For years, we'd heard a lot about Valladolid. Good friends of ours are such big fans that they make a point of visiting the tiny colonial town any time they're in the Yucatan. And though we've always wanted to follow their lead, it took us a while to actually get there. It can be pretty hard to tear yourself away from Tulum's beach and head inland, after all.
But you should. Not only is Valladolid unbelievably charming and tranquil, it also boasts some amazingly delicious traditional Yucatecan restaurants and a handful of sweet little artisanal shops. It's the perfect, unpretentious complement to Tulum: The vibe is authentic and chill — the kind of place where strangers smile and nod as they pass each other on the streets. It's also steeped in history and culture: The architecture is quintessentially Spanish, and the Mayans who make up most of the population still wear the traditional embroidered huipil dresses. There's enough to do in and around town that you won't have a hard time filling a couple days, but you won't be stressed about jamming it all in, either. Best of all, getting there is super easy: It's just under two hours from Tulum on a straight-line of a road through the jungle — and there are lots of places to stop to buy Mayan dreamcatchers (or swim in a cenote) along the way.
where to stay
If you can swing it, stay here. The famed hotel-perfumery and hotel mini-chain has a total of three outposts scattered throughout the Yucatan (not including the original now-closed location in Tulum; RIP), and each is enchanting in its own right. The Valladolid locale is a particular gem: It's here, in a refurbished rum distillery, that the company's signature scents are crafted. Located on the pastel-hued Calle 41a/Calzada de los Frailes, the hotel boasts just two suites, a tiny cafe, a gorgeously tiled shop, and an unbelievably gorgeous al fresco spa. The regally-appointed main suite takes up the entire top level and features a tiled terrace with a small dunk pool and a sunny rooftop patio overlooking the street; the smaller ground-floor room features a claw foot bathtub and a tiled patio that faces the lush back garden. Regardless of which room you snag, you're in for an intimate and memorable experience: The only entrance to the rooms is through the front perfume shop; you'll be given keys to the front door so that you can lock up the shop when heading out after hours. We felt sneaky and super important walking around in the perfume shop late at night, trying on all the scents and sniffing the candles like spies.
Meson del Marques
It'd be hard to miss Meson del Marques — and not just because of its prime location on Valladolid's main plaza: With 90 rooms, the hotel is definitely the largest in town. But that doesn't mean Meson lacks charisma. Situated in a 17th century colonial mansion, the hotel features arched porticos, wood-beamed ceilings, rustic stone work, and an airy central courtyard with a very inviting pool. The hotel's onsite restaurant is worth a visit alone.
If old world architecture isn't your thing, then the minimalist Mayan vibe at Zenti'k Project might be: with its thatched-roof cabins, Bajareque walls, understated outdoor pool, and locally-sourced organic materials, the brand new eco-hotel is an outlier among Valladolid's plethora of refurbished hacienda hotels. But its not just the sleek decor that will have you drooling over Zenti'k: the hotel has its very own underground cave complete with a thermal pool and spa.
where to eat
Taberna de los Frailes
Friends told us this that was "the" place to eat in Valladolid and they were not wrong. The setting alone — perched above a small cenote right next to an ancient stone convent — can't be beat. The traditional Mayan and Yucatecan menu offers an extensive list of mouthwatering treats: relleno negro, achiote marinated fish, and a roasted pumpkin seed dip that we couldn't get enough of. Don't come here expecting a light meal — as is typical in Valladolid, the food is rich, hearty, and unapologetically filling. You'll need to lie down afterwards.
La Casona de Valladolid
This place is a bit touristy, but pretty gorgeous none the less. We wandered in to take a look at the intricately tiled fountain in the garden behind the restaurant, and were lured into staying for lunch when we saw the lovely outdoor patio filled with umbrella-shaded tables. Total disclosure: This is a buffet situation. Normally we would not even consider this, but trust us, it is actually kind of awesome: Order a tequila, then sample all the tasty Yucatecan food you've been curious about. Just be sure to sit outside, and don't even think about going when it's crowded.
La Casona de Valladolid
Hosteria del Marques
The hotel at Marques is a pretty great place to stay (right on the plaza!) but the hotel's restaurant is probably the best part. Some people say it's got the most delicious Yucateco restaurant in town. Others say that it feels like the Mexico of a different decade, but obviously we wouldn't really know about that. What we do know is this: it's big but cozy and there are lots of candle-lit tables set up around the hotel's courtyard fountain. We ate some of the best sauteed chaya (Yucatan spinach) of our lives here. The conchita pibil (slow-roasted achiote pork) is apparently the thing to get, and though I'm sure someone at our table ordered it and loved it, I can't remember because I was too focused on how insanely good my cheese-stuffed fried chile relleno was to care.
what to do
The Yucatan is famous for its cenotes, and this open-air fresh-water cave is worth a visit just for its location alone: smack-dab in the middle of town. Pay the small admission fee and head down the winding stone stairs to the crystal clear pool. When you've finished swimming, head up to the simple palapa-covered restaurant that overlooks the cave for a Modelo and a snack. You'll feel squeaky clean and relaxed, and the view makes the food taste better than it actually it is. (If you eat at the restaurant first, admission to the cenote is comped.)
Cenote Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman
This is the cenote that dreams are made of, the cenote to end all cenotes. Okay, well, whatever: It is damn cool and so ridiculously fun you'll want to stay there all day long. It's just a short drive north of town, and located on the grounds of a restored hacienda. There's a pool and a snack bar there, too, but we skipped all that and went straight down the wooden stairs deep underground to get to the cenote. It's beautiful: Sunlight streams in from a small circular opening about two stories up, and tree roots reach way down into the water like vines. The best part of the whole thing, though, is the rope swing. We got all Indiana Jones and swung around on it for the better part of an hour.
Fabrica de Chocalate Artesenal Maya Chocol Haa
This tiny chocolate "factory" and shop right down the street from Coqui Coqui offers free tours and chocolate tastings. You'll learn stuff you never knew (like, Montezuma allegedly drank cacoa by the gallon) and then you'll get to try a bunch of fantastic, organic chocolate samples afterwards. Of course, you can buy any of the chocolate they make, but there's absolutely no pressure. Not that you'd need to be pressured: We ended up buying a ton in different flavor incarnations (tequila, chile, and cinnamon) with the intention of bringing it home as gifts, but they were all so yummy we ate them ourselves the next day. Oops. Chocol Haa also runs a small cafe down the street that serves chocolate deserts and Montezuma-style cacao drinks.