The wonderful thing about Playa del Carmen, aside from the sparkling Caribbean Sea and laid-back atmosphere, is its location to many wonderful sights and attractions. From ancient ruins to cenotes and deserted beaches, there is a wide variety of experiences to be had along the Riviera Maya.

Venture inland, however, and you will discover a different side of Mexico, the colonial heart of the country; towns with crumbling cathedrals and neat zocalos (squares) set among historic buildings, all just a day trip away from the white sand beaches of Playa del Carmen.

If, indeed you manage to pull yourself away…

Valledolid church

Just two hour’s drive from Playa, you will find yourself in the charming town of Valledolid, where you will catch a glimpse of traditional Mexican life. It is home to two very large, impressive Cathedrals, and the most prominent one, San Gervasio, sits adjacent to the main square, or zocolo, in the center of town.

valledolid square

The zocolo is the heart of every old town in Mexico, and it is here you will experience the typical way of life; stout Mayan ladies selling hand-made wares, children laughing and playing, while elderly couples sit peacefully, watching the world go buy.

Most of the tourist stores are located around the main square, along with a traditional ice-creamery. Buy a cup of your favorite flavor and sit on a bench under the shade of a golden flowering tree and observe local life going on around you.

Valledolid handicrafts

About ten minutes from the center of town is another smaller square with an large, yellow Cathedral called San Bernadino. Stroll through the peaceful interior under a high pitched ceiling, while a few birds flutter around, escaping the midday sun.

When you have had enough of churches, squares and pretty architecture, stop off at the nearby cenote, Zaci. For just 20 Pesos entry, descend the wooden staircase leading down into the cave filled with crisp, cool water.

It makes for a great escape from the heat of the day, and is conveniently close to the center of town. The cenote is named after the ancient Mayan city that Valladolid was built on, after it was invaded by the Spanish. These days, Valledolid’s Mayan heritage is celebrated, and you can buy various handicrafts around town and at the entrance to the cenote.

Valledolid locals

Sometimes it’s nice to experience another side of Mexico, and Playa del Carmen’s convenient location allows you to do this in one day. Hire a car or a driver for the day, leave early in the morning and return to your Condo Hotel early evening. You could even tie in a visit to the ancient ruins of Chichen itza which is about 45 mins drive way.

Hit the ruins in the morning and stop for the afternoon in Valladolid before returning to Playa del Carmen for sunset cocktails at Indigo beach club, having experience a different side of the country – colonial Mexico – that many tourists don’t ever get to see.