If you are looking for an authentic, tranquil destination in the Yucatan Peninsula, Izamal is a good choice. With its languidly traveled cobblestone roads, wrought iron street lamps, and ancient facades, the city seems to doze in the intense tropical heat. One of the first Spanish cities established in Mayaland, it was built of limestone bricks pilfered from temple mounds and admin buildings of the original indigenous metropolis. Sacbés, elevated white roads, once connected this administrative and ceremonial center to others nearby.
In his book Prehistoric Mesoamerica, the respected archaeologist Richard E. W. Adams mentions Izamal’s connection to the demise of neighbor Chichén Itzá. Apparently Chichén’s ruler stole the bride of Izamal’s ruler, leading to revenge and the sacking of this super-power-in-decline. Soon thereafter, Chichén Itzá was abandoned for the last time.
Izamal’s Maya past is clearly visible in the names and faces of its inhabitants, and in the ruins of the imposing Kinich Kakmo pyramid, dedicated to the god of the heavens, Itzamná. Climb to the top of this crumbling temple mound for a look over town and the surrounding plains.
But the main game in town, architecturally speaking, is imposing Franciscan Convento de San Antonio de Padua, still a functioning monastery. Its large atrium was built to accommodate new converts during the early days of the Spanish conquest. It fulfilled the same function four centuries later, when thousands of the faithful arrived to hear Mass celebrated by the late Pope John Paul II, in 1993. Among the church’s many ornate chapels is one dedicated to Izamal’s patron saint, the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception.
What to Do Here?
Izamal is neither bustling nor sophisticated; somnambulant is a more appropriate descriptor. Three or four times a week a light-and-sound show is projected on San Antonio de Padua’s exterior walls. Most visitors opt for an inexpensive calesa (horse-and-buggy) ride around town. Locals use this type of conveyance for transportation too. Drivers will take you sight-seeing around “the Yellow City,” so nicknamed because the ecclesiastic and government buildings in the town center are painted yellow ochre.
Or ask your driver to follow the handicrafts route. In humble home-workshops entrepreneurs produce papier mache, jewelry, and other goods in addition to the region’s famous hammocks. Some of the items are amateurish, but that doesn’t necessarily detract from their appeal ... and prices are low. If you’re looking to enjoy the process as much as the product, then you’ll enjoy this option. The Cultural and Handicrafts Center offers Mexican handicrafts, hammocks, as well as goods make of henequen (sisal) and carved horn.
Izamal is an excellent destination for the curious and independent traveler. Stop over for a few days or use it as a base for visiting area haciendas, sinkholes, and archaeological sites.
For more things to do as well as hotels and restaurants, check out our Izamal Travel Guide.
IZAMAL LOCAL LISTINGS