Valladolid, or Zaci’ in Yucatec Maya, is a city rich in history, culture and charm located in the center of the Yucatán Peninsula and the Mayan world, approximately two hours east of Mérida, the capital of the region. Though much older in pre-colonial history, it was officially founded in 1543 by the Spanish who settled to establish cattle ranches and plantations to cultivate henequen. Henequen, or sisal fiber used to make hammocks and textiles, was considered the region’s “green gold” during the 19th century and its export resulted in great economic growth for the region.
In 2012, the city was designated as a national Pueblo Mágico by the Ministry of Tourism. This is a distinction granted in Mexico to highlight influential towns based upon their natural beauty, cultural significance, and historical relevance to the country. The town of approximately 80,000 (depending on university student population) is also home to several universities that can be valuable resources for CLAS students when conducting their field projects.
Valladolid is one of the safest cities in the Yucatán which is by far the safest state in Mexico. The crime rate for the entire state is estimated to be equivalent to the crime rate of Vermont. The community is very friendly and helpful, just as the people one encounters throughout the peninsula. Valladolid is very walkable and transportation is easy and inexpensive by colectivo(minibus) or taxis which are plentiful and reliable. Local travel and touring by horse and carriage is also possible from the main square, or zócalo.
Of course the most notable characteristic of the Yucatán is that it is home to current Mayan culture and language. Valladolid is very close to the famous ancient sites of Chichén Itzá, Ek’ Balam, and Cobá. What is very important to recognize is that the Mayan identity is a current, ongoing and relevant characteristic of modern day culture and society throughout the region. While Spanish is the common language everyone speaks, many also speak Yucatec Maya and women frequently wear traditional dresses calledhuipiles. Jungle surrounds “metropolitan” Valladolid and in the surrounding towns and countryside, Yucatec Maya is often the primary household language. Students increasingly participate in bilingual Spanish/Maya reading and writing instruction in schools. The exploration of the persistence and preservation of indigenous culture in modern society will be a central theme of the seminar and field program.
Naturally, the residence component of the CLAS field experience is the most powerful and formative part of the program. While interacting with a local family, learning new customs and cuisine, students hone their language proficiency skills while establishing a remarkably strong bond with their host families and their surrounding community. Whether it be sharing in the preparation of a meal, meeting with local university students or faculty, or swimming in an ancient cenote (a natural underground lagoon), the Valladolid site will provide a lifetime of unforgettable memories.