Valladolid and Chichen Itza

Valladolid is a smallish town a couple of hours easy drive from Cancun and used as a base for tourists to explore the archaeological site of Chichen Itza (one of the wonders of the world) and the many nearby cenotes (swimming holes in caves). We spent four days there, most of the time with Nick, Kirsten and Krystal.

We’d read on other blogs that Valladolid was a colourful, quaint town not to be missed. I find that description a little overrated (I’ve probably been really spoiled) but it’s definitely worth basing here to explore the areas nearby and the town certainly is pretty.

Things to do around Valladolid

Our main reason for choosing Valladolid was its close proximity to Chichen Itza, only about a 45 minute drive.

We read that it’s best to get to the site for opening time to beat the heat and the thousands of tourists that come in on tour buses from Cancun. This is good advice! We were able to enjoy wandering around with hardly any people for the first hour or so (even beating most of the souvenir sellers) but witnessed the buses full of people pouring in by the time we left.

The pyramid itself is impressive – it’s always amazing to see what was achieved so long ago – but we mostly enjoyed wandering around and seeing the smaller buildings spread across the vast site. We spent two or three hours walking around snapping pics.

Aside from Chichen Itza the area is packed with cenotes. I had no idea what a cenote was before this trip – turns out it’s a natural water hole created when limestone collapses causing a sinkhole. They are scattered all around the area – some open air and some within a cave. We probably should have tried to get to more of them but opted to visit two:

Cenote Agua Dulce about an hour from Chichen Itza. We drove through a small village and down a dirt road eventually finding this cenote. It appears on brochures and has good reviews so we expected it to be busy but we were the only people there apart from the guy collecting a few bucks for entrance. The cenote itself was awesome – down stairs and into a dark cave filled with bats and birds we eventually got brave enough to go in for a refreshing swim. Unfortunately the GoPro really struggled in the dark conditions so I only have a poor pic to showcase it.

The other cenote we checked out is Cenote Zaci in the heart of Valladolid town itself. We didn’t quite have this one all to ourselves but surprisingly there were only a handful of other people around. This cenote is much bigger and more open air but still with a cool cave backdrop. Entrance was again only a few dollars and you can return throughout the day.

We really enjoyed Casa de los Venados, the home of a wealthy, retired American couple who open their house for tours every morning. They have collected thousands of pieces of Mexican art – some things as simple as souvenirs, others specifically commissioned by the collectors. The house itself is stunning (I’d have liked a dip in the pool) and the artwork varied from fancy dinnerware to Day of the Dead style skeletons. They also have four guest rooms (not as a hotel, just for their friends who visit) each with a different theme. We quite liked the fact they have a room dedicated to Frida!

In and around the town itself there always seems to be something going on – from a small neighbourhood mariarchi band playing in a square to a massive Cubano band in the main plaza and hundreds of locals all getting their salsa on.

The girls seemed keen to get their dance moves on but Nick and I were aware of our limitations.

Where to Stay

We stayed our first two nights at the very upmarket Hotel Posada San Juan. We often go a bit more upmarket when we have friends flying in to visit – just because we are doing a long trip and have a budget doesn’t mean their one week away from work needs to be backpacking! This hotel was pretty fancy with big rooms complete with in room hammock.

Every room should have a hammock!

After Nick and Kirsten left we jumped back to a hostel and spent two nights at Hostel La Candelaria. A decent hostel at a much more backpacker friendly price even if we did have to sacrifice the in-room hammock.

Eating and Drinking in Valladolid

We were so in love with the food in Mexico (especially the street food in CDMX) that our expectations were high for all Mexican restaurants. Sadly, not a single place we ate in Valladolid met these expectations. The food was adequate and often the drinks pretty poor. I never do this, but I had to send back a round of margaritas because they tasted so bad! 

We do recommend the awesome homemade icecream at Wabi Gelato and very good coffee at The Coffee Bike Station. Both places are just around the corner from casa de los Venados.

There are plenty of other places to explore in this area so car rental  (which is very affordable) is highly recommended. A shout out to our awesome designated driver Kirsten for getting us everywhere!

Next up: we jump on a bus to head to Tulum for some beach time.

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