Arrivial in Valladolid by bus is a breeze. We came from Playa del Carmen. The bus took the coast road to Tulum and then headed inward to the state of Yucatan. The airconditioned ADO bus cost M$208 and took less than 2.75 hours. The Valladolid bus station is conveniently located pretty much right where you want to be, in the middle of town. We used the 'Triposo' App with preloaded maps with GPS to navigate our way from the bus station to La Candaleria Hostel. This app makes life super easy when you first arrive in a town and need to get your bearings. In this case, our hostel was a 4 minute walk from the bus station. Sadly, though, this isn't always the case. We were a little on the slow side this first afternoon in Valladolid, as we were both sick, so we mostly just wandered around, found food and then hung out in the hostel's hammocks.
Otherwise referred to as “My Dream Day.” This is the day I think fondly back to as I'm sitting at my desk at work starring out into the snowbanks. Its Cenote Day! As mentioned in my previous post, Valladolid is surrounded by multiple, gorgeous, exceedingly swimable cenotes. We rented bikes from our hostel for M$100/day and went off on our adventure after breakfast. As someone who is slightly obsessed with experiencing things without a crowd, getting an early start made a really big difference.
The first stop on our bike-swim-eat-bike-swim adventure was Dzitnup Park, the home of Centoes X'keken and Samuela. About 7kms outside of Valladolid on a path alongside the highway, Dzitnup Park is pretty easy to navigate yourself to by bike. Once you get yourself on the right road its a straight shot up beside the highway until you see the big sign that says “Dzitnup” where you turn off. Prices had almost doubled for the new season (this is a theme for our trip, making it hard to budget for). The cenotes were now M$85 each or M$160 for both. If your budget isn't super tight, splurge for both. If you can only pick one, make it X'Keken. With tickets in hand, head directly to Cenote X'Keken. Oh boy are you in for a treat. As my first cenote experience EVER, I was absolutely blown away. First you head down a narrow, winding stone staircase cut in the rock. When you're definitely underground the staircase opens up and you're in a massive cave surrounded by stalagmites and a reservoir filled with fresh, crystal clear water. Natural light flows in from a hole in the spherical ceiling. Lights are strategically placed around the cenote ensuring there is enough light to see the sights above and below you. The ceiling is high and bats inhabit the nooks and crannies of the ceiling giving you a (hopefully not interactive) show as you starfish in this glorious, glorious turquoise water. Below catfish lurk, swimming close but never touching you. Coming to Dzitup early is a fantastic idea! There were only 2 other people in the cenote! I pretty much swam around for an hour saying “Wow! This is SO cool” over and over and over again. I wonder why those 2 other people left....
We walked across the park to the Cenote Samuela. This open cavern with a slightly bigger opening to the sky was a completely different cenote experience. Again, there were only a couple of other people there. With more natural light, the catfish were much more visible here. At one spot in the cenote you could stand and let the tiniest fish nip at the dead skin on your feet: Dr. Fish, only a much better deal than the $20USD they were charging at the Cancun airport! Jon loved it and let the little fishies eat their fill. I wasn't into a symbiotic relationship and moved my feet around a little to let the doctors know that I didn't have an appointment. They got the message.
Two cenotes down and we were ready for some lunch. Back on our bikes we headed to Yerba Buena del Sisal for some delicous, delicous Mexican food. Not only is Yerba Buena conveniently located in the southwesten part of town (where you'll be coming from) but it also is on the corner of the road you'll be turning on to get to your third and final cenote of the day. As mentioned, the food at Yerba buena is delicious. The staff is friendly, they don't mind you bringing your bike inside and the garden out back is a really pleasant place in which to enjoy your yummy food and drinks. This is a very vegetarian friendly restaurant. We highly recommend it.
Once you've eaten your fill its time to end your already amazing day on a high note. Get back on your bike and head to Hacendia San Lorenzo Oxman. About 4 kms out of town this cenote is spectacular. The price is now M$60, doubled from last year, but don't let that deter you. Again we were lucky to share this cenote with only a few people. At one point I even had the whole cenote to myself! A private cenote (if only for 15 mins). You can jump off the edge of cenote into the clear water (Jon did) and you can swing on a rope Tarzan-Style, flinging yourself into the cenote (Jon also did). Either of these options are possibly less dangerous than the slippery, thin and poorly constructed ladder that leads down into the water. Regardless of how you get yourself into the cenote, you're in for a treat. The opening to the sky is big enough that there is tons of natural light. Trees line the opening, their roots reaching down to the very water you're swimming in from high above. The water is a dark sapphire blue and you're surrounded by the tall, textured walls of the deep sinkhole. Even pruned and shivering after an hour in the water the last thing I wanted to do was leave. Unfortunately, even the best things have to be over eventually.
1. Bike to Dzitnup Park after an early breakfast
2. Swim in Cenote X'keken, Cenote Samuela or both
3. Bike to Yerba Buena for a delicious lunch
4. Bike to Hacendia San Lorenzo and swim in the cenote there
5. Bike back into town. Reward yourself with ice cream.
Big choice today, friends. Unless you have more time (I'm jealous) you're going to have to choose between the ruins of Chichen Itza and Ek Balam. Both are easy collectivo rides from Valladolid. Both cost roughly the same. Ek Balam has a cenote (although that’s not included in the ruins admission price), is a little closer and you can climb on it. Chichen Itza is a lot bigger, but also more popular and definitely more touristy and you certainly can't climb it (anymore).... what to do, what to do (nail biting).
We chose Chichen Itza (M$237). I'm not even sure why, that's just what happened. Everyone will tell you, and they are absolutely correct: get here early, you know, before the fanny-packers. I say this knowing that obviously, I am also an annoying tourist. Some people are cliche tour bussers and I'm a cliche backpacker. Sometimes more penny pinchy than others, but always fiercely independent and carrying all my own crap in my trusty backpack. (unless, of course I'm making Jon carry it. ) Anyways, point being, as a cliche backpacker, I have an obligatory distaste for big tour buses. I can't help it. Its just how my people are. Fellow backpackers, here is a tip for avoiding our friendly arch-nemises. Tip: Beat the buses! Get there early! Alas, such tour buses from Cancun and Playa start rolling in around 10am and by 11:30 am its jammed. Now, if you've come from the coast (Riveria), boy are you in luck. Guess what? You're in a different time zone in Valladolid and you get an extra hour in the morning! Score. SO if you've been waking up at 8am in Tulum, its only 7am in Valladolid! The extra time you need to explore Chichen Itza without having to wade through sombrero-wearing groups is built in. Seriously, this blew my mind. If you're staying at somewhere as great as Hostel La Candelaria and a hot delicious breakfast is prepared for you from 7am on, then you can eat and be on a collectivo by 8am. The collectivo (M$35) leaves from a very convenient location by the bus station. Confirm at your hostel. Granted, if you're super motivated (I'm not) or willing to skip breakfast (Definitely not) then you can always catch an even earlier collectivo and then surely you'll have the most famous of all Mexican ruins all to your proud backpacker self. We were there by 9am. The parking lot was empty and there was a handful of other travellers there snapping the obligatory photos (you know where you're jumping or holding the pyramid in your outstretched hand) Such Fun! This we can all agree on. Chichen Itza is impressive. This fact is even agreed upon by the most skeptical of all things famous (Jonathan). He loved it! We were done by 11:30 and waited for the collectivo/bus to take us back to Valladolid. The bus came first (M$30). It is a totally different bus than all those pesky tourists came on- I promise (teehee).
Back in town head straight to MAQTacos for the most delicious tacos in Valladolid (in our opinion) About M$15 each, MAQTacos has a number of options (including vegetarian) and a delicious array of free toppings and spicy sauces you can load onto your taco. The owners are friendly, helpful, talented chefs. Seriously. Eat here.
At this point, maybe you're hot from all your ruin-seeing and taco-eating. We were. Not to worry, Valladolid has a solution: Cenote Zaci. Right in town, this refreshing cenote now costs M$30. This is the most social of all the cenotes we visited. Its almost more of a local swimming hole than a secluded cave. This didn’t take away from our enjoyment of it, however. With people plunging off the high edge, a dog dodging swimmers to fetch his ball and kids splashing about, Cenote Zaci makes you feel like you're a part of the community. And don't we all, underneath it all, just want to fit in?
Where we stayed: Hostel Candelaria 783 pesos private with shared bath and hot breakfast
Eat Here: MAQTacos, Yerba Buena