Campeche, Merida Or Valladolid: Which Colonial City Is Best For You? (With Videos)

Campeche VS Merida VS Valladolid

So you’re interested in going beyond the Yucatan Peninsula’s famous beaches to explore its incredible colonial cities. Great idea! The colorful and historic towns of Merida, Valladolid and Campeche are sure to add some historic charm to your Mexico vacation. But how do you know if Campeche, Merida or Valladolid is the right destination for you?

We visited all of the Yucatan’s most famous colonial cities during our 10-week adventure throughout the Peninsula. And while we admit that the Yucatan’s colonial cities can look similar at first glance, they each offer unique characteristics that you should consider before choosing where to go!

We review the pros and cons of each destination to help you easily decide which is your ideal colonial town! So whether you are debating Merida vs Valladolid or Campeche vs Merida, this post will highlight what makes each destination worth visiting. So keep reading to discover which one of these photogenic spots has your name on it. We’ll also let you know which was our personal favorite!

Estimated reading time: 24 minutes

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Merida or Valladolid? Campeche Or Merida? Keep Reading To See Which Colorful Town Is For You!

Compare visiting Campeche Merida or Valladolid

Map Of The Most Famous Colonial Cities In Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

Campeche: The Yucatan Peninsula’s Most Underrated City

Should You Visit Campeche or Merida or Valladolid

What To Know About Visiting Campeche, Mexico

An underrated alternative for tourists exploring Mexico’s colonial history is Campeche. Known as the ‘Rainbow City,’ Campeche is the regional capital and the fourth largest city in the Yucatan Peninsula (with just under 300,000 residents). During its golden age, the city was under constant attack from pirates, resulting in a fortress being built around its historic center. Today the area inside the fortified walls is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fun fact: Campeche is one of three walled cities in the Americas! The other two are Cartagena, Colombia and Montreal, Canada.

Campeche is the least popular colonial city among foreign visitors. But even if Campeche isn’t as highly-regarded as Merida or Valladolid, this picture-perfect town totally deserves to be in the running with these two more popular destinations! And travelers to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula are starting to take note. Campeche’s cobblestoned streets are getting busier with visitors eager to discover this underrated destination.

Campeche is perfect if you are looking for a relaxed atmosphere while visiting one of the Peninsula’s historic towns. Even though the colorful buildings have been restored with tourism in mind, you won’t see large tour groups in Campeche’s town square like you would in Valladolid or Merida. So if you are looking for more chilled-out colonial vibes, but with enough nightlife options to make you question your decision-making the next morning, then Campeche may be best for you.

The Rainbow City is off of most people’s travel radars. But it shouldn’t be! Discover 22 reasons to visit Campeche!

We have an extremely positive view of Campeche. But to be honest, we can’t exactly pinpoint why. The main area of the historic center is incredibly beautiful, though perhaps somewhat sterile. But we loved Campeche’s vibrant outdoor market, the extremely friendly locals, and great day-trip opportunities to less-discovered Mayan ruins and cenotes.

Campeche Merida or Valladolid

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The Pros – Campeche Is For You If:

  • You want to experience a more relaxed historic city compared with the hectic energy found in Merida or Valladolid. Bonus points for Campeche having one of the most beautiful and chilled-out hacienda hotels in the Yucatan!
  • You like the idea of a colonial city with stunning sunset views! Campeche is for you if you see yourself watching the sun melt away into the Gulf of Mexico from the beautiful seafront promenade.
  • You prefer off-the-beaten-path excursions versus the Yucatan’s overly busy attractions. You might just have the nearby sites all to yourself!
  • You don’t want to feel like you are getting overcharged everywhere you go. Prices in Campeche are much more reasonable compared with Valladolid or Merida.
  • You want to use one of the Yucatan’s colonial cities as a base to explore some lesser-known beaches. Isla Aguada is a little known spot worthy of exploration.

The Cons – Leave Campeche Alone If:

  • You don’t want to go to the other side of the Yucatan Peninsula to get your colonial city fix. From Cancun to Campeche is about a 6-hour drive!
  • You prefer a more vibrant downtown area. Even though we loved wandering around Campeche’s gorgeous old city, it was missing strong local vibes.
  • You want easy access to the most popular sites in the region. It’s hard to justify staying in Campeche vs Merida or Valladolid if you are interested in visiting Chichen Itza, Uxmal and the region’s most famous cenotes.
  • You expect more notable attractions beyond just historical buildings and colorful mansions. Don’t expect the same world-class museums, galleries, restaurants, and shopping as you would find in Merida.
  • You would like a town with more of a street-food scene. Besides the typical ‘marquesitas’ found all over the Peninsula, Campeche lacked the incredible street foods found in Merida or Valladolid.

Click Play To Find Out If You Should Visit Mexico’s Rainbow City!

Hey you! Thinking about visiting Isla Holbox during your Yucatan Peninsula travels? Make sure to read 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Isla Holbox, Mexico! Hint – we didn’t like it. Oh, and if you love Mexico’s colorful cities, make sure to check out the unmissable mezcal-infused city of Oaxaca!

Merida: The Yucatan’s Largest Colonial City

Is Merida or Valladolid best for you

What To Know About Visiting Merida, Mexico

Visiting Merida Mexico's Zocalo

Merida is the largest and most populated of all Yucatan cities. So forget any dreams of experiencing a quaint colonial town when visiting this vibrant regional capital. At first glance, you may find that Merida is a bit rough around the edges. It’s true that the colonial architecture in this historical destination certainly lacks the polished appeal of Campeche or Valladolid.

But while Merida is not as manicured as Valladolid or Campeche, it offers a wonderful blend of fascinating historic sites, authentic local vibes, and cosmopolitan quality. You can hop from world-class museums to hectic local markets to 5-star dining in the same afternoon!

Want to discover more of the Yucatan’s wonderful capital city? Check out these 25 awesome things to do in Merida and 15 incredible Merida cenotes!

Besides having an incredible amount of cultural attractions within the city, Merida is also the perfect home base for exploring lesser-known cenotes, beautiful haciendas, and the amazing Mayan city of Uxmal. Simply put, Merida is packed with things to do. It definitely deserves to be in the running when choosing whether to visit Campeche, Merida or Valladolid.

The Pros – Merida Is For You If:

  • You would like to visit the most historically significant of the Yucatan’s colonial cities. Merida arguably boasts the most captivating blend of Mayan and colonial heritage out of all three cities!
  • You prefer having the cosmopolitan features that come with being the region’s largest capital city. Merida offers the most high-quality dining, shopping, galleries, and museums!
  • You love the idea of staying in the ideal base for unforgettable day trips to the most epic Mayan city and undiscovered cenotes.
  • You want to experience the coolest lodging options. You can stay in beautifully restored haciendas or opt for a more contemporary home in the middle of the city with your own private pool!
  • You think the quality and quantity of attractions are the most important criteria for selecting the best destination, not where you can get the prettiest pictures of the colorful buildings.

WOTW Tip: if one of the main reasons you are visiting Valladolid, Campeche or Merida is to explore Mayan ruins, then go ahead and bump Merida higher on the list of best cities in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Nearby Uxmal was our favorite of the 7 Mayan ruins we visited during our trip. It is more impressive than the famous Chichen Itza (subjectively), and it is infinitely less crowded.

The Cons – Leave Merida Alone If:

  • You dream of visiting a quaint colonial town, not a city with nearly one million residents!
  • You expect the colorful streets to be a little more polished. Don’t think you’ll find the same number of picture-perfect colored homes as in the UNESCO cities of Campeche or Valladolid.
  • You imagine the vibrantly-colored buildings presented in a neat, camera-ready package. It’s not as easy to discover where to go for that perfect vacation photo you packed the special outfit for.
  • You don’t like the idea of 100-degree heat in a city without a nearby beach. We visited Merida in April, and it was hot, hot, hot! Better take another look at that epic house with the private pool if you want to visit Merida.
  • You are looking for the party! Merida has some great cantinas with live music, but don’t expect to keep rocking until late into the night. Merida attracts more of the history and culture crowd than the night owls.

Click Play To Find Out If You Should Visit Historic Merida, Mexico!

Bonus: Visit Izamal While Staying In Merida

Remember when we told you Merida was an excellent base for exploring diverse day trip options? Well, one of the best day trips from Merida is Izamal, the Yucatan’s ‘Yellow City.’

This little colonial town is located only a 1-hour drive east of Merida or 1.5 hours west of Valladolid. The Yellow City is one of the best-preserved colonial destinations in all of Mexico! And it has become something of a social-media darling due to its unique aesthetic. Every single building in Izamal’s beautiful downtown is painted with the same distinct mustard-yellow hue.

A few things to know about Izamal, Mexico:
  • It is the smallest colonial city in the peninsula, with less than 30,000 full-time residents.
  • Izamal is one of Mexico’s famous Magical Towns, meaning it receives additional funding to maintain its beauty and heritage.
  • This Yellow City is not just a super photogenic place to visit. It’s also a perfect base for those interested in exploring nearby Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and the cenotes around Homun.
  • There are remnants of an ancient Mayan temple within the city limits.
  • Izamal is a pretty quiet little town once the day-trippers head back to where they came from. It is much more relaxed than either Valladolid, Campeche or Merida.

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Pros & Cons of the best cities in the Yucatan

Valladolid: The Up And Coming Star

Valladolid Yucatan Mexico

What To Know About Visiting Valladolid, Mexico

Choosing if Campeche Merida or Valladolid is the top colonial city

Like Izamal, Valladolid is designated as one of Mexico’s Magic Towns (Pueblos Magicos). And like Campeche, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The result is that Valladolid is perhaps the most beautifully restored and maintained of the colonial cities in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Valladolid boasts a full array of rainbow-colored buildings, wide cobblestone streets, and a lively town square. ‘Calzada de los Frailes’ is the place to go for pastel-colored buildings in an easily-explored avenue. But the town’s main square is Valladolid’s heartbeat.

Valladolid is also the easiest to reach Yucatan city for travelers spending time along the Riviera Maya. Many travel blogs use words like ‘undiscovered’ and ‘hidden gem’ when describing Valladolid. These statements are either outdated, misleading, or misinformed.

Curious to learn more about Valladolid, Mexico? Read about 23 Amazing Things To Do In Valladolid! (and what not to do)

The word is out on Valladolid. And because it is a short drive from major tourist cities like Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen, Valladolid can sometimes feel like it’s popping at the seams. Nevertheless, the town’s friendly locals, convenience to major attractions, and historic beauty still make it a wonderful place to visit.

The Pros – Valladolid Is For You If:

  • You have a preference for smaller towns rather than regional capitals like either Merida or Campeche.
  • You are interested in having the most convenient access to Chichen Itza and Ik Kil Cenote. This colorful town is the winner of Campeche vs Merida vs Valladolid when it comes to proximity to the Yucatan’s most famous sites.
  • You want to have the most delicious Yucatecan street food that we tasted while traveling through the region. Pro-tip: ‘El Tigrillo’ is the spot for life-changing cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork) tacos and polcanes (balls of fried corn dough).
  • You want to experience a more noticeable Mayan presence compared with Merida or Campeche. You will spot many more locals wearing beautiful traditional clothing in Valladolid.
  • You are ready to rub shoulders with tipsy locals at the best cantina of the three cities. This was a tough decision between Merida or Valladolid. But ultimately ‘La Joyita Cantina’ in Valladolid gets the nod for best cantina!

WOTW Tip: many people consider Valladolid to be a great base because of its proximity to Chichen Itza. But let us tell you that the nearby ruins of Ek Balam are better than Chichen Itza (in our humble opinion). Ek Balam is much less crowded and slightly cheaper. And you will actually be able to climb some of the pyramids to get up close to the most stunning engravings we saw at any Mayan ruin!

The Cons – Leave Valladolid Alone If:

  • You would get frustrated by seeing the main square surrounded by tour buses coming from Cancun every afternoon.
  • You don’t like that the prices for visiting popular sites will remind you that you’re in the middle of the Yucatan’s touristy core. Hello, ‘tourist tax!’
  • You want a colonial town with more local vibes. ‘Calzada de los Frailes,’ Valladolid’s famous pastel-colored street, distinctly lacks ambiance. It is beautiful, but upscale shops and dining options have left the famous street a bit stale. It never showed many signs of life during our three visits to this area.
  • You want to have more attractions in town beyond just colorful buildings. Most things to do in Valladolid can be accomplished in 24 hours.
  • You prefer to get as far away as possible from the major tourist crowds found along the Riviera Maya. Valladolid and the major attractions in the area are swarming with fellow travelers.

Click Play To Discover Charming Valladolid, Mexico!

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Final Thoughts About Campeche, Merida Or Valladolid: Which Was Our Favorite?

We enjoyed our time visiting every one of these cities in the Yucatan Peninsula. But what kind of post would this be if we didn’t recommend Campeche, Merida or Valladolid? Well, here it goes – our favorite colonial city in the Yucatan Peninsula is…

Actually, we don’t have a recommendations. We have two! Whoops… But before you start cursing at us through your computer screen, here is where we are coming from:

  • Campeche was our personal favorite. We loved the slower pace, friendly locals, affordable prices, and the off-the-beaten-path appeal of nearby attractions.
  • Merida objectively has the best combination of beautiful colonial city, vibrant local markets, abundant day-trip options, and cosmopolitan appeal.

So, in summary, Merida ticks many of the boxes that travelers should consider when selecting a destination. But just because we think Merida is the most complete package for travelers doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the optimal destination for everyone.

We hope our review helps you decide whether Campeche, Merida or Valladolid is right for you! We try to share everything we learn from slow traveling through places to give you enough context to plan your own epic travels.

Thanks for reading!


Still have questions about Campeche, Merida or Valladolid? Which one of these Yucatan cities do you think fits your style? Reach out in the comments or DM us on Instagram!

Ready To Explore More Of The Yucatan Peninsula? Read These Posts Next:

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2 thoughts on “Campeche, Merida Or Valladolid: Which Colonial City Is Best For You? (With Videos)”

  1. I hope to visit Campeche and Merida too. Was there a temperature difference between Campeche, Merida, and Valladolid? I found It very hot when i visited Valladolid in March.

    1. Gordon Letschert

      Hey Tanya – we also suffered with the heat in March and April! I can say that they all 3 cities felt almost equally hot. The only difference is that Campeche is a coastal city, so it has more of an ocean breeze to help keep things slightly cooler. I also read that the hottest months in the Yucatan are between March to May – so a bit different from other places. Maybe consider visiting between November and February for the most comfortable temps.

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