Just a couple hours from the popular beach destinations of Cancun and Tulum, Valladolid is a tranquil bohemian town with stunning Spanish colonial architecture, sacred water holes (or cenotes), and authentic Yucatán cuisine. Though it’s off the beaten path, visitors will find a laid-back atmosphere with deep Mayan roots.

This historical city is conveniently located between Merida and Quintana Roo – and close to Chichén Itzá – making it a great place to stop for a day between the major tourist sites in the Yucatán Peninsula (or to spend a few days relaxing on your own). With a slow pace of life and endless delicious treats, it's no surprise if you want to stay longer than 24 hours.

If you’ve only got one day in Valladolid, however, here’s what to do, what to see, and where to eat: 

In 1545 Valladolid was built on top of a Mayan religious center known as Zací using stones from the preexisting city © CampPhoto via Getty Images

Yucatán fare in the city center

Start out the day with a hearty breakfast or early lunch at La Cantina Restaurante y Bar, located right in the city’s plaza mayor. Its local Yucatán fare rarely disappoints, especially with standout dishes like cochinita pibil and sopa de lima (lime soup with chicken). Try a glass of the delicious horchata (a sweet rice milk drink) in the outdoor seating area before setting off to your next stop. 

Artisanal gelato made with local ingredients

Less than a block from La Cantina, Wabi Gelato serves up a curated, rotating menu of gelato and sorbet, with bold flavors like Pineapple and Cilantro, Sweet Potato and Honey, and Lemon and Chile Habanero.

Wabi is run by a charming expat couple who spent their lives traveling before settling in Valladolid, where the shop opened in 2017. You’ll feel like you've been transported to Italy while scooping decadent spoonfuls of small-batch concoctions in a cozy, inviting atmosphere. Grab a to-go cone on a warm afternoon walk to one of Valladolid’s nearby cenotes.

Cenote Zací offers a rare opportunity to go swimming in one of these deep underwater caves without leaving the city © Timothy Fadek via Getty Images

Local swimming in the heart of Valladolid 

A short walk from the gelato shop, head over to Cenote Zací – a popular underground river with deep blue freshwater and ample swimming areas. Stone stairs lead down to the partially-covered, open-air cave, complete with a small waterfall, swinging and underwater ropes, high ledges for cliff jumpers, and a walkway that encircles the cenote’s perimeter.

Although the site can get busy during high tourist season, Cenote Zací is large enough to accommodate many swimmers. Bonus? Fish nibble at your feet for a free mini pedicure. Entry fee is 30 MX pesos, but the on-site restaurant above will comp the fee if you spend 100 MX pesos per person on food or beverages. 

Cool off with a refreshing michelada

Speaking of the on-site restaurant, once you get tired from all that swimming, head upstairs. There you’ll find a quick bite and michelada (think: savory bloody mary with your choice of beer) under a large palapa at Restaurante Zaci.

Surrounded by lush vegetation, the restaurant overlooks Cenote Zací so you can enjoy water views and affordable, decent fare in the balcony area. They’ll knock off 30 MX pesos from your final bill if you show your cenote receipt, making the entry free. 

Valladolid is a great place to sample the unique cuisine of the Yucatan penninsula, including inexpensive snacks like elote © jopstock via Getty Images

Favorite hangout spot for locals and tourists

Next, make your way back to the city center (remember, Valladolid is all about that slow life) to check out the plaza mayor and Parque Francisco Canton. The park is a favorite among locals and great for relaxing in the early afternoon shade on one of the many benches.

Parque Francisco can get pretty busy at midday with tour buses returning from day excursions to Merida, the nearby ruins, or beach areas. But in the evening the park becomes a lively local scene with Mayan dancers and traditional music. Be sure to pick up an elote con mayo (corn with mayo) from one of the nearby vendors.

The Catedral de San Servasio in the plaza mayor of Vallodolid Mexico consists of two square stone towers on either side of a front facade with an arch shaped door in the center. The towers have two arch shaped windows on each side. Palm trees grow on the street in front of the church against a blue sky.
The Catedral de San Seravasio was originally built in 1545 but later demolished. The current structure was added to the plaza mayor in 1706 © kengoru via Getty Images

16th century Spanish church

Catedral de San Servasio (or Iglesia de Plaza Mayor) can be seen from anywhere in the park, but is worth a closer look on your way to one of the gift shops (good for Mayan-inspired trinkets) surrounding the plaza. Originally built in 1545, this cathedral is a great example of Spanish colonial architecture and lights up beautifully at night. 

Bicycle your way down a charming colonial street 

Rent a bike at one of these spots and head down to one of Valladolid’s most picturesque streets: Calzada de los Frailes. The famous street acts as a time capsule to the city’s colonial past with its colorful storefronts, houses, and restaurants. You can find authentic Yucatán wares, local honey, handmade textiles, and gifts along your ride. Stop off for a quick cappuccino at any one of the cafes or restaurants with an outdoor back garden (like Taberna de los Frailes or Soletana Cafe Santuario) or indulge in a handmade empanada at Tresvanbien

The deep blue waters of the cenote at Hacienda San Lorenzo are surrounded by buff and off-white stone walls strewn with long vines dangling from the top of the frame to the surface of the water. To the left, a black inner tube floats on the water.
Beat the crowds you might find at Cenote Zací by taking a dip at Hacienda San Lorenzo, which played a role in the War of the Castes © nodostudio via Getty Images

Off-the-beaten path cenote and 18th century hacienda

After you’ve refueled with caffeine, make your way (via bike) to Hacienda San Lorenzo: a gorgeous 18th century estate with high pink-orange archways, pool, and on-site cenote. You’ll travel down long dirt and gravel roads in the countryside (about 20-25 minutes outside the city center) before arriving to the verdant site.

The winding staircase at the cenote’s entrance takes you deep below the earth to reveal a blue-green pool with swinging ropes and life jackets for swimmers. Long, hair-like trails of tree roots hang from overhead as you swim. The cenote closes at 5pm, so be sure to get there as early as possible to make the most of the sun’s rays. 

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A blue and white plate of three pork tenderloin tacos topped with hardboiled egg in double flour tortillas sits on a warm wooden table next to a hot magenta woven cloth with tiny blue and yellow stripes
A trip to Valladolid isn't complete without trying dishes like cochinita pibil and lomitos – pork tenderloin tacos topped with egg © carlosrojas20 via Getty Images

Historic sightseeing, plus tacos

On your way back into the city, ride past the historic Convent of San Bernardino of Siena near Parque Sisal. Construction for the first home of the Franciscan Order in Valladolid began in the mid-1500s and is one of the oldest colonial structures in Yucatán. Grab a quick taco (because Mexico, right?) at the nearby Yerbabuena del Sisal. 

Eclectic design meets tasty cuisine

End your day-long excursion with dinner (and perhaps live music) at Casa Conato Cultural 1910. With its rooftop terrace, garden area, shop, and delicious food, this unassuming, art-centric restaurant is a perfect way to wind down for the evening in Valladolid.

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