Izamal Mexico: Your 2022 Guide to the Yellow City

Izamal Mexico is a wonderful addition to any Yucatan travel itinerary. The little city is characterized by its bright yellow houses and buildings. 

Up until recently, Izamal was relatively unknown by international tourists and remained largely off the beaten path. However, its photogenic appearance has started gaining the city recognition on social media. 

Visiting Izamal Mexico

Every house, church, restaurant, and store in Izamal is painted in the same vibrant, uniform yellow shade. A popular misconception is that this is a result of a beautification initiative that took place when Pope John Paul II went to visit the city in 1993.

However, this is false! While the locals may indeed have applied a fresh lick of paint to their homes and businesses to impress the pope, Izamal was already yellow! The reality is that nobody knows for sure exactly why Izamal has been designed like this. 

Most Yucatecan towns are bright and colorful. However, the houses on each street have usually been painted in all colors of the rainbow, rather than just one.  

One theory is this was done to honor the Mayan Sun God Kinich Kakmó. A pyramid dedicated to this deity can be found in the center of the city. 

For now, Izamal has not been a victim of over-tourism or gentrification. If you stop by on a weekday, even during the peak season, you may be surprised to find that you are one of only a handful of tourists in the area.

Now is absolutely the best time to visit before word gets out. This is one of the best places in the Yucatan to visit.

A Little History of Izamal Mexico

zamal Mexico
Izamal Mexico

A settlement has existed at Izamal for more than two thousand years. This is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited places in the Yucatan.

It was founded by Zamná, a priest of the god Itzamná, in the Late Pre-classic period (750 to 200 A.C.). Sadly, when the Spanish Colonizers arrived, they destroyed a great deal of the buildings that were standing at that time.

Izamal is a Mayan word meaning “Rocio del cielo” or “dew drops from the sky”. It is a pueblo magico and was inscribed as such in 2002, making it one of the earliest towns to join the program. 

Today, most of what you see here are colonial houses, with a few remaining pre-Hispanic structures blended in. Many of Izamals 15,000 strong population are of Mayan descent and Mayan is spoken here just as much as Spanish. 

In 2008, Izamal was submitted to UNESCO for consideration for the city to obtain protected world-heritage status. For now, it remains on their tentative list but this may change going forwards. 

Things to do in Izamal Mexico

There are enough things to do in Izamal to keep you occupied for a day. You can stop here while making the journey from Merida to Valladolid (or vice versa).

There are some beautiful hotels and accommodation properties in the area. So, if you wanted to explore at a more laid-back and relaxed pace, you can opt to stay overnight. 

Climb Kinich Kak Mo 

The Kinich Kak Mo Pyramid is one of the most important structures in Mesoamerica. It is also one of just a few pyramids in the region that were not destroyed by the Spanish during their colonization of Mexico. 

It was built around 400-600 A.D. The base of the pyramid is 200 m by 180 m and the height of the upper temples is more than 34 m. 

Legend has it that the temple was dedicated to a Mayan Sun God. He would materialize here daily in the form of a Fire Macaw and take any offerings that were made in his honor. 

The pyramid is free to enter and it is possible to climb to the top to enjoy views over Izamal. Local guides may stop and ask you if you want an explanation of the site.

They charge just a few pesos and this is a nice way to support the local community. If you are not interested, you can politely tell them no. 

Have Lunch at Kinich Restaurant 

Yucatecan food may not be incredibly well known internationally. However, Kinich is an Izamal restaurant that has gained recognition throughout the Americas.

The rustic-chic eatery sits beside the pyramid of the same name. It specializes in preparing pre-hispanic Ancient Mayan dishes that were enjoyed in the region centuries ago. Better yet, explicit care is taken to prepare the food using the same ancient methods.

For something unique to this part of Mexico, consider ordering yourself some cochinita pibil. If there were a signature dish of the Yucatan, this would be it.

Cochinita pibil is made by slowly marinating pork in an underground oven known as a pib. Thinking of it as the ancient way of making pulled pork!

Before cooking, the meat is marinated with a blend of herbs, achiote paste, bitter orange, and lime. It is served with fresh tortillas, onions, rice, and salsas so that you can make your own tacos.

Kinich also boasts an extensive cocktail menu. The restaurant’s excellent Mixologists can make you some uniquely Mexican refreshments using local ingredients like chaya (Yucatecan spinach) and mixing them with tequila and mezcal. 

For dessert, sample a traditional flan. Wash it down with a cup of strong Mexican Chiapas coffee. 

The restaurant itself is beautiful. Sit outside beneath traditional palapas in the flower-filled courtyard and watch on as Mayan women handmake tortillas in front of you. 

Meander Around the Zocalo 

The main square that can be found at the center of virtually every Mexican village, town, and city is known as a “Zocalo”. Izamals zocalo is particularly beautiful.

It is known as the square of “Zamna”, in honor of the pre-Hispanic spiritual guide who founded the city. Several arched, porticoed buildings encompass the square. 

Many of them house traditional restaurants, cafes, and convenience stores. To the north of the square, you will find the Izamal crafts museum and to the south awaits the Convento de San Antonio de Padua. 

Visit the Convento de San Antonio de Padua

The pièce de résistance of Izamals zocalo is the old Convento de San Antonio de Padua that sits adjacent to it. Construction of the site finished in 1561 and the convent still functions to this day. 

The convent was erected on the ruins of the old pre-Hispanic building known as Pap-Hol-Chac. It is one of the oldest convents in all of Latin America and the largest of its kind in North America. 

Various modifications and additions to the original building have been made throughout the centuries, most recently in the 17th and 18th centuries. Inside the temple, there is a beautiful baroque-style altarpiece, covered with laminated gold. It depicts various scenes from Jesus’ life. 

Several rooms and annexes make up the convent. It consists of a large atrium with four chapels, the chapel of Indians, the church, and the chapel itself with its upper and lower cloisters. 

The beautiful arched courtyard is a photographer’s dream. The scenery is particularly beautiful if you come here at the golden hour or as the sun begins to set. 

Shop for Crafts and Souvenirs 

You can find many artisanal goods sold throughout Izamal and the Yucatan. These make great gifts or souvenirs from your time in Mexico. 

Take the time to meander around the little artisanal stores in the city. Street vendors will often set up stalls in the porticoed streets encompassing the zocalo. 

Handmade Yucatecan hammocks are a great thing to buy in Izamal. If you have spent much time in the Yucatan, you will note that hammocks are a huge part of the traditions in this part of Mexico.

Almost every home has hooks affixed to the walls and Yucatecans often opt to sleep in hammocks during the hot, humid summers rather than swelter and struggle in bed. Traditional Mayan hammocks are made with natural fibers and are far more luxurious and beautiful than your average tropical hammock. 

If a hammock isn’t something you imagine yourself getting a lot of use out of, there are plenty of other great handicrafts you can buy in this area too. Mayan masks, rosaries made with cocoyol, wooden bracelets, henequen necklaces, traditional Maya clothing, and little sculptures of Mayan Gods are among the items you can find here. 

Take the Time to Get Lost in the Narrow Winding Streets 

Part of the joy of visiting Izamal Mexico is simply found in taking the time to get lost among the city’s narrow streets and passageways. Seemingly nondescript roads lead to beautiful churches, houses, and mercados that look like something straight out of a movie set. 

Despite Izamal being a relatively small city, there are dozens of beautiful churches scattered throughout its historic center. It can be enjoyable to identify their locations on the map and then walk from one to another – even if you are not religious.

Doing so can help you to discover parks, plazas, and residential areas that you may not have otherwise found. The Capilla De Los Remedios is a gorgeous place of worship painted in the quintessential Izamal shade of yellow. Nearby, look out for the Capilla De San Idelfonso and the Iglesia Adventista del Séptimo Día.

Visit the Nearby Cenotes 

If you have access to a car, you can use Izamal Mexico as a base to drive out to some of the cenotes that the Yucatan is famous for. Cenotes are underground caverns with natural freshwater pools that the Ancient Maya would use for spiritual practices and swimming.

These sinkholes were created when the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs crashed into Chicxulub millions of years ago. From Izamal, you can drive to Cenote Chihuán – a popular stopping point en route to Chichen Itza. 

Alternatively, you can spend an additional night in Izamal so that you can visit the cenotes of Homun. Homun is a little town with more than 30 cenotes! 

When you arrive in the town, you can hire a local tuk-tuk driver to drive you around to 4-5 cenotes. There are so many that it is easy to find ones that see very few tourists so that you have your own private swimming pool.

Some also offer an interesting glimpse into Ancient Mayan history. For example, some cenotes in Homun have Mayan handprints on the walls! 

Where to Stay in Izamal 

Izamal offers a selection of hotels and accommodation options to suit all budgets and travel styles. A couple of Yucatan haciendas and luxury properties are located a little way out of town but they are well worth the effort to get to. If you don’t have access to a vehicle, you can easily find a cab in the zocalo of Izamal, or your hotel can help you organize a transfer. 

Hacienda Sacnicte 

Hacienda Sacnicte is a gorgeous historic property located 4km outside of Izamal. Double rooms start from just 1200 pesos ($61) per night and offer luxury without the luxury price tag. 

The property is the perfect blend of contemporary modern design and Mexican tradition and this is reflected in the rooms and communal areas. There are gardens and a pool on-site for guests to enjoy after a long day of sightseeing and accommodation includes an American or Mexican breakfast. 

Hotel Rinconada del Convento 

Hotel Rinconada del Convento is a great, affordable choice right in the heart of Izamal. The property is located directly across from the San Antonio de Padua Convent.

Rooms here start from just 744 pesos ($38) a night. An a la carte breakfast can be added for 110 pesos.

Rooms are spacious, clean, and comfortable with plush modern furnishings. They boast air conditioning, flat-screen TVs, and large en-suite bathrooms with complimentary toiletries. 

Getting to Izamal 

It is easy to get to Izamal from Valladolid, Merida, Cancun, Tulum, and further afield. Autobuses Centro de Merida and Oriente buses connect a lot of major towns and cities to Izamal.

Buses to Izamal  

Izamal is 66.9km from Merida, 93.9km from Valladolid, and 74.4km from Chichen Itza respectively. Buses depart almost hourly from Merida and the journey takes around an hour and a half. 

A one-way ticket costs between $35 and $85 pesos depending on the specific bus taken. It takes an hour and 40 minutes to get from Valladolid to Izamal, with buses departing 7-8 times per day. 

A ticket from Valladolid to Izamal costs between $65 and $90 pesos. It is possible to purchase tickets online in advance via Busbud.

However, keep in mind that booking fees may be applicable. You are generally fine to purchase your ticket on your intended day of travel -just arrive at the station an hour or so before your bus is scheduled to depart.

Some cities, like Merida, have multiple bus stations. Double-check which one your bus departs from. 

Driving to Izamal 

Renting a car in Mexico allows you a lot more freedom and flexibility in your schedule. The roads in the Yucatan are very well-built and maintained. 

Keep in mind that some of the roads in the Yucatan are toll roads and the charges for driving along them can be fairly hefty. Make sure that you always have plenty of small notes and change on you to pay the tolls as these booths accept cash-only. 

It is better to avoid driving at night where possible. The Yucatan is pretty safe. 

However, many of the roads are very poorly lit and you are likely to encounter all manner of hands. For instance, steep speed bumps (topes) that are not sign-posted, rogue animals and stray dogs wandering into the road, etc. 

Izamal Tours 

If you are short on time, you may prefer to explore Izamal on a guided tour. This takes a lot of stress out of having to manage the logistics of how to get from A to B.

Touring the city with a local also enables you to gain a lot more information and context than you would have when wandering around independently. Some Izamal tours start from Merida or Valladolid and include pick-up and drop-off at your hotel.

Others are walking tours that begin at a designated point in Izamal itself. A selection of reputable Izamal tours is detailed below for your consideration. 

Final Thoughts 

Have you traveled to Izamal Mexico? Did you enjoy it? 

How does it compare to other places you have visited in Mexico? Have a wonderful time traveling here! 

Hasta Luego! xo 


Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer based in Merida, Mexico. She has produced written content for several high-profile publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, the Huffington Post, Rough Guides, and Matador Network.

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