Izamal is a small, charming and beautiful colonial town in the centre of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula about 70 km east of Merida (1 hour driving time) with a magical and peaceful atmosphere, and where the cobblestone streets are lined with historic colonial buildings painted in a beautiful and eye-catching mustard yellow colour. It’s no wonder Izamal is also known as “The Yellow City!” Due to its central location, exploring Izamal makes for an interesting and convenient day trip to take from the nearby city of Merida.
Izamal was named as one of Mexico’s “Pueblos Magicos” in 2002, which is a designation awarded by the Mexico Tourism Board to cities and towns displaying a combination of natural beauty, cultural richness and historical significance.
Even though it is a small town, there are number of interesting things to see and do and places to explore in Izamal. The town has a beautiful convent with a spacious and well-manicured grassy atrium, two large and central tree-filled parks, a few small Mayan ruins situated in the middle of town (which can be climbed), narrow cobblestone streets lined with beautiful yellow-painted buildings, pretty churches, friendly locals, and fascinating history and culture. After experiencing this lovely little town, I definitely feel that Izamal lives up to its title as a “Pueblo Magico.”
I visited the town of Izamal as a solo female traveler in November 2015 on a day trip from Merida, where I had been staying at Nomadas Hostel.
Izamal is a fantastic town to explore and I enjoyed wandering the cobblestone streets while admiring and photographing the pretty yellow buildings and architecture, relaxing in the treed plazas while observing the daily local life and culture around me, roaming the narrow aisles inside the town’s local market, eating a delicious traditional Yucatecan meal at a local restaurant, exploring the beautiful Convent and climbing one of the small Mayan pyramids which provided gorgeous panoramic views of the entire town and surrounding jungle.
This is my detailed travel guide to the town of Izamal, aimed towards independent travelers.
- 1 Location
- 2 Getting There – Transportation from Merida to Izamal
- 3 Arriving in Izamal: My First Impressions
- 4 Things To Do and Places To Explore
- 5 Where to Eat
- 6 Where To Stay
- 7 Getting Away – Transportation from Izamal to Merida
- 8 What to Bring For a Day Trip to Izamal
- 9 Overall
- 10 Pin It!
Getting There – Transportation from Merida to Izamal
There are a couple of ways to get from Merida to Izamal. I used the local colectivo and found it to be a great option.
You can get a local colectivo (shared white shuttle van) from Merida to Izamal. This is the best option for getting there, in my opinion, as the colectivos are much faster than the second class buses (which make stops at every small town along the way to pick up and drop off passengers).
The colectivos to Izamal depart from Calle 65 between Calles 54 and 52 and there will probably be a few vans lined up along the street (Calle 65). After you purchase your ticket, you may have to wait until the van has enough passengers to leave (they leave when they are full or almost full). The one-way ticket costs 28 pesos and the journey to Izamal takes around an hour.
ADO Second Class Bus
The second class buses are another option for getting to Izamal, although the journey takes longer and getting thee will be much slower. ADO second class buses depart from Noreste Bus Terminal in Merida located at the corner of Calle 67 and Calle 50. A one-way ticket costs 27 pesos.
My Experience Getting to Izamal
On the morning I visited Izamal, I woke up early, ate breakfast, got ready and confirmed with the staff at Nomadas Hostel in Merida where I could find the local colectivos that went to Izamal.
I began walking to where the colectivos lined up and departed from – Calle 65 between Calles 54 and 52. I am a pretty fast walker and it took me about 12 minutes or so to get from Nomadas Hostel (in the central area of Merida) to the Izamal colectivos.
Upon arriving to the colectivo queue, I saw a woman sitting at a makeshift desk on the sidewalk beside the line-up of colectivos and I asked her for one ticket to Izamal (“un boleto a Izamal, por favor” in Spanish). I paid 28 pesos for the one-way ticket and she handed me what looked like a coloured bingo chip. I was confused and was not sure what the chip meant, but I wasn’t confident enough in my Spanish conversation skills or knowledge to have the luxury of asking the woman.
She pointed to the first colectivo in the line-up along the street and I climbed into the van. It was almost full already, so I took a seat at the back on a bench-like seat. As more people started piling in, the van became very squishy and hot. I definitely stood out, as I was the only Caucasian female traveler on the colectivo and the rest were all local men and women. I continued to hold onto my bingo chip.
We waited about 10-15 minutes before a man came around to each person and held out his hand. I clued in and realized that he was collecting the bingo chips! I figured that the chip probably represented a ticket, and this was an easy way to make sure that nobody snuck onto the colectivo without paying. I handed the man my bingo chip and we were on our way!
The ride was extremely hot, as I was squished in the back of a full van and touching shoulders with the man sitting next to me, the air conditioning was not functioning in this colectivo (usually they are blasting cold air), and the weather outside was already heating up (and it was only the morning). Thankfully, the windows were open so there was some air flow.
The journey went by quickly and I enjoyed starring out the window and watching the beautiful jungle scenery pass by. We arrived in Izamal after about an hour of driving.
Arriving in Izamal: My First Impressions
Upon arriving in Izamal, I exited the colectivo van along with all of the other passengers and stepped out into the scorching heat. Every street was lined on both sides with bright yellow-painted colonial buildings and it was absolutely beautiful!
There was a huge and elaborate parade happening on the street right in front of where the colectivo had just dropped me off. The sidewalks were packed with locals observing the festivities, and it was loud with people cheering and clapping and music playing as the celebrations made their way through the streets of Izamal. The participants in the parade appeared to be only children and there sure were a lot of them! The children were dressed in costumes featuring a variety of beautiful and bright colours and designs. They were dancing and drumming in the streets as they walked, chanted, and/or rode horses throughout the town. I finally realized that Izamal was celebrating Dia de la Revolucion (Day of the Revolution)!
I squished my way through the crowds of people and finally found a small space to stand, as I watched some of the parade while absorbing the incredible culture around me. I was the only tourist (and Caucasian female) within sight. Experiencing Dia de la Revolucion in Izamal was definitely a fascinating and unique cultural experience!
The parade was so colourful and vibrant and it appeared like everybody living in Izamal was celebrating in the streets.
I didn’t watch the entire parade but it carried on for about two to three hours in total, as I explored the rest of the town! There were also other celebrations all over town that lasted throughout the day while I was visiting – locals congregated in the parks and were hanging around everywhere while spending time with their families and eating from one of the many street food vendors; and there were a variety of fun contests taking place in the streets where tons of people gathered around to watch.
Throughout the entire time I spent in Izamal, I did not encounter any other obvious tourists, which was great and I enjoyed exploring being the only one and having the opportunity to explore the authentic side of Izamal while immersing myself in the local culture.
It was fascinating to experience this unique cultural celebration among the locals in this charming and authentic Mayan town!
Things To Do and Places To Explore
From relaxing in one of the two lovely tree-filled parks and plazas, wandering through the town’s cobblestone streets, admiring and photographing the mustard-painted colonial buildings, eating an authentic Yucatecan meal, climbing one of the small Mayan pyramids in the centre of the town, and exploring and admiring the large, pristine and beautiful convent, there are a variety of unique and wonderful things to do and places to explore in Izamal and I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing these things during my visit!
The Convento de San Antonio de Padua is a large and beautiful yellow-painted historical convent in the centre of Izamal that was finished in 1561. Before the Spaniards conquered Izamal, there was a Mayan pyramid on the same site that was destroyed in battle. Stones from that pyramid were used to help build the monastery, which I found interesting.
The yellow-painted convent is a huge and impressive structure and it is a focal point in the centre of Izamal.
There are sets of ramps along both sides of the convent and at the front which lead to a spacious, beautiful and pristinely manicured grassy atrium. The large atrium features a stone path walkway underneath columns that encircle the perimeter of the courtyard, providing some much-needed shade from the intense sun. The convent itself is situated along the entire east side of the atrium with columns in front and it is painted the same mustard-yellow colour as many of the other buildings throughout town and has beautiful colonial architecture. Make sure to explore the church inside the convent as well. The convent and atrium are well-maintained and absolutely beautiful places to explore, relax and wander around!
The convent’s atrium is beautiful and has a serene, calm and relaxed atmosphere and the monastery and church inside are gorgeous and have such intricate architecture. There are also washrooms inside the monastery for a small fee (a few pesos), if you need them.
The convent was the first place that I checked out after arriving in Izamal and I was in awe of its beauty and size. It was an amazing place to explore and photograph!
I recommend spending some time wandering around the atrium and exploring inside the convent building as well, while admiring the beautiful and historic architecture.
There were quite a few local children and teens hanging out along the pathways around the atrium during my visit and it appeared like the entire town had the day off for the Dia de la Revolucion festivities. But other than that, I didn’t see any other tourists at the Convent during my visit and the atmosphere was very laid-back and calm.
After exploring the atrium and Convent building, I walked around the entire block on which the Convent was located and checked out what it looked like from all sides and it was interesting to see it from different perspectives. The stone building was huge and was surrounded by a grassy lawn with a fence around it in the back.
The Convent de San Antonio de Padua is an impressive and beautiful place to explore in the centre of Izamal, with historic colonial architecture and a pretty, spacious and well-manicured grassy atrium.
Location: The front of the convent faces west and is located along Calle 30 between Calles 31 and 33. There are a large set of stone steps to access the convent from the front. You can also access it from ramps along both sides – Calle 31 between Calles 30 and 28 and Calle 33 between Calles 30 and 28.
Parque Zamna and Parque Crescencio Carrillo y Anacona
Izamal has two small and beautiful tree-filled parks and plazas which are adjacent to each other in the centre of town.
During my visit, both parks were filled with locals celebrating Dia de la Revolucion. People were gathered in the parks, chatting and laughing with one another and sharing some authentic food. There were plenty of street food vendors offering traditional Mexican snack foods like churros, ice cream, fresh juices, and others.
Both parks had tall and beautiful trees and paths lined with benches which led to a central platform where the Mexican flag was waving proudly in the wind at the top of the flagpole. The parks were pristine and very well-maintained. On the streets bordering the parks, there were pretty yellow-painted government buildings with columns and a variety of small local shops.
I enjoyed sitting and relaxing on the benches in both parks while observing the local celebrations and daily life in Izamal, eating a snack and resting underneath a shade tree. It was an absolutely lovely way to spend a portion of my day in Izamal!
During your visit to Izamal, I recommend spending some time relaxing in one of these two lovely parks, while enjoying the peaceful and relaxed atmosphere, eating a traditional Mexican snack or sweet treat and observing the local culture and daily life around you.
Location: Parque Zamna is bordered by Calle 30 and Calle 28 on the west and east sides and Calle 31A and Calle 31 to the north and south. Parque Crescencio Carrillo y Anacona is bordered by Calle 30-A and Calle 30 on the west and east sides and Calle 31 and Calle 31A on the north and south sides.
Climb the Kinich Kak-Mo Mayan Pyramid
The Kinich Kak-Mo is a small ruins site consisting of one large and impressive Mayan pyramid situated right in the middle of town. After visiting the Convent, I walked four to five blocks north of the central area to this Mayan pyramid.
I was completely alone during my visit to the pyramid with nobody else around (aside from a few local children who left shortly after I had arrived), which resulted in a quiet and peaceful atmosphere. Kinich Kak-Mo was a small ruins site and consisted of only the one partially excavated but very large pyramid (and is one of the largest pyramids in the state of Yucatan).
I walked up the short set of stone steps which led to a large open grassy area. After walking across this area, I arrived at the base of the pyramid and began climbing the tall pyramid to the top. The stone steps were uneven and steep with nothing to hold onto, but I slowly and cautiously made my way up.
From the top of the pyramid, I was rewarded with an incredible panoramic view of the entire town of Izamal and the surrounding jungle that seemed to go on forever. The sun was beating down on me and I was exhausted from the climb, so I enjoyed spending some time just sitting at the top of the pyramid while gulping down my water and admiring my beautiful surroundings and view. I was so glad that I had the opportunity to experience this beautiful place in complete solitude.
After climbing down the pyramid, I enjoyed a delicious lunch at the restaurant by the same name called Kinich, only a block from the pyramid.
When you are in Izamal, I recommend that you climb to the top of the Kinich Kak-Mo Mayan pyramid and admire the incredible views of the surrounding town and jungle from above. You will likely be completely alone and have this entire Mayan ruin to yourself, making your experience that much more special.
Location: Calle 27 between Calles 28 and 26-B (only four-five blocks north of Izamal’s Convent and central area).
Other Mayan Pyramids/Ruins in Izamal
In addition to the Kinich Kak-Mo Mayan pyramid, there are a few other pyramids in the town of Izamal that I did not visit, but definitely plan to on my future travels there. I believe some of them are accessible for climbing as well. They include:
Location: Calle 26 at Calle 31. Free.
Location: Calle 22 between Calles 31 and 33. Free.
Location: Calle 28 between Calles 35 and 37. Free.
Location: Calle 31 between Calles 30 and 32. Free.
Wander the Picturesque Cobblestone Colonial Streets
Wandering throughout the local neighbourhoods and streets of a new place is one of my favourite things to do when traveling and I especially loved and enjoyed exploring the narrow cobblestone streets of Izamal, while admiring the pretty mustard-coloured colonial buildings.
The streets in the central area were lined on both sides with pretty, colonial buildings that were all painted in various shades of yellow – from light to dark mustard and golden. There were lots of retro VW Beetles that were painted in a variety of bright colours and parked along the streets. I had to refer to my map a few times because every street looked the same and it would have been easy to get a little bit lost!
Wandering the cobblestone streets while admiring and photographing the beautiful street scenes, historic colonial architecture and yellow-painted buildings is a must-do when exploring in Izamal!
The local Mercado Municipal is a bustling and vibrant authentic local market located in the centre of Izamal, adjacent to the Parque Crescencio Carrillo y Anacona and the Convent. The street in front of the market was busy as well during my visit, with locals walking and bicycling everywhere. The market is situated inside a yellow-painted, open-air building with columns at the front.
You can find everything at this local market! The narrow and crowded aisles are lined on both sides with small stalls where locals are selling fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices, clothing, shoes, toys, games, and fresh meat of a variety of animals (if you are a vegan or vegetarian like myself, you may want to avoid the meat section. The smell was absolutely repulsive!). There are also a variety of small local food counters and eateries inside the market where you can find authentic and cheap street food to eat.
The market was busy and packed with locals during my visit and I loved the experience of wandering through the aisles and browsing the stalls!
Browsing inside Izamal’s local market is a fascinating and unique cultural experience and is definitely something I would recommend doing when in Izamal!
Location: Intersection of Calle 31-A and Calle 30, across the street from Parque Crescencio Carrillo y Anacona and the Convent de San Antonio de Padua.
Visit the Iglesia de los Remedios
The Iglesia de los Remedios was a pretty yellow-painted church in Izamal.
While roaming the town’s streets after I had eaten a delicious lunch, I discovered this beautiful small church. It was a great building to take photographs of!
Location: Calle 34 between Calles 27 and 29.
Check out Izamal’s Arch
Located almost in the centre of Izamal, there is a beautiful arch overtop of Calle 31. I discovered it while wandering around the Convent area. The Arch is pretty and a great place to take photos!
Location: Corner of Calle 31 and Calle 28, right beside the Convent de San Antonio de Padua.
Where to Eat
I had done a lot of research prior to traveling to Mexico and had read very positive online reviews of Kinich El Sabor de Izamal, so I decided to eat there for lunch during my visit.
The restaurant was located in a beautifully maintained yellow-painted historic building with tall black doors at the front entrance and lovely green potted shrubs along the street in front of the restaurant. It was situated in a quiet neighbourhood, only a short walk from the central area of Izamal.
I arrived only a few minutes after they opened and was the first guest of the day. I was promptly seated by one of the female serving staff, who were all dressed in a traditional and colourful Mayan “huipil” dress. The interior of the restaurant was pleasant and beautiful and there were lots of tables surrounding a gorgeous open-air courtyard with lush jungle plants while a palapa palm-leaf roof covered the dining area.
The menu featured a variety of authentic regional Yucatecan dishes, traditional specialties and beverages which were all very reasonably priced.
I ordered papadzules and Jamaica juice. Papadzules are a traditional dish from the Yucatan which consists of corn tortillas filled with hard-boiled eggs, covered in a sauce made from pumpkin seeds and garnished with a red tomato-chile sauce. Agua de Jamaica which is also known as Hibiscus tea, is a tart tasting drink made from steeping dried hibiscus flowers. It has a cranberry-like flavour and is usually sweetened with sugar. It can be consumed both hot and cold.
After I had ordered my meal in Spanish (the serving staff did not speak any English), I was served a complimentary bowl of corn tortilla chips with a variety of sauces and salsas, which were delicious! My meal of papadzules also tasted scrumptious and fresh and was well-prepared and beautifully presented. This was my first time eating papadzules and it was the day that I fell in love with them. I ate papadzules at a number of different restaurants in the Yucatan and my favourite ones were still the ones that I ate here at Kinich!
The atmosphere of the restaurant was relaxed and lovely and my dining experience felt very authentic. The service was excellent and the staff were friendly and warm. I enjoyed eating in the pleasant garden-like setting however, where there are trees, there are also mosquitoes. The mosquitoes were pretty terrible inside the restaurant and my legs had so many bites by the time I was finished eating. The restaurant also had Wi-Fi and the connection was very fast!
I would highly recommend eating here when you visit Izamal. After a morning of exploring the sights in Izamal, it was the perfect place to fuel up and nourish my body for an afternoon of more exploring.
Location: Calle 27 #299 between Calles 28 and 30.
Hours: 12 PM to 8 PM every day
Phone Number: +52 (988) 954-0489
Other places to eat in Izamal include:
- Cafe Restaurante Los Arcos – Calle 28 between Calles 31 and 31A.
- Restaurant Los Mestizos – Calle 33 near Calle 30 (beside the mercado). They serve traditional Yucatecan food.
- El Toro Restaurante – Calle 33 between Calles 30 and 32. Authentic Yucatecan and Mexican dishes.
- Restaurant Muul – Calle 28 at Calle 31.
- The Mercado Municipal – Calle 31-A and Calle 30 (facing Parque Crescencio Carrilo y Anacona) where you will find inexpensive and tasty authentic Yucatecan street food, as well as fresh vegetables and fruits.
Where To Stay
I only spent one full day in Izamal and did not stay overnight, but this charming town offers a number of accommodation options if you do choose to stay longer and experience the beauty of Izamal for longer. These are some highly rated hotels that I researched on the internet.
- Hacienda Hotel Santo Domingo – Calle 18 at the corner of Calle 33. This hotel looks absolutely gorgeous and it is located just steps from Izamal’s best attractions.
- Hotel Rinconada del Convento – Calle 33 #294.
- Hotel Macan Che B&B – Calle 22 between Calles 33 and 35.
- Hotel San Miguel Arcangel – Calle 31A between Calles 30 and 30A.
- Hotel Real Izamal – Calle 30 #217. This hotel is a good option for budget travelers.
If you are planning on booking accommodation in Izamal, please consider using my affiliate link for the popular booking search engine, Booking.com (click on the link to get to the website’s main page), as I will earn a small commission when someone books a stay using this link, at no extra cost to you! This helps to support the costs of running this blog so thank you in advance!
Getting Away – Transportation from Izamal to Merida
You can take a local colectivo from Izamal back to Merida, and will be dropped off at the same location where the colectivos departed from (Calle 65 between Calles 54 and 52). The tricky part, is finding out where the colectivos depart from in Izamal!
There is not one set location or street where they depart from, and you would have to walk around, stand along a main street or where the colectivo dropped you off, and wait for a van to pass by. The colectivos have no set schedule so there’s no telling how long you would be waiting for. However, if you do happen to find one, I would recommend taking it instead of the second class bus. Colectivos are much faster than second class buses and they don’t stop at every small town along the way. The one-way colectivo fare is 28 pesos.
ADO Second Class Bus
Izamal has a small, basic and open-air bus terminal dedicated to ADO second class buses. It is located along Calle 32 between Calles 31 and Calle 31-A and is inside a yellow building with round cut-outs along the front facade. The one-way second class bus fare is 27 pesos.
After spending the majority of my day exploring the town of Izamal, I decided that I didn’t want to wait around for a colectivo to show up, so I headed to the ADO bus terminal. I practiced my limited Spanish-speaking abilities and purchased a one-way ticket back to Merida on the bus line “Oriente”, which cost me 27 pesos.
The terminal provided bus service to a pretty extensive list of towns and cities across the Yucatan, including Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Valladolid, Merida and others.
I waited for about half an hour for the bus at 1:30 PM, and walked around the central area in the meantime while I waited.
Soon, the bus arrived and I along with a group of locals filed in and chose our seats. The second class buses were not quite as nice-looking as ADO’s first class buses – the fabric on the seats had some rips and tears, there was no air conditioning or TVs with movies, no washroom at the back of the bus, the bus was not as clean and it was an older model. Despite that, the seats were very comfortable and the open windows created good air flow with the lack of air conditioning.
The journey back to Merida was extremely slow. The bus stopped at every little village and town along the route to pick up and drop off passengers. However, I wasn’t in any hurry. I actually enjoyed the experience of seeing some of the really tiny and authentic Mayan villages in the countryside.
Most of these villages had the typical square and park in the centre along with a church or cathedral, although the parks were quaint and much smaller than those in the larger towns and cities. The streets were not well-maintained and the pavement was cracking and broken and had lots of potholes. The houses were small and simple and appeared to only consist of one-room. I could people swinging in hammocks inside their houses through the open doors, as the bus drove by. Children were riding bicycles, walking and playing in the streets, there were lots of bicycle cart taxis being ridden around, and there were stray dogs wandering around everywhere and sleeping on the streets and sidewalks. The villages appeared to have such a peaceful and laid-back atmosphere, and I plan to take the time to visit more of them during my future travels to the Yucatan.
The bus ride was almost an hour longer than the colectivo ride to Izamal (making the journey two hours in total), but we eventually arrived back in Merida where the bus dropped us off at the Noreste Terminal at the corners of Calle 67 and Calle 50.
I then walked back to Hostel Nomadas in the “centro historico” of Merida and relaxed for the remainder of the day and evening. I had a wonderful day exploring Izamal!
What to Bring For a Day Trip to Izamal
- A refillable water bottle – It gets hot in the Yucatan and you will definitely be glad that you brought this!
- Small daypack or backpack – My daypack worked great for keeping all of my belongings organized and stored away safely as I explored the streets of Izamal.
- Snacks – I took a couple of my favourite Cliff Bars with me for snacks on the bus and colectivo.
- A Hat – I brought my favourite baseball cap made from breathable fabric, which helped to keep my head cool and protected from the intense sun.
- Sunscreen – I probably would have gotten a nasty sunburn if I hadn’t been wearing sunscreen. I use the natural stuff which I bought from Saje Wellness in Canada.
- Cash – Bring enough cash to last you the day.
- Credit/Debit Card – These are great back-ups, in cash you run out of cash.
- Camera and/or smartphone – Izamal is such a pretty town with so many wonderful photo opportunities, so you will definitely want to have a camera or phone along with you!
Izamal is a beautiful and fascinating place to explore, and for a small town, there is a lot to see and do including: beautifully treed parks, the large Convent, the cobblestone streets lined with yellow-painted colonial buildings, eating traditional Yucatecan specialties, the local market, and climbing one of the few Mayan pyramids in the middle of town.
If you are traveling to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and are staying in or around the city of Merida, visiting and exploring the charming town of Izamal makes for a perfect and convenient day trip and I would highly recommend it, especially if you are interested in learning about and immersing yourself in the Mayan culture, climbing lesser-visited ancient Mayan pyramids/ruins, eating authentic Yucatecan dishes, and experiencing the small-town daily life of this lovely “Pueblo Magico.” There are a few accommodation options within Izamal as well and you could even choose to extend your stay for more than one day (this is what I plan to do during a future visit).
I had a lovely day exploring Izamal as a solo traveler and I thoroughly enjoyed the town’s peaceful, friendly, and relaxed vibe and atmosphere. I look forward to returning to Izamal again in the future in order to explore deeper.
Have you been to Izamal? What was your experience like? What are some of your other favourite Mexican small towns?
I would love to hear your thoughts about my Izamal travel guide in the comments below! If you have any questions about traveling to Izamal or the Yucatan Peninsula in general, please contact me and I would be happy to assist you!
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