Valladolid and the Pink Lagoons of Las Coloradas

This beautiful mid-sized city is a centerpoint if traveling from Mérida towards Quintana-Roo and is also in a centralized location if looking to visit Chichén Itzá.

Named after the at the time capital of Spain, Valladolid, it’s name was taken from the Arabic expression Ballad Ad Walid. Built on top of the Maya town Zaci-Val in the mid-1500’s by the Spanish.

Today Valladolid is a place I could’ve spent more time in being absolutely beautiful, so full of history and culture and also being only a little bit touristic. If this was a destination city I couldn’t tell. With a population of just under 50k residence, it had a city feeling compared to some of the other smaller towns around but with a small town vibe.

(A heads up to our lack of photos of actual Valladolid as we only use our photos, our camera was non-functioning at the time and the idea of using our phones hadn’t clicked during this trip…)

Leaving Homún for Valladolid

Unless things have changed since the summer of 2019 which is when we visited the only way we could find to get to Valladolid besides renting a car or finding a personal driver beforehand, the only way was to catch a colectivo from the same town center which ran a few times a day back to Mérida, heading back north. As luck had it, our colectivo did breakdown on the return as well leaving us waiting along with the other riders for another company van to pick us up.

Back in Mérida we walked to the Fiesta Americana Mérida terminal to catch a ride back South towards Valladolid. I believe tickets were just over $10 a person for the 2.5 hour haul.

Our plan once again was an impromptu arrival finding stay once we either got close or arrived. This time with though, Bia sitting in the row ahead of me made friends with a young couple who both resided in Valladolid but also invited us to stay with them. Looking online I was able to find great priced hostals but as we were only planning on staying a couple days took the two up on their offer.

Places to stay

Hostel La Candaleria and Casa Xtakay are both highly rated hostals both located near the city center. Each for just over $10 a person per night with breakfast included aren’t too bad of a deal if looking for a place.

Stuff to do

Since we had our new friends who became the best tour guides as they new the inside’s and outside’s of the city and history we took a more local take to Valladolid. When we arrived at night the town was totally alive. Festivities in the streets and warm sounds of music floated through the air. The touristic downtown area was walking distance to all of the nightlife we could imagine. Our friends first brought us to what seemed to be a mix of reggaeton and electrocumbia followed by a salsa club.

Boogaloo

I could be wrong on this spot but I believe this was the salsa club that brought me into a whole new world. Not the first time in a salsa bar by any means but the magic was unreal here. A definite swing through.

Cenotes Zaci and Samulá

If you didn’t get enough of the cenotes in Homún or came from the other direction there are a couple here. Cenote Zaci is located in the center of town and is above a restaurant with an entrance fee of 30 pesos or dining in while spending at least 100 pesos if I remember correctly. Samulá is just outside of the city and cost was 80 pesos a person then.

There was another cenote we heard of beneath one of the oldest and most popular convent/museum in town but not too in the know of how to access this one even if available.

Convent San Bernardino de Siena

The former convent of San Bernardino de Siena (interesting history of the Saint btw San Bernardino) is one of the oldest convents in the Yucatán peninsula. It’s absolutely huge and into the night has a light show that’s portrayed among its giant exterior.

Mercado Municipal

A giant farmers that actually extends for many more blocks of vendors selling just about anything you can imagine. Also besides just picking up some of the freshest produce around, you can grab the Yucatán version of a tamale, steaming in a banana leaf wrapped in twine. A corn meal sort of, pozol usually accommodated and drank from a jicara (interesting comparison, jicara nearly sounds the same as xicara which in Portuguese is a small cup but a common name where jicara is particularly referred to as a hollowed gourd drinking vessel).

Chichén Itzá

Of course if you’re in the area and you’d like to see Maya ruins dating back over 1000 years and only about 45 minutes outside of Valladolid, you’ll have the chance to make a stop here. We didn’t make it ourselves as we’d came from other Maya ruins not long before but highly recommended so many friends we’d spoken with. A little more pricey than the previous ruins we’d visited but for ancient life experience, it’d be less than a night out back in the states.

Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas

For deep pink lagoons and rivers sometimes filled with flamingos on one of the most northern and remote parts of the Yucatán you’ll have to check this place out.

Both of these destinations just north of Valladolid can be accomplished on a day trip. We chose to focus just on Las Coloradas as well as wander the small village.

To get there we had to first go to the Valladolid bus station and catch a 2nd-class Ado bus to Tizimín, a city similar in many senses to Valladolid and situated just under an hour north. This ticket was just under $4 a person.

From Tizimín, around the corner from this bus-station was the Autobuses Del Noreste station where you could buy tickets to either town (roundtrip) for about $8-$10 total. Note, Rio Lagartos is about 10 miles before Las Coloradas. We visited the further not to say anything was better than the other and fully enjoyed Las Coloradas.

If waiting for your bus while in Tizimín, take the time to explore the downtown. It’s full of markets, beautiful old convents and full of life. It reminded me of a slightly smaller Valladolid.

Las Coloradas focus was to see the incredible pink waters caused by brine shrimp, plankton and red colored algae that thrive in these very salty waters. The small fishing village itself seems to spend it’s other resources towards tourism with guys on motorcycles waiting for new arrivals in the entrance to the town.

When we arrived every person was attempting to sell a tour for the lagoon. Men with dust bands covered their face, fully clothed under the beaming-sun. Along with the salt, this place seemed extremely warm, much warmer than any other place we’d visited so far. For starters we wanted to wander around as we usually do to explore the area by foot but were told by these tour guides we wouldn’t be allowed to access certain areas. The price wasn’t outrageous as I can remember but do believe it was about $5 per person. We did get angry response from not paying to enter the town as the guides were pretty pushy and after our guide drove away hastily, we were greeted by a city officer shortly after letting us know we couldn’t get to close to the water.

Besides the odd vibes from the initial arrival, the hot pink river and lake were quite the contrast from the baby blue sky. Lighter tones were created as they each met the horizon with the immense hills of salt seeming to blend them together.

We did see a parking lot in the distance with a gate and someone meeting the guides as they entered. From where we were we could see everything that we had came to. After taking some photos we opted to find some breeze and shade in the town.

Even at the ocean side the extreme continued with everyone that wasn’t working lying out on a beach lined with fishing boats. Continuing our walk we found a small family run seafood restaurant, ordered some fish before returning to the drop-off point awaiting our bus to return.

The bus ride each way was just over a couple hours and before we knew it, we were back in Valladolid.

Our wonderful hosts had left us keys as the house was empty when we arrived. With a big day ahead of us beginning the next morning we called it a somewhat early night, packed and ready to go.

Our take on the total area from Homún to Las Coloradas

If one was to visit the Yucatán these areas were some of our favorites in Mexico. Not to take away from anywhere else but the food was exceptional, it was a little more off the beaten path and the value along with the travel was definitely there. Thoughts of visiting the Yucatán before had predetermined we would be spending more while traveling through which ended up being the total opposite.

Knowing a little spanish was a big help as to finding colectivos which sometimes didn’t seem to be in their listed route (more in Meridá). Willingness of getting to know the people around us was also a winning factor as we got to see a more local side to the central Yucatán. Our friends had gifted Bia a beautiful traditional flowered shirt and me a handmade keychain while taking us out for food. They introduced us to Globitos con cafe for breakfast. Instant mix coffee with a sweet sort of oyster cracker added while you eat it like cereal. A local delicacy. Don’t forget to try that the street foods like panuchos, sopes, rellano negro tacos and of course the tamales.