As I settled into my window seat on the bus from Cancun to Valladolid, I put in my earphones to drown out the too-loud Spanish-dubbed version of Lilo & Stitch being played over the loudspeakers.
I had an hour and 50-minute ride to Valladolid ahead of me; a journey that would take me past so many contrasting things. I saw cute houses with straw roofs, I saw colorful goods being sold on the side of the highway, I saw plastic bottles and trash covering the ditches, and I saw children walking to or from school dressed in crisp uniforms.
But just as soon as we sped up, we began to slow down. The bus driver said something in fast Spanish over the PA and the bus came to a halt. The passengers began to take out their photo ID’s.
Then, two uniformed men with machine guns came onboard.
They slowly walked to the back of the bus, surveying the scene, before turning tail to the front. But, before they could make it back to the door, they noticed my blonde hair and green eyes — the only such identifiers on the bus — and stopped to find out what I was doing on a morning trip from Cancun to Valladolid.
As they looked at me, I gave them my passport, and they immediately smiled and exclaimed “Canada!”
“Si, Canada” I replied.
“Bienvenido a Mexico!”
Just as quickly had they entered the bus, they left and we were on their way.
I was on edge for the rest of the trip to Valladolid; never knowing when the bus would stop and we’d have to let machine-gun wielding men aboard to figure out my agenda.
About an hour later, a thick sheet of heat slapped me in the face as I stepped off the bus in Valladolid. The bus station was teeming with people, and it took many con permiso’s just to squeeze through the throngs.
But I was in Valladolid, and my adventure in Mexico had begun.
Three Days in Valladolid and Chichen Itza: An Introduction to Mexico
Arriving in Valladolid
In my opinion, Valladolid is the perfect non-beach destination for your first trip to Mexico.
Because, for being an entirely Spanish-speaking town, it was remarkably easy for this novice to get by. Oh, and it was probably one of the friendliest destinations I have been to. Ever.
I found Valladolid to be much cheaper than anywhere else I went on the Yucatan Peninsula, and travel from Valladolid to any other point of interest nearby is super easy. You can get to Cancun, Playa, Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, Merida, and Coba for just a few dollars.
Not to mention, Valladolid is colorful. It is full of renovated colonial-style buildings, an abundance of art and culture, traditional Mayan food, and history.
Is Valladolid Safe for Solo Female Travelers?
As a solo female who traveled to Valladolid, I have to say, Valladolid is the perfect destination for solo female travelers. In Valladolid, people went out of the way to help me — whether it was by assuring me I was heading in the right direction, unpromptedly giving me great restaurant recommendations, or simply smiling as I walked past them on the sidewalk.
Even in situations when, in any other city, I would brace myself for a bout of catcalling — such as when a truck full of men passes by on an otherwise deserted street — nothing would be yelled at me. All I got was a smile and a wave.
Unfortunate situations happen everywhere, but I never once felt uneasy in Valladolid.
The Best Things to do in Valladolid
♦ Take a Photo Walk
Believe me, when you arrive in Valladolid, one of the best things you can do is take yourself on a photo walk. Not only will this be an excellent way for you to get oriented, but it will also get you some fabulous photos. The town is extremely colorful and photogenic, and there are so many points of interest to visit.
Not to mention, Valladolid is full of classic cars — perfect fodder for the gram.
♦ Explore the Convent de San Bernardino
The church and ex-convent of San Bernardino in Valladolid is one of the oldest Colonial structures in the Yucatan state. The building was completed in 1560 during the Spanish conquest and was created for the functions of fortress and church. It stands as a poignant historical reminder of the Christianization and colonization of the Yucatan.
Still standing, the convent is a must-see building that vaguely reminds me of the Alhambra in Spain (like, if you squint).
In fact, one of my favorite Valladolid moments was when I visited the San Bernardino Convent. I was walking around, checking the place out, and then, being a sweaty mess, I decided to sit on one of the benches and just take in the scenery. As I did so, a little boy and his mom came up to me, the boy must have been 5 or 6, and we started chatting in (my) broken Spanish.
We gave our names, talked about how old we were, and then we just sat quietly as time ticked by on that hot, lazy, August afternoon.
♦ Sample Traditional Mayan Food
If you’re looking to get an excellent grasp of traditional Mayan cuisine, then Valladolid is the place to go. There are so many great places to have traditional Mayan food, but a few of my favorites were Taberna de los Frailes, La Selva, and La Casona de Valladolid.
♦ Take a Walk down Calle 41A
Calle 41A is a beautiful walk filled with endless colorful buildings. Unlike the main square, I found walking this route was fairly quiet, and I could often stop and take photos without anyone else being in them.
There are a ton of restaurants, boutique shops, and hotels on this strip, so don’t hesitate to stop and check them out every now and again.
♦ Check out Mercado Municipal
The place to go for fresh food, souvenirs, and specialty items, Mercado Municipal is a one-stop-shop hub. While here, don’t miss out on getting some taco’s from a tacqueria — they’re some of the best in the city.
♦ Relax in Plaza Central
Valladolid’s main square, Plaza Central is where you’ll find food carts, music, dancing, and tons of goods for sale. The cultural center of a cultural city, you won’t be able to miss Plaza Central.
My only tip is to not just walk through the square and move on to other things. Yes, the plaza can get busy, but it’s totally worth plopping yourself on a bench and hanging out for a while.
♦ Visit a Cenote
Cenote’s are limestone sinkholes filled with fresh water, and Valladolid has lots of them. Perfect for swimming, some of the more popular cenotes in the area are Zaci, Dzitnup, Samula, and Suytun.
I recommend visiting at least a couple cenotes on your trip to Valladolid, and make sure you bring along some snorkel gear while you’re at it!
♦ Visit Catedral de San Servasio
Located in Valladolid’s main square, you won’t be able to miss Catedral de San Servasio on your visit. Originally built by Priest Francisco Hernandez in 1545, the Cathedral was demolished in 1705 during the Maya / Spanish conflict, and then rebuilt in 1706 — this latest incarnation is the same cathedral that we see today.
A Day Trip to Chichen Itza
Another top thing to do in Valladolid? Take a day trip to Chichen Itza!
Visiting Chichen Itza was a non-negotiable on my trip to Valladolid, as not only is it an ancient Mayan city, it’s also one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
I got to Chichen Itza at around 8AM, and it was the perfect time of day to arrive. Chichen Itza is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, and there are hoards of tour buses that scatter the parking lot every day. For this reason, I recommend getting to Chichen Itza as early as possible. Not only will you be able to enjoy the sites without tons of other people around, but you’ll also be able to get better photos and beat the heat!
Because, yes, it gets hot as balls at Chichen Itza. Especially if you visit in August as I did.
How to Get to Chichen Itza from Valladolid
By far, the easiest way to get from Chichen Itza from Valladolid is to take the Mexican bus line ADO. The bus will take you from the main bus station in Valladolid and drop you off directly at the steps of Chichen Itza.
Seriously, getting there could not be easier. The bus I took was only 45 minutes, cost less than 5USD and, despite older Mexican men taking off their shoes and putting their bare feet on the seats in front of them, it was a fairly uneventful trip.
If you feel at all uneasy about taking a Spanish-only bus around Mexico, then I highly recommend downloading a Google Map of the area beforehand. I had maps on my phone at all times so I could always tell where I was and when I needed to get off the bus.
Additionally, the first-class ADO buses are some of the newest, cleanest ones I have ever been on. They certainly beat the buses in Canada!
What to Expect at Chichen Itza
At around 480 pesos (25 USD), a single adult ticket to Chichen Itza isn’t the cheapest, especially by Mexico standards. However, there are group discounts, and given all that you’ll get to see, the price is definitely worth it.
Keep in mind that Chichen Itza is free to Mexican Nationals on Sundays. If you are a Mexican National, then definitely use this to your advantage but, if not, then I recommend picking another day that’s a little quieter.
Before I went to Chichen Itza, I had no idea how many temples there were going to be. Sure, I had seen a million photos of the main structure — The Temple of Kukulkan (El Castillo) — but was unprepared to walk amongst so many others.
Some of the other temples include the Jaguar Temple, the Great Ball Court, the Temple of Warriors, and the Skull Wall.
Fun fact, the Temple of Kukulcan consists of 365 steps (91 steps per side) — a step for every day of the year. On the equinoxes in spring and autumn, the sun shines down these steps and creates a snake-like shadow that leads to snakehead carvings at the base of the temple.
Picking up a souvenir at Chichen Itza could not be easier as there are vendors selling all kinds of goods everywhere you look. There are hand-carved stones, cheap magnets from China, all kinds of clothing, and dream catchers. Personally, I picked up a beautiful painting.
In getting a souvenir, keep in mind that the vendors are there to haggle with you. Don’t try to cheap them out on their goods, but a little back and forth on the price could leave both you and the vendor feeling satisfied with the sale.
♦ A 2-3 Hour Wander
Due to the size of Chichen Itza, you can expect to spend around 2-3 hours walking around. I recommend picking up a map at the main gate and plotting your route strategically. I definitely got lost in Chichen Itza at one point and had to stealthily follow a map-wielding couple back to the entrance.
Also, water is pretty much only available at the main plaza, so make sure your water bottles are full before you continue on to the temples. It’s also smart to bring an umbrella or wide-brimmed hat with you — not because it’ll rain, but because the Mexican sun can get intense.
After canvassing both Valladolid and Chichen Itza, I was off to Playa del Carmen for a month of exploration. Stay tuned for my next installment from Mexico!
Have you ever been to Valladolid or Chichen Itza? Let me know in the comments!