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By: Zdenko Kahlina
Day trip to Chichen Itza & Valladolid.
While they are not in the Riviera Maya but an hour and a half drive trip deep into the land of the Maya (and in the Yucatan State), the new world wonder of Chichen Itza and the beautiful town of Valladolid are worth a visit for everyone visiting Cancún or Mayan Riviera areas.
San Gervasio church in Valladolid
Since we were staying in Playa del Carmen and renting a car, one day our little group decided to go on a day trip to visit Chichén Itza. We drove from Playa to Tulum and than thru the jungle all the way to Valladolid. From this Hispanic Mexican town in the middle of Yucatan peninsula, Chichén Itza is only about 40 minutes further.
After spending most of the day exploring ruins of Chichén Itza, on our way back to Playa del Carmen we stopped for a short visit in the town of Valladolid.
A lively Mayan city
Valladolid – Vibrant Little Ciudad
We made our way from Chichen Itza to Valladolid in time for early dinner. Valladolid is a lively Mayan city – a riot of color and sound. We decided to splash out and treat ourselves with a nice dinner at a beautiful colonial hotel on the main square that had been recommended to us. We stopped on the main plaza by the Meson del Marques hotel. Finding a parking spot was not easy, but once I paid a local kid few pesos, there was no problem.
Valladolid is a post Hispanic town near Chichen Itza. In Valladolid, you can find great Colonial Architecture, amazing caves and cenotes, and good Yucatecan cuisine (Lime Soup, Tacos de Cochinita and Panuchos are some of the prefered dishes in town). Valladolid Mexico, a 400+ year old colonial town of approx. 70,000 people is an easy drive from either Cancun or Playa del Carmen. Probably a 2 1/2hour hour trip driving from either – without breaking any speed limits.
A riot of color and sound
Valladolid – very clean streets
A strategically placed city, Valladolid (vay-ahh-doe-leed- see wasn’t that easy), is a great place to get away from the hustle of the tourist ridden beach towns and see some authentic Mexico. Located exactly between Cancun and Merida, Valladolid was for many years a stronghold of the Mayan rebels who fought the colonial Spanish for control of the region. During one of the many wars a group of Mayan insurgents hid in the secret cenote Zací and later slaughtered those Spaniards who were not fortunate enough to leave for Merida that weekend.
Courtyard at Meson del Marques hotel
We had the most amazing dinner at Meson del Marques, a beautiful hotel with a romantic and relaxing center courtyard restaurant. Vera had Caribbean Chicken, a dish prepared at our table. I had a roast turkey dish in a black bean sauce that had been buried for cooking. All food, drinks, and other-worldly dessert cost us the equivalent of $35 USD! This is exactly the type of hotel that knowledgeable travelers love to recommend. It was 2/3 of the price of the hotel in Playa and twice as good!
We also had celebratory marguerites in massive glasses and fantastic fajitas. These beverages immediately quenched our thirst and gave us a bit of calmness, after the excitement of the drive, the ruins, and getting into the bustling little town.
The town is an architectural time capsule i.e. a treasure trove of wonderful colonial architecture complete with Mayans in native costumes as their everyday attire. Heroic and hospitable, the city of Valladolid in Yucatan is the cradle of great distinguished Mexican personalities. Also, it is a role model of order, good government and clean streets. Strolling the town is easy from this central location, and Valladolid also makes an excellent base for exploration of the archaeological sites and natural treasures of the Yucatan.
San Gervasio church in Valladolid
The central square across from the Meson del Marques hotel was buzzing with excitement. The local people were erecting structures, made from palm leaves and other natural materials, to honor deceased loved ones. This is a very happy time for the Mexican people, where they feel the presence of their dearly departed, and honor them by putting out flowers, their favorite foods, brand of cigarettes, alcohol, etc. The people dress all in white and burn candles. It is an amazing sight to behold. We were so lucky to be there on that special night.
Valladolid is very manageable. Good reasonable local restaurants, local crafts at very un-Cancun-like prices, and a taste of Old Mexico. You will know when you arrive in downtown by the main plaza. Bordered by relatively inexpensive hotels, try the Mesón de Marqués where we had our dinner. This quaint, clean hotel affords a nice garden view and central location. It also faces the Cathedral of San Gervasio.
The city’s hotels have excellent restaurants of regional and Mexican cuisine and they will not let you down. Also, you can’t miss the opportunity to visit the restaurant located in the Cenote Zaci, where you can also enjoy the Valladolid lomito (loin), the papadzules and other regional delicacies.
According to history, Zalci-hual was a strong Maya lordship, and its society called itself cupules. During the XVI century, the Spaniards reached the Peninsula of Yucatan lead by conquistador Francisco de Montejo, the nephew, and when he reached the lagoon known by natives as Chouac-Ha, he noticed the geography was kind for human settlements and decided to establish a town. This is because in addition to the water supply, the green and exuberant soil, its location allowed a more important enterprise, to undermine the power of the cupules inhabiting Zalci-hual or Zaci, as the Europeans called it.
The warrior tribe of “white sparrow hawk” was later subdued and with it followed the voluntary subjugation of many other rebel tribes, who recognized the great power of the Spanish army upon the defeat of the cupules. This is how on the 23rd of May 1543, the town of Valladolid was born in the surroundings of the Chouac-Ha lagoon.
However, they soon noticed that the location of the new settlement wasn’t as perfect as they initially believed, and decided to transfer the territory of fallen Zaci. A couple of years later, the subdued and enslaved Maya Indians started a rebellion that would become a slaughter of the 16 entrusted Spaniards, before the colonial army could subjugate them again.
Soon after, Spanish dwellers arrived in search of wealth from the land of Mexico’s southeast and behind them the Catholic missionaries of the Franciscan Order, who were dedicated to constructing temples and convents as the ones of San Juan and Santa Lucia, and the parish church of San Gervasio.
In the XIX century, the prosperous colonial city became immersed in the violent War of the Castes that unleashed along the Peninsula of Yucatan, because the Maya rebelled against the entrusted system that maintained them enslaved and miserable.
In 1910, the conditions for overthrowing military dictator Porfirio Diaz began in Valladolid in a violent and cruel manner. The brave natives of Valladolid Claudio Alcocer and Atilano Albertos stand out in their participation for emancipating the country from Porfirio’s yoke, another example of the courage from the inhabitants of the Heroic City of Valladolid.
Currently located between the capital of Yucatan, the city of Merida, and the paradise tourism port of Cancun, and communicated through highway Merida – Valladolid – Cancun, the “Sultaness of the Orient” is a beautiful and peaceful colonial city with an artistic and cultural display conferring it the category of tourism center. I am sure we’ll be back one day again…
More photos of Valladolid can be found here:
Chichen Itza is just 20 minutes away by car and even the more remote site of Coba and the gulf coast town of Rio Lagartos can be reached in around an hour. Good bus services pass through the town, but to get the most out of the location and to see some of the more off the beaten track attractions I recommend renting a car.