Magical Towns: Izamal

In Magical Towns by Suzanne Koch

Forty-five minutes east of Merida is a cheerfully painted town of bright yellow where layers of of history are exposed. Nicknamed “La Ciudad Amarillo,” or “The Yellow City,” Izamal is a mesmerizing small city where years of Mayan history have been mixed with Spanish culture in a charming atmosphere.

Izamal became a designated Magical Town in 2002 and is one of two magical towns in the Yucatan. The yellow town has a mix of Mayan, colonial and modern culture and offers a historic view into the past. The center of town is overlooked by four large Mayan pyramids, including the Kinich Kakmo Pyramid that was built for the Maya sun god. Spanning an entire block, the great structure sits to the north of the center of town.

Convent of San Antonio de Padua

Convent of San Antonio de Padua

Throughout the city, visitors can discover multiple Spanish churches that were built over Mayan pyramids and altars. One of these historic structures that constantly draws visitors in is the Convent of San Antonio Padua, a Franciscan monastery which serves to be one of the oldest Catholic monasteries in the Americas. The temple is located where Ppapp-Hol-Chac pyramid once stood before the Spanish destroyed it. Stones from the pyramid were used to build parts of the monastery and can still be seen today, a common theme for many structures throughout the town. The structure is painted yellow and boasts the second largest enclosed atrium in the world, behind St. Peter’s Basilica at The Vatican, and holds the Virgin de la Concepcion (Our Lady of Immaculate Conception) effigy. For a dazzling display, visit the convent Monday-Saturday at 8:30 p.m. for a light and sound show.

Along with having a rich culture and blend of history, the city has an extensive supply of artisanal shops where strolling visitors can find items like jewelry, hammocks, clothing, folk art, native woods and more. Avoid missing a single one by taking a calesa (horse-drawn carriage) around town for a full tour of the shops. The calesas can also take visitors to “the corners of legends,” where a variety of myths and legends can be discovered.

Visit Kinich or El Toro for a bite of Yucatecan cuisine and to rest your head at night, the romantic Hacienda Hotel Santo Domingo offers an exotic ambiance close to downtown Izamal, while Hacienda Sacnicte delivers a sophisticated experience among its elegant suites.

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