Located in the heart of the Yucatán Peninsula, you’ll find the most charming town that’s painted completely yellow: Izamal, Mexico.
This peaceful town may be known as Mexico’s “Yellow City”, but it offers a lot more than just romantic cobblestone streets!
From multiple Mayan ruin sites and an incredible historic convent to traditional Yucatecan restaurants and a vibrant local market, there are so many incredible things to do in Izamal.
While living as a digital nomad in Mexico, my boyfriend and I took a weekend trip to Izamal and fell in love with this enchanting little town.
In this guide, I cover the best things to do in Izamal. Plus, how to get to Izamal, where to eat, where to stay, and other must-know tips.
Ready to explore the “Yellow City”? ¡Vamos!
Table of Contents
- Quick History of Izamal
- Is Izamal Worth Visiting?
- Best Guided Day Trips to Izamal, Mexico
- 5 Best Things to Do in Izamal, Mexico
- Izamal, Yucatan, Mexico: Travel FAQs
- 11 Best Things to Do in Izamal, Mexico:Ultimate Travel Guide to the “Yellow City”
- Did you know…
Quick History of Izamal
A town of many nicknames, the “Yellow City” is also known as the “City of Three Cultures” – thanks to its Maya heritage, Spanish colonial buildings, and modern Yucatecan lifestyle.
In the Classic period (which spanned 200 to 900 A.D.), Izamal was most likely the largest city in northern Yucatán. Archaeologists have discovered remnants of roughly 80 pre-Hispanic structures within the city’s borders.
Then came the Spanish conquistadors, who took over and built grand colonial mansions, churches, and the Convent of Saint Anthony of Padua.
And somewhere along the way, the entire city center was painted yellow…
Though the answer to the question “Why is Izamal yellow?” remains somewhat of a mystery.
Is Izamal Worth Visiting?
This ancient city oozes authentic culture and charm. It’s no wonder Izamal was designated as the first official “Pueblo Mágico” (magic town) by the Mexican government in 2001. Izamal also made it onto my list of the best places in Yucatán!
From Izamal’s vibrant yellow streets, quaint parks, and peaceful vibe, to its ancient ruins, historic colonial sites, and authentic Yucatecan culture, I thought Izamal was well worth visiting! It’s SO cute.
Izamal is a great day trip destination – though you could happily spend two days here if you wanted to spend the night in a beautiful hacienda.
Best Guided Day Trips to Izamal, Mexico
I booked a rental car to explore Izamal and beyond. However, if you’d prefer a guided day tour to Izamal, you can embark on one from either Mérida or Valladolid.
That way, you can soak up all of the fascinating history (courtesy of your guide) and not have to worry about transportation. Here are the best Izamal tours!
- Private Izamal Tour + Mayan Handcraft Jewelry Workshop
- Small Group Izamal, Chichen Itza + Cenote Tour
5 Best Things to Do in Izamal, Mexico
With the fun facts out of the way, let’s dive into the best things to do in Izamal, Mexico!
1. Roam the Yellow Streets
Of course, the best thing to do in Izamal is to simply wander the stunning streets and snap some photos. The center is quite small, so you can see the entire town in an hour or two.
Treat yourself to a classic street food dish, like esquites or a marquesita, as you explore.
You can also take a little tour of Izamal in a horse-drawn carriage. You’ll find horses waiting in the main plaza, Plaza Zamná, just outside of the convent.
(However, personally, I’d skip this since you can’t guarantee the horses are well-cared-for…)
2. Visit the Convento de San Antonio de Padua
The 16th-century Convento de San Antonio de Padua is the crown jewel of colonial Izamal.
The convent is home to a beautiful, vast, grass-filled atrium, which is the second-largest closed atrium in the world (following the Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Square). And of course, the convent’s façade and 75 arches are yellow!
In the courtyard, you’ll see a statue of Pope John Paul II. It stands to commemorate his 1993 visit where he blessed the indigenous populations of the Americas and crowned the convent’s statue of the Virgin Mary.
Hot tip: If you happen to be in Izamal between late-November and mid-December, you might catch the Festival of the Virgin – a celebration of the Virgin Mary including parades and processions, masses, bullfighting, and more.
3. Explore the Izamal Ruins (Pirámide Kinich Kak Moo)
There are still five Mayan sites stranding throughout Izamal. But the most impressive is Pirámide Kinich Kak Moo (or the Kinich Kakmó Pyramid).
Constructed during the Classic period, somewhere between 400 and 600 AD,
This pyramid’s 10 levels stand 35 meters high, while the base is 195 wide from east to west.
It’s dedicated to the Maya sun god, Kinich Kak Moo, who has the power to bring on fiery heat and drought. The name directly translates to “fire macaw with a solar face”.
My boyfriend and I climbed up the pyramid for sunset, which I highly recommend!
With endless views of lush Yucatecan jungle around us, pink skies overhead, and ancient ruins underfoot, it was a magical experience!
4. Eat Traditional Yucatecan Food
If you’re a foodie, then you’ll love Izamal for its authentic Yucatecan restaurants.
While in the Yucatán, you have to try typical dishes like:
- Sikil p’aak: a spicy pumpkin seed dip;
- Cochinita pibil: pork that’s marinated in achiote spice paste and sour orange and slowly roasted in an underground pit;
- Sopa de lima: chicken or turkey soup with a fragrant, lime-flavored broth; and
- Panuchos: handmade, bean-filled tortillas fried until crunchy and topped with shredded chicken/turkey or cochinita pibil, plus lettuce, tomatoes, etc.
In Izamal, you can find local and authentic versions of these dishes in the Mercado Municipal de Izamal.
Best Restaurants in Izamal
But beyond street food, you can’t miss Restaurante Kinich Izamal! This is everyone’s favorite for the vibrant, festive atmosphere, great service, and authentic Yucatecan cuisine. We loved the generous portion of sikil p’aak and the panuchos!
Kinich closes early, at 7 PM, so make sure to get there in time for dinner! We almost missed out.
Need some more options? Here are the other top restaurants in Izamal:
5. Stay in a Beautiful Hacienda
There are some seriously romantic haciendas in and around Izamal. A highlight of my trip was staying at the pink, century-old Hacienda Sacnicte.
The gigantic guest suites (with air conditioning; a must in the Yucatán!), tranquil grounds, antique Mexican décor, pink walls, and warm hospitality there made our Izamal trip extra special.
Plus, it was only $70 per night!
Upon checking in, I immediately wished we’d booked an extra night just so we could relax by the pool all day. (Stay here and order a poolside mezcalita for me!)
Best Hotels in Izamal, Mexico
Here are the best Izamal hotels and historic haciendas!
- Hacienda Sacnicte (mentioned above)
- Coqui Coqui Casa de los Santos (there’s only one suite, book well in advance!)
- Hacienda Hotel Santo Domingo
- Hotel Hacienda Izamal
More Things to Do in (& Around) Izamal, Mexico
Have even more time? If you stay the night in Izamal, you’ll have time to explore more of the Yellow City’s town center, plus visit some other must-see destinations nearby. Here are some of my top recommendations!
6 Other Activities in Izamal
- Watch the Video Mapping Show: Just like in Valladolid or Mérida, you can check out Izamal’s free video mapping show in the atrium of the Convent of San Antonio de Padua, at 8:30 PM, Monday through Saturday. The show combines light, audio, and visuals projected onto the church façade, telling the story of Izamal’s unique history and culture. (Note: Schedule may vary depending on the season you visit.)
- Other Izamal ruins: Beyond Pyramid Kinich Kak Moo, there are some other (albeit less impressive) Mayan ruins to see in/around downtown Izamal: Itzamatúl, Tu’ul (“El Conejo”), Hubuk, and Chaltún Há. There are many other ruins to see around the Yucatán, so if you don’t have time to visit these ruins, don’t worry!
- Mercado Municipal de Izamal: The Mercado Municipal de Izamal is a small, traditional market located across the street from the Convento de San Antonio. There, you’ll find street food stalls, produce stands, and artisans selling traditional handicrafts like henequén-fiber hammocks, ceramic jars and pots, hand-painted wood carvings, and jewelry. Worth a browse!
- Shamanic Ceremony with Hermano Maya: Contact Hermano Maya if you want to experience traditional Mayan healing rituals like Mayan massage, temazcal (sweat lodge), and spiritual cleansing.
- Museo de Artesanias: The Centro Cultural y Artesenal is a small museum, housed in a historic colonial mansion, featuring a vibrant array of folk art created by different indigenous communities throughout the Peninsula. This is the perfect place to beat the mid-day heat! There’s a small entry fee.
- Other religious sites: Stop by the Parque de los Canones to see the old Santa Cruz chapel and the cannons that were used in the bloody mid-19th century War of the Castes. Also, don’t miss the Capilla de los Remedios, which dates back to the 18th century.
Things to Do Near Izamal
Thanks to Izamal’s central location, as long as you have a rental car, there are all sorts of amazing archeological sites, nature reserves, and charming towns to discover within a short drive.
Izamal would be a great base to explore more of the Yucatán since each of the places below is within a 2-hour drive of Izamal!
- Valladolid: There are so many amazing things to do in Valladolid! I recommend staying 2 or 3 nights in Valladolid because this Pueblo Mágico is beyond charming! From Valladolid, you can take this Guided Combo tour of Izamal, Chichen Itza, and Cenote Yokdzonot; this may be a great option if you don’t have a lot of time.
- Ek Balam: Dare I say, the ruins of Ek Balam are almost as impressive as Chichen Itza? Off the beaten path, you won’t find crowds here. Plus, you can climb to the tops of the pyramids, lending epic views of the surrounding jungle!
- Chichen Itza: This world-famous Maya-Toltec archeological site (which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is a can’t-miss in the Yucatán.
- Rio Lagartos: Similar to the Yucatecan Pueblo Mágico of Sisal, Río Lagartos is home to a lagoon biosphere reserve where you can spot flamingos, crocodiles, and other aquatic and bird life on a boat tour.
- Cenotes: There are dozens of cenotes (natural sinkholes for swimming) near Izamal, including Cenote Chihuán, Cenoto Ik Kil, and Santa Bárbara Cenotes.
How to Get to Izamal, Mexico
From Mérida, the journey to Izamal takes about 1 hour. Here are the best transportation options:
- Rent a car and take a road trip. This is the fastest and best option. Click here to book your rental car, and then click here for the directions!
- Take the local bus from either of Mérida’s bus stations: Centro or Noreste. The direct bus journey takes about 1.5 hours and buses leave roughly every hour. You can purchase your ticket when you arrive at the station.
- Arrange a taxi or call an Uber. On the Uber app, you can expect to pay between 700-900 pesos for a one-way journey. But keep in mind, you’ll need to make another plan for the journey back because there probably won’t be any Ubers in Izamal.
- Take this guided tour to Izamal.
Hot tip: If you rent a car, stop halfway between Mérida and Izamal for lunch at Pueblo Pibil. This restaurant was featured on Netflix’s Taco Chronicles for its succulent, slow-cooked cochinita pibil. It was delicious – and so were all of the creative, hand-crafted cocktails we ordered!
From Valladolid, the journey to Izamal takes about 1.5 hours. There are a few ways to get there:
- Rent a car and drive yourself. This would be my first choice, for comfort and convenience. Here are the directions. Note, this route has tolls!
- Take the bus from Valladolid’s only bus station. Buses leave for Izamal roughly every 1 or 2 hours.
- Arrange a taxi or private transportation through a local travel agency.
- Take this guided tour to Izamal.
Hot tip: This is my favorite website for finding deals on rental cars in Mexico and beyond. However, note that if you purchase third-party liability insurance online, you will still be required by law to purchase local Mexican insurance at the rental car counter. It’s up to you, but you may want to opt out online so you don’t double-pay for insurance!
WANT MORE YUCATAN TRAVEL INSPIRATION?
- 6 Best Things to Do in Sisal, Yucatán + Must-Know Tips
- 22 Amazing Things to Do in Valladolid + Must-Know Tips
- 9 Best Places in Yucatan, Mexico: Where to Visit in Yucatán State
Izamal, Yucatan, Mexico: Travel FAQs
Izamal is known as the “Ciudad Amarillo” or the “Yellow City” since all of its charming colonial buildings are painted in different shades of yellow. It’s so quaint and lovely, it’s impossible not to feel happy here! Beyond the yellow walls, Izamal is known as the “City of Three Cultures” thanks to its ancient Maya history and archaeological sites, Spanish architecture, and modern-day Yucatecan culture and traditions. In addition, Izamal has been officially named a “Pueblo Magico” (or magic town) by the Mexican government. Culture-wise, Izamal is known for its hard-crafted sisal (henequen) hammocks and hand-painted ceramics. This town is so special, it’s been submitted to potentially become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There aren’t many towns as charming as the “Yellow City” of Izamal. If you have time in your Yucatán itinerary, you should not miss Izamal! There isn’t a huge list of things to do in Izamal – but the few attractions there (like the Kinich Kak Moo Pyramid and the famous Convent of San Antonio) are well worth seeing. Not to mention, you’ll love roaming the beautiful yellow streets and taking some photos. You can simply take a day trip from Mérida or a day trip from Valladolid. However, if you can, I recommend you stay overnight in one of the peaceful, historic haciendas nearby, such as this one!
In general, the Yucatan state is one of the safest regions in all of Mexico – and the “magic town” of Izamal is no exception. Personally, I felt very safe in Izamal during the day and after dark, and I think you will too. Of course, you should always stay aware of your surroundings, keep your belongings close (such as with this crossbody shoulder bag or this belt bag), and only walk along well-lit streets after dark.
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11 Best Things to Do in Izamal, Mexico:
Ultimate Travel Guide to the “Yellow City”
Izamal is a tiny (and yellow) hidden gem of a town – and a must on your Yucatan Peninsula itinerary!
Of the many things to do in Izamal, Yucatan, the best one is just to be there – soaking up the peaceful atmosphere, palpable ancient Mayan history, and lovely colonial streets. But of course, the Kinich Kak Moo Pyramid and the famous Convent of San Antonio are highlights too.
If you decide to take a day trip to Izamal, you’ll leave with plenty of sweet memories – and at least a hundred photos of this beautiful town!
Have you been to Izamal before? What were your favorite things to do (and eat!) there? Are you planning to visit soon? Have any questions? Leave your questions and comments in the box below!
Did you know…
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