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The San Bernardino Convent in Valladolid

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The Calle de los Frailes, or the Street of the Friars, cuts diagonally across Valladolid, completely ignoring the otherwise strict grid-plan. A little fresh, but we’ll allow it. This is one of the Valladolid’s most historic streets, home to specialty shops and popular restaurants, and it ends at the steps of the San Bernadino Convent.

Valladolid Convent

Construction started on the San Bernardino in 1552, under the auspices of Franciscan monks who had settled in the newly-formed city. Local Maya laborers were politely asked to help build the immense convent, and were happy to do so, as they were well-paid for their efforts. (Or, was it that they were obligated to work like slaves, and then forcibly converted to a foreign religion under threat of torture… I can’t remember.) Today the convent serves as both a church and a museum.

During the Caste Wars of the nineteenth century, the San Bernardino was repeatedly attacked and lost much of its priceless artwork. But inside, you can still find a few surviving paintings, as well as weapons from the war recovered from the large cenote that sits directly underneath the building. The water of this cenote was used in the convent’s kitchen and bathrooms, and was extracted using a large stone waterwheel which can still be seen in the unkempt back garden.

In front of the San Bernardino is a large flat park which, when we visited, was being used as a soccer pitch by a group of local kids. It was early in the evening, and the whole place was conspicuously quiet, especially in comparison to the jam-packed Plaza Grande of Valladolid. The convent is apparently just far enough outside the town center to discourage most tourists, but don’t let the distance discourage you. This was among our favorite places in the city.

Location on our Map

-Where we stayed in Valladolid: Casa Hamaca

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January 30, 2014 at 11:36 pm Comments (0)

The Casa de Los Venados

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The largest privately-held collection of modern Mexican art in Mexico can be found in the home of John and Dorianne Venator, in Valladolid. The couple have been indulging their passion for over 35 years and have packed their house, one of the city’s most historic properties, with over 3000 individual pieces.

Casa de Los Venados

Casa de los Venados, or “Home of the Deer”, is both a play on the Venator surname and a nod to the importance of the animal to the region and to the ancient Maya. Though this is a private home, the Venators open it daily at 10am for tours. They’re originally from Chicago, but after John made a fortune as the CEO of a non-profit organization, they chose to settle down in Mexico.

The villa is found just meters away from Valladolid’s main plaza, and stepping inside can be a shock to the system. Almost every conceivable inch of wall and floor space is occupied by a piece of contemporary Mexican art. The famous skeleton figure of the catrina makes frequent appearances, as does Frida Kahlo (not her works, but her likeness). There are amazing chandeliers, one-of-a-kind paintings commissioned by the Venators, strange pieces of furniture and colorful modern sculptures. I half expected to peer around the backyard and see a team of enslaved artists working on new pieces.

The Venators made sure to grace our tour with their presence, so that they could point out their latest purchases and tell us about upcoming acquisitions. They don’t seem to be pausing their obsession anytime soon, so if you’ve got a sweet tooth for Mexico’s colorful modern art, don’t pass up the chance to peek inside the doors of their one-of-a-kind house.

Location on our Map

Framed Photos From The Yucatan

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January 30, 2014 at 6:29 pm Comments (0)

The Cenotes of Valladolid

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An inexhaustible number of cenotes riddle the limestone earth of the Yucatán Peninsula, but Valladolid is blessed with some of the most beautiful. In a single morning, we visited three, the first of which is right in the middle of town.

Cenotes Valladolid

The Cenote Zaci takes its name from the Maya city on top of which Valladolid was founded. We visited after enjoying breakfast at the city market. Given its location in central Valladolid, I had expected a small pool, but this was a massive cave, shaded by trees and shrubs. We descended a set of stairs and felt as though we’d entered a lost jungle paradise, unable to believe that this gorgeous pool is in the middle of a busy city.

But it is in the middle of a busy city. Let’s just say that, although it’s technically allowed, I wouldn’t want to swim at the Cenote Zaci. And the locals apparently agree. Despite the morning heat, there wasn’t a single person in the water.

In the nearby town of Dzitnup are two of the Yucatán’s most celebrated cenotes: Xkekén and Samulá. Dzitnup can be reached by bike from Valladolid; after the pleasant 20-minute ride, you can reward yourself with a cool swim. The two cenotes are right across the road from each other, and though you have to pay for each separately, both are worth seeing. We started at Samulá, which is famous for the dangling roots of the giant alamo tree that sits above it. Xkekén was perhaps even more stunning, a massive cavern with stalactites and crystal blue water.

Dzitnup is a popular bus stop on the well-established route between Cancún and Chichén Itzá, so the chances of finding its cenotes unoccupied are slim-to-none. They’re extremely photogenic, but the crowds and ubiquitous vendors are off-putting. We stayed out of the water.

Locations on our Map: Cenote Zaci | Dzitnup

Great Place To Stay In Valladolid

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January 30, 2014 at 5:32 pm Comments (0)

Valladolid

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We spent two nights in Valladolid, the second city of the Yucatán state. Found two hours due east of Mérida, near Chichén Itzá, it’s a magical place… and that’s official. In 2006, Mexico added Valladolid to its honorary list of Pueblos Mágicos, only the second town in the Yucatán to win the honor, after Izamal.

Vallodolid

Our base of operations during our stay in Valladolid was Casa Hamaca, a Maya-themed hotel a few blocks south of the Plaza Grande. True to its name, each of the rooms has a hammock if you want to stretch out. And the downstairs bar is a great place to relax and chat with the owner, an expat from North Dakota who has lived here for years and can offer great advice on the area.

Valladolid was founded in the 1540s, on top of the former Maya town of Zaci. Its somewhat isolated location and proximity to the important sites of Chichén Itzá and Ek Balam have historically made it the target of a lot of indigenous aggression. In 1848, Maya rebels even managed to take total control of the town, slaughtering or forcibly removing anyone of European descent.

Things are more peaceful today, and Valladolid has earned a well-deserved status as one of the Yucatán’s most beautiful cities. Found on the road between Chichen Itzá and Cancún, there’s a constant stream of tour buses pouring into the place. Apparently, Valladolid only rates a “Quick Stop” on the standard itinerary. We sat at a cafe on the corner of the Plaza Grande, watching each bus unload its frantic passengers. They were given just enough time to run off the bus toward the cathedral, snap a few pictures, and then sprint across the plaza for a picture of the Palacio Municipal, before running back to the bus. (A considerable number skipped the sight-seeing, and instead made a beeline to the tequila bar next to us).

The upside of this speed-tourism is that the rest of Valladolid is reserved for those who have more time. And with some of the Yucatán’s best cenotes, beautiful little plazas, an amazing convent, and an agreeably slow-paced atmosphere, this is the kind of town which rewards those who linger.

Location on our Map

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January 29, 2014 at 10:54 pm Comments (8)
The San Bernardino Convent in Valladolid The Calle de los Frailes, or the Street of the Friars, cuts diagonally across Valladolid, completely ignoring the otherwise strict grid-plan. A little fresh, but we'll allow it. This is one of the Valladolid's most historic streets, home to specialty shops and popular restaurants, and it ends at the steps of the San Bernadino Convent.
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