Mexico is a beautiful country full of mind blowing history, archaeological wonders and colorful hidden gem cities that you can only experience by getting off the beaten path.
One of the next up and coming Mexico destinations is Valladolid in the Yucatan.
It’s a central hub to many nearby ruins and cenotes, making it the perfect place for an authentic Mexico vacation.
This area in the Yucatan Peninsula is only 2 hours from Cancun, is safe for tourists and has enough attractions nearby to keep you busy for several days.
If you’re looking to get off the beaten path in Mexico, visiting Valladolid and nearby Ek Balam is just what you’re looking for.
There is so much more to do in Mexico than to stay at an all inclusive resort for a week!
Despite the many day trip options to Valladolid from Cancun and the Riviera Maya, this area is still considered ‘non touristy Mexico.’
But this hidden gem won’t stay undiscovered for long.
If you want to experience an authentic Mexican vacation, consider staying at least a few days in (or around) Valladolid and experience the Maya way of life, the fascinating history of the Spanish conquest (and the incredible fight that the Mayan warriors put up), the unique flavor profiles of the local cuisine and all the outdoor adventure and scenery you can handle.
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Where to Stay in and Around Valladolid
Plan to stay either right in the middle of Valladolid, or somewhere outside of town within a 20 minute drive or taxi ride.
If you’re planning to stay and visit the area for a week or more, I would recommend splitting your accommodations and trying 2 different locations to get the full rural Mexico travel experience.
An Eco Resort in the Jungle
We chose to stay outside of Valladolid and found a real hidden gem at this Eco Resort on Airbnb. Staying in a small Mayan village is definitely a unique experience.
We found it to be quiet and slowly paced which was relaxing. Since we had planned to do several day trips from Valladolid anyway, we figured it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle staying outside of town. g.
Important Travel Tip: How to Save Money on Airbnb Without a Referral or Discount Code
A Historic Hacienda
Another unique experience that not many tourists have done is to stay in a Hacienda on the outskirts of town.
Much like the ancient ruins, haciendas are large mansions built throughout the 17th and and 18th centuries on henequen plantations.
These were massive crops of a certain type of agave plant that was used to produce sisal, which is a strong fiber that had many uses and contributed to the economic boom in the Yucatan.
Now, many of these Haciendas have been turned into hotels with beautiful gardens and pools for guests to enjoy.
This Hacienda is more like a medieval castle and is only 15 minutes from Valladolid.
Best Hotels in Valladolid, Mexico
If you prefer to stay in Valladolid there are some great hotels in the centro area, all within walking distance the main attractions of Valladolid.
Hotel Fundadores is located perfectly in the middle of the centro area of Valladolid.
The pool is located in the middle of a picturesque courtyard and has the romantic second floor balcony archways that you find on many of the local government buildings.
Casa Tia Micha is my choice for best location and one of the top rated hotels in Valladolid.
With a 3 course breakfast served in the garden courtyard and being less than a 10 minute walk from the Zaci Cenote, you can’t go wrong with this choice.
And if you’re arriving in Valladolid via the ADO bus, Casa Marlene is another great choice, located just a few minutes walking distance away.
Room rates include breakfast and the hotel staff are exceptional at providing local recommendations about where to go and what to see.
Hotel Zentik Project & Saline Cave. This adult only hotel offers a unique saltwater pool located underground in a cave-like setting. There’s a second pool in the courtyard outside, and they’re both open 24 hours!
If you’re traveling to Valladolid as a couple and looking for some romantic things to do, the Hotel Zentik Project is a perfect choice.
The hot tub and salt water cave pool are perfect for a soak after a busy day climbing ruins and exploring the Mayan jungle.
Don’t feel like reading? Watch my Youtube video with all the details!
Things to do in Valladolid, Mexico
Mark my words, you will be hearing a lot about the small charming city of Valladolid, Mexico in the next few years.
The colorful facades that border the cobblestone streets are a visual feast for anyone, not just photographers with a keen eye.
And even if you are a photographer (or an aspiring one), you’ll be fishing with dynamite anywhere you look. Beyond admiring the colors and the architecture, here are the best things to do in Valladolid:
1. Get Lost and Wander Around Town
This is the best way to experience the charm of Valladolid. Just like any other village, town or city in the Yucatan Peninsula, Valladolid is centered around its main park square which is anchored by a cathedral.
Start your day in the square, and admire the stunning church from a few different angles. My favorite viewing spot is from the second floor balcony of the municipal building.
Not only does it have cute balcony viewing points, the entire hall is full of incredible murals that tell the history of the city.
Visiting the cathedral at the central square and admiring the architecture is definitely one of the top things to do in Valladolid.
2. Be Adventurous and Try Yucatecan Food
Yes, you are in Mexico and will be getting your fill of tacos and tostadas, but here in Valladolid they also serve up their local regional Yucatean cuisine.
It’s a little different than what you might be used to, but it’s piquante and full of flavor.
Many of the main ingredients are poultry and pork (lots of turkey here), sauces made out of all kinds of vegetables like pumpkin and of course, corn tortillas with pretty much every dish.
Try some of the most famous Yucatecan dishes like:
- Lomitos: this is a dish of savory chunks of pork, cooked in a rich tomato sauce full of spice and flavor, served with a white bean puree.
- Poc-Chuc: The main star of this dish is thinly sliced pork (or chicken if you prefer) marinated in a sour orange sauce served with pickled vegetables, black beans avocado.
- Longaniza: a locally made pork sausage with smokey flavor, not to be missed.
The best place to eat and try some of these dishes at El Atrio del Mayab which is a must visit restaurant in Valladolid. The prices were reasonable and the outdoor garden patio is airy and charming.
This restaurant is also right beside the cathedral.
3. Stroll Down Calzada de los Frailes
This is one of the best streets to wander in Valladolid and is also home to some yummy restaurants, including some great vegan ones.
Every facade of each building is different and freshly painted, making it a great spot to admire the different styles and colors.
There are boutique shops on the expensive side here, so you know this is a fancy street!
4. Visit the Valladolid Sign and the Convento de San Bernardino
Almost every cute town in Mexico has a giant letter sign spelling the name of the city (or at least all the towns with Pueblo Magico status).
But the one in Valladolid is my favorite, and in the photo below, you can see why.
Arrive just before dusk to see it in the daylight, and as the sun sets, the lights turn on for a moody display.
The San Bernardino Convent is located in the middle of Valladolid and is quite the site when you arrive on the grounds. It looks more like a fortified castle than a church.
Built in 1560, this massive fortress structure includes several chapels, a garden courtyard and its own cenote. There’s a small museum inside, but you won’t miss much if you choose to not enter.
There’s a nice park plaza that surrounds it, where we saw many locals lounging and having picnics. And don’t miss the 20 minute light show that starts just after 9:00pm every night.
5. Take a Dip in the Valladolid Cenote Zaci
There is a cenote located in the middle of town! This natural freshwater pool is chilly but refreshing, as it’s fed from the subterranean river system.
It’s only 30 pesos to enter, it’s nice and wide with rope swings and jumping platforms, and life jackets aren’t obligatory here.
There’s even a nice little waterfall in this cenote. It’s a beautiful spot, and if you’re staying at a hotel in Valladolid, you can visit Cenote Zaci early in the morning and be the only swimmer.
Travel Tip: if you eat at the restaurant on site, your entrance to the cenote is free.
The cenote in Valladolid is definitely worth an hour or two of your time on a hot day.
6. Watch Traditional Mayan Ceremonial Dances
The main square in ‘centro’ comes alive at night on the weekends and there are all kinds of performances to watch.
Whether it’s live music or a demonstration of a ceremonial dance, there’s no shortage of entertainment.
Sundays are the best days to visit in Valladolid, as it’s a big market and shopping day for the locals who come in from the rural areas.
Day Trips from Valladolid, Mexico
Valladolid is surrounded by gorgeous villages, ruins in the middle of the jungle and stunning cenotes.
But to visit any of these attractions, you will be taking at least half a day if not a full day trip to visit some of these sites.
Ek Balam Ruins
If you really want to get off the beaten path in Mexico, travel 20 minutes from Valladolid to Ek Balam. Here you will find both the ancient Mayan ruins and its neighboring town.
The Ek Balam ruins are a real hidden gem in Mexico and are much better than Chichen Itza, in my opinion.
At these Mayan ruins, not only can you climb to the top, the main pyramid is actually taller than the famous one at Chichen Itza.
Halfway up the pyramid you will soon find out why Ek Balam means Black Jaguar.
You’re greeted with a jaw-dropping display (pun highly intended) of what archaeologists believe is the main chamber of this pyramid that dates back to 800 AD.
The intricately carved symbols represent the three influences of the Maya universe: space, the earth and water.
The center of the jaws would be where the main king/ruler sat and overlooked his courtyard below. Ek Balam is truly a spot that’s off the beaten track from Cancun, as you will notice that a lot of site remains to be excavated here.
The entrance fee to the Ek Balam ruins is 400 pesos, and you will have to pay extra for a guide on site if you want a guided tour.
If you want to see the Ek Balam ruins from Cancun, this is one of the highest rated tours that includes a guide and a visit to a nearby cenote and lunch and beers.
If you prefer to stay at a hotel near Ek Balam, I recommend staying in the nearby village of the same name, at the Genesis Eco Resort, which is where we stayed (and loved).
There are treehouse-like rooms (which have private outdoor showers) and a pool designed like a cenote. You can rent bikes and find your way to ruins on your own.
Ek Balam Cenote (X’Canche)
Just over a mile away from the Ek Balam ruins is the Ek Balam cenote which is officially known as X’Canche. You should definitely visit.
This was one of our favorite cenotes in the Yucatan by far.
With a large opening and boardwalks and platforms to jump off, we had lots of fun swimming in the crystal clear water.
If you have ever played Far Cry 3, you will feel like you’re in the real life video game!
Ek Balam Village for Traditional Maya Classes
If you visit the quaint village of Ek Balam, you can try your hand at making chocolate, tortillas and hammock weaving with the locals.
Here we spent a couple hours making chocolate from scratch from one of the oldest residents in the village.
She invited us into her home where we started with roasting cacao beans over the fire for a few minutes. After that, we shelled them to reveal the rich cacao bean inside.
Next she showed us how to grind the beans down into a paste using a stone rolling pin and board. This was hard work but so much fun!
When it was finally down to a gooey paste, she added it and hot water to a hand powered ‘blender’ and then poured our hot cocoa into bowls made from the Jicara fruit (which you’ll see growing on trees everywhere).
Once we added some sugar, cinnamon and chili, it was the best hot chocolate we ever tasted!
After that we learned how to make corn tortillas from scratch, including grinding the corn kernels down into a flour.
This was mixed it into a paste to form little circles and then we baked them over the fire.
The real treat was when she cracked a fresh egg (from that morning) into the middle of the tortillas and made us our own little Mexican breakfast sandwich. We laughed, ate and learned a few phrases in the Maya language!
Many of the women in this village are highly skilled hammock weavers, and you can learn to weave your own hammock.
If you want to buy a locally made authentic hammock on your Mexico vacation, the ones made in EK Balam are of the highest quality.
Chichen Itza Ruins
The Chichen Itza ruins are only about a 45 minute drive (taxi ride) from Valladolid, so if you want to get your fill of seeing these ancient pyramids and cities, Valladolid is definitely a good hub.
Now designated as one of the 7 new wonders of the world, Chichen Itza is still impressive to visit even though you can’t climb the pyramid.
This is a very popular site so expect it to be busy.
One thing you can do for a much better experience is to take a private tour to Chichen Itza for early morning entry without the crowds.
Las Coloradas and Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve
For a day trip from Valladolid that’s a little different, plan a visit to Rio Lagartos and Los Coloradas for the ultimate nature tourism experience.
This is where you can explore the pink lakes called Las Coloradas which are the salt ponds that get their vibrant color from the algae and plankton organisms that thrive from the hot sun and salt.
Then you can explore the mangroves by boat and see an array of flora and fauna including flamingos and crocodiles.
Have lunch in San Felipe, a Caribbean fishing village with brightly painted clapboard houses and restaurants that serve fresh seafood.
To visit Los Coloradas and Rio Lagartos, it’s best to book a tour.
If you’re short on time, you can book this tour which combines a visit to Las Coloradas, Rio Lagartos and the Ek Balam ruins. You can also drive yourself and once you’re there, hire a guide on site to tour you around.
I recommend checking prices online first so that you have an idea what a standard price should be and not get ripped off!
More Cenotes Near Valladolid to Visit
One of the biggest attractions of the Yucatan Peninsula is the massive network of cenotes. And while I’ve already mentioned a few cenotes above, there are tons more in the area.
I highly recommend checking out as many you can, since visiting cenotes are some of the top things to do in this area. Not only are they super refreshing on a hot day, they are all a little different from one to the next.
There are lots of locals guides or drivers that you can hire for a day to take you off the beaten path and do your own private cenote hopping tour.
This is the closest cenote to Chichen Itza and is therefore quite popular and very commercialized. Nonetheless, its vast beauty is breathtaking and is worth a visit if you’ve never been.
With lockers and towels available to rent and a restaurant on site, you have everything you need for a few hours of fun. This one gets crowded, so get here early if you can.
This is a famous cenote for the sunbeam that shines down on a platform for a perfect picture.
Since the only natural light is from the small opening above, it’s best to go around noon for the best light. If you want to visit for an epic photo shoot, this place is amazing.
If you care more about swimming, I would visit a different cenote as the water here is colder than most and the entrance fee is higher, at 120 pesos.
This one is a little touristy as many tour buses make a stop and there’s a small market with many vendors that you walk through for access to the cenote entrance.
Cenotes Dzitnup/X’keken and Samula
Here there are 2 cenotes very close together and you can choose to pay to enter one or both. Each are different, so if you’re trying to visit as many cenotes on this trip, these two are very close together.
Just pay the entrance fee for both and decline any vendors who want to provide you a tour (unless you really want to). Some may try to mislead you and tell you that you need a tour guide to enter, but you don’t, just the admission fee.
Plan to visit in the morning for less crowds and on a sunny day for the best chance to see the dreamy light beams shining through from above.
Swimming here, you will also notice the little Lu fish that are a specific type of fish that live in the cenotes. They are harmless, but if you stay still long enough you will feel them gently nibble at your heels just as you would if you have ever experienced the fish pedicure at the spa!
It doesn’t hurt, it just tickles and it’s kinda fun!
How to Get to Valladolid from Cancun
From the Cancun airport you can take a modern ADO bus that is probably more comfortable than your flight you arrived on!
You can check the ADO bus schedule online and purchase your tickets from the website, or you can buy them in the airport terminal at the red ADO booth.
You might have to take one bus to the downtown Cancun bus station and then another one from there to Valladolid, but it should be less than 3 hours total for the whole trip. The ADO bus is a very inexpensive and safe way to get to Valladolid from Cancun.
If you’re driving yourself, just make sure you have a full tank of gas and hit the highway towards Mérida. You’ll have the option to take the toll road (quota) or the free route (libre).
The toll will be about 200 pesos, but you will save an hour of driving time and feel much safer. The toll fare does include additional insurance for your vehicle on the road and emergency roadside assistance if you need it (just dial *78).
How Many Days You Should Stay in the Valladolid Area
Since there are so many unique places to visit in Mexico and particularly in the Yucatan Peninsula, I would recommend combining a visit to Valladolid with a stay in another location (or more).
Staying 3 nights in this area will give you enough time to take part in some non touristy Mexico travel experiences.
Of course, you could stay longer, but after 5 nights in this spot, you might find yourself looking to move on to other areas.
On the other hand, if you’re visiting Valladolid on a day trip from Tulum, Playa del Carmen or Cancun, find a tour that combines a visit to some Mayan ruins, a cenote and a quick stop in the city and that will give you a taste of the region.
Final Thoughts on Going Off the Beaten Path and Visiting Valladolid, Mexico
It’s safe to holiday in Mexico, and there are so many off the beaten path hidden gems to discover when you leave the resorts of Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
I think Valladolid is one of the best non-beach places to visit in Mexico because in addition to the close access to important ruins and amazing cenotes, this small city has all the color and architecture of larger centers like Merida, but isn’t near as busy.
Travel Insurance for Mexico
I do recommend looking into purchasing travel insurance for your trip. While Mexico is safe to visit, there are other reasons why having insurance is important.
Now that I’m in my 30s, I’m always a little more concerned about the random possibility of accidentally rolling my ankle from climbing the steep stairs of a pyramid or when we go hiking.
We’ve experienced the occasional food not agreeing with us, and Chris has suffered some bad heat stroke, so we always make sure we’re covered when we travel to Mexico.
We use World Nomads travel insurance, and I love it because you get an instant free quote and it clearly outlines exactly what you’re covered for. There are tons of different options for coverage and it’s flexible.
What’s more, is that if you’ve already left on vacation, you can still purchase it on your trip. It’s perfect for adventurous or active travelers because they cover specific activities and even sports equipment.
Have Fun and Discover More Places in Mexico!
Enjoy your trip getting off the beaten path in Mexico by exploring Valladolid, Ek Balam and the surrounding area! We loved traveling through this rural area of the Yucatan Peninsula and there are so many other great areas to explore!
Check out my guides about visiting Merida, which is 2 hours west (a beautiful historic city) and Holbox Island, which is 2 hours north:
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