Playa del Carmen, Mexico's virtual guidebook written by locals

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A Colonial Town with a Long History

The colonial town of Valladolid was founded in 1543 by Francisco de Montejo, who established Spanish rule in most of the Yucatán peninsula. As in so many other places in the New World, the Spanish built their own churches on the site of the old pagan temples. Valladolid used to be a Mayan town by the name of Zací.

Violent Past

It wasn't easy for the Spanish to get a firm hold of power in the Yucatán, and this region has seen several uprisings against power. The area around Valladolid has been the center of many revolts, especially during the mid-19th-century War of the Castes, when oppressed descendents of the Maya clashed with the privileged landowners. During this war many of the churches of Valladolid were looted and the interior ornaments are therefore not as plentiful as they once were. But there are still some beautiful colonial churches left in Valladolid, for example the convent and church of San Bernardino de Siena, founded in 1552, making it the oldest church in the Yucatán and one of the oldest in the Americas.

El Zócalo

View over the pretty main square of Valladolid, about 2,5 hours from Playa del Carmen.By the main square, the Zócalo, you can still find some of the colonial flavor of Valladolid. There you can walk through the archways, visit a few shops or restaurants or just place yourself on one of the many stone benches around the square and look at people going by. Keep a lookout for weathered Spanish coats of arms above the doorways of some of the older buildings. On the north side of the Zócalo, there's a covered food court. This is an excellent opportunity for you to eat some real Mexican antojitos. There are a dozen or so places to eat there, all serving pretty much the same stuff. There's no way of telling which one is best, so we suggest choosing the place where you see the most locals eating. Order a few different antojitos, for example salbutes, tostadas and panuchos. Read more about antojitos and other Mexican food in our Mexican Food article

Amazing Caves

Valladolid also offers several interesting cenotes, including Zací, in town, and Cenotes X'keken and Samula, just outside town, in Dzitnup. If you still have not visited a cenote, here's your chance to see a couple great ones. The first one, Zací, is located only two blocks east of the main square. It has a eerie atmosphere and is not suitable for swimming. Check it out if you happen to be walking by, but we normally give it a pass. Cenotes X'keken and Samula are located near the town of Dzitnup, about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) southwest of town on the freeway towards Chichén Itzá and Mérida. A sign marks the turn to Dzitnup. Cenote X'keken is well worth a visit. Using a worn staircase you descend to this giant cave, highly decorated with stalactites and stalagmites. Daylight pours in through an opening in the roof, lighting up an underground lake with cool, refreshing, crystal-clear water. Long roots hang down from the ceiling, seeking water to nourish the trees above ground. This is a magnificent natural wonder! Do bring your swimsuit to enjoy a highly memorable and refreshing dip in one of the coolest cenotes you will find in the area.

Entrance fee is 14 pesos, about a buck and a half. There's free parking right by the entrance and a number of stalls where you can pick up some local handicrafts for a good price. There is also a bunch of kids there, who will surround your car, trying to guard it for you, or take you on a tour of the cave. Sometimes they can be a little annoying, but we highly enjoyed the tour led by our young guide Pablo Pedro. After telling us the history of the cave and pointing out some naughty stone formations, he sang us some bombas, or funny little songs. If you choose to accept the services of a child guide, remember to lay down 20 pesos or so for the trouble. However, one might argue that these children ought be in school, and that our donations only contribute to their scholastic delinquency. Your call.

A 'New' Addition

Across the road from X'keken, the beautiful cenote Samula has recently been opened to the public. This great underground cavern has a small opening in its roof. Recently, a wall has been built to prevent people from falling in. A local guide working the site can show you an interesting artifact in this opening. Entering from the side access, you will be amazed at the light that passes through the roof opening in a shaft down to the water surface about 20m/60' below. There's a railing to hold on to. Entrance fee to this off-the-beaten-path site is 10 pesos, about a buck.

Getting There – Suggested Day Trip

It will take you about 2.5 hours by car to get to Valladolid from Playa del Carmen. There are several daily buses between Playa and Valladolid, but we suggest renting a car and make it a great day trip. Start early and combine Valladolid with the amazing Mayan ruins Chichén Itzá or Ek Balam. It breaks up the trip nicely and offers lots of variety and authenticity.

Driving there is not difficult. From Playa del Carmen head south to Tulum. Just after you pass the ruins of Tulum, take a right on the road heading to Coba. There is a sign. After about 40 minutes you get to a four way crossing of slightly makeshift design. Head straight through it (Coba is to the left and the right road will take you to Cancun). Drive till you get to a T-crossing where you take a left. You'll soon reach the outskirts of town. Follow signs to Zocalo or Centro. If in doubt, just ask anyone - Mexicans are usually very helpful and friendly! You can also take the bigger and safer highway, but it has a hefty toll of almost 20 usd. Read more about that in Chichen Itza - Road description. One last thing - read our useful tips on driving in Mexico in our General Information department Getting Around.