Mexico has 35 towns that are considered magical and one of them is here in the Yucatán… just 45 minutes from Merida. Izamal is one of Yucatan’s two magical towns (the other is Valladolid).
What makes a town magical? According to the requirements to be considered magical by the Mexican government, the town or city must be small with rich historical tradition. It must be near other touristically interesting sites or large cities, be accessible with good highways and roads, and there must be willingness by the locals to develop the project.
What makes Izamal a magical town? Just enter the town and that question will be answered. The first thing that any visitor notices is that the town is painted yellow… all the colonial buildings, the market, the huge convent, everything! The next things that stand out are the cobblestone streets and the iron lampposts that give the town a tranquil ambiance. The sound of the clippity-clop of the horses pulling "calesas" (carriages) will surely make you feel as if you've stepped back in time. The calesas are a main mode of travel for guests and locals alike in Izamal.
To visit Izamal is to visit a city/town that is alive with three cultures – the ancient Mayan, the colonial, and the present day bustling Izamal. Izamal is a monument of color, history and pride that can be felt in its streets and buildings. Art, music, and gastronomy are all around you!
Called the City of Hills and located right in the middle of the Yucatán Peninsula, Izamal may be the oldest city in the Yucatán. Izamal was conquered by the Spaniards, and the monks in their eagerness to convert the Indians to Catholicism gave the city its religious distinction. To this day, Izamal's people are very devoted to the Immaculate Virgin.
The most important thing to see here is the Franciscan convent that was built over one of the Mayan pyramids. This convent is also famous for the monk Fray Diego de Landa, its founder, who burned all the Indian scripts, and then, feeling remorse for what he had done, tried to rewrite all he could remember of the ways of the Mayas.
It is here where Pope John Paul visited in 1993. This visit has been one of Izamal's claims to fame ever since, and is commemorated by a statue of the Pope in the convent courtyard.
Inside the church itself, you will see the beautifully restored altarpiece, the stained-glass window of St. Francis of Asissi, and many statues along the walls. The second floor is where the statue of Our Lady of Izamal, Queen and Patron Saint of Yucatán, is housed. Note all the gold-leaf paint, crystal chandeliers, flowers and elegantly painted walls. A small church store with postcards and religious souvenirs is on the first floor.
Izamal is a jewel of a colonial city, with almost all the buildings painted an egg-yolk yellow. Cobblestone streets and colonial lampposts complete the scenery. Clean, peaceful and quaint, this is a great town to stroll through. There are Mayan pyramids, colonial-style buildings, parks and plazas, horses and buggies, and lots of people-watching.
Upon arrival, head to the Government Palace to see the large model in the outdoor corridor. It shows the entire town and the tremendous number of Mayan pyramids that are scattered about. To the north are the Mayan archaeological site of Kinich Kakmo, the most important. This is a largely unrestored pyramid that looks like a very symmetrical hill. A climb to the top will reward you with a beautiful view. You will also want to visit Kabul, Itzamatul and the Conejo.
Next, visit the Museum of the Community, located under the convent in front of Cinco de Mayo Park. All the information is in Spanish, but the exhibits are interesting.
While in Izamal, be sure to hire a horse-drawn carriage (calesa) to take you to the homes where local artisans work their magic creating unique crafts. There is a handcraft route the buggy driver will take you on to see the workshops where miniatures are made, where hammocks are woven, where papier maché butterflies and dragonflies are crafted, and where wooden jaguars, crucifixes, boxes and more are carved. Other crafts include jewelry made from the cocoyol seeds and the tips of the henequen plant.
To really enjoy Izamal, plan to be there in the evening so that you can take in the magical Light and Sound Show – Light of the Mayas. Held at 8:30 PM Mon. to Sat. in the atrium of the convent, this show is a must. Between the incense, the strolling monks, the music, the narration and the colorful images that are projected onto the walls and into the arches of the convent… well, it's a little magical! And it will give you insight into the culture of the Mayas who are living in and around Izamal. Cost: 89 pesos foreigners, 61 pesos Mexicans. Translation headphones 39 pesos.
For shopping, be sure to visit the Hecho a Mano store on the main square, and Galería Tres Pájaros on Calle 18 in Colonia San Juan.
In case you are wondering, the complete list of Magical Towns, and their dates of inscription, are: Mexcaltitán, Nayarit, 2001; Huasca de Ocampo, Hidalgo, 2001; Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosí, 2001; Tepoztlán, Morelos, 2002; Taxco, Guerrero, 2002; Tepotzotlán, Estado de México, 2002; Tapalpa, Jalisco, 2002; Comala, Colima, 2002; Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, 2002; Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, 2002; San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, 2002; Cuetzalan, Puebla, 2002; Izamal, Yucatán, 2002; Tequila, Jalisco, 2003; San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, 2003; Real del Monte, Hidalgo, 2004; Parras de la Fuente, Coahuila, 2004; Valle de Bravo, Estado de México, 2005; Mazamitla, Jalisco, 2005; Alamos, Sonora, 2005; Tlalpujahua, Michoacán, 2005; Cosalá, Sinaloa, 2005; Bernal, Querétaro, 2005; Coatepec, Veracruz, 2006; Papantla, Veracruz, 2006; Realde Asientos, Aguascalientes, 2006; Cuitzeo, Michoacán, 2006; Santiago, Nuevo León, 2006; Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, 2006; Bacalar, Quintana Roo, 2006; Jerez de García Salinas, Zacatecas, 2007; Huamantla, Tlaxcala, 2007; Mier, Tamaulipas, 2007; Creel, Chihuahua, 2007; Capulalpam de Mendez, Oaxaca, 2007; El Fuerte, Sinaloa, 2009.
Izamal has something else to boast about- the Centro Cultural y Artesanal that was inaugurated on March 23, 2007.
How to get there: It’s easy to go by car. Take the Cuota road toward Cancún, and exit at km. 48 towards Izamal. The trip takes 45 minutes. Or go by bus, the station is at calle 67 between 50 and 52, with departures every hour. The cost of the ticket is $22 pesos one way, $44 pesos roundtrip. Also you can take a Van in calle 65 between 52 and 54.
- Izamal's Cultural Center
Home for rent:
- Habuc House
Email: [email protected]