1 Day in Izamal: Itinerary with Top 11 Things to Do

Top Thing to Do in the Yellow City of Izamal, Mexico

To visit Izamal ( Mexico ), one of the most beautiful destinations to see in Yucatan, is to discover a charming little colonial town with yellow buildings that give it a unique personality.

Located on the road between ValladolidChichen Itza and Mérida , it fits easily into a Mexico itinerary and can easily be visited in half a day or in a day.   

With its colonial streets which offer a magnificent backdrop for strolling and taking photos, its pre-Hispanic pyramids with free access and its traditional neighborhoods, this is a small town with a lot to offer!

Here is my ultimate guide to Izamal with all the must-see places of interest and activities to do, as well as the best hotels to stay.

I’ve also included several off-the-beaten-track activities to do in the surrounding area, which are very little talked about.

So what to do and see in Izamal?

Izamal: a bit of history

Izamal means “dew that descends from heaven” and comes from a Mayan priest named Itzamna or Zamna.

It was for a long time a place of pilgrimage for the Mayans and an important city from the 9th to the 11th century.

Izamal is also one of the oldest towns in the region.

Indeed, the city was founded in the 6th century by the Chanes  later called the Itza, who also founded Chichen Itza -, but the first presences date back to the 8th century BC!

Because of its religious importance, 7 pyramids were built here , some of which are still visible today.

It was partly abandoned around the 12th century and when the Spaniards arrived, the place was practically uninhabited.

Why is Izamal Yellow?

It is still said that Izamal was painted yellow for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1993, referring to the colors of the Vatican.

But we rarely talk about the other versions circulating:

To find a solution to mosquito outbreaks, locals reportedly painted the walls yellow to scare them away with the reflection of light and by plastering the bases with whitewash .

Seeing that the technique worked for the convent and the municipal palace, it gradually spread to the other buildings.

According to another version, yellow simply refers to maize which was considered sacred to the Maya.

And finally, another version mentions that in 1850, when the henequen trade was in decline, Izamal would have liked to standardize in order to energize the city.

The most probable is that there were several reasons and especially several stages of painting, but it was in 2002 that the government decided that the official colors of Izamal would henceforth be yellow and white.

Izamal itinerary 1 day
The yellow facades, characteristic of Izamal

What to do and see in Izamal

1. Walk in the Streets of Izamal

A must-do activity in Izamal is to simply explore the town on foot. With its pretty yellow streets and colonial buildings, you can take some very pretty pictures!

The pretty places to see in Izamal:

-The Itzamna park which is the main square, with the colored letters IZAMAL: a good photo spot!

-Park 5 de Mayo to taste elotes and marquesitas. Take a break at the charming Hun Pic Tok cafe and pop into the San Miguel Arcangel Hotel ‘s Hecho a Mano craft shop . If you are interested in crafts, another option for crafts is Raices Mayas (calle 30 corner 29).

-The Palacio Municipal, located just in front of 5 de Mayo Park, to take photos from its 2nd floor

– The district of San Ildefonso (16th century) with its pretty chapel

-The district of Los Remedios, one of the most traditional districts with its Capilla los Remedios facing a charming little square

-The quarter El Gallito with the Park of the Park of the Canyons and the Chapel of the Holy Cross

the yellow streets of Izamal
In the yellow streets of Izamal. Photo Gina Collecchia

2. Convent of St. Anthony of Padua

Built in the 16th century on the remains of the Popol Chac (or Pap Hol Chac) – the main Mayan temple of Izamal – the convent of Izamal was in its beginnings an important intellectual centre.

Indeed, it hosted both a seminary, a school for the Mayas and a Mayan language teaching center for the Franciscans.

The convent of Saint Anthony of Padua is today the symbol of the city , and a must-see attraction in Izamal.

With its 75 arches surrounding it, its 7,806 m² atrium is the second largest in the world after Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican!

Inside there are several chapels and two cloisters, as well as a small  museum dedicated to the visit of Pope John Paul II who held a large gathering in the convent in 1993.

From Thursday to Saturday at 8 p.m. there is a video mapping show. It presents the history of the city through projections in 5 places in Izamal, starting from the Parque de los Cañones.

  •  Free entrance, museum 10$mxn
  •  Open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  •  Sound and light show at 8 p.m., $100mxn
The Convent of Saint Anthony of Padua in Izamal
The Convent of Saint Anthony of Padua in Izamal

3. Get the Best View of Izamal

With its 34m height, the pyramid of Kinich Kakmó is the largest pyramid of Izamal and one of the highest pyramids of Yucatan!

Indeed, it even exceeds the famous pyramid of Kukulcan of Chichen Itza.

You can climb its top for free to get a breathtaking view of the city!

Kinich Kakmo or Kinich Kak Moo means “solar-faced fire parrot”.

It is said that the pyramid was dedicated to the goddess of the sun who descended daily from the sky in the midday sun in the form of a parrot to bring back her offerings.

What is certain is that I recommend doing this essential Izamal activity early in the morning or late in the afternoon because the sun can be very strong!

  • Entrance via Calle 27, between Calle 28 and 26-B (north of the main square)
  • Accessible from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The pyramid of Kinich Kakmo in Izamal
The pyramid of Kinich Kakmo in Izamal.

4. Explore Free Pyramids

The good news is that there are several other pyramids in the city!

Although not as big as Kinich Kakmo, they are a must do in Izamal.

In addition they are free, it would be a shame not to take advantage of them!

– Pyramid of Iztamatul : it is the 2nd most important pyramid of Izamal, dedicated to the god Zamna. From its summit (22m), you can see Kinich Kakmo and the convent. Corner Calle 26 and Calle 31

– Kabul : there is not much left of the temple, but it is estimated that it must have been 9m high. Thanks to a drawing by Frederick Catherwood (1843) we know that it was adorned with an enormous stucco mask, which has since disappeared. Calle 31, between 30 and 32

– Habuk : it is a small Mayan pyramid 4m high and 90m long which dates back to the 3rd century with some constructions. At the top is a square with remains of buildings from the 11th century. Calle 28, between 35 and 37

– El Conejo or Tuul : this is one of the smallest sites, but many artefacts have been found there (textiles, ceramic dishes, arrowheads, etc.). Calle 22, between 31 and 33.

– Chaltun-Ha : its public access is very recent (2019). The site had administrative functions and dates back to the 10-13C. Calle 38, between 43 and 45.

You should know that there are several structures in Izamal that are not yet open to the public and around 170 archaeological sites to excavate!

Tips for your Izamal itinerary:
The structures are not all in good condition. I recommend prioritizing Kinich Kakmó and Iztamatul. And Chaltun-Ha if you have some time!

5. The craft museum

It is a cultural center that hosts a craft museum located in a 16th century house .

There are 11 rooms that present works by the best local craftsmen using metal, seeds, wood, vegetable fiber (such as henequen, very important for the region!) and clay.

There is also an exhibition on the surrounding haciendas with several period photos.

The museum was created to help artisans promote and sell their work.

On site, there is a shop where it is possible to buy different works from 12 local communities.

I thought the prices were a little higher than elsewhere, but it’s fair trade and the sales directly help families, so it’s worth it!

  • Entrance 25$mxn, paid to the association of artisans of Izamal
  • Open Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Cultural and craft center: Calle 31 No. 201, Izamal

6. Taste the Gastronomy of Izamal

Yucatan cuisine comes from the fusion of pre-Hispanic Mayan ingredients with those imported by the Spaniards during the colony.

It is today considered unique in Mexico, even if – like everywhere in Mesoamerica – practically everything is made from corn!

In plus des traditionnels cochinita pibil, papadzules, joroches, poc chuc, relleno negro or salbutes, there is already a dish that is demarcated from Izamal: beans with pork.

It is a pork and bean based dish, with onions, tomatoes, garlic, habanero pepper, cilantro and epazote.

I recommend going to the Municipal Market, and more specifically to Loncheria La Conchita to taste Doña Amada’s family recipe.

It is also an opportunity to discover the local life of Izamal and admire the typical clothes worn by women!

For pretty and good addresses, you can also try the restaurants Zamna Izamal (Calle 31, #336, Parque de Los Cañones) and Kinich (Calle 27, #299).

Izamal itinerary 1 day
Photo: page facebook du restaurant Kinich

7. Visit a Hammock Workshop

When traveling, I try to find small artisan workshops when possible.

This is an opportunity to encourage the local economy, while meeting passionate people and bringing back a quality souvenir.

I had just been recommended to go through the workshop of Agustin Kanatun during my visit to Izamal.

For more than 20 years, he has been manufacturing nylon, crochet and cotton hammocks , which today are recognized for their quality and detail.

During my visit, he was just in the middle of weaving and he very kindly explained the whole process to me .

If you have some time, I really encourage you to check it out!

  • Address: Calle 19 #268, Izamal

Izamal itinerary 1 day

8. Do Ecotourism in Oxwatz

Here is a community project and off the beaten path that is worth encouraging!

Oxwatz Natural Park is a 500 hectare ecological reserve managed by 56 members of the surrounding Maya community.

Several tours are offered with certified guides : an 8-hour tour (min. 4 people, departure from 7 a.m.) and a 24-hour tour with 1 night camping in the jungle (departure from 3 p.m.).

There are several activities to do on site:

-Kayak tour at Cenote Oxwatz

-Hike to the Xbaatun archaeological area

-Bike to Cenote Kukula for snorkeling

-Tzatz Op viewpoint

-Visit of aguadas Kanab and Xbatun (kind of small cenote with shallow water)

-Observation of endemic birds

Tips for your Izamal itinerary:
I strongly recommend booking in advance by writing to [email protected] or by calling: 9911 00 93 58, 9911 07 20 06

  • Tour prices vary from $150 to $350 and last between 6 and 8 hours
  • Not recommended for children under 10 and seniors
  • Getting to Oxwatz : go to the cooperative office in Tekal de Venegas (Calle 13, between Calle 20 and 23) 15 minutes from Izamal. By taxi from Parque Zamna (less than 10$mxn).
Oxwatz Park Cenote, Izamal things to do
Oxwatz Park Cenote

9. Swim in a Cenote

A friend had recommended the Lakin-Ha cenote to me , but once there, I was told that it was unfortunately no longer accessible for the moment.

So my plan was to visit Cenote Chihuan in the village of Holca, just 30 minutes from Izamal. A great surprise!

This cenote has a long history: in pre-Hispanic times, it served as a refuge during the clashes between the Cocomes and Chichen Itza.

During the War of Independence it was occupied by natives fleeing colonial oppression.

Finally, during the revolution and the Caste War, it served as a refuge for the inhabitants of Holca.

Today, this storied cenote sits on private property, but is open to the public.

It is a very pretty cenote which is located in a cave, the places are well maintained, you can snorkel and dive.

I really liked that the ceiling of the cave is quite low because it gives an intimate side to the place.

And the height of happiness is that no group arrives here and there is very little promotion, so it’s pretty quiet!

  • Entry 100 pesos
  • Getting to the Chihuan cenote : it is located in Holca, between Izamal (30min) and Chichen Itza on the 180. By public transport take a colectivo which runs along the 180, the cenote is only 200m from the highway.
Cenote Chihuan, Izamal itinerary 1 day
Cenote Chihuan

10. Explore the Villages around Izamal

Do you have a little spare time? Why not take the opportunity to visit some typical Yucatan villages near Izamal!

To visit around Izamal:

-Tekanto (13km): the 16th century temple and convent of San Agustin , the Capilla de San Roman, the haciendas of Sonlatah and Mucuyché, the archaeological site of Chumula

-Teya (17.5km): parish of San Barnabé

-Sudzal (8km): Templo de la Asuncion from the 16th century, the ruins of Acun, Santa Catalina and Tocbatz. 3km to the south is the San Antonio Chalante hacienda.

-Kantunil (19km): Templo de la Candelaria from the 17th century, Coloba archaeological site

11. Hoctun Cemetery

I have always had a fascination with cemeteries. Not necessarily from a mystical point of view, but rather because they reflect the local culture.

Exactly, Mexican cemeteries are colorful and the Hoctun cemetery 20 minutes from Izamal is a good example.

It is said to be the most decorated cemetery in the entire Yucatan Peninsula!

Here, since 1866, flowers, angels and various religious images have been painted on tombs and mausoleums.

There are even depictions of buildings like Chichen Itza and Mexico City ‘s Torre Latinoamericana .

If you’re lucky, you’ll come across Don Anacleto. He was the gravedigger of this cemetery for 50 years and at the height of his 90 years, he now dedicates himself to painting the graves.

Tips for your Izamal itinerary:
Outside visitors are welcome, but of course I encourage you to always be respectful in places of meditation.

  • Getting to Hoctun : 20 min from Izamal in the direction of Mérida by taking the YUC 11. From Mérida 65km, it is possible to take a bus or a colectivo from Calle 67 (about 1 hour).
Izamal itinerary 1 day
Don Anacleto, in the cemetery of Hoctun. Photo: Obscura

Accommodation in Izamal

  • Departamentos X’Kanlol: very clean and well located rooms in the center near the bus station, with garden and bike rental. From only 22€ per night!
  • Hotel San Miguel Arcangel : not only is it the best budget hotel in Izamal, but it is perfectly located opposite 5 de Mayo Park! I loved its green patio and its colonial-style decor. Breakfast included, from only 40€ per night!
  • Hotel Boutique Kocai : beautiful Mayan-style ecological cabins located in the center of Izamal with swimming pool, hammocks, garden and restaurant. From €73 per night
  • Hacienda Sacnite : hacienda which has retained its authentic rural character while offering an intimate, chic and romantic side . With large gardens, lots of plants and palm trees, a beautiful swimming pool. It is one of the most charming hotels in YucatanFrom €90 per night

How long to visit Izamal?

One can easily visit Izamal in half a day or in a day. Here are my itinerary suggestions:

Visit Izamal in half a day

  • Start with a visit to the Convent of Saint Anthony of Padua
  • Take a trip to Itzamna Park and 5 de Mayo Park. Take the opportunity to take pictures of the colorful letters of Izamal
  • Continue to the Itzamatul pyramid, then Kinich Kakmo
  • For lunch, Kinich Restaurant is close to Kinich Kakmo. Otherwise, return to the main square to go to the Municipal Market.

1 Day Izamal Itinerary

If you have a day in Izamal, you can follow much the same route, visiting the handicraft museum facing 5 de Mayo park (and enjoying the air conditioning!)

Explore also the traditional corners of Izamal:

The Capilla de los Remedios with its pretty square, the Parque de los Cañones, the Capilla de San Ildefonso and the hammock workshop which is not far away.

And of course, see the Chaltun-Ha pyramid which is a little further south

How to get to Izamal

From Valladolid

  • By car take the 180D towards Kantunil, then the 53 to Izamal (1h26). Or by the 180 without tolls (nicknamed “the free”), it takes 20 minutes more.
  • By bus with Autobuses del Centro to take at the corner of Calle 37, close to Calle 54 (2h). You can contact the company to check timetables: Izamal 9889 67 66 15; Valladolid 9851 01 99 33

From Merida

  • By car take the 180E towards Valladolid, then at Hoctun take the 11 (50 min)
  • By bus, there are hourly departures from the terminal on Calle 67, between Calle 50 and 52 (1h). There are also vans on Calle 65, between 52 and 54
  • You can also book this excursion to Izamal from Mérida (click here!) which includes a guided tour of Izamal, Valladolid, Cenote Chichikan and Chichén Itzá, with breakfast and lunch!

Find a parking spot in Izamal

It’s fairly easy to park in Izamal, around the main square and in the side streets, but the police keep watch, so check the prohibitions.

If you are staying in a hotel, of course the best thing is to ask them directly to find a good spot!

My Tips for Visiting Izamal

Watch out for heatstroke

As everywhere in Yucatan, it is hot in the middle of the day in Izamal!

The sun is strong and there are not many shaded areas so I advise as much as possible to avoid walking outside between 12 and 3 am.

It is in any case imperative to have a good sunscreen, a hat (or a cap), sunglasses and enough water.

Combine visits

If you don’t have much time and are looking for a way to integrate Izamal into your Yucatan tour without giving it a whole day, there are several possibilities:

  • Izamal and Valladolid in 1 day
  • Izamal and Mérida in 1 day (in my opinion, it’s not ideal because Mérida is bigger than Valladolid, but it’s a possibility!)
  • Izamal and Chichen Itza (to be included on the route between Valladolid and Mérida)

When to go to Izamal?

The best time to visit Izamal is from November to March.

The temperature is cooler (it can be very hot and humid in the summer in Yucatan!), but it is also the high tourist season.

On the other hand, Izamal is very far from being a big tourist center like Cancun or Playa del Carmen, so it’s never really overrun with tourists.

Is Izamal Safe?

Yucatan is one of the safest states in Mexico.

Izamal is a quiet little town where you can get around on foot without any problem.

In addition, the inhabitants of Izamal, the “i zamaleños”, are very friendly!

Tourist Map of Izamal

Are you going to Mexico? Read also

All our articles on Mexico are here:  Find all our guides on Mexico!

Camille L.

Passionate about foreign languages, cooking and writing. I wish to share with you the places, the meetings and the gastronomic discoveries which gave relief to my travels.

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