Valladolid, Mexico – plenty of colonial charm, but you can’t ignore its violent past 2


Stinking hot, every surface burning to the touch; the roads and buildings and pavement all reflecting the sun’s rays, intensifying them, directing them onto the few individuals braving it on the streets of Valladolid during the height of a summer’s day.

Valladolid, Mexico

Valladolid, Mexico. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

The heat makes you languid, sluggish, sloth-like; people walk at a snail’s pace, they limit unnecessary movements, they even reduce the speed of their speech.

Valladolid, Mexico

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

But the summer sun does more than that, it also lights up Valladolid, gives the city a golden glow, a sepia cast, like the film reels of yesteryear.

If you find yourself hankering for the good old days, or yearning to get a feel for Mexico as it might have been during the colonial era, then a trip to Valladolid on a baking hot summer’s day might be for you.

The founding of Valladolid

Convent of San Bernadino de Siena. Valladolid, Mexico

Convent of San Bernadino de Siena. Built by Fransiscan missionaries in mid-16th Century. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Valladolid, founded in 1545, was named after the Spanish capital at the time (Madrid didn’t become the capital of Spain until 1561).

The conquistadors built their new city on top of a Mayan settlement called Zací. The Mayan city was demolished, wiped from existence; the new city created from the rubble of the old.

Valladolid, Mexico

Photo credit: Benjamin White

The Mayan inhabitants, as you may imagine, weren’t too happy about proceedings. They fought back. The Spaniards had superior weaponry though; the Mayans never stood a chance.

Cathedral San Gervacio. Valladolid, Mexico

Cathedral San Gervacio. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Roll forward a couple of centuries and Valladolid is front and centre in the Caste War of Yucatán (1847 – 1901). It was the downtrodden Mayan majority rising up against the European-descendant elite (who became known as the Yucatecos).

In 1847 the Yucatecos executed a Mayan leader in the central square of Valladolid, and followed it up by torching several Mayan villages in the region and slaughtering their inhabitants indiscriminately. The Mayans formed a rebel army. Many Yucatecos were killed in the ensuing carnage.

Fighting was so fierce in 1848 the Yucatecos were forced to abandon the city.

Zací Cenote, Valladolid

Just outside the city centre, in a dusty park, with little to announce its presence, lies the sombre Zací Cenote, a large sinkhole filled with fresh water.

Zací Cenote, Valladolid, Mexico

Zací Cenote. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Zací Cenote isn’t the prettiest of cenotes (it’s certainly no rival to Cenote X’keken and Cenote Samulá), but it is worth a visit all the same. The cool green grotto provides an escape from the heat of the plains if nothing else.

You can swim here too, although if you aren’t enchanted by the smell of guano then it probably isn’t for you.

Valladolid, Mexico

Valladolid by night. Photo credit: Benjamin White


Practical information:

Valladolid lies 150 km west of Cancun. Collectivos and buses make the trip in about two hours.

Attractions in the region include the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza (44km away) and Ek Balam (27km away), and Cenotes X’keken and Samulá at Dzitnup, which lie just 7km outside of town.


More on Mexico:

Chichen Itza – posterchild of the Mayan Empire

Uxmal – home of the Pyramid of the Magician

Campeche – site of the largest pirate attack in history

Cenote X’keken and Cenote Samulá, Dzitnup

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