After a month in Cuba all we wanted was a slower pace, decent internet and for things to just be a little easier.
Our first stop was Playa del Carmen and it was exactly that. We spent two days lazing around Coco's Cabanas, catching up with emails, eating huge bowls of guacamole and taking dips in the pool.
And then we caught a bus to Valladolid and realised, oh yeah, we're in Mexico!
Two months later we're still here and it's become one of my very favourite countries (like, top 3).
Valladolid is a small, colourful town in the Yucatan Peninsula. It's known for its food, and walking around you can smell the corn in the air.
The plaza in the town centre is full of trees, sweet stalls (tamarind and chilli flavours are big here) and the 20 shoe shiners that you'll find in every Mexican town. And the quiet streets that radiate out from the square are perfect for wandering. Calzada de los Frailes in particular is lined with little boutiques and restaurants.
There are sights and things to see in Valladolid, but we didn't do much. We were just happy to be in Mexico and take it all in, stopping to look in shops (still a novelty after a month in Cuba) and snack on bowls of our new favourite dish, zizilpak (a rich, earthy Yucatan dip made from sunflower seeds).
As usual, we had a look around the local market, a 15 minute walk from the centre of town. We sat on plastic stools outside, elbow-to-elbow with Mayan women with plaited hair and embroidered dresses. And I tried my first tamale, silky smooth corn with chicken inside, covered in a fiery red salsa.
We only spent 2 days in Valladolid, but I'd love to go back. And at only 2 hours from Cancun it's an easy place to visit if you're on a beach holiday and want a slice of real Mexico.
Where to stay: Hotel Colonial la Aurora is a lovely refurbished colonial building right in the centre with nice rooms, a pool and a roof terrace.
Where to eat
- Squimz: Right near the bus station, we ate here both days and it's still the best breakfast we've had in Mexico.
- Yerbabuena del Sisal: If we had been in Valladolid for longer, we would have become regulars here. There's a focus on healthier food and the flavours just blew us away. The dips and salsas in particular were delicious and there's a lovely little garden to sit in.
- Las Campanas: We had our doubts about this place at first; restaurants in the main square are often overpriced and mediocre. But the food turned here out to be great, with a menu full of classic Yucatan dishes.
Chichen Itza was one of the largest Mayan cities, built around AD 600. There's undoubtedly a fascinating history to this ancient city, but with everything roped off and lots of large tour groups, this was probably my least favourite of the Mexican ruins we've visited. If you're planning to go, it's best to come first thing (the site opens at 8am) before it gets too busy.
How to get there: There are buses to Chichen Itza every 30 minutes from the ADO bus station in Valladolid. The first one leaves at 7:15. Return buses from Chichen Itza leave at 35 minutes past the hour. Cost: 26 pesos each way.