Merida Vs. Valladolid – Which Should You Visit?

Merida Vs Valladolid - which is a better destination?

While white sandy beaches may be what comes to mind when you think of Mexico, this tropical paradise has a lot more to offer than you may expect.

For those looking for a more authentic experience and to escape the main touristy spots of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, a trip inland is a great option. 

Mexico is a large country so deciding where to travel can get a little tricky.

Whether you are looking to get a mix of that coastal sunshine and white sandy beaches with an authentic Mexican experience, you will be happy to know that you can do both when visiting Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

1. Deciding Which Is Better To Visit Between Merida and Valladolid

Think you know which Mexican city is better to visit – Merida or Valladolid?

Many people would say that Merida is the obvious choice, but I’m here to tell you that’s not always the case.

Both cities have their own unique charm, and it really depends on what you’re looking for in a vacation.

So, which one should YOU choose? Keep reading to find out!

If you find yourself wanting to travel inland, you may be wondering which city is better to visit Mérida vs Valladolid.

Below I’ve broken down everything you need to know about the two cities as well as an unbiased comparison of the two. 

Merida and Valladolid compared

2. Merida

Why You Should Visit Mérida?

Mérida is the capital of the state of Yucatán and has a population of more than 1.2 million people making it the 11th largest metropolitan area in Mexico.

This area has lots to do and see and is definitely worth the trip. Merida is also one of the safest places in Mexico.

Full of culture and authentic Mexican charm, the people in Mérida are incredibly friendly and welcoming making this travel destination that much more enjoyable. 

Mérida is one of the oldest cities in the Americas as it was a former hub of Mayan civilization prior to Spanish colonization.

The whole town is full of history, in fact, there are actually two downtowns in this city. There is an old historical center and a modern center.

The old center is the most famous amongst tourists as it brings all the charm you come to this area for. 

Where Is Mérida?

Mérida is located just over 186 miles/300km east of Cancun – about a 4 hour drive along a tolled road. You’ll drive right past Valladolid, around halfway through your way to Merida.

deciding between Merida and Valladolid

How To Get To Merida

There are a few different ways to get to Merida including by land and air.

By Air

If you are considering flying to this city you’ll land at Mérida International Airport (called Aeropuerto International de Merida).

It sees roughly 2 million passengers per year and is a great option for getting to this Mexican town.

The Merida airport is around 7 miles/11km from the city center and takes around half an hour to reach by driving.

You can easily get private transportation from the airport if you do not need a car.

If your main goal is to see this area, the airport may be a good option. However, more commonly, you will want to see more of what this beautiful Mexican state has to offer. 

From other areas in Mexico

One of the most popular ways to get to Merida is from Cancun or Playa del Carmen.

If you’re considering visiting Merida on your Mexican vacation you have a few options to get there.

The easiest way would be taking a shuttle bus, the most convenient way would be to rent a vehicle and drive, and the most affordable way would be to use the bus service. 

The ADO Bus is the largest bus service in Mexico and has a regular route from either city to Merida.

These buses are called colectivos and are comparable to the Greyhound buses in the USA.

The coaches are comfortable and provide a great option to get from the more popular tourist areas to Merida.

Colonial architecture in Merida

Buses leave from the Central Bus Station in town or the International Airport to Merida every half hour to hour depending on the time of day.

The bus service starts early in the morning and ends late at night, so you’ll have this option at any time of the day. 

The price tends to fluctuate depending on the day and even hour, so we recommend booking this in advance (at least take a look at the prices before you arrive).

You should expect to pay between 560 MXN ($30 USD) – 900MXN ($47 USD). Getting to Merida by bus will take between 5 – 8 hours.

There are 3 different tiers of buses as well depending on the level of luxury you are looking to travel in.

All tiers include an air conditioned bus, reclining chairs, TVs, WiFi, and a toilet on board making it relatively comfortable.

If you’re like us and like to have full control over where we go and how long it takes you can rent a car. There are many high-quality places to rent in Mexico, especially in Cancun.

The rental itself is generally affordable but will likely come with a substantial deposit required. Beware that the highway is a tolled road and will cost around 550 MXN ($28 USD).

There are toll booths that only accept cash so make sure you bring some Mexican Pesos with you.

We forgot to get cash at an ATM before we started the drive and had to pay in USD, and since we didn’t have change it cost way more than it should have!

Merida things to do vs. Valladolid

Things To Do In Mérida

The demographic in Mérida is noticeably older with most of the young people moving to more lively towns.

This means you will not find much in the way of nightlife and adventure-style things to do. Instead, this area is more focused on history and culture.

While this is true, weekends often come alive with festivals in the squares with food stalls and street vendors set up.

If you find yourself visiting on the weekend, be sure to take part in a Sunday morning bike ride. The city becomes largely blocked off and becomes a biking paradise.

If you are interested in learning more about the history, the city offers free walking tours departing from the main square at 9:30 am daily.

This tour takes about an hour and a half and while free, I recommend tipping your tour guide. 

If you are looking to enjoy some Mayan history, you will happy to learn that there is a ton of great options in the area.

In the city itself, you can check out the Mayan World Museum which takes a deep dive into the history of the area.

If you are willing to drive about an hour south of Mérida, you will find the Uxmal Ruins. Here there are a couple of pyramids, one that you can still climb.

Entrance to this area costs 413 MXN ($28 USD) and these are a lot less popular than others in the area making them great for photographers.

Another great archeological site is the Mayapan Archeological Zone located about 45 minutes drive south of the city. 

If you are hoping to experience some cenotes on your visit to Merida, unfortunately, most of the cenotes near the city do not let you swim in them.

There is a tour company in the city that takes you to the Los 7 Cenotes, but these are located about 80 minutes outside of the city. 

Top Pros To Visiting Merida

What Merida offers:

  1. Beautiful colonial city with colorful streets and historic architecture.
  2. Perfect base for lots of options for a day trip. Las Coloradas is one of the popular day trips from Merida along with Celestun and Progreso. In Addition to these great spots in the Yucatan city you can get to the “yellow city” of Izamal in under an hour!
  3. Merida offer some very underrated Mayan historical sites.
  4. Top notch international cuisine and restaurants.
  5. The city is not geared towards tourism so it has a very authentic feel to it.
  6. There are a lot of things to do In Merida.
Merida food

3. Valladolid

Why You Should Visit Valladolid?

Valladolid is a small inland town of around 46,000 residents. This town is known for two main things: its extreme heat and its proximity to Chichen Itza.

The town itself is quite small which gives it an authentic charm. Known to have a lazy laid back vibe, Valladolid is a great place to spend a few days on your Mexican vacation.

Where Is Valladolid?

Valladolid is an inland town around 156 kilometers east of Cancun. The drive to get here will take you 2 hours and 15 minutes.

This city is incredibly easy to get around in. The bus station is close to the main square in Valladolid making getting to the city easy.

It also works to connect you to lots of popular areas in Mexico you may want to visit like Isla Holbox, Merida, and a visit to the pink “lakes” and Río Lagartos.

Other incredible places that are close to Valladolid that you may choose to visit are Bacalar or Sian Ka’an Bisphere Reserve

Sian Ka’an is under two hours and can be done as a day trip with a tour.

Bacalar is about 3.5 hours from Valladolid, but we would recommend planning at least a night there to really enjoy all it has to offer.

Getting To Valladolid

As Valladolid is not in the typical tourist path of the area, you may be wondering how to get here.

Valladolid main square and catherdral

By Air

There is an international airport around halfway between Valladolid and Chichen Itza, Aeropuerto Internacional de Chichen Itza.

We don’t recommend flying to this airport as the flights are quite expensive and come with long layovers to get to this small airport.

This is considerably longer and more expensive than any other means of getting to Valladolid.

By Bus

The ADO bus cost can vary depending on what day you’re planning to go.

Traveling from Cancun will typically cost around 200 MXN ($10 USD) (for the ADO Conecta tier), 250 MXN ($12.50 USD) – 350 MXN ($17.50) for the base tier.

The buses are the same used on the Cancun to Merida route and have similar amenities. The drive takes around 2 and a half hours and is a safe route along a well maintained highway.

By Car

Just like the drive from Cancun to Merida, this section of highway has tolls that need to be paid. The section will cost 363 MXN ($18 USD).

The highway is well maintained and safe – they were doing upgrades to improve the road even further when we were there. 

You actually have two route options to travel from. The first option is to drive east from and head straight to Valladolid.

As Cancun has the most popular airport, this is the most popular route to Valladolid.

The drive will take you just over 2 hours, depending on traffic in town, traveling 97 miles/156km inland.

If you are coming from Playa del Carmen you will want to head northwest on highway 305D.

This highway will connect to highway 180D which you will continue down for the remainder of your way to Valladolid.

You can expect an 88 miles/141km journey that will take you just under 2 hours to drive. 

If you are coming from Tulum, the route to Valladolid is the shortest at 63 miles/102km taking about an hour and a half. 

Valladolid road sign in

Further Reading: Comparing two of Colombia’s big cities – Medellin and Cali

Things To Do In Valladolid

The main attraction and thing to do in Valladolid is to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site: Chichen Itza. This is one of the most famous ancient Mayan Ruins in Mexico.

It is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and a true site to behold. The site is around 27miles/44km east of Valladolid.

The main way of getting to these ruins is along Mexican Highway 180.

If you are enjoying seeing ancient remains, there is another site located half an hour north of Valladolid called Zona Arqueológica de Ek Balam.

A quick 17-mile/28km journey away, Ek Balam, meaning black jaguar in Mayan dates back to the 3rd century and holds some impressive sites. 

While there are no car rental companies in Valladolid, there are a few scooter rental companies in the city.

You can expect to pay around 100 MXN ($5 USD) per hour or 500 MXN ($25 USD) for a 24 hour rental.

The city is also very flat making it a great place to rent a bicycle. Bicycle rentals come in cheaper at around 100 MXN ($5 USD) per day. 

For those looking to take a dip in some cool refreshing underground river systems, visiting a cenote in Valladolid is a great way to spend your day.

Cenote Zaci is one of the most popular cenotes located right in the middle of town only a few blocks from the main square. The most famous cenote in the area is Cenote Suytun.

If you are visiting this archealogical site, Cenote Ik Kil is close by and a great visit. If you are visiting Ek Balam, Cenote Xcanche is located close by. 

Valladolid pros and cons

Top Pros To Visiting Valladolid

  1. Pueblo Magico
  2. Quick and easy to explore
  3. Colorful buildings and historic beauty 
  4. Interesting museums
  5. Fun Cenote
  6. Not a lot of travelers explore and discover this magical town

There are some similarities between Valladolid and the colorful town of Guatapé in Colombia that is also worth a visit!

4. Cons Of Visiting Either Valladolid or Merida

There are no real negatives to visiting either city. The only thing about Merida that may make it difficult to visit is the distance if you are not flying in directly there.

Cenote Zaci Valladolid things to do

5. Which Is Better – Mérida Vs Valladolid?

Each of these places in Mexico has its pros and cons.

Valladolid is a smaller town known for its proximity to the famous Mayan site of Chichen Itza.

There are a few activities and things to do in the area but not enough to push us to want to stay here for an extended period of time.

Merida is a large metropolitan area that has modern luxuries mixed with a ton of history and is one of the safest areas in the country. 

Both of these cities offer a great authentic Mexican charm but both are decidedly older towns and do not offer a ton in terms of nightlife and energy.

I recommend stopping in both of these towns to get a dose of history and Mexican charm before heading on to the rest of your Mexican vacation. 

Travel Planning Resources :

Merida versus Valladolid Mexico

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Hi! We’re Rob and Taiss. We set off to live a life in as many places as possible. To actually live in locations around the world long enough to get to know the locals, the culture, and the food, not just a taste of it.
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