Nicknamed La Ciudad Amarilla (Yellow City), Izamal is a town in the middle of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that has become a tourist magnet thanks to its bright yellow color. While Izamal is not as famous as places like Los Coloradas or Tulum, it boasts an incredible charm that is sure to steal your heart.
While Izamal is not the most well-known stop in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, it’s surprisingly easy to get to. The closest towns to Izamal are Merida and Valladolid from where you can catch a bus to Izamal. But if you want to be more flexible and visit other places around the Yucatan Peninsula, I recommend renting a car in Cancun.
History of Izamal
Thousands of years ago, Izamal was a beautiful Mayan town with six pyramids built around the ceremonial plaza. However, when the Spanish bishop Diego de Landa showed up in the North Yucatec Plains in the 16th, he quickly ordered the construction of Spanish colonial buildings right on top of Mayan pyramids forever changing the entire area.
Most of Izamal has been painted in bright yellow colors, but amid the colonial buildings, you can still find the Mayan archeological sites.
Landa is considered the founder of Izamal although his practices sometimes involved the destruction of the Mayan sites. You can even find a monument dedicated to him in the middle of the roundabout near the southern side of Convento de San Antonio de Padua.
Today, Izamal located in the heart of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is often referred to as “The City of Three Cultures” because of its mix of Mayan, Colonial Spanish, and modern influences. This is especially evident in the city’s culture, food, and language.
Izamal Pueblo Magico
Officially designated as Pueblo Magico or the Magic Town (a program that was established by the Mexican government to preserve culturally important places), Izamal has a rich colonial history and traditions similar to other towns around the Yucatan Peninsula.
I enjoyed my time in Izamal because unlike some places around the Yucatan Peninsula it wasn’t overrun with tourists and offered a unique atmosphere that was pure joy.
PRO TIP: While you can take a day trip to Izamal on your own, you can also do on a tour from Merida. Additionally, you can book a guided tour of Izamal, once you get there.
1. Convento de San Antonio de Padua
The dominant feature of Izamal, the bright yellow Convento de San Antonio de Padua was built on top of the ancient Mayan pyramid Pop-Hol-Chac in 1561 and was initially used to convert the native Mayans into Catholicism.
While this sounds crazy, it is not surprising if you consider the history of Izamal. The Spaniards invaded the Yucatan Peninsula and Izamal and leveled the Mayan temple that used to occupy this spot.
The convent boasts an impressive courtyard (atrio) with beautiful arcades. Spend some time walking around this place and taking photos.
The convent that you see today was finished in 1561 and has the distinction of having the second largest atrium in the world only behind the Vatican. If you have time, I suggest taking a look inside the church to check the beautiful Baroque altarpiece along with all of the wood carvings and beautiful statues.
The entrance to the convent is free.
2. Parque Itzamna
The main park of Izamal sits smack in the middle of the city center. And just like in many other Mexican towns, it has a sign with the city’s name spelled out in bright-colored letters. Parque Itzamna is surrounded by the row arcades that house restaurants, souvenirs, and convenience stores, and even once ice cream shop.
Thanks to the plenty of shade, it’s a great place to sit down and relax.
3. Parque 5 De Mayo
Located near the convent, Parque 5 De Mayo is home to the shop called Hecho a Mano where you can buy traditional Yucatec arts and crafts such as hats, textiles, and guayabera t-shirts. Around the park, you can also find individual stands with souvenirs and food.
4. Kinich Kakmo Pyramid
Located on the northern side of Izamal, this ancient Mayan pyramid is the best spot to watch the sunset in Izamal and get a panoramic view of the entire city surrounded by the lush jungle in all directions.
Originally dedicated to the God of the sun, this 115-foot pyramid is a definite must-stop when you are visiting Izamal! One of the largest pyramids in Mexico, it remains an important pilgrimage site.
It’s located on top of the first tier pyramid, which is pretty easy to ascend, however, the climb to Kinich Kakmo is a bit more challenging due to steep stairs and the lack of railings. Make sure to wear comfy shoes and bring plenty of water when you come here!
The entrance to the pyramid is free.
5. Centro Cultural y Artesanal
Centro Cultural y Artesanal is a museum where you can find masterpieces crafted by local artists. Here you will find multiple exhibits divided by categories such as metal ceramics, wood, and textiles among others.
Here you can also find a small exhibit about hacienda architecture in Yucatan and also buy crafts and arts made by Yucatec artisans.
Another prominent archaeological site of Izamal, Itzamatul sits south of Kinich Kakmo and has three levels that were built over several centuries. Itzamatul sits just south of Kinich Kakmo, so I recommend visiting it right before heading to Kinich Kakmo.
7. Habuk Archaeological Site
Located on the eastern side of the town, Habuk Archaeological Site consists of a pyramid-like platform and ruins of of several buildings. While Habuk Archaeological Site is not as prominent as other ruins near Izamal, some of its architecture dates all the way back to the 11th century. The entrance to the site is free.
As a vegan, I didn’t find any full plant-based restaurants in Izamal, but I was able to order my dishes without meat and cheese upon request.
However, if you like to eat regular food, you might want to know that Yucatecan food is different from Mexican cuisine as it has been influenced by Mayan cooking as well as Caribbean dishes. Here are a couple of restaurants in Izamal that you might want to check out.
Located in the arcade in front of Parque Itzamna, Muul is a small local restaurant with typical Yucatec food. I liked the service too, so I definitely recommend it to you guys!
Named after the Mayan Pyramid in town, Kinich is one of the most popular restaurants in Izamal that can be found almost in every tourist guide. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to try the food here, as the wait was way too long and I was short on time. However, if you want to see some local flair and eat the traditional Yucatec dishes in the beautiful setting, you should stop by.
Zamna is a great restaurant tucked away in a quiet corner away from the busy center of Izamal. Just like Muul, it has many regional dishes and very budget-friendly prices.
While Izamal is a small town, it has a decent selection of hotels, so whether you are traveling on a budget or can a afford to spend a bit more money, you will find something that you will like. Here are my suggestions for every budget.
1. Departamentos X'Kanlol - Budget
Located just a few blocks away from the bus station in Izamal, Departamentos X’Kanlol is a great no-frills budget hotel in Izamal. It has a spacious court yard and quiet setting, making it a perfect spot to relax after a day of exploring.
2. Hotel Hacienda - Mid-range
3. Farolitos Luxury Apartment - Upscale
If you want a place with a kitchen, bedroom and a hallway with a nice hammock, consider staying at Farolitos Luxury Apartment. While this is a more expensive option, it’s going to give you a feeling of a real home, rather than a hotel.
Places to visit near Izamal
While Izamal in itself is a great destination, it sits close to several other cool places in the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Yucatan capital is located about 70 kilometers east of Izamal. While some visitors take only a day to explore Merida, I recommend spending more time there simply because there’s so much to do there! And if you need some suggestions for your itinerary, check out my guide to best things to do in Merida.
2. Chichen Itza
The world-famous Chichen Itza is an unmissable stop on your Yucatan itinerary. If you are making a trip to the region for the first time, it might be a good idea to book a guided tour to learn about the history and significance of this place in the Mexican culture.
I recommend arriving early as Chichen Itza can be very busy during afternoons.
Another Pueblo Mágico, Valladolid is a beautiful colonial city that you should not miss! It has beautiful cents nearby, Mayan ruins, and plenty of cultures to keep you busy for a few days.
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