Izamal Mexico – A Guide to the Yellow City of Yucatan
If you’re up for going slightly off-beaten track of the standard Yucatan itinerary, visit Izamal Mexico, where the Mayan heritage and the Spanish colonial architecture rhyme perfectly together. Get ready to be in complete awe at Izamal’s charm and small-town vibe, where the Mayan language is spoken equally often as Spanish.
Izamal is known as the Yellow City of Yucatan because all buildings in its historical centre are painted yellow. It is also referred to as the Hill City for its many Mayan structures that were built at the highest points of the settlement.
Izamal is tucked between Merida and Valladolid Mexico, famous for many incredible cenotes such as Cenote Oxman and the Instagram famous Cenote Suytun. Izamal Yucatán is a great place to stay, but if you don’t have enough time, I recommend staying in one of the Valladolid hotels and visiting Izamal on a day trip.
This post is a comprehensive guide to all you need to know about Izamal Yellow City, including the best Izamal things to do, the best restaurants and the best hotels in Izamal Mexico.
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Izamal Mexico Quick Guide
✈️ Check the best flights to Mexico via Expedia
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🏨 Best Izamal Hotels:
Hotel San Miguel Arcangel Hotel Rinconada del Convento Hacienda Sacnicte
🏞 Best Tours: Best Private Izamal Tour Izamal Tour + 3 Cenotes from Merida Izamal + Valladolid + 1 Cenote from Merida
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Where is Izamal Mexico?
Izamal is situated on the Yucatan Peninsula, 68 km east of Merida and 95 km west of Valladolid. Other popular locations include:
Izamal Chichen Itza 71 km,
Tulum 210 km
Cancun 254 km
Chiquila (port to Isla Holbox) 259 km
Izamal has just under 18,000 inhabitants (2020 census), and if you climb the city’s highest peak – which is the Izamal Kinich Kakmó pyramid, you’ll see that there is nothing else but the jungle beyond the city borders.
Yucatan Izamal Map
Click anywhere on the Izamal Mexico Map to access the interactive version!
What to Expect at Izamal Yucatan?
Izamal Mexico is a small town packed with Spanish colonial charm and photo opportunities on every corner. Apart from the picture-perfect yellow buildings, Izamal carries an important Mayan heritage.
The Izamal settlement was a great political and economic power controlling a territory of over five thousand kilometres square. The archaeologists discovered over 80 pre-Hispanic structures within the city boundaries dating back to 600-800 A.C. linked by sacbéob – ceremonial Mayan white roads. The roads connect other Mayan settlements with Izamal, including Xcambó – a port town, which gave Mayans control over salt production and commerce. Today, five of the pre-Hispanic structures can still be seen in Izamal, and if you’re a Mayan history enthusiast, you can visit all of them within the archaeological site (Izamal zona arqueologica).
Izamal is also an important place for the Catholics being a pilgrimage site. Some of the saint statues and images from Izamal are believed to have performed miracles. The statue of Our Lady of Izamal (also known as Virgin of the Immaculate Conception) is the most special one, blessed in 1993 by Pope John Paul II himself!
Izamal is also an excellent destination for those that want to experience an authentic Mexican town, where Spanish, as well as Maya, can equally be heard on its streets. The city is super compact, and you can easily explore all Izamal what to do on foot in one day.
Where to stay in Izamal Mexico?
If you’re looking to stay a few nights in Izamal, here are the best Izamal Yucatan hotels.
Hotel San Miguel Arcangel – Historic hotel in the heart of Izamal
Set in a historic hacienda, right opposite the ex-convent, Hotel San Miguel Arcangel features double rooms, an onsite cafeteria and a tropical garden.
Hotel Rinconada del Convento – Izamal Hotel with pool overlooking the ex-convent
Hotel Rinconada is located right behind the ex-convent and boasts double rooms that overlook it! This hotel Izamal Mexico also features free parking and an outdoor pool with a view.
Hacienda Sacnicte – Stunning historic hacienda, 7 km of Izamal
Hacienda Sacnicte is located a 15-minute drive from Izamal. The property features elegant suites with quaint decor, complimentary breakfast, free parking and an outdoor pool.
Izamal Plaza – Modern pick with pool
This hotel Izamal Yucatan is located on the corner of Itzamna park and features double and twin rooms with modern decor, a pool and free parking for guests.
How to get to Izamal Mexico?
If you’re planning to rent a car in Mexico, I recommend choosing a pick-up in Cancun, Tulum, Merida or Playa del Carmen. At the time of writing this article, Valladolid and Izamal didn’t have any car rental shops. Check Discover Cars to arrange it in advance.
How to get to Izamal from Merida?
Distance | 68 km or 42 miles
Travel Time by Car | 1 hour
Unfortunately, ADO Izamal Mexico buses don’t operate from Merida. In fact, first-class ADO buses don’t stop in Izamal at all. The company that serves the Merida Izamal & Izamal Mérida connection is called Noreste. The Noreste Bus Station in Merida is located in the city centre. Noreste doesn’t have an online bus schedule, but the buses run multiple times a day, and you can check the schedule at the bus stop. Izamal Merida Yucatan bus takes around 1 hour.
It is also possible to get a Colectivo bus to Izamal from Merida. Colectivos are small passenger vans that operate between cities similarly to taxis, except they are shared taxis. They don’t normally have a time schedule, but rather they leave when they collect enough people. Colectivos are super cheap, and you can find them all over Mexico. Depending on the destination, they will have different stops in a city. You can ask for a specific Colectivo service at your hotel, and they will be able to point you out to the right place.
Distance | 95 km or 59 miles
Travel Time by Car | 1 hour 40 minutes
The best way of getting to Izamal from Valladolid by public transport is taking a Noreste bus from Valladolid Bus Terminal. As I mentioned above, ADO buses don’t go to Izamal, so that’s unfortunately not an option. There are also Colectivos that go to Izamal and back, Izamal to Valladolid, but personally, I prefer taking one of the bigger buses if there is a choice. Valladolid Izamal bus trip takes just over 90 minutes.
Distance | 254 km or 158 miles
Travel Time by Car | 3 hours 15 minutes
In order to get from Cancun to Izamal Mx, you will first need to get to Valladolid and then you can follow the instructions in the previous section. You can catch an ADO bus from ADO Terminal in downtown Cancun. The bus trip takes just over two hours.
There are multiple connections per day, and you can check the bus schedule – Cancun to Valladolid & Valladolid to Cancun on the ADO bus website. ADO Valladolid Bus Terminal is located within a 5-minutes walk from the city’s main square. Total Cancun Izamal travel time is 3.5 hours + waiting time in Valladolid.
Best Things to Do in Izamal Mexico
#1 Explore Convento de San Antonio de Padua
Start your Izamal itinerary with a visit to the ex-convent, situated in the heart of the town centre, just across from the city’s 5th of May park (5 de Mayo Park). The entrance to its grounds is free, and there is a small fee to access the Chapel of Our Lady and a small museum.
The Izamal Convent of Saint Anthony was founded in 1549 by the Franciscans in the place of a Mayan pyramid Pap-Hol-Chac, which was the tallest structure in the pre-Hispanic Mayan town. The choice of Pap-Hol-Chac was no coincidence as it allowed the convent to dominate the landscape and be seen even from a far distance.
The monastery was opened in 1561 and quickly became an important pilgrimage site after Fray Diego de Landa brought a statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception from Guatemala. The image of the Virgin Mary was believed to perform miracles, and Our Lady of Izamal became Yucatan’s patron saint. Pope John Paul II blessed the statue during his visit in 1993.
The convent resembles many different convents built during the 16th century in Mexico. It has a large atrium and four chapels. What’s curious is that with an area of 7,806.43 m², the atrium of the convent is the second largest atrium in the world after Saint Peter’s in Vatican City!
During the 17th century, when the Izamel monastery started becoming more and more popular with pilgrims, a network of corridors connecting the chapels was added to provide shelter for the waiting worshippers. Franciscans also added a separate chapel devoted entirely to Our Lady of Izamal.
FACT | You can find Fray Diego de Landa’s statue on the roundabout behind the ex-convent.
Location | Izamal Convento de San Antonio
Entrance fee | Free to access the outdoor atrium, 10 pesos ($0.5) to access a small museum (Museo Itzmal Kaulil) and Chapel of Our Lady of Izamal.
#2 Stroll the Magical Yellow Streets
The best way of exploring Izamal Yucatán is to get lost in its picturesque streets. The town of Izamal is super compact, and walking within its historical centre, where all buildings are painted pastel-yellow, is a must!
Why is Izamal yellow, you may ask? There are actually a few theories, but most likely is that the city was painted yellow, which is one of the papacy colours to honour the visit of the Catholic Pope John Paul II in 1993. Another explanation is that the yellow colour honours the Mayan god of Sun – Kinich Kak Moo, and I think the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
The prettiest streets are located on the northeastern side, so if you have limited time, make sure you head straight there. And, if you’re looking for the exact spot where I took the photo above, I’m leaving the location for you here.
During the day, Izamal can get a little hot, especially when you’re visiting during the hottest time in Mexico, which is mid-March to mid-Jun. So, make sure you protect yourself from the sweltering heat by wearing suncream, a hut or a long-sleeved shirt and by drinking plenty of water.
#3 Visit Capilla de Los Remedios
If you walk two blocks northwest of Izamal’s main square, you will find the most beautiful church in the entire town! La Capilla de Los Remedios, or Remedies Chapel in English, is located opposite a tranquil park with a picturesque fountain and tall palm trees.
The church is painted in lush yellow and has an impressive facade with two bell towers. If you get lucky enough to visit when the church is open, make sure you take a peek inside; otherwise, you can just admire its quaint architecture from the park.
Location | Capilla de Los Remedios Izamal
#4 Climb the Izamal Pyramid – Kinich Kak Moo
One of the best Izamal Mexico things to do is visiting the Izamal pyramid devoted to the Mayan god of Sun Kinich Kak Moo, which means “the macaw with the face of the burning sun”.
You may wonder what’s special about this pyramid, if anything at all? With 34 meters in height, Kinich Kak Moo is 3rd tallest Mayan structure on the entire peninsula, even taller than Chichen Itza! The only two taller pyramids are the one in Teotihuacan and the Cholula pyramid in Puebla.
The sheer size of this Mayan structure sheds light on how important the settlement in Izamal was! The Mayans believed that the god Kinich descended from the pyramid at midday noon, in the form of a macaw, to burn down the sacrificial offerings left for him. Kinich was believed to be responsible for bringing or taking away health, and during pandemics, the Mayans prayed to Kinich to get his mercy.
You can find the Kinich Kak Moo pyramid a short walk north of Izamal’s main square. The entrance is free of charge, and the Izamal pyramid is one of the few that you can still climb all the way to the top! The staircase to the top is partially in ruin, so be extremely careful, especially on the way down.
The climb is short and strenuous, and at the top, a spectacular view of the area awaits you! When you look around, you’ll see that beyond the town boundaries, there is nothing but the jungle!
Entrance fee | free
Location | Kinich Kakmo Izamal
#5 Also, Climb Pyramid Itzamatul
Another Mayan structure that is situated in the heart of the city is a smaller pyramid dedicated to the worship of the god Zamná. Measuring 26 meters, the Itzamatul pyramid is a little smaller than Kinich Kak Moo, and it dates to the 9th century A.D.
The pyramid consists of multiple levels with three staircases leading to the main plaza, which was occupied in the past by various buildings. The most significant structure on the plaza was a temple dedicated to the Mayan deity Itzama, after which Izamal pueblo mágico takes its name.
You can find Itzamatul a couple of minutes walk east from Izamal’s main square, the entrance is free and similarly to Kinich Kak Moo, you will also be able to climb to the top of the pyramid.
Both Izamal ruins sites are one of the best things to see in Yucatan!
Entrance fee | free
Location | Itzamatul
#6 Dine at Kinich Izamal Yucatan Mexico
Set in a charming colonial hacienda with a beautiful courtyard, Kinich Izamal restaurant serves local dishes and is the perfect spot to stop for lunch. The restaurant opens at midday and fills up pretty quick, so get there early to secure a table.
What I loved the most about this place was its dining area located in the garden in its inner courtyard. Exploring Izamal during the day gets super tiring quick because of the heat, and having lunch in the lush garden of this restaurant was a much-needed break.
I ordered traditional papadzules from the local section of the menu, which is a vegetarian dish, and my partner went for pollo pibil, which are chicken tacos. The food and the service were very good.
Location | Kinich Izamal
#7 Relax in the Park of 5th May
One of my favourite things to do in Izamal was relaxing at the small park opposite the entrance to the ex-convent! The best time to enjoy this park is in the late afternoon, just before the sunset, when the heat eases off, and the local people come out to meet friends, and street food vendors serve local delicacies.
The park is surrounded by various important buildings. The west side is occupied by the Palacio Municipal, which is equivalent to a City Hall in Mexico set in a historic building with a picturesque archway and a front facade that features a large clock.
On the southern side of the square, you can find a quaint colonial building that dates to 1903, which today houses Hotel San Miguel Arcangel. If you’re looking for a place to stay in Izamal, this is one of the best Izamal hotels, which is centrally located! Convento de San Antonio is on the western side of the park, and on the northern side, you will find the Crafts Museum, which I talk more about in the next section.
Location | 5 de Mayo Park Izamal
#8 Visit the Crafts Museum
For all culture and art enthusiasts, there is a small museum located on the northern side of 5 de Mayo Park, which is worth checking out!
The museum may not have the biggest art collection in the country, but it features a nice range of beautiful arts and crafts, from traditional folklore art to more modern pieces. The collection is small and easily digestible even for those members of the family that are not the biggest art connoisseurs, and a strong AC in the building makes the visit to this museum a nice and much-needed break from the heat.
At the end of your visit, check out the small gift shop. Many items at the shop are made by local artists with the use of the same styles and techniques as the museum exhibits.
Entrance fee | 25 pesos ($1.20)
Opening hours | 10 am to 8 pm every day
Location | Museo de Artesanias Izamal
#9 Gorge on the Local Cuisine at Mercado Munipial of Izamal in Yucatan
You cannot fully immerse yourself in the local culture without trying the local cuisine, and Izamal, the yellow town, is the perfect place to gorge on the delicious cuisine of Yucatan! In fact, sampling some of the “cocina tipica yucateca” (traditional cuisine of Yucatan) is one of the best things to do in Yucatan!
The best place for trying some street food in Izamal is the Mercado Municipal, which entrance is situated on the corner of the big square in front of the ex-convent (5 de Mayo Park).
Below are some of the dishes you should try! Why not indulge in a feeding frenzy and try all of them during your stay at Izamal magic town!
Pappadzules | (corn tortillas filled with boiled eggs in a pumpkin sauce)
Conchita pibil | (slow-cooked pork tacos)
Panuchos/salbutes | (tortillas with pulled chicken or turkey, pickled onions, avocado, black beans and cabbage)
Relleno negro | (turkey dish made of charred chillies and herbs)
Marquesitas | (type of pancake eaten with Nutella & fruits or Philadephia cheese)
The market is set in a picturesque, yellow-painted edifice, and even if you’re not planning on eating anything, it is worth just strolling its length and watching the local life. Apart from various food stands, the market is also a good place to browse for souvenirs.
Location | Mexico Izamal local market
#10 Snap a Photo with Izamal Yucatan Pueblo Magico Letters
A visit to a “pueblo magico” (a town in Mexico with an honourable status of a “magical city”) would not be complete without snapping a quick selfie with the colourful city letters!
During my two-month-long trip around Yucatan, I realised that every town or city owns a set of large city letters and people always seem to be keen on taking selfies with the letters at any time of the day!
So, if you decide to follow this trend, you can find the Izamal letters in the middle of Itzamna Park, next to the ex-convent.
Location | Itzamna Park
#11 Spot Chapel of the Holy Cross & Capilla De San Idelfonso
If you enjoy marvelling at the religious architecture, in addition to the visit to Capilla de Los Remedios, make sure you also check out these two small temples, also painted in yellow.
Both of them are located a little further away from the town centre, but you may be able to include them on your way to or out of the city. I’m leaving the locations of both chapels below.
Location | Chapel of the Holy Cross Isamal & Capilla De San Idelfonso
#12 Enjoy Light of the Maya Show
One of the best things to do in Izamal Mexico, in the evening is watching a light and music projection at the ex-convent. The show is projected on the main building facade and displays beautiful scenes from the history of Izamal. Don’t forget to bring a blanket and some snacks!
Entrance fee | free
Time | 8:30 pm Monday to Saturday
Location | Izamal Convento de San Antonio
#13 Do NOT take the horse-drawn carriage
Horse-drawn carriages are a popular tourist attraction in many towns and cities in Mexico, but if you love horses, I don’t think you should be supporting this activity.
Those horses are kept out in the sweltering heat all day long, standing on the concrete without proper care, and their hardship is only to provide entertainment to tourists. I believe that this is unnecessary, and I personally do not want to be part of their suffering, especially when there are so many other things we can do for fun!
#14 Visit one of the Izamal Cenotes
Finally, if you still have some space left on your Yucatan itinerary, visit a few cenotes Izamal has on offer! The best cenote Izamal (Cenote Chihuan) is located a 40-minute drive of Izamal Yucatán Mexico. It’s a cavern cenote where you can take a dip in refreshing, crystal clear water and even spot some catfish! Cenote Chihuan
And, if you’re willing to venture further away, Valladolid way, you will find there a huge selection of epic cenotes, including Cenote Oxman, Cenote Suytun and Cenote Dzintup.
Read the full guide about Valladolid Cenotes here.
Best Izamal Restaurants
Kinich El Sabor de Izamal | Beautiful settings, elegant local cuisine, hand-made tortillas.
Mercado Municipal | excellent for cheap eats & street food.
Restaurante Zamna Izamal | local cuisine in casual settings.
Restaurante Los Arcos | quaint decor & local food, right in the centre.
More Awesome Places to Visit in Yucatan (near Izamal Yuc)
Apart from being an excellent base for visiting the mighty Chichen Itza and cenotes, Valladolid is a great destination in its own right. Picture quaint churches, pastel-painted buildings lining the colourful streets, and tranquil parks where you can taste some of the best street food and watch the local, laid-back vibe.
Some of the best things to do in Valladolid include an afternoon stroll along the La Calzada de Los Frailes, a stunning light show at the Convento de San Bernardino de Siena and visiting the exquisite Valladolid’s church – Iglesia de San Servacio.
Read a full Guide to Valladolid Mexico
Chichen Itza was a super important Mayan city back in 600 AD that boasted a robust economy and architectural superiority, and visiting is an absolute Yucatan must see!
There are numerous ways you can visit Chichen Itza; one of them is taking a private Chichen Itza Tour from Valladolid. You can also visit Chichen Itza independently. Rent a car in Cancun or a scooter in Valladolid and drive to Chichen Itza yourself. You can also take a Colectivo bus from Valladolid city centre.
Perhaps not one of the most popular Yucatan tourist attractions but more of an up-and-coming destination, Merida is another fantastic place to visit on a day trip from Izamal. Merida Mexico is steeped in culture and rich Mayan heritage and boasts exquisite Spanish colonial architecture. The city is also known as “ciudad blanca” (white city) after its many white-painted buildings.
Some of the best things to do in Merida include mingling with the locals at Grand Plaza, which is Merida’s main square and the centre of city life. You can also explore there the governmental buildings surrounding the square: the striking Merida’s Cathedral, Palacio Municipal, Casa de Montejo, Palacio de Gobierno and the Modern Art Museum – all admission free.
Merida is also famous for its nightlife, its quaint traditional cantinas where you can enjoy a shot of a local mezcal, and its street fiestas.
Situated two hours drive east of Izamal Yucatan, the archaeological site of Ek Balam is one of the most popular and easy day trips from Izamal or Valladolid.
Ek Balam, which means “the black jaguar”, was an important Mayan city built between 100 & 300 A.D. and inhabited for over 1000 years, covering 12 km squared and encompassing 45 structures, including two castles, multiple temples, city walls, a ball court and the largest pyramid 30 meters high – El Torre.
Today, we can only see about 2 km square of the city, with the most important buildings located on the Central and South Plazas. The sheer sizes and intricate decorative techniques indicate how sophisticated the creators of this grand city were.
If you have more time, after exploring the ruins, head to the Ek Balam Cenote, which is situated within the same archaeological site. Ek Balam or Cenote Xcanche is a mostly open cenote with 90 meters deep water and lush greenery covering its walls. Most tourists only visit the ruins, so you may have it entirely to yourself!
Rio Lagartos & Las Coloradas Pink Lake
A visit to Rio Lagartos is another excellent day trip from Izamal Mexico, situated 178 km north or about 2 hours 30 minutes drive. Rio Lagartos has been recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for its rich fauna and flora and its importance as a nesting ground for many endangered species.
The best way of exploring Rio Lagartos is by taking a boat tour through its mangroves and wetlands. Here you can spot Carrabean Pink Flamingoes, turtles, crocodiles and hundreds of different species of birds. Pink Flamingoes can be spotted in Rio Lagartos all year round, but the best chance of seeing lots of them is between March and June, which is hatchling season.
It is also common to combine a visit to Rio Lagartos with the pink lake – Las Coloradas. The lake contains a high amount of salt, a perfect environment for the growth of a certain type of algae that gives the water a pink/reddish colour. The lake is private property that charges an entrance fee for a guided tour.
If you want everything arranged for you, you can take a Viator tour that combines Rio Lagarto, Las Coloradas and Ek Balam ruins. The tour departs from Valladolid and includes transportation, a guide, lunch and a boat trip at Rio Lagartos.
More Izamal Mexico Tips
How do I get around Izamal Mexico?
Izamal is a small town, and most of its best things to do are easily reachable on foot. If you want to get a little longer distance, you can gran a local taxi. Expect to pay around 50 pesos for a one-way trip within the city boundaries.
How Many Days Do I Need for Izamal Mexico?
The Yucatan’s yellow city Izamal can easily be visited on a day trip from Valladolid or Merida. The town is super small, and you can easily tick off all the best things to do in Izamal in one day. But, if you have more time, stay in Izamal for a night or two to fully immerse yourself in its adorable small-town vibe and tour Izamal in the evening when the town comes to life!
Is Izamal México Safe?
The short answer is yes. In fact, Izamal is one of the safest places to travel in Mexico. It has a small town vibe where everyone knows each other, and the local people are extremely friendly and welcoming towards the tourists. Izamal Mexico is also super safe for solo female travellers, even in the evening.
Why is Izamal Painted Yellow?
The most likely answer is that the city was painted yellow, which is one of the papacy colours, to honour the visit of the Catholic Pope John Paul II in 1993. Another explanation is that the yellow colour honours the Mayan god of Sun – Kinich Kak Moo. If you ask some of the locals, they may tell you that Izamal was painted yellow because this colour deters mosquitos! Finally, some believe that the yellow colour was chosen in 1993 because, at that time, it was a politically neutral colour not representing any of the major parties.
What’s the Best Time to Visit Izamal Yucatan?
The best time to visit Izamal, the Yellow City Yucatan, is between mid-November and mid-March when the day temperatures don’t exceed 30-33 degrees Celsius (86-91 F) and the night temperatures drop down to a pleasant 18 degrees Celcius (64 F). This is also the period of minimal precipitation (rain).
The best time of the day to explore Izamal is the morning, so if you’re travelling on a day trip, make sure to leave as early as possible.
What’s the Izamal Mexico Weather like?
Izamal, similarly to this part of Yucatan, experiences super hot summers and long and warm winters with day temperatures never going down below mid-twenties degrees Celcius (75 F).
If you can, avoid the time between the end of March and mid-June when Izamal experiences scorching heat. The rainy season in Izamal starts at the end of May and lasts until the end of October, with the wettest month being September.
Is Izamal Mexico Worth Visiting?
Izamal is an extremely charming small town with a unique, yellow-painted old town and super friendly local people. If you want to experience an authentic Mexican town, which is impossible if you stay at an all-inclusive Cancun resort, definitely do it. Izamal was one of my favourite places I have visited in Mexico, so I’ll say it is definitely worth a visit.