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Once Yucatán’s ‘second city,’ Valladolid is booming and now is the time to go

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Once a sleepy little town, Valladolid has now become one of Yucatán’s most visited cities — and it’s easy to see why. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht 

Valladolid has long had the reputation of being Yucatán’s second city, though in terms of population it has long been dwarfed by municipalities on Mérida’s periphery, such as Kanasín. 

But this is by no way to imply that Valladolid has not been growing. This colonía of approximately 50,000 people is in the middle of a major cultural, economic, and artistic boom. 

Valladolid’s main square is a fantastic spot to get a bite to eat, relax, and enjoy the impressive view. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Valladolid is also home to a growing number of expats, attracted by the community’s charm, laidback lifestyle, cenotes, and proximity to the Riviera Maya

In fact, one of the factors most likely contributing to Valladolid’s increasingly positive reputation is the construction of a new highway that connects Valladolid to Tulum in about one hour. 

Before the construction of new highways connecting Valladolid with Mérida and then the Caribbean, the city had the reputation of being beautiful, but perhaps a little dull. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Like almost all colonial cities in Mexico, Valladolid’s downtown is made up of a plaza on a carefully laid-out grid. The plaza is flanked by the city’s main Catholic church, government buildings, and colonial homes which were among the first built by European conquistadors.

Valladolid’s San Servacio church was first built in 1545 and has undergone many renovations and expansions over the centuries. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Founded just one year after Mérida in 1543, Valladolid’s early history followed a very similar pattern to that of Yucatán’s capital. By the time the Europeans arrived, the area was occupied by a Mayan city that had fallen into decline centuries before but was still inhabited. 

Valladolid residents have historically been known for being religiously devout, with a large number of churches hosting regular services and pilgrimages. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Also like Mérida, Valladolid was founded by the Montejo family and was named after a city in Spain, though why exactly the Conquistadors chose this particular Spanish city is up for debate.

A mural on an outside wall features multi-colored macaws in Valladolid, Yucatán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Valladolid is also commonly known as “La Ciudad Heroica,” or “The Heroic City,” for the role played by its inhabitants in 1910 to kick off the Mexican Revolution.

But unlike Mérida, the city was under the control of Francisco de Montejo “El Sobrino,” or “the nephew” as opposed to Francisco de Montejo Senior, or his son known as “El Mozo.” Does anyone else wish the Montejos would have chosen names other than Francisco? Family gatherings must have been very confusing. 

Aside from its main church dedicated to San Servacio, Valladolid’s most famous colonial-era construction is its stunning San Bernardino convent. 

Though at first glance Valladolid’s convent resembles many other Franciscan constructions on the Peninsula, its winding interiors are painted a bright pink. They make for incredible photos and are extremely fun to explore. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

At night, San Bernardino hosts a free video-mapping show which depicts the history of Yucatán and Valladolid starting with pre-Colombian times before moving on to the conquest and caste war. 

Noches de la Heroica Valladolid, or Nights of Heroic Valladolid, is presented for free Tuesdays through Sunday at 9 p.m. in Spanish and at 9:30 in English. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Valladolid is also home to several fantastic museums and galleries, including the Museum of Ethnic Clothing of Mexico or MUREM, and Casa de Los Venados — a private home open to the public containing Mexico’s largest collection of folk art.  

One of MUREM’s several exhibitions, titled “Sowing Traditions,” shows the ways that children learn about and connect to their personal identity through traditional clothing and games. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

One of the things that most surprises newcomers to Valladolid is just how posh certain areas of the city have become.

Along Valladolid’s famous Calzada de Los Frailes there is no shortage of excellent restaurants, exclusive boutique hotels, and shops. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
The Calzada de Los Frailes has become a hot spot for tourists in Valladolid and homes in the area have skyrocketed in value over the past few years. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

However, this is not to say that more affordable options are not available. Very comfortable hotel rooms with air-conditioning and breakfast can be had for as low as 600 pesos or around US$30 a night. 

Located on Valladolid’s Calle 39, the Hotel Quinta Marciala is a great option for those looking for comfortable accommodations without breaking the bank. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Yucatán’s famous city is also well known for its cuisine and its local specialties which include longaniza de Valladolid, a type of skinny savory sausage somewhat like chorizo, as well Lomitos de Valladolid, pork loin in a sauce of tomato and onions.  

When people from Mérida or other cities in Yucatán visit Valladolid, even if they are just passing by, it’s common to bring some longaniza home to scramble up with some eggs for the next day. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Valladolid and its surroundings are also home to several cenotes, including cenote Zaci, just a short walk away from the town’s main square.

Aside from being beautiful and a great place to swim, the restaurant at cenote Zaci is quite good and offers live music. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Archaeological sites including Chichén Itzá and Ek-Balam are also nearby, making day trips very easy. This is especially true because of the wide number of tour companies operating in the city. 

With an open maw and bearing its teeth, the monster of the earth facade Ek-Balam’s acropolis is a sight to behold. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Just 30 minutes from downtown Valladolid is the tiny town of Uayma, famous for its highly unusual and ornate church. 

Blue stars on the facade of Uayma’s church in Yucatán represent the worship of the Virgin Mary, red represents the blood of Christ, and a double-headed eagle represents the then ruling Hapsburg dynasty of Spain. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

One of the things you are likely to notice about tourism in Valladolid is how hip and young it has become, certainly a far cry from the years when one would struggle to find a single place open after 8 p.m.

International backpackers, daytrippers from the Riviera Maya, and locals mingle on Valladolid’s bustling streets. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

If you go

Getting to Valladolid from Mérida or the Mayan Rivera is very easy, with both toll and free routes being available. Bus connectivity to the city is also quite good, with ticket prices running from approximately 200 to 400 pesos. 

Travel time to Valladolid from both Mérida and Cancún is roughly two hours. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Related: If you can’t get away, stay in Mérida for one of Valladolid’s best-known dishes.

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