Just an hour from Mérida, Izamal is a place that has to be on your list of places to see while visiting Yucatán. Its rich history which spans over hundreds of years, photogenic yellow streets, exquisite traditional cuisine, and charming hotels to suit every budget are just some of the things which make this Pueblo Mágico an irresistible colonial destination.

The City of Three Cultures

It shouldn’t surprise us that one of the many nicknames Izamal has received is “The City of Three Cultures;” and these three cultures are perfectly visible throughout Izamal. This allows visitors to see Maya pyramids, next to colonial buildings and contemporary Yucatecan culture which lives in every one of its residents.

A Rich History

Before you even get to Izamal, it’s easy to see the importance that the state’s history holds for this colonial city. When you take the exit to Izamal, you pass by haciendas and henequén fields which give you a glimpse of what this road must have looked like during the 19th century, At this time, Izamal gained importance as a commercial center. On the road, you will also drive past Kimbilá which is an institution when it comes to buying traditional garments such as embroidered blouses, Guayaberas and Hipiles.

How to get to Izamal

To get to Izamal, you can take your own car, or go by bus. Buses leave every hour from the bus terminal on Calle 67 x 50 y 52. Once you get there, there are many ways to see the city; you can explore by foot, cab, or rent a bicycle to take your time and explore at your own pace.

The Yellow City

One of the most surprising things when you go to Izamal the first time is seeing a completely yellow town. The reason why its painted this color goes back to colonial times when different cities were identified by particular colors. In this way Mérida was red and white, Campeche was painted blue and white, and Izamal has always been yellow and white. In recent years, the color was standardized and the city has regulated that buildings in the downtown core should all be painted this color. Some versions indicate that this decision also had to do with the visit of pope John Paul the II in 1994.

Religious Tourism

Izamal is an important religious tourism destination for the peninsula due to several factors, among them the Virgin of Izamal, the visit of pope John Paul II, and the Convento San Antonio de Padua.

Start your trip through time at the Convento San Antonio de Padua. Its construction began in 1533 atop the pyramid Pop-Hol-Chac. It’s closed atrium is the second largest in the world (only second to Saint Peter’s in Rome) with 8000 square meters. This complex is a marvel of colonial architecture, you will be able to see its strong stone walls which have kept this construction standing for nearly 500 years, domed ceilings and wood rafters, along with pillars and columns which have supported the arches that line the atrium. Inside the convent there are also several 16th century murals which were only rediscovered after a remodel in the 1990s. Also, depending on the time and day, you can visit the statue of the Virgin of Izamal and present her with traditional petitions which you can bring from home, but are also for sale in the gift shop.

The Virgin of Izamal

The Virgin of Izamal is a very important figure in Yucatán. In 1557 Fray Diego de Landa travelled to Guatemala to bring back two images of the Virgin Mary which would aid him in converting the Maya to Catholicism. One of the statues remained in Mérida and the other was taken to Izamal through the Calle Real which leads into the city. The Virgin of Izamal soon began to gain the reputation of granting miracles especially over controlling pests, diseases, and plagues. Inside the Convento San Antonio de Padua is a small museum where you can visit the Virgin and see her collection of clothing.

The Main Square and Surrounding Areas

When you finish visiting the convent you can see the handcraft corridor which sets up every day on the main square in front of the convent. There you can find all types of traditional handcrafts from blouses and Guayaberas, to hats, stone carvings, and jewelry. Also, on the square is the Centro Cultural y Artesanal de Izamal which is a Mexican folk art museum and spa. You will also find the Hotel San Miguel Arcángel which has a beautiful store called Hecho a Mano, where they feature handcrafts from all over the country, and a small café. If you have the time, go in and at the end of the property where the café is you will see what appears to be a large stone wall, but if you look closely you will notice that it is a section of the Hun Pic Tok pyramid.

Pre-Hispanic Izamal

Visiting the pyramids within the city is an absolute must: el Conejo, Kabul, Itzamatul, but especially, the Kinich Kakmó (which means “fire macaw with a sun face”). This is one of the largest pyramids in all México and although the way up can be grueling, it’s worth it to get a panoramic view of the convent, plaza, and city.

Pre-Hispanic Izamal

Visiting the pyramids within the city is an absolute must: el Conejo, Kabul, Itzamatul, but especially, the Kinich Kakmó (which means “fire macaw with a sun face”). This is one of the largest pyramids in all México and although the way up can be grueling, it’s worth it to get a panoramic view of the convent, plaza, and city.

Flavors of Izamal

You’ll also find several delicious restaurants which serve regional cuisine such as Restaurante Kinich which is next to the Kinich Kakmó, or Restaurante Zamná, right on Calle Real. You can also have delicious Panuchos at one of the market stalls right across from the main square, or snacks at one of the many carts which serve Marquesitas, Esquites, fresh fruit, and ice cream.

Evenings are relaxed in Izamal. You can attend the videomapping guided tour which is offered Thursday to Sunday, but have dinner beforehand, since most restaurants close at 8 pm.

To finish your visit to Izamal in the best way possible, visit the Lakin Ha cenote and cave on your way back to Mérida.

Izamal has been called “The most colonial of Yucatecan cities,” and in many senses it’s a town which is still transitioning to modern life. It’s a very traditional city, with a traditional way of life where you are unlikely to find large chains or franchises, what you will find in abundance are kind people who make you feel at home. Back home, you will be planning your return to “The Yellow City” so that you can continue to experience its three cultures.

Editorial by Maggie Rosado
Photography by Maggie Rosado for use in Yucatán Today.

Listing

Where to stay

Coqui Coqui Casa de los Santos
Calle 31 #277 x 26 y 28, Izamal
Tel. (988) 954 1252
www.coquicoqui.com

Casa de los Artistas
Calle 31-A #313, Izamal
Tel. (999) 123 4567
www.privatehaciendas.com

Hotel San Miguel Arcángel
Calle 31-A #310-A, Izamal
Tel. (988) 954 0109
www.sanmiguelhotel.com.mx/

Posada Ya’ax Ich
Calle 31 #369-B x 42 y 44, Izamal
Tel. (988) 954 0249

Where to eat

Restaurante Kinich
Calle 27 #299 x 28 y 30, Izamal
Tel. (988) 954 0489
FB: Kinich Izamal
Open daily. 12 pm – 8 pm

Restaurante Zamná
Calle 31 #336 x 38 y 40, Izamal
Tel. (988) 954 0204
FB: Restaurante ZAMNA IZAMAL
Open daily. 12 pm – 8 pm

Cafetería Hun Pic Tok
Calle 31-A #310-A, Izamal
(Inside Hotel San Miguel Arcángel)
Mon. – Sat. 7 am – 12 pm, 1 pm – 7 pm
Sun.. 7 am – 12 pm

Los Portales
In the market, in front of the main square
Thu. – Tue. 7:30 am – 6 pm

Where to shop

Galería Tres Pájaros
Calle 52 #1803, Izamal
www.galeriatrespajaros.com

Julio Itzá Guayaberas
On the road from Kimbilá to Izamal

Hecho a Mano
Calle 31-A #308, Izamal
(InsideHotel San Miguel Arcángel)
Mon. – Sat.. 9 am – 5 pm
Sun. 9 am – 2 pm

Other

Hermano Maya Spiritual Center
Calle 31-A en el Parque 5 de Mayo
Across the street from Hotel San Miguel Arcángel
Cel: (988) 957 5366
[email protected]
FB: Hermano Maya

What you can’t miss in Izamal 

  • Convento San Antonio de Padua
  • Museo Santuario Nuestra Señora (located inside the Convento San Antonio de Padua)
  • Kinich Kakmó Pyramid
  • Trying local specialties
  • Izamal Cultural and Handcraft Center

Facts about Izamal

  • First town in Yucatán to be named a Pueblo Mágico
  • Second largest closed atrium un the world.
  • Kinich Kakmó means “fire macaw with a sun face”
  • No banks in Izamal so bring enough cash! 

 

 

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