Road Trip Yucatan: Valladolid, Ek Balam, Las Coloradas
Road trip report day 1
After beaching it for a few weeks with day trips here and there and exploring the hotel and food scene in and around Tulum I am ready to go on a longer road trip and explore the more remote Yucatan.
First on my agenda this year was a trip to Las Coloradas, a pink lagoon near a salt production factory in the north Yucatan along the gulf coast.
Las Coloradas is about 4 h drive from the Mayan coast where we are located and I thought a strategic plan would let us stop for a couple of nights in Valladolid where we can stay in my favourite hotel and make the trip to Las Coloradas from there.
Valladolid is a lovely old town, much smaller than Merida that tends to be a more popular destination for local visitors. I like how quaint Valladolid is and the fact that in an hour and a half I can be settled in my rooftop suite overlooking the main square and begin exploring from there. Valladolid is definitely Mayan in flavour. Even after 500 years of colonization the Mayan culture in this town persevered. Women wear traditional Mayan dress and Mayan language is audible all around.
We have our pre-trip rituals. Before leaving on a road trip we always stop at the local Italian bakery that at night transforms itself into the Italian restaurant “Paparazzi” which we frequent on Thursday nights when a tenor bellows out tunes a few feet away from our table. After ordering coffee and tortilla Español together with a couple of small croissants we settle at the wooden table outdoor and wait for our food. Invariably coffee arrives first, hot milk a few minutes later and the tortillas eventually make their way as well together with the croissants. We have gotten used to the routine and being the easy going travellers we are, do not worry about it and enjoy it as it comes.
Back at our abode we load up the SUV with the one piece of shared luggage and off we go north and then west towards Autopista Mayab aka Carretera Federal 305D connecting to toll road 180D to Valladolid. We choose this road as it is a new 4 lane divided highway that is comfortable, convenient and safe to drive. The alternative route is going through Tulum on the old road which is not bad except that has only 2 lanes, undivided.
The highway cuts through thick low jungle. Every now and then a tire tied to a tree on the side of the road indicates that someone lives there, behind, in the jungle. Perhaps the tire is meant to alert public transportation that someone may be waiting there. At least here there is fresh air, fresh water, the family can grow a few vegetables on the land and has a piece of land they can call their own.
We are on our way for not much more than an hour and some when the Valladolid sign comes up and we turn off the highway south toward the town. We have been there before and know our way but still, I put on the GPS with the hotel address just to make sure we don’t miss the turn. You hardly need a GPS because soon we can see the cathedral’s tower, located on the square in front of our hotel. Streets in Valladolid tend to be one way so we make our way to calle 37, turn left on 40 and drive the block or so to the entrance to our hotel.
There are many hotels to choose from in Valladolid but I keep returning to Hotel el Meson del Marques. This colonial hotel is situated on the main square and in recent renovations they created a corner suite with a large rooftop patio overlooking the square and the cathedral across. It’s room 510 and it has my name on it. I can watch the sun rise in the morning and set at night from my rooftop patio and have a ritual of doing both, in the morning with coffee in my nightgown, at night with an aperitif (or nothing) before dinner. That’s where I stay when we visit Valladolid. The room is modern and large and I am not going to say that everything is perfect (need more furniture on the patio, bed and linen need improvement) but still, it’s “my” suite. Other places to stay can be the chic Coqui Coqui on Calz. de Los Frailes, or the Zentik Project, a little further behind the market and not within a walking distance of the center. I prefer the El Meson del Marques because of its colonial style and the central location.
The hotel is circa 1600’s developed in an old Casona style including a large inner courtyard where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at cloth covered tables. The Marques has old colonial elegance which I enjoy, and modern conveniences that most of us expect. Yes, not everything is always perfect but I can live with it and the staff do what they can to respond to my requests.
We checked into our favourite room, unpacked, hung a few items and cleaned up a bit. In no time we were ready to go out exploring. We had no plans for dinner yet, we’ll see how it goes. We can always eat at the hotel.
We walked out the front onto the plaza and headed across toward the cathedral. I like sitting in old cathedrals for a while, watching people that come to pray and just absorbing the tranquil aura of the place. I think about all that had transpired there over the years.
After that we head outside, making our way through the dozen or so vendors selling crafts and head up calle 40 towards Calzada de los Frailes (calle 42, left where the road splits), a colonial style narrow street that connect the neighbourhood of Sisal with the Center of Valladolid. Yes, this is part of the cosmopolitan influence that comes with ex pats and tourism, but I like it. The street is a residential and commercial street and the few “designer” type artisanal shops in Valladolid are located along this narrow alley. It’s my favourite street in Valladolid, other than of course the produce market.
Here is my Calzada del los Frailes “ritual”, if you care to know:
Located at the beginning of the beautiful Calzada Cocoa is a chocolate making “museum” and store. Women in traditional Mayan dress hand-grind cocoa beans on pre Colombian stone to make traditional chocolates with modern twists. I always buy a supply that does not always make it all the way home.
This perfumeria and fragrance shop is located half way through the Los Frailes street and it is definitely worth a stop. Their perfumes are inspired by scents of the Yucatan and made mostly with local ingredients. They offer other products such as bath oils, room scents and candles. The shop is visually beautiful and I always stop there to pick up a thing or two.
At the end of the road on the opposite side from the historical Convent of San Bernardino de Siena they opened a four room boutique hotel in what used to be the home of Coqui coqui founders Nicolas Malleville and the Argentinia model Francesca Bonato. The 16th century house is called Mesón de Malleville and we stopped for lunch that left some to be desired. Don’t let that dissuade you though, any kitchen can have a bad day.
Another must stop is this beautiful shop next to Coqui Coqui where you can find unique bags designed by German ex pat Ariane Dutzi and handcrafted by Mayan women from the yucatan. Dutzi employs 23 indigenous Mayan artisans – most of them women – from Valladolid and the surrounding communities giving them a chance to employ their skills and earn an income for their families. The majority of the Dutzi bags are made from recycled burlap sourced from all over Mexico. Each bag is individually sewn and one-of-a-kind. Even the mecapál straps are hand made by one of the last families in the region trained in the traditional technique. If you love the Yucatan owning a Dutzi bag is a must. Do I have one? you know I do. Two.
Across the street you’ll find this wonderful shop selling unique intricately woven shawls of which I have two, a black and a brown. These I believe are a modern take on the traditional Mexican shawl with long fringes called rebozo.” At Montaechristo they use the rebozo for their bags, sandals, and jewelry. The Hacienda Montaecristo line features these shawls and scarves, braided leather shoes, and fringed leather necklaces. Interesting to note that this line was started by the same Francesca Bonato who founded Coqui Coqui, but with another partner Jacopo Janniello Ravagnan a.k.a Jack. It’s a small world in Valladolid.
Tresvanbien (Empanada Argentinas y Delicatessen)
Since food is my thing I stop at more than one place to eat or grab a drink. I love this little café restaurant where we sit in the back yard under a large tree and enjoy empanadas or a good fruit drink or just coffee and pastries.
Taberna de los frailes (Tavern of the monks)
This authentic and popular restaurant is located next to the San Bernardino convent of siena (circa 1552) at the end of Calzada de los Frailes and is a must visit if you are in Valladolid. Set along the ancient stone wall of the convent, the restaurant’s architecture is a blend of Colonial and Mayan and offers three sitting areas: in the Colonial garden, under the large Mayan palapa or in the stone bar near the entrance. The chef and owner (I believe), Maruja Barbachano makes delicious traditional food with a modern twist, not loosing any of the authenticity in the process. You can have the tradition dip sikil pak made with roasted pumpkin seeds, roasted tomatoes and local spices at the bar with a drink, or enjoy their cuisine at the restaurant. I enjoyed their vegetarian tamales, empanadas, grilled watermelon salad, sopa de lima and more. For a fish dish try the traditional Mayan tikin xic (fish marinated with adobo de achiote and sour oranges). The setting is beautiful and I never miss a lunch or dinner there when we visit.
Next post: day 2: Las Colorades
El Meson del Marques,
Calle 39 x 40 Col. Centro, Valladolid
Tel: +52 (985) 856 2073/3042/3571
Calle 42 No. 217, Valladolid
Tel: +52 (985) 856 2021
Taberna de los Frailes.
Calle 49 x 41-A, Barrio de Sisal, Valladolid
Reservations:+52 (985) 856 0689