Yucatán state’s second city, VALLADOLID is around 40km east of Chichén Itzá, still close enough to beat the crowds to the site on an early bus, and of interest in its own right. Although it took a severe bashing in the nineteenth-century Caste Wars, it has retained a strong colonial feel and exudes the unpretentious attitude of a rural capital, catering to the farmers and ranchers who live nearby, and the village women who come here to sell their hand-embroidered huipiles and other crafts. It’s also an excellent place to eat, with traditional Yucatecan food still flourishing.

The heart of the city is the parque principal, the main plaza at the intersection of calles 39 and 40, where the two white towers of the eighteenth-century Catedral de San Gervasio rise gracefully over the south side. It’s the place to be at dusk, when the curving love seats are filled with chatting couples and the bubbling fountain, topped with a statue of a woman in a traditional Yucatecan huipil, is lit from below. During the day, you can walk upstairs in the city hall (ayuntamiento; on the southeast corner) to see murals and photos of Valladolid’s history, including a wall of portraits of city leaders.

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