Why Izamal Yucatan is Mexico’s Vibrant Yellow Gem

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Why Izamal Yucatan is Mexico’s Vibrant Yellow Gem

Izamal Yucatan, known as the yellow city or the city of the three cultures, is one of Mexico’s most beautiful Magical Towns.

It is a destination that captivates you from the first moment you enter, with its spectacular color and brightness that invite you to walk through its streets.

Izamal boasts splendid architecture, traditions, natural attractions, great history, and beauty.

This Magical Town is in the center of the Yucatan Peninsula, about 72 kilometers from Merida.

Izamal is dubbed the “city of three cultures:” pre-Columbian, colonial, and contemporary.

The city of the Hills, since the place is surrounded by what were believed to be small hills and turned out to be hidden Mayan pyramids; or the Yellow City, since in 1993 it was painted in yellow tones for the visit of John Paul II as a form of homage.

The origin of its name is found in the Mayan word “izmal” which means dew from the sky.

Thanks to its architectural, religious, cultural, handicraft, and culinary attractions, it was included in the system of Mexican Magical Towns.

Let’s discover Izamal together so you know what to expect on your next visit.

How to get to Izamal Yucatan

Izamal Yucatan is about 70 km from Merida, one of the most important cities in the state.

Izamal is only an hour drive from Merida, about the same distance as Chichen Itza.

In other words, its location makes it ideal when you make a route in the Yucatan Peninsula or on a road trip, which is very common in these areas.

To get to Izamal from Merida, take the Merida-Cancun highway and turn off at kilometer 48 towards Izamal; the trip takes approximately 45 minutes by car. You can rent a car here.

Another option is to fly to Cancun, 254 km from Izamal. Many tours depart from Cancun to Chichen Itza, Izamal, and other sites of interest in Yucatan.

As for the climate, a peculiar heat can be felt in all its corners, typical of the sub-humid tropical region, with an average temperature of around 26°C.

Visiting the Magical Town of Izamal is a unique and perfect experience to discover the wonders of Mexico.

It is an incredible destination for a weekend or day trip from Merida or Valladolid.

History of Izamal

izamal yucatan
Commemorative monument of the city of Izamal

Izamal was an important site of the Mayan civilization, with records of human settlement since the 8th century BC.

When the Spaniards arrived, Izamal was partially uninhabited, and the conquistadors built the mestizo town on the same site where the indigenous people had been.

It was ranked a “village” in 1823 and “city” in 1841; although it lost its title in 1923, it recovered in 1981.

In 1993, Izamal hosted Pope John Paul II. That’s how they came up with the idea of painting all its structures in yellow.

It is a seal that characterizes the place and gives it that unique charm everyone loves.

Again, this was one of the most important cities for the Mayans and is considered one of the oldest.

Entering its streets is like a trip back in time because of the architecture and style of the buildings, houses, and roads that recall the charm of the colonial era.

14 TOP things to do and see in Izamal, Yucatan

1. Convent of San Antonio de Padua

izamal yucatan
izamal yucatan convent
View of the Atrium

If there is something you can’t miss, for being a characteristic place with great historical content, it is undoubtedly the Convent of San Antonio de Padua.

It is one of the most famous constructions in Mexico, founded in 1549 by the Franciscan friars and created on the ruins of Pap-Hol-Chac, the highest of all the prehistoric platforms in Izamal.

This Convent is accessed through a ramp from Itzamna Park, and once up, there is a large central courtyard surrounded by porticoes, the Church, and the Convent itself.

In addition to the characteristic yellow color of Izamal, it has the second-largest atrium in the world, with an extension of 7,806 square meters.

Once the Convent was finished, Fray Diego de Landa brought an image of the Immaculate Conception from Guatemala.

With the highlights and beauty of the Convent, Izamal has become one of the most important sanctuaries in Yucatan.

2. Kinich Kakmó Pyramid in Izamal Yucatan

izamal yucatan

Another important and visited attraction in Izamal is the impressive Kinich Kakmó Pyramid.

It is the oldest and largest of the five pyramids in Izamal, 34 meters tall which you can see from the top.

You can also find other pyramids such as Tu’ul, Habuk, Izamatúl, and others, which make up the city of hills, a nickname for Izamal.

Kinich Kakmó means in Mayan – Guacamaya de Fuego con Rostro Solar (fire macaw with solar face) and was a Mayan sun god. The pyramid was built to honor this God around 750 BC.

Access to the pyramid is free, and the best part is that you can climb to the top, making it one of the few Mayan pyramids that can be climbed today.

From the top, you can appreciate incredible panoramic views of the area, both of the Convent and the town of Izamal.

3. The Paths of light

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Video mapping at the Convent

During your trip to Izamal, you can experience video mapping in the Parque de los Cañones.

It consists of light projections on architectural surfaces, telling the history of the place through the five most essential points of the city.

The show lasts 90 minutes; through a walk, you will go on a journey to learn about the history of Izamal.

You will see important historical characters and the Green Gold Era when the henequen (a type of local agave plant) industry was at its peak.

In addition, you will learn curious facts about the houses in the Centro Histórico.

4. Plaza Itzamna, market, and the letters of Izamal

izamal yucatan
The main square

In the center of the municipality, you will find Itzamna Park or Plaza Itzamna.

Surrounded by buildings with entrances on three sides, right by the Convent of San Antonio de Padua.

The plaza’s name references the God Itzamná, the God of wisdom. In the Mayan ruins of Izamal, buildings dedicated to venerating this God have been found.

In the middle of the park, you will find the letters of Izamal, so characteristic of Mexican cities with colorful letters, perfect for a souvenir photo.

In the plaza, there are also food and gift stalls, very close to the market, which is an essential stop to get to know the culture of Izamal.

5. Remedios Chapel

izamal yucatan

This small Chapel is the second-largest in Izamal, with yellow on the outside and a beautiful black and white floor that reaches the altar.

Inside, a Gothic-style altarpiece initially belonged to the Convent, but over time, a new altarpiece was made for the Convent and moved to this Chapel.

It is located at the intersection of 34th Street and 27th.

6. Colorful carriage rides

izamal yucatan

You will find them all over Izamal, but many are concentrated around Itzamna Park.

It is a beautiful and traditional way to tour the town. Besides taking a nice picture of these colorful carriages, if you wish, you can also get on them and take a short tour of Izamal on horseback.

7. Visit the 5 de Mayo Park

5 de mayo park

This traditional park is next to the Convent of San Antonio de Padua.

There are food stalls in this park where they sell delicious traditional Yucatan desserts, such as marquesitas.

It is a quiet place where the locals live together, and you can have a pleasant time.

8. Plaques with funny legends

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A curious element that attracts visitors’ attention is that when you walk through Izamal, you will find plaques with drawings and texts that tell legends on some street walls.

All of them were written by Don Ramiro Briceño López, known as the lord of legends, and collected in the book “Legends of Izamal.”

The legends of Izamal’s plaques can be found on the corners of these streets:

  • El toro: 33rd and 30th streets
  • The sad minstrel: 27th and 28th streets
  • The deer: streets 27 and 26-A
  • The elephant: streets 26-A and 29
  • The rooster: streets 31 and 26
  • The evergreen: streets 27, 26-B and 28

9. Itzamatul Pyramid

izamal yucatan pyramids

Another interesting site to see in Izamal is the Pyramid of Itzamatul.

It was built to venerate the God Zamná, to whom many pilgrims came from faraway places to make petitions.

In addition, Itzamatul gives the origin to the word Itzmal, from which comes the name of the municipality of Izamal.

Access is free and within the town, making it a short and quick visit if you don’t have much time. 

10. Stroll through the “golden” streets 

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It is worthwhile to get lost in the yellow streets of Izamal, with its characteristics, symbols that reflect the national identity, and charms that make it a unique place.

In every corner, you find amazing scenery captured in a souvenir photo.

Izamal’s streets with yellow buildings and the sun’s reflection make this town a golden world of great attraction.

What you will enjoy most is getting lost in its cobblestone streets with yellow and white facades.

The perfect complement to these architectural and archaeological attractions are the local traditions around the planting and processing of henequen, rickshaw rides, and striking craftsmanship that combine in perfect harmony with the monochromatic of the city.

11. Admire the Kabul Temple

kabul temple

The remains of the Kabul Temple are on the west side of the Itzamna Park plaza.

The name Kabul means Miraculous Hand in Mayan.

12. Museum of Handicrafts

izamal yucatan craft museum

Very close to Itzamna Square is the Museum of Handicrafts.

A small cultural space where you can contemplate works representative of Yucatán and all of Mexico made by local artists.

It also houses a small store where you can buy souveniers.

It is an excellent way to learn more about the local culture through their works, and it’s located in a central location that allows it to be visited more easily.

The museum has 11 rooms, and its exhibits are divided into five categories: wood, ceramics, metal, textiles, and clothes woven with vegetable fibers such as henequen.

There is creative jewelry made from palm seeds and cattle horns, alebrijes, and Calavera Catrinas.

13. Visit the cenotes near Izamal, Yucatan

mexico travel and leisure
Chichen Itza, México Cenote Ik Kil

The cenotes are sacred places, like natural wells and pools, that attract thousands of travelers from around the world. Some of the most popular in Izamal are:

  • Cenote Ik Kil, one of the most famous in Yucatan, is a collapsed cave southeast of Chichen Itza. The walls are covered with vegetation and vines, mixed with small waterfalls extending down. Cenotes Homún, located less than 50 kilometers southwest of Izamal
  • Tza Ujun Kat, with emerald green waters illuminated by a single beam of light entering through the roof
  • Cenote Lakin Há, a closed type cenote inside a grotto, which is accessed through an entrance located on its surface, where you descend by a metal staircase in the shape of a snail

14. Try the food!

izamal yucatan food
Kinich Restaurant is the best place to eat in Izamal

Yucatan’s gastronomic offer has gained international fame, so in Izamal, you will find delicious typical dishes.

In the market, you can find everything from the typical panuchos and salbutes to delicious venison tacos.

You can also find beans with pork, stuffed cheese, chaya with egg, pipián de venado, cochinita pibil, longaniza, joroches, papadzules, and other delicacies.

If you feel like something sweet, you can order yucca with honey, pumpkin melada, pumpkin seed marzipan, tejocotes in syrup, and ciricote candy, a world of flavors at your fingertips.

Now, if you are looking for a place to try these delicacies, you must go to Kinich restaurant.

The restaurant inside simulates a large palapa, and the waitstaff is dressed in regional Mexican costumes.

Izamal Yucatan: Final thoughts

From its iconic yellow architecture and deeply-rooted Mayan heritage to its warm hospitality and captivating atmosphere, Izamal offers a unique and unforgettable experience for travelers seeking to immerse themselves in the heart of Mexico’s cultural tapestry.

Whether wandering through its cobblestone streets, exploring ancient ruins, or indulging in local cuisine, Izamal invites visitors to embrace its “golden” charm and discover the magic that lies within this enchanting city.

So, next time you plan your Mexican adventure, make sure to include Izamal on your itinerary and witness firsthand why it shines brightly as Mexico’s vibrant yellow gem.

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