Izamal, magical town. Izamal, magical town.

Daytripping to Izamal, Yucatán magical town

It used to be one of the largest cities on the peninsula

We really enjoy road trips, short or long, this country or another one, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about the adventure.


Izamal is a Pueblo Mágico, or magical town, three hours north of our home on the Caribbean side of Mexico, and just a bit south of Mérida on the Yucatan Peninsula. It has become one of our favorite daytrip destinations to take visiting friends and family.

There are two exits available for Izamal from the toll highway 180D that runs between Cancún and Mérida. One is the well-traveled, well-signed route that is closer to Mérida. The other exit is closer to Valladolid, turning on to a narrow country road and winding through three very small pueblos, Kantunil, Sudzal and Juan Pablo.

The road is sprinkled with a number of infamous Mexican speed bumps, or topes. It’s an interesting, albeit slower, drive via this route.

Izamal is a quiet old colonial town featuring buildings that are painted a charming egg-yolk yellow. The huge Monastery of Izamal in centro is undergoing a massive restoration with state, federal and UNESCO money. During the time of the Spanish conquest of Yucatan (1527-1547), Izamal was one of the largest and most beautiful cities on the peninsula.

It was considered by the Mayans to be the home of Kinich Kakmo, a manifestation of the sun god, and also the home of the god Itzam Na. Following the capture of Izamal by the Spanish, the local population was forced to dismantle the top of the enormous pyramid in the center of the city, the sanctuary of the god Itzam Na.

Upon the flattened area the new monastery and church were erected, standing high above the town of Izamal.


On one of our first road trips here a local resident offered us an interesting and spontaneous tour of the monastery for a small fee, then it was time for lunch. We were starving. About a block off the city square we noticed the inviting entrance of Restaurante Kinich.

Inside the cool, palapa-covered interior, enticing smells emanated from the kitchen. In one corner of the restaurant two ladies sat on low wooden stools, making corn tortillas by hand in the traditional manner with a very hot wood-burning fire. The fresh, hot tortillas were served with yummy Mayan and Yucatecan specialties.

After lunch it was my turn to drive. My navigator and I got into a heated discussion while searching for the barely and rarely marked route out of Izamal in the direction of Valladolid. Knowing I was right, I turned right and drove along the narrow, one-way streets only to discover that we were hopelessly lost in another small village north of Izamal.

Then the car began to signal insistently  that we were low on fuel. Ping. Should we turn here? Ping. Should we turn at that corner? Ping. Let’s try this road. And, by the way, just how many times will the car ping us before we run out of gas?

Our long-suffering passengers happened to have a smartphone with GPS. John keyed in Izamal and Valladolid. A miracle happened; the GPS knew exactly where we were and where we were going. In short order we were sorted out and headed back towards town and a gas station.

I think we need a GPS for future road trips. But then again, exploring a new route and getting lost is half of the fun of such a trip, arguments and all.

Unless, of course, the darn car needs fuel, then getting lost is a bit of a pain.

The writers are Canadians who have been full-time residents of Isla Mujeres for nearly 10 years. You can read their blog here.

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  • Birdlady

    Nice little article on Izamal. However, I was surprised to see that you did not comment on or have images of the ruins just a few blocks from the main square. I just moved to Valladolid and went to Izamal for the first time a few months ago. Of course I knew about the monastery and the yellow buildings everywhere, but I had no idea about the ruins, which offer a spectacular view of the city. Perhaps you wanted to keep this little gem a secret.

  • John Papineau

    I think you’re holding the map sideways. Izamal is three hours west of Cancun, and a little east of Merida.

  • Larry

    Nice review about Izamal. Still a little secret gem on Yucatan peninsula.
    But: its not only a daytrip, its worth to spend more time in this in this picturesque spot – The first” Pueblo Magico” in Mexico with its traditions and and authentic Maya – Colonial feeling. A new light show was added some weeks ago at 8pm every Wednesday to Sunday. So, more things to do now at night in the colonial town. You also should rent one of the reasonable priced horse carriages and touring town and the handcraft workshops like Cocoyole jewelry, hammock workshop paper mache, tin, wood carving, cross stich and more… There is plenty to do for 3 or more days in and around Izamal. Ask your hotel host about , you will get tons of information’s. Picking Izamal as your base allows you to make daytrips to visit all of Yucatan sights and explore the surroundings of Izamal like Chichen Itza , Merida , Dzilam de Bravo at the Yucatan coast with its wildlife , like Flamingos and crocodiles, the archeological site of Uxmal, Mayapan, Ek Balam, Haciendas, Cenotes – you name it, its all there. Most of the attractions are only 45 minutes drive from Izamal, since the village is located in the heart of Yucatan, in between Chichen Itza and the capital city Merida. Stay overnight in one of the small downtown hotels or choose an upgraded, more quiet and relaxing accommodation at the edge of Izamal ( all are close and in walking distance to the historic center). There is even a Campground in Izamal, attached to the No 1 Hotel in Izamal, the Hacienda Hotel Santo Domingo, so you can stay in your camper or motor home while exploring the area. There is also a web site with more information about Izamal: http://www.izamal.info
    You will find more information about how to get there what to do and where to stay.

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