Mexico Life
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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