Exploring Izamal and Valladolid: Things to Do in Yucatán

You have reached our full day-by-day account of our trip to Yucatán, day 2. If you would like to read the story from the beginning, including our itinerary and planning guide, start here.

Just 24 hours before we had arrived in Cancún and made our way to Chichen Itza. After a wonderful stay and a satisfying breakfast at the Mayaland Hotel, we headed out to Izamal.

The plan was to walk from the hotel to the main road and wait for a colectivo. This was (again) not the smartest idea. Not a single bus passed by in 20 min, though a few taxis stopped by. Thankfully the tour bus from the hotel saw us waiting and took us to Piste.

The road to Piste.

How to get to Izamal from Chichen Itza or Valladolid

To reach Izamal from Chichen Itza, you need to reach the nearby town of Piste, then take a bus to Kantunil, then a taxi colectivo to Izamal.

If you are in the Chichen Itza area, take a taxi to Piste for about $100 MXN and ask to be dropped at the bus and taxi stop. The bus to Kantunil is a big bus, and you pay the driver ($88 MXN, 1 hr). Ask the driver to let you know where to stop, or follow the ride with GPS on google maps.

This is the bus stop in Kantunil at the intersection with Calle 20. Cross the street to wait for the colectivo.

There are also private taxis in Piste that will take you directly to Izamal for $750 MXN (for the car, private ride). They showed me a price list, so there is not much room for negotiation.

In Kantunil, we waited a few minutes for a taxi colectivo ($48 MXN, 30 min), and we were on our way to Izamal. The taxi colectivo stop is on the left hand side of the street were the bus stops at the intersection with Calle 20 if you are following the map (in front of the yellow church, ask around).

The colectivo stop is right in front of this church.

Izamal, the yellow town

Izamal is one of the Pueblo Mágicos. The “magic towns” program is a tourism initiative in Mexico to highlight towns with great cultural importance.

Colorful Izamal letters

Izamal is an iconic pueblo in Yucatán. The Mayans built 7 pyramids in this plateau. You can still visit them, but most are not completely reconstructed. The Spanish built the town around them, so they are within walking distance of the center. It is unclear why this place was so important to the Maya, as their codices were destroyed by the friars.

Itzamatul, built in 3 stages, dating from 400-600 AC.
Kinich Kakmo – we walked around the base of the pyramid, completely missing the fact that there is an entrance and you can go to the top to see the main pyramid.

At the center of the town is the Convento de San Antonio de Padua. The Convent was built on top of the highest pyramid (using the pyramid’s stones), and you can see it from the entire town.

Convento San Antonio de Padua, founded in 1549.
The courtyard of the Convento.
Murals dating from the late 16th century.

But the charm of this town are the colonial streets, all painted yellow. When Pope John Paul II visited Izamal in 1993, the people of the town painted the town yellow as a sign of pride and respect.

Yellow walls, red doors
Loved the detailed entrances.

Where to eat in Izamal

We had lunch at Kinich Izamal. The restaurant has a rustic decor and serves traditional food from Yucatan with Mayan influences. The flavors of achiote and naranja agria (bitter orange) were present in many of their dishes, typical of this region.

Cochinita pibil (marinated pork), a Yucatán specialty

How to get to the ruins of Ek Balam and Cenote Xcanche

Our next stop was Ek Balam. This archeological complex is located about an hour from Izamal and 40 minutes from Valladolid. To save some time, we decided to take a private taxi from Izamal to Ek Balam ($700 MXN) . Be aware taxi drivers go really fast!

This is what the road looked like….not a single place to stop between towns.

If you are visiting Ek Balam from Valladolid, take a colectivo to Ek Balam ($50 MXN, Calle 44 between Calle 35 and 37).

Ek Balam was probably our favorite site to visit. The site was not crowded at all, so we had time to explore. Entrance fee is $200 MXN. The complex has about 45 structures, and they are mostly well-preserved.

The Twin temples.
The Oval Palace circular structure, thought to be related to astronomical observations..

The main pyramid is quite impressive.

Acrópolis

You can hike up (be very careful!) and see the carved stones at the entrance of the temple. This is something you will not see in any of the other archaeological sites in the area.

Tomb at the terrace level of the main pyramid.
The door frame symbolizes a jaguar’s mouth -notice the teeth carvings.
Carvings of warriors.

Cenote Xcanche is adjacent to Ek Balam ($50 MXN entrance fee). Cenotes are caves that form after limestone rocks collapse after centuries of absorbing and filtrating water. There are very few places in the world where you can find cenotes, and most are located in the Yucatán peninsula. So you should try to at least see one when you are in the region. There are different types of cenotes. Cenote Xcanche is open, giving you a nice view of the forest around it.

View from the top.

You can do a short zipline into the water (separate fee).

Note the zipline on the right side.

The walk from the entrance to the cenote is 1.5km – you can rent a bici-taxi for $70MXN round trip for 2 people.   Even if you don’t want to swim, the site is beautiful to see. You can even do a short walk around the cenote.

The ground is uneven and has some inclined areas, but it is an easy walk.

Just at closing time, we took a taxi colectivo to Valladolid ($50 MXN). Try not to be the last ones out, as there may not be any colectivos left.

Colectivo stop.

An evening in Valladolid

We arrived in Valladolid just as the sun was coming down. We were in for a surprise! The plaza was all decked out with bright lights. There were some street performers doing a Maya dance – very impressive! From there we walked to our hotel.

Valladolid plaza and Iglesia de San Servacio.

Hotel Real Colonial is a budget hotel a few blocks from the plaza. The room is clean and comfortable, and just what we expected for the price. There were a few other less expensive options in the area, and we would maybe try those next time we visit.

Double room.

Valladolid is also a Pueblo Mágico. The city of Valladolid was founded in 1543, and named after the then capital of Spain. A few years laters it was moved inland to its current location.

The colorful streets of Valladolid.

As many other cities in Mexico, it was built on top of a Mayan complex. Soon enough, a Convent was built to evangelize the indigenous tribes. Eventually, this led to a Mayan uprising in the 1800s. The Spanish had to leave the town, though they recaptured the city some time later.

There is a free light show displayed over the walls of the Convento San Bernardino. The show narrates the story of Valladolid’s colonization and the Mayan revolt.

What are the show times? – The first show at 8pm is in Spanish, followed by an English version at 8:20 pm. We where there on a Sunday and the show started at 9:00 pm, so not sure if the hours changed or it was shown later as it was December 23rd and they had a special mass in the Convent.

TIP: If you are going to the English show, sit to the right of the Convent. Most of the visitors left at the end of the Spanish show and walked towards the left to Calzada de los Frailes, blocking the view of all those that stayed.

Where to eat in Valladolid

Before the light show, we had dinner at Taberna de los Frailes. While we enjoyed our meal, it was a bit pricier than other restaurants in the area.

Tsi’ik (smoked pork dish) and Patito, the local brew

After the light show we just walked to our hotel. Along the way, we kept talking about how beautiful these towns in Yucatán are, and how come we had taken so long to visit them. We could not wait to see what the next day would bring.

Have you been to Izamal or Valladolid? Let us know in the comments!

To continue reading our full day-by-day accounts of our trip, go to day 3 here.         Get notified by email of new posts- click on the Follow button at the end of this post to subscribe.

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