Sure, you go to Mexico to relax. We get it. But let’s say that, after a few days of margaritas and beach time, you’re a little antsy. A quick day trip might be just the ticket.
The nearest colonial town to Cancún is ready for its close-up after two years of polishing. Valladolid is luring visitors with its replanted town square, buildings lavished with fresh coats of colorful paint, and a brand-new crafts bazaar, the Centro Artesanal Zaci, where vendors sell embroidered Mayan dresses, leather bags and huaraches, the rubber-soled sandals favored by locals. Parking spots that once surrounded the square have been banished; visitors now leave their cars in well-marked lots nearby. Stone frogs spout sparkling water in the restored fountain; handsome lampposts surround the square. This small city (pop. 90,000) founded in 1543 has never looked better.
Valladolid (pronounced vaya-doe-leed) is about a two-hour drive west of Cancún—it’s near Chichén Itzá, but don’t try to do both in the same day. This is a town rich in history. The two churches are both worth a visit. The first, the Iglesia de San Gervasio (known to locals as San Servasio), is right on the main square. A 10-minute walk southwest on Los Frailes Street will take you to the second, the 16th-century terra-cotta-colored Iglesia San Bernardino, a church and Franciscan monastery. Look for ancient frescoes, carved altarpieces and elegantly crumbling plaster walls. Retrace your steps to the town square, stopping on the way at Coqui Coqui. This stylish, Italian-flavored boutique sells gorgeous handmade scarves, fringed bags, and seven different perfumes using local scents like eucalyptus, cedar, agave and plumeria. You can even have a relaxing massage on a table in the garden.
If the day is hot, a refreshing dip will sound tempting by now. A couple of blocks away is the Cenote Zaci, and if you’ve brought a bathing suit, you can take a swim. (Cenotes are natural freshwater pools found throughout the Yucatán Peninsula, some underground.) The water is 260 feet deep and wonderfully cool, and there’s a thatched-roof restaurant overlooking the pool.
Your best lunch spot is steps away from the Iglesia San Bernardino: the surprisingly sophisticated Taberna de los Frailes, with tables in a pleasant walled garden. Try the Frailes Satay for a light meal: skewers of chicken, shrimp and beef; or shrimp Kukulcán—grilled, with achiote. Or stop at the El Mesón del Marqués hotel, right on the square, with tables surrounding an interior courtyard.
Iglesia de San Gervasio: +52.985.856.3116
Coqui Coqui: Calle 41A 207A, Sisal; +52.985.856.5129; coquicoquiperfumes.com
Taberna de los Frailes: +52.985.856.0689
El Mesón del Marqués hotel: Calle 37 #203 x 40 y 42, Acceso #2 Recepción/Estacinamiento; +52.985.856.2280; mesondelmarques.com