Valladolid, a 470-year-old city of 50,000 located in the heart of the Yucatán Peninsula, is architecturally Spanish and culturally Mayan. The women selling tortas along the cobblestone streets that cut between pastel haciendas wear traditional, flowered huipils and shout to each other in a local dialect. They congregate, along with young lovers and confused tourists stopping on the way from Cancún to Chichén Itzá, in the town's central park every evening for free concerts. Come New Year's Eve, the mariachi music gets a little louder, but little else changes. The party is due east in Tulum or northwest in the sprawling city of Mérida. In Valladolid, travelers smart enough to head to the Mayan ruins on a holiday – they stay open – spend the evening getting hammered on xtabentún, a form of anise-flavored, honey-based Mayan liqueur, and local hospitality.
The best local celebration goes on earlier in the day, when kids and willing adults launch themselves into Cenote Zaci, a beautiful 280-foot-deep limestone sinkhole a few blocks away from the park. The 23-foot walls are perfect for diving or jumping – just put your thumb over the mouth of your Sol beer bottle and leap.
Visitors stay in the El Mesón de Marqués, an average hotel over a decidedly above-average restaurant that sprawls through a courtyard past pillars carrying hundreds of burning and melted candles. The atmosphere is casually romantic and the waiters do their damnedest to speak English. The same can't be said for the men selling salbutes (stuffed miniature tortillas) in the Bazar Municipal next door, but the food there is comparable and the atmosphere can get small-town rowdy, making it the perfect place to ring in the next year.
More information: The easiest way to get to Valladolid is to book a shuttle from your hotel or the airport. The ride takes an hour and a half and costs $45 a person, depending on the number of people in the bus.