I am here to convince you of the reasons Why You Need To Visit Izamal. Dubbed the "Yellow City" in the Yucatan, it needs to make it to your travel itinerary, soon.
What Makes Izamal So Magical?
Did you know it is actually referred to as a Pueblo Magico, or Magic Town. Our group certainly agrees with this thought. The name is taken from the name of the God Itzamná or Itzamatul.
We felt safe in this town. Our group stayed out until about 10 pm and were back up at 6 am, walking and exploring. There wasn't a time we felt unsafe at all.
Not only is the town beautiful to photograph, but it is also a walking town and so fun to explore!
I also love that as of yet, it hasn't made the top tourist radars yet. That means it is relatively unspoiled. The locals were all very friendly, I am assuming because they are not overrun by tourists on the daily.
We arrived later in the day as we were traveling from Isla Holbox To Merida. This was a midway stop we had planned, but I really wish we could have spent more time in this lovely city.
Immediately you are drawn to the beautiful yellow architecture and the convent in the center of town.
We stayed at Hotel Riconda Del Convento which is right next to the convent. It was a great location, but a little noisy at night as it was right on the road. Another thing to note about the hotel, it on the lot next door there was a ruin. It was pretty cool!
Why Is Izamal Yellow?
This information is per our awesome tour guide, Marcos. There are 2 thoughts about the color, let me tell you both as explained by our guide.
Before the Spanish conquest of the Americas, Izamal was widely associated with a Maya sun god called Kinich Kakmo. This God was important as he had the ability to cause heat and drought within this region.
In the early 1990s, PopeJohn Paul II came to visit this small town. This was a huge honor for them and to prepare they painted the whole town this beautiful, vibrant yellow.
Here is where opinions diverge. Some people say the yellow was chosen to give honor to Kinich Kakmo, the sun god.
Others insist it was because yellow is the prominent color of the Vatican flag.
Whatever the reason, I like it!
Marcos also told us that only the older, colonial buildings are painted yellow. In fact, if I understood correctly, it is mandated in town.
History Of Izamal
Unesco has a fascinating article on the history of Izamal. If you are a history buff, you don't want to miss this. It is listed as a tentative Unesco site.
Izamal is considered one of the oldest cities of the Mayans. It is more than 2,000 years old!
Izamal was founded by Zamná, priest of the god Itzamná, in the Late Pre-classic period (750 to 200 A.C.). The greater incidence in the constructive activity includes the Proto-classic (200 B.C. to 200 a.c.), the Early Classic (200 to 600 A.C.) And Late Classic (600 to 800 A.C.) periods.- Info from Unesco site.
They have found and cataloged more than 80 pre-Hispanic sites in this small town. There are also 5 pre-Columbia structures you can view in the town.
I am telling you, this town has it all and more!
Recommendations For A Short Visit To Izamal
Many of you will be like us and just passing through. Or maybe you are looking at a day trip from Merida.
Here are my recommendations. First, take a horse-drawn carriage ride. I highly recommend a man names Marcos, you can see his carriage above. He was a native of the area and passionate about this home. His English is impeccable as well.
Marcos taught us all about the town and area. He gave homage and respect to the original Mayans, teaching us about the culture, customs, and language. It was fascinating.
He also took us by many of the ruins in town. It was fascinating to see a town grown up around and thriving around the ruins? We found out our hotel was also sitting right next to a ruin.
It was well worth the $500 pesos for the 1.5-hour trip. He was a great tour guide and we tipped well.
Exploring The Convent And Town
The convent was closed by the time we check in to our hotel, so we got up early the next morning to explore.
Early morning, if you are a morning person, is actually the perfect time to visit Izamal and the convent. The convent opens at 7 am, but there is plenty photograph in the surrounding streets before then.
One thing I loved was watching this beautiful city just starting to wake up. At 6 am when we set out, there was hardly anyone out. By 7 am, when the convent opened, the first stalls in the local markets were just being set up.
There is something really cool about watching a small town come to life.
Historic Convento San Antonio De Padua
Izamal is such an interesting town as it is where 3 cultures collide. The most dominant (in color and size) is the Convent San Antonio De Padua. The convent was actually built on the Mayan city.
As with most stories of conquest, Izamal has its own sad history to write. After the Spanish invasion and conquest, the inhabitants of this beautiful area were enslaved, forced to take down the top of their largest pyramid and build a monastery and church. The construction of the Convento was started by the Spaniards about 1550.
After the Convento San Antonio De Padua was built, there were many miracles reported in the area. The Catholics attributed this to Mary, but the Mayans and locals believed they came from the site originally being built to Itzam Na, their God of miracles. Our guide, Marcos, fully believed the latter.
This site still remains a place of pilgrimage for Roman Catholics.
The Town Square
As with most cities in the Yucatan, Izamal boasts a beautiful town square. The brightly painted name sign sits just in front of the Convento making such a pretty photo op.
This is a bustling area during the daytime and early evening. There are vendors all around the square and its pathways.
We took photos early and had the place mostly to ourselves.
Izamal's Mayan Ruins
Here are a few of the ruins to visit when you are in town. Again, with the horse-drawn carriage tour, we were able to see almost all of these.
The first and most impressive structure is the main pyramid platform and pyramid temple of Kinich Kak Moo, Sun-eyed-Fire-Macaw. You can visit and climb on this structure.
Next are the ruins of Itzamatul, just behind the convent. Another impressive structure you can climb and walk around.
The ruins of Kabul are behind the artizans museum. These were closed when we were there and not sure if there are plans of reopening them to the public?
Next are the very small and unimpressive el Conejo ruins. We saw these on the tour, but they certainly are not impressive compared to the others we had seen already. In fact, we probably would not have known about them were it not for our guide.
Last is the Chaltun Ha ruins on Calle 38 a little past Calle 43 on the edge of town. We did not see these, but I read they were in the town.
Parking In Izamal
We had a rental car on our visit to Izamal. If you have any concerns about driving a car here, cast those aside. It was a very easy town to navigate in and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Our hotel had streetside parking right in front of the hotel. I understand most hotels in the area do.
Distance To Izamal
- Merida- 67.6 Kilometers
- Cancun-254 Kilometers
- Valladolid-156 Kilometers
- Tulum-215 kilometers
- Campeche-247 kilometers
If you are planning a vacation to the Yucatan in Mexico, I could not recommend a stop in Izamal more. I think this town is beautiful and you will enjoy your stay.
We were only able to stay less than 24 hours here. I really feel like 2 days, at least would have been better. There is so much to explore and see in this beautiful town and area.