VALLADOLID! Pueblo Magíco — aptly named a magical town, it lies inland on the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico, about halfway between Mérida and Cancun. With a friendly relaxed vibe, this town, with a population of about 50,000, seems to me to be just about the right size for an authentic, yet relaxed Mexican vacation.
A great base for exploration of the wealth of attractions nearby, Valladolid boasts its very own cenote, or sinkhole (cave) filled with water, located not far from the centre of town, Cenote Zaci. Climbing down the winding staircase to the pool area, the water reveals itself in dark marine blue, and a plethora of black shapes emerge at the surface. Moving about among the swimmers are a black fish native to cenotes. These water bodies are known to often be extremely deep, connected through underground channels and with deep-flowing river connections. On the trip down to the cenote, stalactites are to be seen, reaching downwards from the cave roof. For more detail of the phenomenon of cenotes which are plentiful on the Yucatan Peninsula, check out islandlifemexico.com.
We spent about two weeks in Vallodolid (January 2019) and only scratched the surface of the enjoyment to be had during a relaxing stay in this pueblo. Wandering the town without destination is one pleasant way to pass time here, so colourful, friendly and lively is the daily rhythm of the town. Locals can be found busy and active in the community at almost anytime of day, in the market, in the square, carrying out the daily business of life. There is a vibrancy and openness to life in Valladolid, as in many Mexican communities. While the tourist presence is evident in the centre area, just a few blocks into the neighbourhood area, hardly another foreigner is to be seen.
A few of the attractions we enjoyed:
CASA DE LOS VENIDOS, Museum
On Calle 40, just off the main square (on the southeast side) is a quirky and unique museum, the Casa de los Venados (deer), which is the current home of a couple from the US who are Mexican folk art collectors. They live in the home, and have generously donated a portion of each day to tours within their home, during which visitors are permitted see their home and its ample collection of local (Mexican) art, hear a description of life in Mexico from a very knowledgeable Mexican guide and perhaps an opportunity to meet the owner will occur. The tour is by donation, which goes to charitable causes within Mexico, and is well worth the suggested 200 pesos (about $10 US) and more. Below are a very small sampling of the delights of the home and its collection, to be experienced on this tour. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of individual pieces to be marvelled and wondered over in this unusual museum.
Our guide, David, was thorough and animated in his descriptions. Above, he explains the use of the fruit of the jicara tree for making vessels and dishes in the villages. These bowls are used for everything — drinking, eating, transporting and storing items — though the fruit of the jicara is said to be inedible.
Entering the museum/home one immediately sees the clay tapestry shown above, on the entryway wall — enormous, my guess is approximately 15’ high by 12’ wide, it stretches to the high ceiling. It has been created, square by square, by villagers in their homes, then sent to this location in Valladolid and mounted — offering a colourful and vibrant picture of village life and all the activities involved, as one enters the home.
The owners clearly have a love for Freda Kahlo as they feature numerous works that are tributes to the artist. Ironically, though Diego Rivera is featured, it is with far less enthusiasm. Unfortunate that Freda Kahla, as so many artists over history, does not get to enjoy the appreciation.
More folk art depicting daily life, the embroidered fabric above left depicts the type of artwork often seen on the clothing of villagers. Beside it is a decoration which celebrates music, an integral part of village life.
Just off the square, the picturesque church San Servacio can be appreciated for its statuesque beauty, if not for the bloody and destructive history it has witnessed. For more about this click https://yucatanconcierge.com/san-servacio-church-valladolid-yucatan/.
The square in Valladolid, with an interesting configuration of benches circling the central fountain, facing outwards, makes an excellent location for people watching, socializing or simply relaxing with a good book.
Valladolid is not without the ubiquitous Mexican street dog. Happily though, the attitude towards these creatures seems to be slowly changing. In the forty years that I have visited this country, a sense of compassion for dogs appears to have increased, with a higher visibility of dogs with homes and regular care. As well, dogs that are living in the streets seem to be better fed, with the woefully skinny being in the minority, in my current experience. Still, programs to sterilize and medicate dogs, whether with or without a home, are needed.
Valladolid has a busy and active Mercado, located east of the centre of town by several blocks. On my excursions to the mercado to buy fruit, vegetables and a few small crafts, few foreigners were to be seen. This is a pueblo where it takes only a short walk out of the centre to enjoy authentic Mexico.
Both turkeys and chickens, fat and live (bound just above the feet), await their fate at the roadside near the market. On the right, a dog devours scraps thrown from a butcher’s table. The owner of the stall proudly declared that it was his dog and she was having a fresh breakfast, inviting me to take photos.
On the walk home from the mercado, I was amused to discover a veterinary clinic — with a stack of cages housing chickens and roosters inside the doorway — located side-by-side with a take-out cooked chicken outlet.
Most sidewalks in Valladolid, those in the centro turistico at least, are complete and without surprises. However, returning from the market, I found myself traversing the one shown below. Since shade covered the intact portion of the sidewalk — more or less — the rest was unnecessary anyway!
Colourful, and sometimes fanciful in design features, it was always a treat to wander the streets of Valladolid. On the right is the quiet inside courtyard of the Community Cultural Centre. Below we see layers and layers of paint with various colours showing on the walls of this building (as well as the mildew which is common in this humid clime). The effect is that of a distress or the faux look that is so popular in modern design treatments. We see also security bars, which are a common building feature in Latin America.
CONVENT OF SAN BERNARDINO de SIENA
A quiet exploration of the convent (below) as well as its peaceful surroundings with benches and lawns, can be found a short walk west from the centre of Valladolid. The rose coloured walls of the inner convent provide a photographer’s paradise of light.
Aaron was struck by the stonework — colour and texture — warm and interesting, and saw it mirrored in colour and pattern in my clothing. (Photo by Aaron White)
The convent is found at the end of the fashionable and expensive Calzada de los Frailes, a street rife with shops and restaurants suited to the well-heeled tourist, though a worthy wander simply for the viewing experience. Below we appreciate the charming ambiance created by the cleanly maintained Los Frailes district at sunset.
Changing neighbourhoods, we find our favourite restaurant for basic Mexican dishes — simply named Mexican Snacks, Tortes y Tacos — a couple of blocks east of the square on Calle 39. The proprietor Jorge has been running restaurants for 40 years, and has the recipes prove it. Delicioso! I highly recommend the cheese filled chiles rellenos. Jorge can also spin out a great story and entertained us for hours with stories and his perspective on many issues.
While in Valladolid we ventured out to the ruins at Ek Balam, Mayan ruins. An account with photos can be viewed here: Ek Balam, Valladolid, Mexico 🇲🇽 RUINAS. A tip for the curious tourist: We were told by our friend, Jorge, proprietor of Mexican Snacks, who has lived 40 years on the Yucatan Peninsula, that the town of Ek Balam, just minutes from the ruins by taxi, is a truly authentic Mexican village, easy to explore as a side trip the ruins exploration. This is a side adventure I truly regret having missed.
Finally, we see Aaron leaving Valentinos, a taverna with the half doors common to Mexican tavernas, which many of us have only seen in old cowboy movies. I wonder how long he was in there, and what he got up to, since women are not encouraged to enter those swinging doors, and I was not tempted to push that particular custom with my curiosity.