetarian dishes and some guacamole. It’s relatively easy to find vegetarian food in the Yucatan. Then we continued walking up Calle 41A (all the streets have numbers instead of names) to visit the 16th century Templo de San Bernardino & Convento de Sisal which once again I found disappointing for their lack of ornamentation. Fortunately the entry fee was only 30 pesos.

On Wednesday, as I was heading back to Squimz for a coffee, I ran into Estele, the French owner of the AirBnB rooms. She recognized me first from my photo on the site. This was the first time I met her because on my arrival day, her husband’s employee was there to welcome me. This is how, after a brief chat on the street, we ended up back at the house having coffee, and soon being joined by her Mexican husband Rafael and French nanny! The more the merrier.

That afternoon, I had the healthiest meal of my trip at a delightful restaurant called Yerba Buena. Located across from the Convento de Sisal, this small restaurant had a lovely garden, friendly service, and good healthy food at good prices. What else can you ask for?

There were a few more places I wanted to check out, but my timing didn’t quite work out. On Calle 41A there is a shop where they make Mayan chocolate and offer you a free tasting. When I stopped by the shop was open but nobody was around.

Cenote Zaci is another attraction in town. I got there just before closing time, and wasn’t able to get in but managed to take a picture from above. Honestly, I don’t think I would want to swim in there, even though the admission fee is only a couple of dollars. It looks like stagnant water at the bottom of a cave to me!

That night, I took an open-deck bus tour around town for 55 pesos. I had already seen most of those streets by day, but the narration was interesting (you can get it in English if your Spanish is not up to par).

I also managed to taste a few Yucatecan specialties during my stay. I had cochinita pibil (pork marinated in special spices and o underground) at Hosteria de Marques and Valladolid longanizo (pork sausages) at newcomer Atrio. but wasn’t blown away by either. It was mostly salty meat and the sausages were quite dry. Both restaurants had beautiful courtyards though.

I have very good memories of Valladolid, mostly because of the people I met there. This is typical of independent travel: you go somewhere to see the sights, but it’s the human encounters you remember most!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email