Days 9 – 11: Valladolid & Chichen Itza. Our trip to a gorgeous colonial city, some stunning cenotes and Chichen Itza, one of the modern seven Wonders of the World.
As soon as we started wandering around the pretty colonial town of Valladolid we wished that our visit wasn’t so brief.
The town has colourful buildings and having moved away from the coast we got the impression that we were finally seeing the ‘real’ Mexico. Police cars were found on every street, their red and blue lights reflecting in the large puddles on the roads. We felt very safe.
On the advice of the friendly hostel worker that checked us in, we walked to a local food hall. The stalls were offering a variety of dishes but it was the Chinese stall that caught our eye. Obviously approaching closing time, the lady serving us kept piling the food on the plate and in the end, one portion was enough for two people! A Chinese feast for 87 pesos and it was really good too!
After eating we headed to the main park to see the Cathedral. Lit up at night and with colourful flags hanging from its entrance it is an impressive sight. At over 500 years old, it is a beautiful church and we noticed locals and tourists alike admiring the building from seats in the park.
As we walked the streets back to the hostel we found a bar playing music. We listened to the music, watching the locals dance on a Wednesday night and enjoyed the very reasonable cocktails (50 pesos for a Piña Coloda) and free tortilla chips and dips.
Heading home we set an alarm so we could head up to Cenote Suytun and be there for as close to opening at 9 am as possible.
When we awoke we decided to go and find an ATM. Slightly confused at how quiet the town was we realised that we’d gone back an hour & that we were now on Merida time and not Cancun time.
This allowed us to explore the virtually empty colourful streets of Valladolid. We walked down Calzada de los Frailes looking at all the lovely boutiques. With colourful flags overhead it’s renowned for being one of the prettiest streets in Valladolid and we wholeheartedly agreed with this description.
At the end of the street, you can find the impressive Convent of San Bernardino of Siena. In the corner was the colourful ‘Valladolid’ sign which when we visited was getting a lick of paint. A stray dog (Ads named him Barney because all animals should have names!) followed us around for a while and even made it into a couple of our pictures.
After a relaxed walk around the city, we headed back to the hostel and had a filling breakfast of fruit, toast and coffee. We then stored our luggage and headed to get a colectivo.
With no colectivos insight, a taxi offered to take us to Cenote Suytun for 100 pesos. As this was only 30 pesos more than the colectivo and leaving immediately, we chose that option.
We had read that you need to arrive at Cenote Suytun before 10am. After this the coach loads of tourists coming from Cancun arrive and the place becomes very busy. A lot of our early mornings were based around avoiding hoards arriving from Cancun!
Walking towards the cenote there was only one other couple around. We had to take a life jacket if we wanted to swim in the cenote and we accepted the slightly damp, musty-smelling life jacket before heading down some pretty slippery stairs into the darkness.
As we entered the cenote you see the most incredible limestone stalactites hanging from the ceiling of this vast underground cave. There is a small opening in the cave ceiling and from this, a small amount of light comes into the cave.
Beneath this is a platform and you can take a picture on this platform with the light coming down. Standing on this platform is a really great picture because it captures how tiny you are in comparison to the enormous cenote you’re standing in.
Cenote Suytun is vast and we were awed by its size and beauty. The limestone had formed the most fantastic rock formations. Just sitting there looking at the cenote was incredible and we were happily chilling there for about an hour.
The water didn’t look particularly inviting and had quite a few small black fish swimming around. There were a group of people swimming in the cenote, so we dipped our feet in the water and found the cool water refreshing. The stalactites overhead were enormous and imposing. An astounding natural phenomenon and an absolute breath-taking first visit to a cenote.
We left the cenote and headed out to the main road to hail down a colectivo to get back into Valladolid. Almost immediately a car stopped but it wasn’t a taxi, just a local called Julio who wanted to give us a lift. A lawyer from Valladolid he was extremely friendly and just loved talking to people from all over the world. He gave us tips on where to go and dropped us by Cenote Zaci in town. With a wave and a smile, Julio drove off and left us happy after such a lovely chance encounter.
Cenote Zaci was already very different from Cenote Suytun and was a lot more open. With only half the cenote covered by a layer of rock, it was a lot lighter and had lush vegetation framing the walls. Water flowed over the top creating a waterfall effect.
We both jumped into the inviting clear water and as we swam we felt little fish nibble our feet. A rather odd sensation when you aren’t expecting it! Approaching lunchtime the temperature had risen sharply so the water was perfect for cooling us down and we swam in the crystal clear waters for ages.
Upon leaving the cenote we came across an iguana so well camouflaged that I nearly stepped on him! Considering the size of him we couldn’t believe we hadn’t seen him before. He sat very still as we took a picture of him and then got bored of us ogling him, so moved away.
We headed into town to see a fountain dedicated to the Patron Saint of Valladolid. We had heard good things about the food at the restaurant but when we arrived the buffet was 350 pesos per person – at nearly USD $20 per person, it was slightly out of our budget. The staff kindly allowed us to go and look at the fountain which is bright, bold and full of colour, much like the rest of Valladolid.
Keen to go to Casa de los Venados to see their private art collection, we’d read that private tours were available at 10 am, 11.30 am and 1 pm. Aiming for the 1 pm tour we nipped into the restaurant where we’d had cocktails the night before. We opted for some local delicacies and the waiter was impressed with our choices.
Conchita pibil is slow-cooked pork with spicy seasonings. It came with beans and rice and lots of corn tortillas. The second dish, queso rellena, came with a white soup and tasted a lot better than it looked! We couldn’t really work out what we were eating but it had cheese and some sort of meat and tasted great but looked pretty unappetising.
As we were eating the heavens opened and so much rain fell that the roads turned into rivers. It seemed the thunderclouds were following us around Mexico. We paid the bill and braved the rain, only to arrive at the Casa de los Vendado to find out that the guided tour is at 10 am only. With no chance to go round the exhibition we decided to grab our things and jump in a colectivo to our hotel near Chichen Itza.
We found a colectivo quickly and in no time we were squeezed into a full minibus with our big backpacks. The van bounced along the road and in no time, most of us were lulled to sleep by the movement of the van on the bumpy roads.
An hour later the colectivo kindly dropped us straight to the hotel’s door. We’d booked Hotel Dolores Alba due to its proximity to the Cenote Ik Kil and Chichen Itza. We had night tickets to Chichen Itza, where they project lights onto all the temples and tell the history of the sight. We were excited about our visit to one of the modern seven Wonders of the World.
The rain had followed us from Valladolid so we tried to relax in some uncomfortable hammocks at the hotel, trying to coax the WIFI to work. But it wouldn’t play along.
Soon it was time to get ready. The evening was rather cool and wanting to protect ourselves from the mosquitoes we wore trousers and trainers. A taxi was called and at 6.45 pm we arrived at Chichen Itza.
We had bought our evening tickets online with our Revolut card and when we arrived we handed over our confirmation only to be told we had been emailed the tickets. The main manager of Chichen Itza was called over to help and he tried to explain they had probably gone to my spam folder.
I handed over my phone and saw that suddenly he looked very awkward and started blushing. To avoid further embarrassment he suggested we forget looking through the spam emails and he kindly took us to his office and printed out our tickets. Slightly confused by his rapid change of heart, I looked down at my phone and amongst the spam emails about Tesco Clubcard rewards and someone telling me I was now a millionaire (finally!), I saw the last two emails titles he’d read: ‘Restore your manhood’ and ‘Meet sexy’! Cringe.
We joined the queue and waited to be let into the complex. We were so excited, particularly because the group of people waiting with us was very small. We had an hour to explore the area with our audio guide meaning we’d have Chichen Itza practically to ourselves before the light show began.
Suddenly we started to feel drops of water land on us. Convinced it was residual rain from the downpour before, we suddenly saw fresh droplets landing in the puddles.
A group of Mexican OAPs started to clap loudly. Obviously a rather restrained way of expressing displeasure at the delay. This continued for a while and as the rain got harder, suddenly we were being called back into the entrance hall. Our fears were confirmed and the light show was being cancelled due to safety concerns.
Disappointed doesn’t even cover how we felt but with little alternative we enquired about how to get a refund and the kind man that had helped a few minutes earlier to retrieve our tickets applied for the refund on our behalf.
We jumped in a taxi back to our hotel and decided to have dinner and some drinks. Slightly deflated about the damp squib of a night, we headed to our room and that’s when the heavens opened. The thunder rumbled right overhead and then suddenly the lights went out. Any safety concerns they’d had were confirmed and our disappointment ebbed away as we sat in the darkness of our room.
The hotel offered a free shuttle to Chichen Itza at 8.30 am so we got up early to enjoy our free breakfast. We’d packed our main bags and packed our day bags with swimming stuff, as we planned to head to Cenote Ik Kil opposite our hotel after visiting Chichen Itza.
After coaxing an employee it was time for the shuttle to leave at 8.40 am, we jumped in the van. He dropped us on the road and we had to walk a bit further up to the entrance. By the time we arrived there was already a queue of people outside the entrance waiting to get in.
Soon a guide came to offer his services. Keen to understand more about Chichen Itza, he explained another couple was interested in taking a tour so if we joined it would split the cost and be 500 pesos. Another couple from Somerset overheard and expressing their interest we managed to get the tour for 200 pesos per person.
We were so glad we’d paid for the tour. Our guide Luis was really informative and really bought the history of the city to life and showed us some great places to take pictures away from the growing crowds. The great ball court was really impressive, explaining the outcome of the victors (not enviable!) was death. Only the best sacrifices were offered to the gods, so if you were the victor this was an honour. 😳
He demonstrated their incredible architectural skills, explaining the acoustics in the great ball court were so outstanding that players could talk to each other from the other side of the court and hear each other perfectly.
The main temple, El Castillo, is very impressive and Luis explained how the Mayans use specific numbers for their calendar and how these numbers were incorporated into the buildings.
Luis took us to a point in front of the temple and when you clapped loudly it sounded like birds squawking up in the top of the temple. The louder the clap, the larger the noise. It was unbelievable to think how old these buildings are and how this was incorporated for a specific reason.
After the tour ended we wandered around the complex at our own pace digesting all the information we’d been given. As the sun rose in the sky and once we’d finished taking all our pictures, we decided it was time to head to Cenote Ik Kil to cool off.
We jumped in a taxi and five minutes later we were there. We needed to jump in a shower before entering the cenote – this is done to try and preserve the eco-system in the cenote from harmful suntan lotions and anti-mosquito spray.
Looking in from the top of the cenote was itself very impressive with lush greenery poking out of the top. The drop is huge but there were still signs warning people that if they jump security will be called and potentially the police. I certainly had no wish to jump from that high!
As we descended some slippery steps, we found a lot of people were already in the cenote. For some reason, a lot of them were not going in the water or they were just in the water near the steps and not venturing further into the cenote.
We jumped in and started to swim further into the cenote. It was the most beautiful cenote we’d visited with what looked like a jungle sprouting from the rocks on the walls. We floated in the water and looked up through the opening in the rock into the sun, framed by bright green lianas and plants.
Suddenly we realised we were meant to be checking out of our hotel in half an hour. We jumped out, grabbed our things and headed over the road to our hotel. Enquiring on how to get back, we were told that we could get a bus to Valladolid over the road.
After a short while, a bus stopped. A few minutes of hilarity ensued as we’d boarded with our big bags still on our backs. Like a bad comedy sketch, we were like huge turtles blocking the bus, trying to turn round and nearly knocking people out and getting a lot of funny stares from the locals. At the next stop, we put the bags below & could finally relax without worrying about swinging around and sending someone flying.
Arriving at Valladolid station we bought tickets for the next bus to Tulum. We an hour to kill, so we went in search of food. Just down the road from the station, we saw a small shop with a big fire.
We sat down and were bought half a roast chicken, rice, beans, chill sauces and corn tortillas. The chicken was smokey and full of BBQ flavour. We sat with locals on the battered plastic chairs and finished every bite. With full tummies and happy smiles, we were astounded when the bill came and it was only $30 pesos per person! Valladolid was definitely winning when it came to generous meals and low prices.
We headed to the bus station and queued in a huge mass of people. Occasionally the security guards would try and shuffle us back into the full station. This usually happened as hoards of people were disembarking and no one was able to move in the sea of people. Unable to work out his motives, we stayed put until our Oriente bus arrived and we were able to jump on.
The bus was a second-hand bus and therefore half the price of ADO. The bus was extremely full and some people had to stand. We pulled out of the station and were glad to have a seat. We were on our way to Tulum and we were excited to head back to the Caribbean coast.