A weekend guide to Orange, NSW

Looking for a peaceful and relaxing town to visit filled with good food and wine in NSW? Than Orange is the perfect spot. It is fast becoming one of Australia’s best wine regions, with 80 vineyards, 30+ cellar doors and 50 cafes and restaurants to choose from. Whether you visit in the peak of winter and spend your time by a fire or in Autumn to see the colourful tree foliage, there is plenty to do year-round in Orange. Here is how I spent my time in Orange on a rainy, winter 3-day adventure.

Unfortunately, the spread of COVID-19 meant that all of our great plans for 2020 were turned upside down and we spent a lot of time in lockdown, in isolation or unable to even leave the state. While this was upsetting, once lockdown restrictions eased, it meant that I was able to explore more of my own backyard than I normally would; as I usually opt to travel abroad rather than to travel around rural NSW or Australia. There is always a positive, even in crappy situations and this was a circumstance I felt grateful for, despite everything else that happened in 2020!

Drink

As mentioned above, there are so many wineries in Orange to choose from. We visited Ross Hill Winery, which has been around since 1994 and is family-run. The wines are not available at any big supermarket bottle shop, and you can taste the hard work, passion and dedication that goes into each wine. We received detailed explanations about each wine and learnt a lot during our tasting. We also visited Philip Shaw Winery, another family-run vineyard with a beautiful building to taste the wines in. We had our wine tastings on a Monday, which meant they were less crowded adding to the peaceful experience.

Next time I visit Orange I want to go to Heifer Station Wines – they have a petting zoo onsite with lots of animals including pigs, goats and an alpaca.

Eat

Whilst in Orange I recommend checking out the Groundstone Cafe for breakfast, Sweet Sour Salt and Zona which were recommended by a friend who grew up in Orange, Lolli Redini if you want to splurge on a nice dinner, the Agrestic Grocer for gourmet treats such as cheese, jams and wine and for a good Aussie pub meal try Union Bank, Parkview Hotel or The Greenhouse.

Shop

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of cute boutique stores in Orange. My absolute favourite store was The Sonic, which had two stores within it; Jumbled and Nimrods. The store boasted beautiful clothes, rugs, artwork, books and house hold knick-knacks. The Hawkes general store was a shop and cafe in one, and The White Place was another lovely store; both filled with perfect gifts to buy for someone else.

Do

The seasons are more extreme in Orange compared to Sydney, meaning it gets colder in winter and hotter in summer. We visited Orange in the winter; having to drive through snow to get to our accommodation! We arrived to a very rainy and very cold Orange and took advantage of the fire place.

It had been a busy year with work, and working from home since March meant it was hard to truly shut off. We wanted to spend the few days relaxing, forgetting about work and enjoying our accommodation. So our time was spent cuddling by the fire, wine tasting at a couple of vineyards and exploring the township of Orange.

A couple of other things that were on our to-do list that we didn’t get to this time around where checking out the views at Pinnacle Lookout, Verandah Cave and Mount Canobolas, and perusing the few stores in Milthorpe which is a small township just outside Orange. We also plan to visit Orange again one day in the spring time and have a picnic at the Botanic Garden.

Accommodation

My boyfriend totally spoiled me for my birthday and booked the beautiful Dragonfly Cottages for two nights. I love the aesthetic of the minimal tiny homes amongst nature and this was by far one of the nicest places I have ever stayed. The place was surrounded by the most stunning views of Australian gum trees and sprawling green fields, and watching the blue sky turn to pink and orange at sunset from the lounge with the fire going was a moment I’ll never forget.

The bed felt like I was sleeping in a giant cloud, and the surrounding space was so peacefully quit I had the best sleep I’d had all year. The place was beautifully built and decorated, with huge windows to see the view from every direction. One of our favourite parts was visiting the alpacas and sheep at the owners’ property next door! It was such a special, relaxing and peaceful stay; and it was truly everything we had wanted and I definitely recommend staying here if you’re after a special experience.

Tips

We opted to visit Orange on Sunday and leave on Tuesday, as we had wanted a couple days off work and hoped that visiting outside the weekend it would be less crowded. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise until after we’d booked and taken time off work that majority of the cafes and restaurants are shut on Monday and Tuesdays in Orange! This didn’t matter that much to us, as we’d wanted to spend a lot of time in our accommodation to make the most of it anyway, but if you’re wanting to explore the culinary cuisine in Orange I would opt to visit Wednesday-Sunday.

Everything in Milthorpe was shut on a Tuesday, including the shops! It was like a ghost town when we visited. The same suggestion to visit on a Wednesday-Sunday applies here too.

Book in your winery visits ahead of time! We saw quite a few people being turned away because they didn’t have a booking; and we visited the wineries on a Monday which didn’t even seem that busy. We booked ours a month or so in advance and the timing between the two wineries worked out perfectly.

Why you should visit Oaxaca City

Oaxaca City is widely known for its cheese, mezcal, chocolate, and mole. The city’s vibrant architecture, defining cuisine and archeological ruins are what make it so unique. Read on to discover why you should visit Oaxaca City.

What to do

Go on a walking tour

As I’ve said in every single blog post I’ve written, my favourite thing to do in a city is to go on a walking tour. It’s a great way to get your bearings in a city. I love learning about the history and current politics of the place. It’s also an opportunity to get tips from a local on the best restaurants and bars to visit.

Visit the Santo Domingo Church Complex

The Church and former monastery of Santo Domingo de Guzmán is a Baroque ecclesiastical building located in the centre of town. Make sure to at least peek inside to see the beautiful ceiling detailing.

Visit Mercado Benito Juárez 

For a one-stop market with a bit of everything, look no further than Mercado Benito Juárez. A warehouse-style structure houses this market and fills one entire city block. You could peruse through here all day. I found a pair of authentic cowboy boots for AUD 100! They are my favourite souvenir and now sit proudly on display in my room.

Visit a leather store

As a vegetarian, I don’t support leather stores. However, I will make an exception here as there is something special about the leather stores in Mexico. They are rustic and authentic, and I felt transported back in time. Make sure you step foot in one, even if you don’t plan on buying anything.

Indulge in the Oaxacan cuisine

Oaxaca is renowned as the foodie capital of Mexico, in particular for its indigenous and traditional cuisine. A must-try dish whilst in Oaxaca is mole- a rich sauce made from up to a staggering 40 ingredients, served over a variety of meats or vegetables.

Along with mole, be sure to sample as many traditional dishes and ingredients as possible, such as:

Tamales Oaxaqueños: large, hot-steamed tamales available from street vendors
Tetelas: grilled triangle-shaped corn masa treats, stuffed with black beans
Tlayudas: large, thin, crunchy, partially fried tortilla covered with toppings
Quesillo: white, semi-hard Oaxacan cheese

During my visit to Oaxaca, my friend and I treated ourselves to one of Oaxaca’s best fine-dining experiences at Criollo. The menu is a modern take on traditional Mexican cuisine. We indulged in a 5-course vegetarian meal paired with alcohol. The dishes were unlike anything I’d ever eaten – so full of flavour and worth the price! In Sydney, you would pay three times the price for a similar setting and meal.

We also ate at and enjoyed; La Popular, La Cosecha and Casa Mayordomo. Be sure to try some authentic street food to round out your experience.

Visit the oldest tree in the world

De Santa Maria Tule is a 2,000-year-old Montezuma cypress tree and is one of the oldest, largest and widest trees in the world. It is 58 metres in width and 42 metres in height and it needs 600-800 litres of water per day to survive. It was very humbling to be in the presence of a piece of nature so old and large. I also enjoyed viewing the buildings and church surrounding the tree. I would recommend making a morning or afternoon visit here.

Go on a day trip to Hierve el Agua

Hierve el Agua is a set of natural rock formations that resemble cascades of water. The site is located about 70km east of Oaxaca City, in the municipality of San Lorenzo Albarradas.

During the day trip, I learned that Hierve el Agua was created by mineral water that pushed through karstic limestone, depositing the falls onto the mountain’s edge. While the waterfalls are white, two mineral pools sit at the edge of the cliff, full of calcium carbonate, magnesium, and just enough sulphur to lend them a yellow hue. How cool is that?

This was one of my favourite things I saw whilst in Mexico and would recommend dedicating a day to visit. Just look how beautiful…

Drink Mezcal at a Mezcal bar

Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from agave. Mezcal has been around for 400-years but has made a popular comeback in recent years. According to 2016 statistics, mezcal sales had doubled in the previous four years. The obsession was even boosting Oaxaca’s economy, as investors and fans were flocking to the state. Be sure to try some Mezcal at a bar or on a tour to try the world’s best.

See the ruins at Mitla

It is believed that Mitla was established as a sacred burial site long before the Christian Era, probably by the Zapotecs, whose influence was predominant until about AD 900. 

I visited Mitla on a day tour and it was amazing to walk around the ancient ruins and learn about the history from a knowledgable guide.

Buy handcrafted textiles from a local

Oaxaca has a noteworthy tradition of finely crafted textiles, particularly handmade embroidery and woven goods created with a backstrap loom. There are day tours you can go on to see locals making these beautiful handcrafts.

Hang out in the zócolo

Nearly every Mexican town has a zócolo, which signifies a park or plaza at the centre of town. There are always restaurants and street vendors surrounding the zócolos, making it a great place to people-watch and feel the vibrancy of the city around you.

Visit a museum

I visited the MACO Museum, which is located in a 1700s house featuring permanent and rotating exhibitions of contemporary Mexican art.

Where to stay

I stayed at the Parador del Dominico. It was centrally located meaning we could walk everywhere within the city, was well priced with free breakfast and we were able to organise a day tour to Hierve el Agua through the hotel. The place wasn’t fancy but it had everything we wanted and did the job.

If you’re after a more luxurious or romantic stay, this is not the place for you and I would recommend having a search for a better option. There are many nice places to stay in this city!

How to get around

We flew into Oaxaca City from Mexico City, then got a taxi to our hotel You can drive from Mexico City, but it will take you 5 hours. Once we were at our hotel, we were able to walk everywhere on foot. Anywhere that was too far out of reach, our hotel was able to call a taxi for us and as taxis in Mexico are very cheap we didn’t mind having to do this on occasion.

I thought I would mention that many people want to visit Oaxaca for the beaches; Oaxaca City to the beaches is a 6-hour drive. So if you would like to visit both Oaxaca City and the beaches I would opt for a flight to Huatulco’s International Airport (HUX).

Best time to visit

Oaxaca’s elevation gives it a reasonably pleasant climate year-round. Spring and autumn (April, May, September and October) are more moderate in temperature and there are generally fewer tourists. The summer months (June-August) and the holiday season (December-January) are considered the high season and Oaxaca can get very crowded with tourists. The rainy season usually lasts from May through to September, and the rest of the year is quite dry.

There’s almost always some kind of celebration taking place in Oaxaca and Mexico in general. So no matter when you visit, you’ll likely come across some type of cultural celebration or religious processions in the street – which is great because one of my favourite parts about Mexico was getting to experience Día de Muertos!

How to spend a weekend in San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende is a World Heritage Site, complete with a mix of beautiful and bright Baroque and neo-Gothic architecture within a 16-century Spanish colonial layout.

Your time spent here will involve walking along cobblestone streets, admiring the architecture, visiting various museums, galleries, boutique clothing stores, cafes and rooftop bars. After a few days in this gorgeous and vibrant city, you’ll realise why it’s become one of the most popular spots to visit in Mexico and will spend your time plotting ways to make a quick return.

About San Miguel De Allende

San Miguel De Allende was founded in the 16th century and is located roughly four hours drive from Mexico City. The city was named by the monk who founded it, Juan de San Miguel, and a war hero in Mexico’s War of Independence, General Ignacio Allende.

The city feels like you’ve stepped into a Mexican fairy tale; cobblestones and brightly coloured colonial facades, a beautiful neo-gothic pink stone church as the focal point, all surrounded by lush, green mountains.

There is something for everyone in this beautiful city; a temperate climate year-round, a vibrant art scene, delicious restaurants with authentic Mexican cuisine and mountains to hike.

Best things to do during your visit

1. Hang out in the main plaza (Jardín Allende)

San Miguel’s main plaza hosts the symbol of the city- Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel- a neo-gothic parish church. The original church dates back to the 1600s, but the facade we see today was designed in 1880.

Grab an Esquites from a street vendor, find a park bench to sit on and watch this vibrant city come to life around you.

2. Take a walk to a viewpoint

San Miguel de Allende looks amazing at street level, but it looks even better from above. The walk to the viewpoint, El Mirador, is only a 15-20 minute walk from the main plaza and boasts views over the whole city and beyond.

3. Grab drinks at a rooftop bar

There’s no better way to spend a sunny afternoon on holidays than kicking back and enjoying a few cocktails at a trendy bar overlooking the beautiful city you’re visiting. I spent an afternoon at the Lunas Roof Top Bar. Being a little further out of Centro than some other rooftop bars, you get sweeping views of the city. I highly recommend this place for its charming atmosphere along with reasonably priced alcohol and charcuterie boards.

4. Eat your way across town

Authentic Mexican food, non of this tex-mex stuff the Western world is used to eating, is truly something special! During my two weeks in Mexico I tried so many different flavours, spices and herbs I’d never tasted in my life; it was delectable and such a fun experience!

Something I like to do is ask the waiter what the local favourite dish is on the menu or what’s a “must-have” meal and go with that! I’m a vegetarian so I had to miss out on many of the local top picks, but many delicious veggie options had just as much flavour (in my opinion).

My favourite restaurants and cafes I visited were La Parada, a Peruvian restaurant for lunch and Panio for an authentic Mexican breakfast.

5. Go on a walking tour

As I’ve said in every single blog post I’ve written, my favourite thing to do in a city is going on a walking tour. It’s a great way to get your bearings in a city. I love learning about the history and current politics of the city. It’s also a great opportunity to get tips on the best restaurants and bars to visit from a local.

6. Experience a local festival

Planning your trip around a main Mexican festival is a great way to experience their culture! One of my favourite parts of visiting Mexico was how deeply engrained Mexican culture, cuisine and language is all over the country. I was in Mexico during Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) which made my whole experience even more special getting to witness this beautiful holiday.

7. Visit Fábrica La Aurora

Fábrica La Aurora has a number of galleries and artist’s studios, located on the site of an historic textile factory. You can still see a number of the machines from the factory as you explore. There are a number of cafes and restaurants as well that you can enjoy during your visit.

8. Have a coffee in a secret courtyard

There are so many unsuspecting courtyards throughout this city, you just need to wander around and you’ll stumble into one.

9. Marvel at the beautiful architecture

The architecture in this city and the tiny details everywhere are what make this city so unique. I had so much fun wandering up and down the streets, snapping as many pictures as I could trying to capture that perfect moment!

Best time to visit

People who travel to San Miguel de Allende love it for its seemingly eternal spring. Winter is the high season, with clear days and chilly nights; summer is the rainy season; fall is fiesta season, boasting tourists, parades, and fireworks.

May is the hottest month, with an average high of 30°C and January is the coldest month, with an average high of 23°C. I visited in November and the weather was perfect.

Where to stay

We wanted to stay somewhere central, so we could walk everywhere in the city. We stayed at Hotel Villa Santa Blanca; it was an incredibly simple stay with a bed and a bathroom. However, the only time we were in the room was to sleep, so this hotel did the job.

How to get to and around the city

We drove 4 hours to San Miguel from Mexico City. There are three airports available to get you to San Miguel de Allende depending where you are coming from. Your options are to; 1. Fly to Del Bajio Airport, Leon/Guanajuato then drive 1 hour. Fly to Juarez Intl, Mexico City then drive approximately 4 hours. Fly to Queretaro Airport then drive 1 hour to San Miguel.

The best way to get around San Miguel de Allende is on foot. Some of the most exciting discoveries in the city can only be found along its winding walkways. Just be sure to pack comfortable sneakers; cobbled, narrow streets can be tough on feet.

If you’re planning a trip to Mexico, I hope this blog post has convinced you to add this charming city to your itinerary! Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever visited San Miguel de Allende or it’s now on your bucket list.

Tulum Travel Guide: 2 days in Mexico’s Most Stylish Beach Getaway

Tulum’s pristine coastline located on 1,000-year-old Mayan ruins, complete with crystal-clear cenotes, hotels that emulate treehouses, contemporary restaurants, and bohemian boutique shops has made this once sleepy beach town completely erupt.

The perfect Tulum itinerary includes swimming in the ocean, exploring ancient Mayan ruins and a refreshing dip in a beautiful cenote, topped off with a margarita and fresh tacos at sunset.

Day 1:

The main street of Tulum is lined with beach clubs, which is where everyone spends their day; carefully dividing their time between swimming in the ocean and taking dips in the pool. While it’s great to have options on where to spend your day, it can be overwhelming to pick the right one. These beach clubs are part of hotel accommodations, so if you’re not spending the day at your hotel you’ll need to pay a fee to relax on a lounge chair at most places; with prices varying depending on the star of the hotel/club.

My friend and I opted to spend our day at Be Tulum. It had the Tulum “vibe” I wanted to experience, albeit quite expensive for what you get. We paid $60USD ($84AUD) for access to the lounge chairs and lunch. I couldn’t go all the way to Tulum and not have the ~authentic~ experience…

After begrudgingly pulling ourselves away from Be Tulum to see what else Tulum had on offer, we stumbled across some beautiful boutique stores. If creamy linens, stylish bikinis and beautiful hand-crafted jewellery and trinkets pique your interest, then you’ll love perusing the shops here.

Some notable mentions include;

  • Caravana Tulum
  • Calo
  • Arte Sano
  • Lolita Lolita
  • The Jungle Stores

We watched the sunset whilst eating delicious pizza on the beach at Posada Margherita.

Day 2:

The second day in Tulum was spent swimming in Cenote Azul. We went early in the morning to beat the crowds and it felt like we were swimming in our own green oasis. The water was so clear we could see the fish swimming around us! The entry fee was 120 pesos ($8AUD). There are closer cenotes to Tulum town centre, but this cenote is a great option if you’re driving back to Cancun Airport and want to break up your drive from Tulum, or just aren’t ready to admit the holiday is almost over!

We spent the afternoon reading books in the hammocks at our hotel. Then enjoyed an amazing, Mexican meal at GITANO Tulum for dinner; opting for the Mushroom Camote for the main meal. It is a must to have an accompanying beverage whilst here; there is a whole cocktail menu dedicated to the Mexican spirit- Mezcal. We then topped off the night in the best possible way, treating ourselves to an ice-cream from Campanella Cremerie.

Best cenotes and beaches to visit

Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to visit all the beautiful cenotes and beaches I had wanted to whilst in Tulum. Here’s a few I had on my list and hope to visit one day:

  • Cenote Ik Kil
  • Gran Cenote
  • Cenote Dos Ojos
  • Cenote Caracol
  • Playa Parasio
  • Playa Ruinas
  • Xel-Ha Park
  • Akumal Beach (where you can snorkel with turtles)

Whilst in Tulum a lot of people visit the Tulum Ruins. We chose not to due to time restraints and visited Chichén Itzá instead. However, I would recommend getting to at least one ancient ruin whilst in Mexico and the Tulum Ruins look like a great option if you have enough time.

Necessities to pack

  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat + sunglasses
  • Swimming costumes
  • Beach coverups
  • Insulated water bottle that will keep filtered water cool at the beach
  • A couple of nicer night-time outfits if you plan on going to dinners (Tulum is quite an upmarket dining experience)

Where to stay

Majority of the hotels and activities in Tulum are located along the beach road, so this is where you’ll want to stay.

If you want the ultimate high-end experience and money is no object, book Be Tulum or Nômade. For the authentic Tulum treehouse experience stay at Hotel Origen Tulum. For more affordable options, consider NEST or Amansala.

Best time to visit

Tulum’s rainiest months are June, September, and October. October-December is generally the best time to visit, as hurricane season has ended and the weather is warm but not unbearably hot. I visited in November and it was very hot- I could not imagine it any warmer! January through to March is the busiest period for tourists, as well as the hottest weather, so I would avoid this time if you’re not a fan of heat or crowds.

Getting around in Tulum

It’s about a 25-minute drive from Tulum town to the centre of the beach area, and 1.5 hours drive from Cancun airport to Tulum.

If you’re staying in the heart of Tulum, you shouldn’t need a car during your stay. A lot of tourists choose to bike around the town as their mode of transport; I couldn’t figure out if it was just for fun, it was good for the planet or was a great way to off-set all of the tacos they’d been eating!

There are also plenty of taxis around should you need to get somewhere a bike or your legs can’t get you. We had a car to get us to and from Cancun airport.

Final Thoughts on Tulum

I feel it’s important to note that Tulum is an expensive town to visit- far exceeding the cost of any other Mexican city I visited! If the idea of having to pay to sit on a beach is not your vibe then maybe Tulum is not the right destination for you.

I also couldn’t help but shake the feeling that whilst Tulum is beautiful and relaxing, Instagram has over-hyped the destination which took away from the authenticity of the place. I enjoyed my time here, but I also felt that I could have had a very similar experience by flying 1-hour to Byron Bay in the north of Australia’s New South Wales instead of flying 20 hours to Mexico…

My final opinion is that I enjoyed my time in Tulum and I was glad I went to suss out what all the hype was about, but I definitely won’t be rushing back and I loved every other Mexican city I visited so much more!

Planning your visit to Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá holds the title as one of the new seven wonders of the world, making it an attraction you don’t want to miss during your visit to Mexico. It is located in the central-south of the Yucatán Peninsula, with many choosing to spend a day here on their way to or from Cancun or Tulum due to the proximity.

In 1988, Chichén Itzá became a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is now the second most visited archaeological site in Mexico; with its rich history and beautiful pyramids, it is no wonder people flock here each year to visit.

Visiting Chichén Itzá

When you arrive at Chichén Itzá, you will be greeted/bombarded by tour guides offering to show you around the archaeological sites and provide a historical background to all you will see. I think this is a must otherwise you won’t learn anything nor have any context to what you are seeing; you’ll just be looking at some very old, albeit beautiful architecture.

Cost

For an English speaking guide, my friend and I paid MXN 1000 ($65 AUD) for a two-hour tour. On top of the MXN 481 ($30 AUD) entry fee just to set foot in the door.

As this can be on the pricier side if you are travelling solo or in a duo. My tip would be to find another duo/small group of people to join the tour to make the day more cost-effective.

Getting there

Renting a car to get around Mexico is an easy, safe alternative while still being relatively inexpensive by Australian, USA or European standards. I flew from Mexico City to Cancun, drove to Valladolid then onto Chichén Itzá for the day before heading to Tulum.

There is the option to catch a 3-hour bus from Cancun which costs around MXN 202 ($13 AUD) through ADO Bus Service. From Valladolid, there’s a bus service every 30 minutes for MXN 26 ($2 AUD). 

If you don’t want to drive or catch a bus, you can also book a day tour. There are many options you can book through Viator before you arrive, or wait and ask your hotel/hostel when you get there!

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General tips for spending the day

  • Try to visit as soon as the doors open, or late in the afternoon to avoid the huge tour-bus crowds.
  • Chichén Itzá has a “light & sound show” that starts at 7pm in the autumn and winter or 8pm in the spring and summer. It’s included in the price of admission.
  • Consider splurging on a guided tour. There are information plaques at each attraction, but nothing like the insight you’ll get from a local guide.
  • Tourists can no longer climb to the top of the Kukulkan Pyramid due to UNESCO status and a few deaths over the years from falling. (Not that humans need to be walking on heritage sites anyway!)
  • The sun is unrelenting. Wear a hat, apply sunscreen and take plenty of water.
  • Bring cash to pay for your entry and tour guide- it is easier to haggle if you only have a certain amount of pesos on hand.
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Brief history

Mayans found this empty spot in 432 AD. They left around 1440 AD, and when the Spanish came in 1499 everything they had built was overgrown or in ruins. Chichén Itzá is now a 1500 year-old ceremonial centre for Mayan culture.

Chichén Itzá hosts two big cenotes which made it a suitable place to build a city and where its name was derived; chi meaning mouths and chen meaning wells, Itzá is the name of the Maya tribe that settled there.

The Mayans built 3 pyramids over 52 years to celebrate the end of a cycle and new age. Each pyramid was built on top of the old, so the famous pyramid we see today is 3 pyramids in one.

El Castillo has four sides, each with 91 stairs and facing a cardinal direction; including the step on the top platform, these combine for a total of 365 steps—the number of days in the solar year. During the spring and autumnal equinoxes, shadows cast by the setting sun give the appearance of a snake undulating down the stairways. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see this but it sounds truly magical!

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Visiting Valladolid

Valladolid is located in the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. The state is synonymous with Mayan ruins, cenotes and beaches. Many who travel to the Yucatán overlook Valladolid, opting to visit only Cancun and Chichen Itza. I am here to let you know that you’re doing yourself a disservice if this quaint city isn’t placed on your Mexico travel list.

There were many things I enjoyed about this city. Notably, it’s size; it is a small city with around 50,000 inhabitants. It was home to a gorgeous cenote right in the centre of the town, plus many cenotes within close driving proximity. It was incredibly walkable (and bike-able). I also happened to be visiting at a very special time, during Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) and witnessed hundreds of locals dressed up to celebrate the holiday.

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What to do:

1. Wander the cobble-stone streets

My favourite thing to do in any city, big or small, is wander around and soak in the architecture, ambience and aroma. Valladolid is filled with pastel-coloured, Spanish-colonial buildings. It is a treat to walk up and down the streets, perusing the boutique shops that host locally made, unique gifts and goods.

The gorgeous street I walked through was Calz. De Los Frailes.

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2. Explore Cenote Zaci

Cenote Zaci was once a massive cave, that has now partially collapsed. Multiple stalactites hanging from the roof of the cenote, and the open sky side is covered in beautiful greenery. Once in the cenote, swim to the centre, so you are halfway between the roof and the open sky, lean back and allow the serenity to wash over you.

You can easily walk to Cenote Zaci; a 7-minute walk from the main square. The water here is murky, so it is not the best cenote to snorkel in.

The entrance fee to Cenote Zaci is 30 pesos ($2 AUD) and is considerably lower than other cenote fees.

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3. Sit by the Fountain

The main square in Valladolid hosts a quaint park and fountain, surrounded by a church and many restaurants. There are nice seats located around the park, allowing you to people watch, eat an ice-cream and enjoy the afternoon sun.

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4.Visit The Convent Of San Bernardo

Located just outside the main square of Valladolid lies The Convent of San Bernardo. I opted not to visit due to time restraints, but you can visit for around 40 pesos. There is a small museum inside which explains the discovery of cenotes and the items left behind in them.

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5. Rent a bike and explore

Bike riding is an excellent way to discover a city; especially in Valladolid as the roads are very flat, so you can leisurely bike around. Biking through the city at sunset was a highlight of my time here.

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6. Visit The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Holy Assumption

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Holy Assumption is a beautiful church in the centre of the town, located by the Fountain.

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7. Eat at a local Mexican restaurant

Valladolid boasts some delicious, traditional Yucatán restaurants. I always think it’s a fun idea to ask the waiter what traditional food they recommend, and being open to trying their suggestion. (I am a vegetarian, so I didn’t eat any of the traditional meat dishes whilst in Mexico).

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8. Day trip to Cenote Oxman

Cenote Oxman is a 15-minute drive from Valladolid. It is visited by tourists for its natural beauty and crystal clear water, but what makes Oxman especially special is that it is located within a traditional hacienda. The cenote is a collapsed limestone cave with sunlight rays peeking from the holes above the cave ceiling. There are also roots from the ancient trees that crawl through the walls of the cave.

To get to the cenote, you make your way through a cave entrance. There is a winding staircase that will provide a safe way to get down to the water. You can choose to jump in off a swinging rope or walk down the stairs into the cenote. I tried both, much preferring the latter experience. There is a swimming pool outside of the cenote, with a restaurant and bar, providing another spot to relax in.

At the time of writing, the cost of admission to Cenote Oxman is 80 pesos for the simple entry. However, if you are planning to buy drinks or eat at the restaurant, go for either the 100 pesos option that gives you a 50 pesos credit for the restaurant or the 150 pesos option that gives you a 150 pesos credit. When I visited, the cenote was open from 10am to 5pm.

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Where to stay:

There are a handful of boutique hotels around the city. I stayed at Casa Quetzal Boutique Hotel. The hotel was in a great location, a 7-minute walk from the main square. The interior of the hotel was decorated in local designs making it a very authentic Mexican experience and included a delicious breakfast.

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How to get here:

I flew to Cancun from Mexico City, rented a car from the airport and drove 2-hours to Valladolid. Another option is to fly to Mérida and drive the 2-hours.

If you feel safe travelling by bus, there are routes you can take from airports and other cities.

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How to get around:

We opted to travel by car (rented from Cancun Airport), as we were going to a few different spots on the Yucatán Peninsula and this was the easiest and safest way for us to travel.

There are buses and tours that you can join to take you from place to place around the Yucatán.

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