Folk art in Valladolid

Our final stop in Mexico was a couple of days in the lovely central-Yucatán town of Valladolid. We didn’t intend to stop off here at all before we left the UK, but we realised it was a long trip back from Mérida to Cancun airport so decided to break up the journey. Ado bus and accommodation swiftly booked and we were ready to stop over.

I’m glad we did, because Valladolid is a really charming town. It’s much smaller than Mérida and hence much easier to negotiate by foot without getting overwhelmed by crowds or heat. Although it’s not overtly touristy we saw many more foreign visitors there, mainly because it’s used as a convenient stop-off point for visiting three of the most important Mayan ruin sites in the Yucatán: Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Ek Balam. We didn’t have time for any of those (and had already visited the ruins in Tulum plus on our previous trip to Oaxaca) so spent our time in the town itself.

Another bonus for Valladolid is it has a cenote right in the middle of town, Cenote Zaci, which we popped to as soon as we dropped our bags at our guesthouse. It was larger than the Sotuta de Peon cenote and semi-enclosed as opposed to a full-on cave. The water wasn’t quite as enticingly clear and was filled with slightly creepy sightless black fish. But it was nice to experience two quite different types of cenote, and we had some nice face-sized empanadas in the adjoining cafe.

After that we pottered around town. Shopping was much better than in Mérida or Tulum, with lots of sweet souvenir and food shops. Mayan ladies manned market stalls in the zocalo, selling textiles, painted ceramics and other handcrafts. There’s a particularly beautiful diagonal street leading from the centre to the Convent de San Bernardino de Siena; worth a walk although we didn’t go inside the convent.

The main municipal market was lovely to wander around too. It’s where Hartwood chefs travel to source their restaurant’s ingredients, and you can see why – all the bounty looked incredibly fresh and inviting. We stocked up on herbs, spices and hot sauce from the laid-back ladies on the stalls.

On the final morning, we were fortunate to walk by Casa do los Venados just as a tour was starting. It’s the amazing personal home and Mexican folk art collection of American John Venator. He’s built his collection from all over Mexico over the last fifty years, and then painstakingly restored this Valladolid townhouse over twenty to live in and house his treasures. After pressure from his friends he decided to open his casa to the public for morning tours, in exchange for a charitable donation from guests.

It was quite dazzling to walk around and see all this detailed, colourful, decorative art work in a truly living residence.

My favourite was the Frida suite, though it was harder than usual to pick my ‘what would I choose to take home’ game: the intricate Frida shrine, the mescal-swilling devils, the skully feast tableau in a shell-encrusted box?

Since I got back and gassed on about the trip, and shared a bunch of in-progress photos on Instagram, it’s really interesting to hear people say they have this preconception of Mexico as either a dusty backwater or a dangerous gangland. For me, I’ve now had two amazing holidays there and I absolutely adore it. It’s a huge country and there’s so much to see, buckets of ancient history and regional diversity, superb food and drink, endless nature and culture… frankly, now I’ve seen Casa de los Venados, I’m all but plotting premature retirement plans.