I never intended to stop off in Valladolid – before I came to Mexico I had never even heard of the place. However, after listening to many people rave about the city, I decided to head there instead of the Quintana Roo coast. This was definitely the best decision of my trip so far.
Valladolid is a colourful city with gorgeous architecture and a Spanish feel to it. The streets are laid out on an easy grid and culminate in impressive plazas surrounded by pretty restaurants and live music any time of day. It feels bright and happy through the day and comes alive with salsa music and street food in the evening. Staying in this lovely little city is only the start of it though as it’s surrounded by magical cenotes, is close to the sprawling Rio Lagartos and is the gateway to the famous Chichen Itza. How could I not have planned to stay here in the first place?
This is the great thing about travelling solo without a plan. You meet people, chat about where they’ve been and plan to go, and then make your own decisions about where to head next and where to avoid. Vallodolid was also the city where I met a girl who I ended up travelling with for over a week, before we parted ways to head in opposite directions. I even met up with a few people who I’d met in the past few stops on my trip to go on some adventures around the city. Where to even begin with Valladolid?
- I stayed at an amazing hostel called Mamacha and I would 100% recommend it. The grounds were so beautiful and well looked after, the dorm was lovely and spacious and the facilities were 5*.
- Dorm bed – £9pn
- It is super easy to reach Valladolid by bus. There are direct buses from a number of cities and you can take either ADO or Mayab.
- Quick note: we were advised by so many people to stick to ADO and avoid Mayab. I don’t understand why. I’ve now taken 2 Mayab buses (one of which was about 5 hours) and they are just as good, if not better than ADO and are way cheaper. You also get lots of locals coming aboard selling bits or even singing, so it’s a lot more fun!
- Eating out here seemed cheaper than Isla Holbox to me. I paid between 150-200 pesos (£6-£8) for either breakfast, lunch or dinner in a restaurant.
- I didn’t do Chichen Itza when I was staying in Valladolid as I plan to do it at the end of my trip instead, when I’m back up in Mexico.
- A collectivo (small minivan) to Chichen Itza is 35 pesos and entrance is 480 pesos. The first collectivo leaves at 7:15am and it is advised to get this one to get there when it opens. Will give more details when I actually go!
Once I’d decided to head south to Valladolid, it was the cenotes I wanted to do most. A cenote is a sinkhole that exposes ground water, but it’s much more magical in real life! They are underground and often covered to feel like a cave. There are stalactites and stalagmites all around and, depending on the amount of light let in, they look like turquoise pools of paradise. I had done very little research before visiting, so when I walked into my first cenote, I was speechless. It was completely beyond anything I’d ever seen before and I thought it was wonderful. Swimming in them can be a little strange and creepy because the water is often deep and pitch black, but it’s such a cool experience.
We visited four cenotes and reached them by bike from Valladolid. They were no more than a half an hour cycle ride away. Firstly were Samula and X-Keken. The entrance fee is 125 pesos which gets you into both cenotes. This is pretty reasonable and they were my favourite cenotes (particularly Samula).
We then cycled back towards town and visited Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman. This was a slightly different deal as it felt like a holiday resort with a pool, bar and loungers. You pay 150 pesos to get in but then you can spend this on food and drink. The food wasn’t bad and it was effectively my lunch/dinner so I was happy enough. This cenote was more open, much busier and had a rope swing (which was pretty fun). Very different vibe!
Finally was cenote Zaci that I visited the next morning. This cenote is right in the city centre and was actually very pretty. It was really big and quite open, and although I didn’t swim in this one, the water looked lovely. It’s about a 10 minute walk from the centre, so even if you don’t have time to do all of them, this one is easy (and only 30 pesos).
As I’ve said, the city is picture perfect. The tall buildings with polished courtyards and beams across all the rooms, the bright colours around every corner and the sprawling squares where the locals come together to chill or party. I fell in love with it as soon as I got off the bus and couldn’t wait to have a wander around.
It’s super easy to find your way around the centre thanks to the grid-like street system and the small size. The area between the square with the Cathedral of San Gervasio (the Colonia Centro) and the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena is probably the prettiest area to walk around. It includes the diagonal street which is gorgeous. It’s also worth noting that at the convent, there is a light show every evening at 9:25pm (in English) which describes the history of the city and is beautifully done!
We were lucky to get there for an annual gastro festival where lots of local vendors come out to serve there food along the diagonal street and in the square. There was then live music in the evening and lots of dancing. We finished off our night dancing salsa in a bar called Mezcaleria Don Trejo which has a great back garden and live salsa music every Wednesday and Saturday (I think).
Las Coloradas and Rio Lagartos
Probably the strangest day of my trip so far was visiting these two places. They are not a must-see in the area but they are pretty cool, and as they were relatively accessible, we thought ‘why not?’. Four buses, a taxi ride, a boat tour and a delicious fresh lunch later, and we were glad we went but somewhat dumbfounded about our whole day.
To get to Rio Lagartos/Las Coloradas:
- First you take a bus from Valladolid to Tizimin – this costs 32 pesos return. We took the 8:45am bus which actually got us to Tizimin at the perfect time for the next bus (at 10:30am, otherwise there isn’t one until 1pm), so I wouldn’t take a later one.
- Then you need to take a bus to Las Coloradas. This is where the pink lake is, so for the photos, this is where you need to be. I’m still not sure whether you could see it from a boat tour on Rio Lagartos, but we started here. This bus is 65 pesos.
- After seeing Las Coloradas, we took a taxi to Rio Lagartos. There were five of us, so we squeezed in the car and paid 50 pesos each.
- From Rio Lagartos, we took a bus back to Tizimin at 4pm (not sure how regular they are – but I know they are pretty sporadic) and this was 50 pesos.
- The buses are very regular from Tizimin. We took one at 6pm and were back by 7:30pm. Long day!
Las Coloradas is a weird place. There’s hardly anything there and it feels a bit like a ghost town. This could also have something to do with the fact that we went on a Sunday (not smart to do anything in Mexico on a Sunday). You eventually get to the pink lake and can basically go in and take photos (only on a phone, not a camera) and then you kind of need to leave because there’s nothing else there. The lake was super pretty though and a very surreal place so I was pretty happy.
After the taxi ride, we arrived in the much more picturesque and happening Rio Lagartos. Our taxi driver obviously knew a guy with a boat, and we were persuaded onto a 1-hour boat tour of the lake, and haggled down to 100 pesos each. Not bad. This was actually really great. The lake is beautiful and we managed to see loads of flamingos and other wildlife, plus it was very relaxing. After we jumped off the boat, we stopped at a restaurant on the shore for lunch and I had some of the best food I’ve had in Mexico. It was lots of different types of fresh fish, and whilst I couldn’t finish it, it was absolutely delicious. Then we headed off on the 3 and a half hour trip home. What a weird day.
So that was Valladolid. A beautiful city, stunning cenotes and a couple of very interesting lakes. Not to mention an evening of salsa dancing (which I’m getting better at) and a pretty incredible light show explaining the city’s colourful history.
Valladolid packs a punch!
Next stop: Bacalar.