This town is often skipped over, with travellers preferring to base themselves in the beach towns of the Yucatan/Quintana Roo, and day-trip inland for the sights. We thought we would give it a chance, and really enjoyed our time here.
From Merida, there is a direct local bus to Valladolid, however we had read about a neat little town called Izamal, which was essentially on the way, and actually ended up cheaper by stopping in! The first leg of the journey was just over an hour and cost us $28 pesos ($1.50USD) each. We arrived in Izamal just after midday and cheekily asked the bus station staff if they minded if we left our bags in the office. They happily obliged, so we set off for a couple of hours of exploring.
The entire town is painted mustard yellow, and looks like it is straight off the front of a postcard. They have a gorgeous church/village green, and a few unrestored ruins around town you can climb free of charge. Needless to say, this was Jonny’s sort of spot. While it is a small town, it is definitely picking up traction on the tourist circuit, as many locals had clad their horse and carts in themes (see a horse wearing a sombrero below).
We stopped in a local restaurant for lunch, and ordered a local speciality, papadzules. While unsure what they were (similar to an enchilada), Jonny really enjoyed them, and they were uber-filling. You can make your way around this place in 2-3 hours, so it is worth the small detour if you are up this way.
We continued on our second leg of the journey for a mere 66 pesos, and were in Valladolid in a little over two hours. While Valladolid has its fair share of tourists (either there for a day trip included in a Chichen Itza visit, or staying there), it was a small throwback to the sort of vibe we had enjoyed earlier in Mexico. We had booked in at Hostal Gayser, a new spot on the backpacker scene here. While it is located in a slightly less-desirable area of town, it was excellent value, very modern and clean.
We spent the next day exploring the cenotes in the surrounding area. Valladolid has a number of cenotes in the area, including one smack bang in the centre of town. We decided that with just two of us, and the fact we wanted to see a few cenotes, we would bike instead of taxi out of town.
First on the agenda was two cenotes, X’keken and Samura, located a few kilometres south of town, near a village called Dzitnup. Biking out here was a little tough, as we found ourselves on a dirt road with many deep puddles, and then, subsequently, a very large highway. It took us about 45 minutes to ride out there, so we were quite ready to hit the cenotes for a dip. These two cenotes have been capitalised on for tourism purposes, so there is all manner of infrastructure. However, don’t be put off, as both cenotes have a unique beauty (don’t be cheap and be sure to pay to see both at 125 pesos). X’keken is essentially based in a cave, with only a tiny hole where sunlight filters in, and artificial light is used to illuminate the cave. Stalactites don the cave, and it is awesome to just swim and float around, while little fish work on your feet.
Samura was a nice emerald water cenote, with more natural light, which made it better for inspecting those little fishies having a snack on your feet!
We rode back towards town, and had been told by some others in Merida that a less-touristy cenote was at the San Lorenzo hacienda. This was the best by far. You arrive at the hacienda, and mosey through to a small bar area. Here, you pay admission – either 70 pesos for the cenote, or 100 pesos for the cenote, pool access and 60 pesos of bar credit (yes, there is a bar and swimming pool at this cenote!). Obviously, we went for the latter, and headed down underground. It seems only backpackers know about this spot, and we only had to share it with another four people.
You can jump off a small cliff, and there is also a rope swing, so it makes for a much more enjoyable experience! It was also the most beautiful, with a deep blue colour to the water, heaps of natural light and large vines dangling from the top down to the water.
That night, we discussed the possibility of going to Chichen Itza, or the less-visited Ek’Balam (which also has a cenote nearby). Chichen Itza is the most visited and famous of ruins in the area, due to its status as a Wonder of the World. Not being the tour bus type, we considered not going. However some locals and other backpackers had said 8.00am – 10.00am wasn’t so bad, as most tourist buses arrived from 10.30am onward. So, the next morning, we rose early and made our way to a colectivo to get out there.
What a great decision. While Chichen Itza isn’t as interactive (no climbing or touching the ruins), it is certainly a massive area, highlighted by the main pyramid Castillo, and the enormous ball-court.
If you have seen the awesome children’s movie El Dorado (if not, give it a watch on Netflix before coming), this will give you a vague idea of how the game was played – without using hands and feet to propel the ball! The ball-court was certainly a highlight, as neither Tikal or Palenque had anything close to this size or restoration of the ancient stadia.
We made our way around the site in about two hours, and escaped as the ridiculous hordes of buses arrived (seriously, it is crazy how many buses come in here).
We really enjoyed Valladolid, and would recommend adding as a stop, even just for two nights to see Chichen Itza and a cenote or two!