Izamal is the famous yellow city located in Mexico’s Yucatán state. One look at the photos of this “pueblo magico” will have you adding this city to your next must-visit list. I’ve just returned from spending 48 hours in Izamal and am sharing the best things to do and where to stay on a visit.
On a recent trip to Yucatán, I came to Mérida for a few nights and planned an extra two nights to make a visit to Izamal. I had seen photos, had bookmarked an epic design hotel, and was curious to see what it was about.
It blew my expectations — tranquil, traditional, and a very authentic Yucatán experience was had in the famous yellow city. I was so happy I added the extra nights to stay here to explore more of the region. The days were hot so it was important to take advantage of early mornings and the cooler evenings to explore.
If you’re considering making a visit to Izamal, my short answer is absolutely to do it. Whether it’s a day trip or an overnight, it’s a wonderful historic town in Mexico. These are the best things to do in Izamal, where you want to eat and where to stay.
A Guide to Visiting Izamal, Mexico
What to Know About Visiting Izamal, Yucatán
Is Izamal worth visiting?
Izamal is definitely worth visiting for its rich history, stunning architecture, and vibrant culture. The city, often referred to as the “Yellow City” due to its uniquely colored buildings, offers fascinating Mayan ruins, charming colonial streets, and the remarkable Convento de San Antonio de Padua.
Moreover, its tranquil environment and warm hospitality provide a contrasting yet enriching experience to the bustling touristic hubs of Mexico. It’s one of those “off-the-beaten-path” destinations in the Yucatán.
You can easily explore all of the wonderful sights of Izamal on foot and almost all of them are completely free to see!
Why is Izamal yellow?
While there is no certain reason why Izamal is yellow, there are a few hypotheses for it:
First is that Izamal is predominantly yellow due to its colonial history. The city was painted yellow in honor of the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1993, as yellow is a color associated with the Vatican and the Catholic Church. Additionally, it’s believed that the yellow also represents the Mayan sun god, Kinich Kak Mo, emphasizing the city’s deep roots in Mayan civilization.
How do I get to Izamal?
The best way to get to Izamal is by renting a car. It will give you flexibility and the ability to visit nearby sites on your own time. I use Discover Cars for renting all of my cars in Mexico. I always add in the full coverage which complies with Mexico’s rules for needing local insurance.
Is Izamal safe?
Izamal is considered generally safe for tourists, being one of the safest destinations in Mexico. Like any travel destination, it’s important for visitors to stay aware of their surroundings and follow local advice.
When is the best time of year to visit Izamal?
The best time to visit Izamal typically is during the dry season, from November to April, when the weather is more comfortable for exploring the city and its historical sites. This period also avoids the peak hurricane season, providing less risk of disruptions due to weather.
I chose to visit in June, and the days were much hotter and more humid than expected. Come the afternoons, there were always 1-2 hours of rainfall which helped cool off the city.
How much time do I need in Izamal, Mexico?
Izamal is a really popular day trip from Mérida as you can see the city itself in a single day. That said, I think it’s a wonderful base for exploring more destinations in Yucatán. With 2-3 nights in Izamal, you could do several day trips and experience the city.
How do I get around Izamal?
Izamal is a small city, so getting around on foot really easy and allows you to fully appreciate the colonial streets and vibrant architecture. If you’ve driven in, you can also take your car around the city but probably not necessary.
There are horse-drawn carriages, known as “calesas,” offering a traditional and romantic mode of transport. These horse-drawn carriages offer tours of the city as well for about $15 USD.
Where to Stay in Izamal
I did a lot of research on hotels in Izamal and ultimately I found that the best hotel was Coqui Coqui Casa de los Santos. I stayed 2 nights in what was one of my favorite hotels in Mexico to date. The caveat is that there is a single suite — an amazing private villa for you, but it means you do need to book promptly.
During the stay, breakfast was included as was a selection of perfumeria products. Coqui Coqui hotels have incredible design and details, making for an elevated and memorable experience. With this “one suite” stay, I would recommend booking this in advance as far out as possible.
Located just a short 15-minute drive away from Izamal, Hacienda Sac Nicte offers a captivating experience that is truly worth the visit. Immerse yourself in the authentic ambiance of a genuine Mexican hacienda while indulging in the best of both worlds—classic charm and contemporary comforts.
Photos don’t do justice to Hotel Boutique Kocai located right in Izamal. The seven villa-style rooms surround a central pool, each very modern and contemporary in design. Enjoy the garden and onsite restaurant while staying here.
Best Restaurants in Izamal
Yucatán cuisine is a delicious blend of Mayan, Spanish, and Caribbean influences, creating a memorable experience for food lovers. With its bold and vibrant flavors, Yucatán dishes like cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork), poc chuc (marinated grilled pork), and sopa de lima (lime soup) offer a diverse range of flavors to explore. Izamal is home to many traditional Yucatán restaurants which I recommend trying while in town.
My favorite meal of the entire trip between Mérida and Izamal was at Kinich. It is quite famous in Yucatán where people come from the coast to come eat at this traditional restaurant.
The food is elevated and plated beautifully. You could come here a few times to eat your way through the menu. I’d recommend ordering the Yucatan steak, and the house cocktail, and trying an array of appetizers.
Another dinner we had in Izamal was right on the square at Los Arcos. The back patio has a wonderful ambiance and atmosphere to it. Traditional dishes like cochinita pibil and empanadas were my favorite.
This was another wonderful meal in Izamal with a big menu of Yucatán classics. What makes dining here unique is that it’s inside a home goods store where local artisans often craft while you eat. You’ll want to peruse the shop after eating here.
Other restaurants in Izamal:
- Restaurante Zamna Izamal
- Restaurante La Conquista
- Restaurante Muul
The Best Things to Do in Izamal
Go for a Walk in Downtown Izamal
One of the best things I did was wake up early one morning to go for a walk in Izamal. The center of town is quite small and so it’s easy to see most of Izamal in about an hour or two.
The yellow streets are mesmerizing in color and texture. You’ll find it easy to navigate and really peaceful in the early hours. If you do go later in the day, just keep in mind that it does get rather hot.
Peruse the shops of Izamal
There are a handful of shops and galleries in Izamal to peruse for artisan goods. A few favorites in town for shopping were Hecho a Mano and Raíces Mayas. I would also pop into the perfumery at Coqui Coqui to stock up on scents and home goods inspired by the Yucatán. Galería Wayak around the corner is also a great find for a curated art gallery.
Visit Convento de San Antonio de Padua & Atrio del Convento
The jewel of Izamal is no doubt the Convento de San Antonio de Padua. Constructed in 1561 atop the ruins of the ancient Ppap Hol Chak Mayan temple, the historic Convento de San Antonio de Padua stands as one of the oldest Catholic monasteries in the Americas.
Presently, this revered site in Izamal continues to draw pilgrims who seek blessings from the Saints. Visitors can explore the monastery grounds on foot or opt for a guided tour, typically priced at approximately $200 pesos ($10 USD), to support the local community. As the site lacks informative signage, a guide can offer valuable insights into the significance of this remarkable Izamal church.
Afterward, stroll what is the second-largest outdoor convent atrium in the world. We went in at night time and found it so peaceful atop the city. And right out front of the convent is the Monumento A Fray Diego De Landa, another historical figure.
Explore Centro Cultural y Artesanal Izamal
Also known as the Izamal Cultural Center, there is a museum housed in a 16th-century grand home. Inside, you’ll find exhibits with traditional Yucatán materials with ceramics and wood. It’s well worth a visit if you’re in town for the day.
Afterward, stroll over to Mercado Municipal de Izamal for shopping. This is the best spot for a casual bite to eat, stocking up on souvenirs, and a good market peruse.
Shop the stalls and spend an evening in Parque Itzamna
Right in front of the convent is the main square park of Izamal. At night time, small vendors open up their stalls selling everything from snacks to handcrafted goods. We even heard a local kid’s choir perform one night!
See the pyramids of Izamal and archeological sites
Right in Izamal, you have the opportunity to visit historic Mayan archeological sites. The first is Kinich Kakmó Pyramid which is 700,000 m³, making it one of the biggest pyramids in all of Mexico. It’s actually free to enter (8 am – 5 pm) and you can climb to the top. I’d recommend an early start to beat the heat.
There are other Mayan sites to explore in Izamal in the “archeological zone.” Visit Pyramid Izamatul right in the neighborhood behind Coqui Coqui. It’s really mind-blowing to be walking in town and right there is a historical site like this.
Other sites include Kabul Ruins, Habuc, Chaltun Ha, and El Conejo.
Best Tours to Izamal
If you want to visit on a day trip from Mérida and not rent a car, there are a handful of great tours. The transportation is arranged for you so you don’t have to worry about driving. Here are a few to consider booking:
Things to Do Near Izamal
If you have a rental car or hire a taxi, you could consider going to the colonial city of Valladolid for the afternoon. It is a pueblo magico and famous for its very colorful homes and streets. It’s well worth a stop or even an overnight. In Valladolid, you’ll also find a few cenotes to cool off in like Cenote Suytun and Cenote Zaci.
Visit a Nearby Cenote
There are hundreds of cenotes to choose from in the region, and I went to Xcajum Cenote (1 hr drive) from Izamal one afternoon. We had the whole cenote to ourselves in the late afternoon. Don’t forget to bring a towel, swimsuit, and water. You can also eat here, buy souvenirs, and relax by their other pool.
Xcajum Cenote would also be an option to visit with Chichen Itza and it’s very close by as well. Other cenotes to consider in the area are Cenote Ik Kil (close to Chichen Itza), Homun Cenotes, Cenote Suytun, and the Santa Barbara Cenotes.
See Chichen Itza
When in Izamal, you’re so close to Chichen Itza for a visit. I’d go right at open to beat the crowds and heat. It’s one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it’s quite popular. You pay to enter or opt for a local guide at the entrance too. I’d recommend going to a cenote after like Ik Kil or Xcajum.
Overview of Izamal
My time in Izamal was everything I hoped for. It wasn’t overrun with tourists, the yellow color throughout the city was just magical. Izamal provided an opportunity to dive into traditional Yucatán food, experience historical Mayan sites, and stay in an epic design hotel.
I think this was the perfect addition to the nights spent in Mérida for a more traditional, off-the-beaten-path experience in Mexico.
Looking to explore more of Mexico? Here are some helpful guides:
- See why Sayulita is a fun-filled adventure
- Explore Mexico’s most beautiful city: San Miguel de Allende
- Dive deep into Mexico City’s design and food scene
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