The summer sun felt like a warm scarf during winter, comforting, yet as I pedaled onwards, the breeze was as welcoming as the morning air. My eyes bathed in the passing scene of spectacular colonial architecture around Valladolid, one of México’s oldest towns. It is a healthy slice of history nestled in the plains of Yucatán. There are many ways to explore Valladolid, not one of them wrong, but on a bicycle, between delicious meals, is a hard one to beat. At CAFÉ Hostal Valladolid, Roxy, my guide and hostess for the day, offers this tour (as well as one without meals or a cooking class); let me tell you about it.
The satisfaction from the rays of sunshine was matched only by the warmth in my belly from a delicious breakfast prepared by Tía Elvia. This delightful Maya grandmother taught us how to cook traditional meals based on Chaya, a plant high in vitamins consumed for millennia around the peninsula. Making handmade tortillas is as fun as it sounds, slapping both hands together to flatten them to size. Roxy’s hostel, CAFÉ Hostal Valladolid, opens to a lush garden with exotic avian visitors in the early morning. Hummingbirds flicker between blues, greens, and purples as they dance among bright red flowers. It was as serene as it comes when taking a cooking class.
It was a 9 am start, but we were good to go for our biking tour an hour later. The traffic is light, and the streets are wide, making it a pleasant cycle even though we were in the city center. A policewoman gently waved us on with a gentle smile, holding back a few cars with a raised hand. Roxy pointed towards the glorious white twin towers of la Iglesia de San Servacio. She explained the construction of the church was with stones taken from a temple that once stood there. This site was where the Cupul clan fought against the first Conquistadors. Zací (pronounced sah-kee), or white hawk, was the name of the pre-Hispanic city where, on its ruins, Valladolid was founded.
Oliver, Roxy’s son who enjoys tagging along, veered towards a dirt road. He likes to see the old train track. The colonial city was once a bustling trade center with a railway system connecting the entire peninsula. Today, there are a few hidden treasures amongst the main sites where only locals can show you the way. This was one of them, an abandoned complex with rusty railway tracks and metal signs still visible.
We took an exit from the city center leading onto one of Valladolid’s wonderful bike paths. Gentle slopes canopied by lines of trees shaded our journey towards the Cenote Xla’kaj. This was the point where the joy of a morning ride was at its best. The brilliance of the natural world was all around me, but the best was yet to come. We had arrived at an entrance into the Maya underworld, which was still a sacred ceremonial space for many.
I approached the cliff edge and peeked over to see what was down below. Through the leaves, I saw crystalline water reflecting a mirror image so clear I was staring back at myself. It was breathtaking, but before I got sucked into the abyss, the desire to cool off in this marvel of nature was too much to bear. I was ready to take the plunge from one of the protruding cliff edges into the deep blue, along with Oliver, who is always keen to show visitors how it’s done.
My pace was a little slower on the way back, but the thought of the slow-roasted suckling pork waiting for us back at Roxy’s hostel made me pedal faster. Cochinita Pibil, which can also use chicken (and would then be called Pollo Pibil instead), consists of digging a hole, lighting a stove inside it with firewood and stones, and cooking the marinated meat over low heat, all covered with more soil. I was excited to try this traditional Maya dish from the Yucatán Pensinsula that has become world famous. The barbeque aroma, mixed with bitter citruses, flared into my nostrils and my mouth watered as Tía Elvia produced the shredded flavored pork wrapped in banana leaves. I devoured the meal unashamedly and finished with an ear-to-ear smile.
After a rich and earthy coffee sourced from the mountains in Chiapas, I took a short walk from Roxy’s hostel towards the town center. It is still untouched by the ravages of unsustainable tourism, and people are extremely friendly. Valladolid is vibrant with color, with its colonial façades draped in a variety of pastel and vibrant tones that give it an extraordinary charm. This “Pueblo Mágico,” or magical town, radiates in the mid-afternoon sun, and plenty of soft ice-cream options were available as I searched to satisfy my sweet tooth. It was a perfect end to a wholesome day.
Valladolid Bike Tour at CAFÉ Hostal Valladolid
Calle 37 #201-A x 42 and 44, Valladolid, Yucatán
Tel. 985 101 1800
Bike tour + Cooking class (with meals), 9 am – 3 pm
$800 pesos per person, includes breakfast and lunch, bike tour, cenote, cooking class
Bike tour only: $450 pesos per person
9 am – 12 pm
By Mark Viales
International freelance journalist from the Rock of Gibraltar. A singer/songwriter with a passion for travel and fluent in four languages.
Photography by CAFÉ Hostal Valladolid for its use in Yucatán Today.
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