While visiting the Yucatan capital of Mérida in December of 2015, we took a day trip to a charming and unique city just 45 minutes away: Izamal, also known as the "Yellow City".
Izamal has been designated as one of the "magical towns" in Mexico, and one of only two in the Yucatan, the other being Valladolid, which we also visited and enjoyed.
Yucatan Today provides this explanation of Izamal's designation as a magical town:
"What makes Izamal a magical town? Just enter the town and that question will be answered. The first thing that any visitor notices is that the town is painted yellow… all the colonial buildings, the market, the huge convent, everything! The next things that stand out are the cobblestone streets and the iron lampposts that give the town a tranquil ambiance.
To visit Izamal is to visit a city/town that is alive with three cultures – the ancient Maya, the colonial, and the present day bustling Izamal. Izamal is a monument of color, history and pride that can be felt in its streets and buildings. Art, music, and gastronomy are all around you!"
Since the ADO bus doesn't travel to Izamal from Mérida, we had to find the local bus station, walk over from our hotel, and catch a 2nd class bus, but it all worked out fine. I do wish we'd gotten a sunnier day for our trip, as the golden tones of all the buildings would have been so much lovelier against a clear blue sky, but it was still beautiful. Have a look!
We visited on a weekday, so town was very quiet. I suspect they get most of their tourists on weekends. The central square was deserted, but it appeared that they were setting up for some sort of fair for the weekend, with booths all around, and pretty colored flags flying in the strong breeze.
As the Yucatan Today article recommends, we visited the most important historical site in the city, the Franciscan Convent, built over one of the Maya pyramids.
When visiting the Convent, there is first a walk up a wide entrance way through an outer wall.
Once through the arch at the top, there is a large courtyard and view of the convent itself. Since we visited on a school day, the students were outside enjoying their recess.
The interior of the sanctuary is impressive, especially the restored altar.
After leaving the Convent, we walked to an archeological site right in town, Kinich Kakmo. According to the plaque, it was constructed around 400 to 600 BC (AC in Spanish), and likely over the top of an even more ancient structure.
Getting to the upper temple requires climbing quite a few stairs, but we didn't mind. With all we'd been eating on this trip, we welcomed the exercise!
Once at the top of the stairs, the upper temple is visible. More climbing up the much steeper stone stairs of the temple will take you to the top for a wonderful view of the city, so of course we had to go for it! And unlike most of the Maya sites we've visited before, we had this one nearly all to ourselves.
That's me half-way up...
And here's Barry at the top!
The view from the top was indeed spectacular; just wish we'd had a prettier day.
After all that climbing, we'd earned our lunch. We found this lovely restaurant we'd scoped out ahead of time on Tripadvisor and had a delicious meal.
We ate inside this beautiful palapa, early by Mexican standards (noon), so we had the place to ourselves!
We enjoyed delicious vegetable soup and chaya empanadas. Presentation and service were as good as the food.
Before catching the bus back to Mérida, we checked out one more archeological site, Itzamatul, right on the edge of town. This one wasn't as high or magestic as Kinich Kakmo, and we didn't bother climbing it.
Also of interest to me was that on the outskirts of town, I finally found a house that was not painted yellow. It was likely allowed because it was considered outside of Centro. I thought the colors were pretty and would have loved to see what was hiding behind its tidy facade!
I hope you enjoyed our images of the Yellow City of Izamal. We have one more gem of the Yucatan to share with you, to the coastal fishing village of Celestun. Please stay tuned!
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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