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Valladolid: Almost Famous

semi-overcast 28 °C

When we were researching our trip, Valladolid kept coming up; often described as a "hidden gem" or "off the beaten track". Well this Pueblo Magico is solidly on the Yucatan tourist trail now. Bus loads of day trippers arrive daily from Cancun, Tulum and Playa del Carmen, fitting in visits to Chichen Itza, followed by a swim in a cenote and a couple of hours to wander about Valladolid. The day we arrived, this is what the main plaza looked like - no fewer than 15 buses lining the square.

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Then there was this woman; speaking in a very animated fashion into a mic. She and her partner moved further into the park, where she gave a cheeky little wave to a lineup of bemused men sitting on the bench who were probably trying to determine if she was someone they should know. She twirled, tilted her head, flashed a wide smile and began talking again. I suspect she was an influencer, that peculiar breed of attractive young people who somehow manage to attract a large social media following, and then parlay that into lucrative merchandising endorsements. We've watched a few influencers in action in Mexico and I have to say, I don't get it. But then, when I was young, I was probably convinced that a pair of Calvin Klein jeans would turn me into Brooke Shields.

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Tourist overload aside, Valladolid deserves a visit for longer than a few hours. it is a pretty colonial city of around 50,000, built on the ancient Maya city of Zaci, and surrounded by cenotes. Cenotes are freshwater sinkholes that have been created when caves collapsed and are open-air, or half-covered or entirely underground. They are often filled with small fish and are usually cool and very clear. There is a cenote right in the middle of town, but it is currently closed as major work is being done in the area to create easier bus access and larger facilities. Cenotes are big business - we visited one and will tell you about it in a minute, but first let me tell you about this engaging, walkable friendly little city.

Every city centres around the main zocalo and cathedral - in Valladolid, it is the Cathedral of San Servicio, first built in 1545 and then rebuilt again in the 1700s.

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The zocalo is lined with imposing buildings - municipal offices, colonnades, cafes and restaurants. It is one of a number of meeting places in the city.

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Our cute little hotel, Casa Bamboo, was centrally located and within a 10 minute walk to the Candelaria neighbourhood, which is quite beautiful - filled with parks, leafy streets, gorgeous colonial homes and a couple of streets filled with really great restaurants.

Burrito al Amor - one of our faves - an open showpiece kitchen, fresh, local food and a server who spent his high school years in Edmonton. The adjacent room was filled with delightful art made from sisal and pottery.

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Another favourite place - Casa Ahal, billed as Mayan fusion - so delicious. The photo is of owner Jose and his mother Maria. Jose lived in Chicago for fifteen years and in the past two years moved back to Valladolid and opened this place to great acclaim. He was the consummate host, working the room, with his wife cooking in the kitchen and his mother out front. That woman never sat down and according to Jose, adds up all the bills in her head. He proudly told me she was 82, which was impressive until I realized that a number of my friends and family are that age or close to it!

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At his suggestion, I tried panuchos ("the reason I moved back to Mexico".) They are handmade corn tortillas, fried on a comal and topped with a variety of items - in my case vegetarian. Crunchy, salty, sweet, umami - they were perfection.

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We walked by a car with the tunes just blaring and looked in, expecting to see a young guy, but as soon as he caught our eye, this gentleman jumped out and proudly posed beside his car - 60 years old, apparently. (the car, not the driver.)

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This building used to be a textile factory, run by steam, and is now a library.

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A church bordering the park.

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I watched a mum with her two little boys, and one of them called out, "Good morning" and then both kids dissolved into giggles. Many more "good mornings" before I made my way past.

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A typical home that lines the park.

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Some street scenes throughout the city.

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Another beautiful area is La Calzada de los Frailes - built in the 16th century as a pathway between Valladolid and the little town of Sisal (now a neighbourhood). This street is a photographer's dream and a joy to stroll along as there is very little traffic.

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The shops on this street all fall into a certain category - tasteful, hand-crafted, perfectly curated. Items you didn't even know you wanted, until you had the chance to admire how perfect they all are.

This shop, billed as a "concept store" pretty much sums it up.

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This vegan/vegetarian restaurant was wonderful - great atmosphere and such clean, fresh food with a Yucatan twist. One dish I had was roasted cauliflower, served with a spicy tomato pumpkin seed dip. Two things I will miss when we are back home - the avocados - you just cannot find avocados this plump and ripe and flavourful in Canada, and the freshly squeezed juices - the lemon with mint and ginger, the hibiscus, the fresh orange juice.

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The reconstruction of a Mayan cottage sits toward the end of the street. It is not open to the public - a family lives in this home - I saw them hanging laundry out back.

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Right next door to the cottage is this derelict building that appears to have been abandoned for many years. It stand out on a street filled with beautifully finished homes, so I wonder if plans for a restoration are in the works.

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It is not uncommon to see whole families on scooters and motorbikes in Mexico. Old grandmothers riding sidesaddle, girlfriends hugging their boyfriends tightly, and this little fellow - perched up high in front of his dad. He gave us a jaunty wave as we walked by.

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Dog dirt is a definite walking hazard - picking up after your pet does not appear to have registered in a big way in Mexico. This sign, reminding dog owners that their animal's business could end up on the hands of someone in a wheelchair, sends a powerful message. Bad enough if it ends up on your shoes, but on your hands - gross.

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At the very end of the street lies the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena, built by the Franciscan missionaries in 1560 to save the heathen Mayans and convert them to Christianity. The convent and grounds are open to the public and it was a very pleasant way to spend an hour or so in the cool interior.

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We were stopped from entering the church by three burly men who informed us that "the woman was being dressed". Intrigued, we discovered we were able to sneak a peek from the upstairs balcony. Indeed, a "woman" was being dressed in native costume - a mannequin - but we have no idea who she was supposed to be or what her relationship to Jesus was.

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And finally - our day at the cenote. There are a good number of cenotes to choose from - some a lot more elaborate and well-equipped than others. Unfortunately, the cenotes that appealed to us the most were also the ones that were close to Chichen Itza and featured on the tour bus runs, so very crowded.

We decided to go to Hacienda San Lorenzo - Oxman cenote, about a 10-minute cab ride away. The Hacienda offered the cenote, a pool, hammocks, and a restaurant, and it had decent reviews. It sounded like we could spend a few hours there. We arrived to a long walkway up to the hacienda, then headed for the changerooms and made our way down a long staircase to the cenote.

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The cenote was quite beautiful - surrounded by hanging roots and vines; the water crystal clear and filled with fish, including some decent-sized catfish. There was two ways into the water - make your way down a slippery set of stairs, or line up on the platform, wait for the swinging rope to come within reach, grab the handle, swing yourself out and jump.

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When you grab the bar on the rope and let go, it creates a good momentum, and if you grab and jump enthusiastically, you may well end up jumping from 20 feet or so, and running the risk of a spectacular belly flop. Stephen went first and the look on his face when he surfaced decided it for me. I headed for the stairs. Then I saw a lady not that much younger than me grab the bar and jump and I attempted it again. I looked down, at the water far, far below and froze. I have very poor depth perception. I once had to walk back off a regular 1-metre diving board at an aquatic centre, to my deep humiliation and the slow clap from the men sitting in the nearby hot tub.

Lots of people were encouraging me to jump, and I tried it a third time and again, had to walk away. I have to tell you, I am deeply regretful. There is no way I could have hurt myself, and I couldn't have drowned - the life jackets kept us all bobbing like corks. So, if there is a next time, I will grab that rope and I will jump.

After our time in the cenote, we had our lunch around the pool. I can honestly say this was the worst food we have had on this trip. Stephen had tasteless enchiladas and I had a mystery meat pork dish that was so tough and chewy I was afraid to eat it. Then we thought we might just lounge around the pool, but with just six lounge chairs, there was no place to sit. On top of it, a number of Mexicans were in the pool with their street clothes. This is quite common in Mexico - we've encountered this before and signs posted asking for swimsuits are to no avail.

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So...we chalked the cenote experience up to being too much of a good thing, and definitely in danger of being over-touristed.

And that ended a very enjoyable time in Valladolid. Tomorrow we are off to Isla Holbox - a 2 hour bus ride, followed by a 15-minute ferry. We'll be there for six days, and I may not be in touch for a while. At this point, Holbox is still a little rustic - just one ATM that runs out of cash, and spotty wifi. See you again whenever it is possible.

Posted by millerburr 22:40 Archived in Mexico Tagged valladolid cenotes cathedral_of_san_ servicio panucho casa_bamboo casa_ahal convent_of_san_bernardino_de_si

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Comments

OMG, that would totally be me jumping in… or not!! When we swam with the manta rays in Hawaii my sister and I had to tell ourselves of how bad the regret would be if we didn’t just go in. It was such a highlight watching our kids and husbands swim close up and personal with these huge mantas swimming like ballerinas. You , as always, are inspiring and are leading us along the way!! I’m sure you were Brooke’s doppelgänger…and still are!!!

by Deb

Yes, if is involves risk (cenote), it good to send Stephen in first. That way you don't have to search for the Greek balm to treat your pain or injuries. It was nice to see father and son were both wearing helmets on the motorbike photo. Hotbox should be a memorable trip to all accounts. We look forward to your experience.

by Bob

Wonderful, colourful walk through Valladolid with you! The streets & brightly painted buildings are much more appealing to the eye than the Azorean towns. But also more touristy too. We laughed at the cenote swing story, sounds like us, but it is generally Gord backing away 🤣.

by Kris McDonald

Just what I love to see in your posts- colourful shops, interesting architecture and great food. It doesn’t get any better than that for me! Thanks for the treat!

by Heather Scott

Such a wonderful discovery - Valladolid - reminding me of Oaxaca Your mixture of local life and cenote adventures made me chuckle but what really caught my eye was ‘Las heces de tus mascotas terminal en mis manos’ a nightmare for all of us in wheelchairs !

by Pippa

Fabulous trip! Would love a swim in those cenotes too!

by Robin Louise Pile

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