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9 Nov 2020
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Explore Rivera Maya

Leave the beach and explore some of the Yucatan’s colonial towns

There’s nothing like the feeling of settling into your beach house, stepping onto your veranda, and exhaling. Ahhh, the crystalline Caribbean. You’ve made it. There’s no doubt that the Riviera Maya’s shoreline is one of the world’s best, but after a few days of swimming, snorkeling, diving, and seeking all the tacos you can find, you may be wondering what else you can do this in this culturally rich area. Lucky for you, there are myriad towns and cities dotted throughout the Yucatán that are well worth your effort to visit — and you can do it all in a day. Here are just a few of our favorite spots:


The capital of the Yucatán, Mérida is the closest thing you’ll get to a large city in the region. The city is about 3 hours away from Tulum, and, depending on which route you take (the “cuota,” which is a faster expressway or 180, a provincial two-lane road), you’ll pass through several charming small towns that are also great photo stops and offer a unique glimpse into local life. Mérida is also on the way to Chichén Itzá, so if you’ve come to the ruins, you might as well go the extra mile and head to the city. Mérida boasts a multitude of colonial squares and some of the most intriguing shopping in the Yucatán — from high-end concept stories like Casa T’ho to curated handicrafts stores like Artesanaria. You’ll find no shortage of souvenir shops here, and if you’re looking for more upscale shopping and mansion gazing, head to the city’s Rodeo Drive: Paseo de Montejo.

If you want to stay overnight here, Mérida’s hacienda-style hotels are quite affordable and the Airbnbs here too shouldn’t be overlooked if you’re looking for a deal — they often feature your own private pool!

A large ex-pat population has helped further enrich Mérida’s already vibrant arts scene, but for a look into the Mayan history of the area, don’t miss a stop at the Gran Museo de Mundo Maya.

When it comes to food, you’ll have no shortage of options. We recommend everything at La Chaya Maya, the pasta at Oliva Enoteca (especially if you’re looking for a romantic dinner), and a traditional meal at the Museo de la Gastronomía Yucateca — the restaurant has a small museum that elucidates ancient Maya cooking techniques!


A miniature Mérida, Valladolid is the quintessential relaxed Yucatecan colonial town and one of the largest you’ll pass while heading to Mérida. It’s one of our absolute favorite places to visit.

While the shopping is not quite up to Mérida’s standards, being within such close range to Tulum has made Valladolid the go-to place for fashion production, especially leather work and embroidery — as such, you’ll find some fabulous shopping here, from sandal boutiques and handbag stories to hand-stitched traditional closing made by local Maya ladies and gauzy gowns at La Troupe. Just off the main square, Calzada de los Frailes is our favorite side street to shop — you’ll find artisanal perfumes at Coqui Coqui, which shouldn’t be missed. But the whole city is just a pleasure to stroll. Don’t miss a trip to the Convent de San Bernardino de Siena, then peruse the best of Mexican handiwork at Casa de los Venados, and wind down with a sopa de lima and a beer in the courtyard of Hotel El Mesón del Marqués.


This official Pueblo Mágico is a great experience for adults and kids alike. The buildings are all painted a cheerful yellow color, which is a photographer’s dream. Strolling the downtown architecture is a highlight of any visit here, culminating with a stroll through the sprawling Convento de San Antonio de Padua. The monastery is gorgeous and its interior feels like you’ve stepped right back into the 16th century. Outside the convent, you’ll find lots of street vendors, where you can barter for items like handmade bracelets, traditional Yucatecan clothing, jewelry, art, and more.


The Yucatan is hot, no matter which time of year you’re visiting. Underground sinkholes known as cenotes pepper the area — in fact there are millions of them, mostly undiscovered. But the ones that have been discovered are great places to cool off and you’ll never experience anything quite like it. Many are underground, some are aboveground with cavernous spots, and all are quite beautiful. Our favorite cenotes include Homún, just south of Izamal, and Hacienda Santa Barbara near Mérida — visit this one, and you’ll arrive by either horse and carriage or bicycle. It’s also great for kids!