Saturday, July 20, 2024

Why Izamal is my favorite Pueblo Mágico

The other day I was telling a friend about how visiting Izamal, Yucatán was my favorite trip to a pueblo mágico. “Where is this golden city?” she asked.

Travelers and frequent Mexico visitors have likely heard of these amazing magic towns. This is because of their special historical and cultural importance. There are 177 of them throughout Mexico. They’re rich in traditional arts and crafts and are full of beautiful, friendly locals. Plus, they have great food. Which, for a foodie like me, is important.

They are the real Mexico. Mexico’s lesser-visited regions. These smaller, more rural towns are full of welcoming locals, great hospitality, and a million smiles. 

These magic towns can be found in every state, and in the Yucatán region, where I live, we’re lucky to have nine — no, ten. Cozumel Island has been named a Pueblo Mágico. So far, I have visited six out of the ten, live in one, and have plans to see the last three as soon as I can. 

Out of these ten, Izamal is easily my favorite. 

Where is Izamal? 

Izamal sits on the Yucatán Peninsula in southeastern Mexico. It is only 45 miles (72 kilometers) east of Mérida, the capital. At less than an hour’s drive and is a popular day trip. 

I’ve visited a couple of times and have plans to return again with a friend. Once again, I want to walk the town bathed in the golden glow cast from the saffron-coloured streets. Izamal, Mexico is a photographer’s dream. Being a photographer (my friend is as well), I can’t wait to show her one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever seen. 

She’s going to go bananas over this place (hahaha bananas are yellow, too)! 

What’s so great about Izamal? 

Where do I start? Every time I arrive in Izamal, something inside me rejoices. The canary-yellow town radiates joy, like looking into the cheery face of a sunflower. But on a town-sized scale.

But it’s more than the elegance of the golden Spanish colonial architecture trimmed in perfect white. It’s a feeling. Like the color can somehow make you happy on the cloudiest of days. Then add in the friendly people. I swear they radiate warmth as well.

What is there to do in Izamal?

I love nature, history, and photography. So, I climbed the pyramid. I explored the San Antonio de Padua Convent, with its stunning architecture. Then, I spent hours wandering the streets taking enough photos to rival a Japanese tourist.

The pyramid, Kinich Kak Moo is Mayan for “the fire macaw with the sun face”. It’s the most important Mesoamerican pyramid located on the edge of town. The plaque is written in Spanish, Mayan, and English. 

It’s dedicated to a Sun God. According to legend, he appeared as a fire macaw. He descends daily to collect offerings from the limestone pit, which  is now enclosed by the pyramid. Something about this story captures my imagination. Standing on top of the pyramid with Izamal lying at your feet, I can almost see a giant gliding fire macaw soaring the skies. Yes, you can still climb the pyramid, but it’s steep and the view is good from the bottom, too. If you do climb it, make sure to do so with care and take your time. 

The church, the San Antonio de Padua Convent, is the crowning glory of the center of town. I love the symmetry of its massive atrium. Golden arches stretch in long lines, revealing impressive scale and grandeur. Fun fact: This atrium is second in size only to the Vatican. Wowsers.  

Izamal’s town square is right at the base of the stairs. Here you’ll find small stalls selling souvenirs, great food to grab lunch on the go, or a snack, or my favorite, an ice cream. Along the side, you’ll find a line of horse and carriages. The horses wear fun hats, waiting to take you on a tour of the town. Great if you have mobility issues or don’t feel like walking. 

But for me, that’s the magic of Izamal, Mexico. Walking the streets. Smiling back as locals ride past on bicycles, waving like you’re a long-lost friend. Watching the beautiful street lamps flick on at dusk. To see the cheery sunflower of the buildings deepen into an earthier yellow ochre. Day or night, the charm of the architecture gets me every time. 

If you visit this gorgeous golden town, please tell me in the comments. I’d love to hear what you liked best about visiting Izamal.

Mexico Correspondent for International Living, Bel is an experienced writer, author, photographer and videographer with 500+ articles published both in print and across digital platforms. Living in the Mexican Caribbean for over 7 years now she’s in love with Mexico and has no plans to go anywhere anytime soon.

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