The 11 Best Things to Do in Izamal (Yucatan)


How to Visit Izamal: A Guide to the Yellow Town of Yucatan

Izamal is one of the most beautiful places in Yucatán, and a stunning colonial town where yellow buildings create a unique atmosphere.

You can easily visit Izamal on your way from Valladolid, Chichen Itza or Merida, and spend half a day or a full day there.

You’ll love exploring its colonial streets, ancient pyramids and local neighborhoods, where you’ll find plenty of attractions.

In this ultimate guide to Izamal, I’ll show you all the best places to see and things to do, as well as the best hotels for every budget. I’ll also give you some suggested itineraries for 1 day in Izamal and half a day in Izamal.

Are you ready to discover Izamal?

Before we get into thebest attractions of Izamal, let me tell you a little bit about its history. If you want to skip to the best sights and activities in Izamal, click here!

Izamal: a bit of history

Izamal’s name comes from the Mayan word for “dew falling from the sky”, and it is said to be named after a Mayan priest called Itzamna or Zamna.

It was a holy site for the Maya and an important city from the 9th to the 11th century.

Izamal is also one of the oldest cities in the region.

It was founded in the 6th century by the Chanes -later known as Itza, who also founded Chichén Itzá-, but the first traces date back to the 8th century BC.

Because of its religious significance, 7 pyramids were built here, some of which are still visible!

It was partly abandoned in the 12th century and by the time the Spaniards arrived, the place was almost deserted.

Why is Izamal yellow?

You may wonder why Izamal is painted yellow. Some people say it was to honor Pope John Paul II, who visited the town in 1993, and match the colors of the Vatican.

But there are other stories as well:

  • To keep mosquitoes away, the residents painted the walls yellow to reflect the light and covered the bases with lime. They started with the convent and the municipal palace, and then did the same for the other buildings.
  • The yellow symbolizes the corn, which was sacred to the Mayas.
  • In 1850, when the henequen trade was falling, Izamal wanted to create a unified image to attract visitors.

Maybe there were different reasons and times for painting, but it was in 2002 when the government declared that yellow and white would be the official colors of Izamal.

izamal amarillo
izamal yellow

What to see and do in Izamal

1. Exploring the streets of Izamal

Izamal is a delight to explore on foot. You can enjoy the charming yellow streets and colonial buildings, and take some stunning photos.

Some of the lovely places to see in Izamal are:

  • Itzamna park, the main square, where you can pose with the colorful IZAMAL letters.
  • Parque 5 de Mayo, where you can sample the elotes and marquesitas, two local snacks.
  • You can also relax at the cozy Hun Pic Tok cafe and check out the Hecho a Mano handicraft store at the San Miguel Arcangel hotel. Another place to find handicrafts is Raíces Mayas (Calle 30 corner 29).
  • The Palacio Municipal, right across from Parque 5 de Mayo, where you can take photos from the second floor.
  • The San Ildefonso neighborhood, dating back to the 16th century, with its lovely chapel.
  • Los Remedios, one of the most traditional neighborhoods, with its chapel facing a quaint little square.
  • The El Gallito neighborhood, with the Parque de los Cañones and the Santa Cruz Chapel.
izamal calles
izamal calles

2. San Antonio de Padua Convent

The convent of Izamal was built in the 16th century on top of the ruins of Popol Chac (or Pap Hol Chac), which was the main Mayan temple of Izamal. In its early days, the convent was a major intellectual center.

It served as a seminary, a school for the Maya, and a place where the Franciscans learned the Maya language.

Today, the convent of San Antonio de Padua is the symbol of the city and a popular tourist attraction in Izamal.

It has 75 arches that enclose a 7,806 m² atrium, the world’s second largest after St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.

Inside, you can see several chapels, two cloisters, and a small museum that commemorates the visit of Pope John Paul II, who held a big gathering in the convent in 1993.

From Thursday to Saturday, at 8 pm, you can watch a video mapping show that tells the history of the city through projections on 5 locations in Izamal, starting with the Parque de los Cañones.

  • Free entry, museum 10 pesos
  • Open from 6 am to 8 pm
  • Light and sound show at 8 pm, 100 pesos
The Convent of Saint Anthony of Padua in Izamal

3. Get the best view of Izamal

The Kinich Kakmó pyramid is the biggest pyramid in Izamal and one of the highest in Yucatán.

It’s even taller than the famous pyramid of Kukulcán in Chichén Itzá.

You can climb to the top for free and enjoy a wonderful view of the city.

Kinich Kakmó or Kinich Kak Moo means “fire macaw with a solar face”.

The pyramid was dedicated to the sun goddess, who came down from the sky every day at noon as a macaw to receive her offerings.

I suggest going early in the morning or in the afternoon (4 pm) because it gets very hot!

  • Entrance on 27th street, between 28th and 26th streets (north of the main square)
  • Open from 8 am to 5 pm
kinich kakmó izamal
kinich kakmó izamal

4. Explore the pyramids for free

You can also visit other pyramids in Izamal for free.😎

Iztamatul Pyramid: this is the second most important pyramid in Izamal, dedicated to the god Zamna. From its top (72 ft), you can see Kinich Kakmo and the convent. It’s on the corner of 26th and 31st streets.

Kabul: not much is left of the temple, which was about 29 ft high. A drawing by Frederick Catherwood (1843) shows that it had a huge stucco mask, but it’s gone now. It’s on 31st Street, between 30th and 32nd.

Habuk: this is a small Mayan pyramid 13 ft high and 295 ft long from the 3rd century with some buildings. On top, there is a plaza with the ruins of 11th century structures. It’s on 28th Street, between 35th and 37th.

El Conejo or Tuul: this is one of the smallest sites, but many artifacts have been found there (textiles, ceramic plates, arrowheads, etc.). It’s on 22nd Street, between 31 and 33.

Chaltun-Ha: this site was only opened to the public in 2019. It was an administrative center and dates back to the 10th-13th centuries. It’s on 38th Street, between 43 and 45.

Izamal has many more structures that are still closed to the public and about 170 archaeological sites waiting to be excavated.

My advice
The structures are not all in good condition. I recommend giving priority to Kinich Kakmó and Iztamatul. Also Chaltun-Ha, if you have time.

5. The museum of handicrafts

This cultural center is a crafts museum in a 16th century house.

It has 11 rooms with works by the best local artisans who use metal, seeds, wood, plant fiber (such as henequen, very important for the region) and clay.

There is also an exhibit on the haciendas of the area with many old photos.

The museum was created to help artisans showcase and sell their work.

There is a store where you can buy different pieces from 12 local communities.

The prices are a bit higher than other places, but it’s fair trade and the sales directly support the families, so it’s worth it. 😊

  • Entrance 25 pesos, for the association of artisans of Izamal
  • Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 8 pm
  • Centro cultural y artesanal: Calle 31 No. 201, Izamal

6. Taste the gastronomy of Izamal

Yucatecan cuisine is a fusion of pre-Hispanic Maya ingredients and Spanish ones that arrived during the colonial era.

It’s unlike any other in Mexico, but it also relies on corn for most dishes, like in all of Mesoamerica!

Some of the traditional dishes you can try are cochinita pibil, papadzules, joroches, poc chuc, relleno negro or salbutes, but there is one dish that stands out in Izamal: frijol con puerco (beans with pork).

It’s a dish of pork and beans with onion, tomato, garlic, habanero chile, cilantro and epazote.

I suggest going to Lonchería La Conchita in the Mercado Municipal to try Doña Amada’s cooking. There you can see local Izamal life and admire the typical clothes worn by the women.

You can also go to Zamna Izamal restaurant (Calle 31, #336, Parque de Los Cañones) and Kinich (Calle 27, # 299).

restaurante kinich izamal
restaurant kinich izamal

7. Visiting a hammock workshop

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to visit small artisan workshops.

It’s a great way to support the local economy, meet passionate people and get a high-quality souvenir.

I heard about Agustín Kanatún’s workshop in Izamal, where he makes nylon, crochet and cotton hammocks for over 20 years. His hammocks are famous for their quality and detail.

He was weaving when I got there, and he kindly showed me the whole process.

You should check it out if you have time.

  • Address: Calle 19 #268, Izamal

hamaca izamal

8. Ecotourism in Oxwatz

This is a unique and worthwhile community project.

Oxwatz Natural Park is a 500 hectare ecological reserve run by 56 members of the local Mayan community.

They offer several tours with certified guides: one of 8 hours (minimum 4 people, starting from 7 am) and another of 24 hours with one night camping in the jungle (starting from 3 pm).

You can do many activities:

  • Kayak to the Oxwatz cenote
  • Hike to the archaeological site of Xbaatun
  • Bike to Cenote Kukula and snorkel
  • See the Tzatz Op viewpoint
  • Visit the Kanab and Xbatun water holes (small cenote with shallow water)
  • Watch endemic birds

My advice
Book ahead by emailing or calling: 9911 00 93 58; 9911 07 20 06
  • Website
  • Not recommended for children under 10 years old or seniors
  • Getting to Oxwatz: go to the cooperative’s office in Tekal de Venegas (Calle 13, between Calle 20 and 23), 15 minutes from Izamal. You can take a cab from Parque Zamna (around 10 pesos).
parque oxwatz yucatan
parque oxwatz yucatan

9. Swimming in a cenote

I wanted to visit the Lakin-Ha cenote, but it was closed when I arrived.

So I went to cenote Chihuán in the town of Holcá, which is just 30 minutes from Izamal. And it was awesome!

This cenote has a long and fascinating history:

  • In ancient times, it was a hiding place during the wars between the Cocomes and Chichen Itza
  • During the War of Independence, it was occupied by indigenous people who resisted colonial rule
  • During the Mexican Revolution and the Caste War, it was a refuge for the people of Holcá

Today this historic cenote belongs to a local family, but they let the public visit.

It is a gorgeous cenote inside a cave, and the place is well maintained. You can snorkel and dive there. I really enjoyed the low ceiling of the cave, because it made the place feel cozy.

Also, there are no crowds here and not much advertising, so it’s very peaceful.😍

  • Entrance fee: 100 pesos
  • How to get to cenote Chihuán: it is located in Holcá, between Izamal (30 min) and Chichén Itzá on Highway 180. If you want to go by public transport, take a colectivo that goes along Highway 180.

My advice
There are many cenotes to see in the region, both in Mérida and Valladolid. Check out my article about The 21 Best Cenotes In Valladolid!
cenote chihuan
cenote chihuan

10. Explore the villages around Izamal

Why don’t you use this opportunity to visit some of the lovely Yucatan villages near Izamal?

Places to see:

  • Tekanto (8 miles): the 16th-century temple and convent of San Agustín, the Chapel of San Román, the haciendas of Sonlatah and Mucuyché, the archaeological site of Chumula
  • Teya (11 miles): San Barnabé parish church
  • Sudzal (5 miles): 16th-century Temple of the Assumption, the ruins of Acun, Santa Catalina and Tocbatz. At 3 km to the south is the hacienda San Antonio Chalante.
  • Kantunil (12 miles): 17th-century Templo de la Candelaria, Coloba site

11. Hoctún Cemetery

I find cemeteries fascinating. Not for mystical or religious reasons, but because they show the local culture.

Mexican cemeteries are often colorful and the one in Hoctún, 20 minutes from Izamal, is a great example.

They say it’s the most decorated cemetery in the Yucatan Peninsula!

Since 1866, people have painted flowers, angels and various religious images on the tombs and mausoleums.

There are even replicas of famous buildings such as Chichén Itzá and the Torre Latinoamericana in Mexico City.

If you are lucky, you will meet Don Anacleto. He was the gravedigger at this cemetery for 50 years and now, in his 90s, he is dedicated to painting the tombs.

My advice
Visitors are welcome, but of course I invite you to be respectful as in any other place of worship.
  • How to get to Hoctún: 20 minutes from Izamal to Mérida on YUC Highway 11. From Mérida (65 km) you can take a bus or colectivo on Calle 67 (25 pesos, about 1h).
cementerio hoctún
hoctún cemetery

Where to stay in Izamal?

  • Departamentos X’Kanlol: very clean and well located rooms in the center near the bus station, with garden and bicycle rental, from only 25 usd per night!
  • Hotel San Miguel Arcangel: the best budget hotel in Izamal, perfectly located in front of Parque 5 de Mayo. I loved its green patio and colonial style decor. Breakfast included, from only 51 usd per night!
  • Hotel Boutique Kocai: beautiful Mayan-style ecological cabins located in the center of Izamal with pool, hammocks, garden and restaurant. From 83 usd per night
  • Hacienda Sacnite: a hacienda that has preserved its authentic rustic character, but with an intimate, elegant and romantic atmosphere. With large gardens, many plants and palm trees, a beautiful swimming pool, this is one of the most charming hotels in the Yucatan! From 103 usd per night.

How long to visit Izamal?

Izamal is a small town and you can see most of it in a day trip, or half a day.

Here are my recommended itineraries to see Izamal in 1 day or half a day:

What to do in a half day in Izamal

  • Start with the convent of San Antonio de Padua
  • Visit Itzamna Park and 5 de Mayo Park. Don’t miss the chance to take a photo with the colorful letters of Izamal
  • Continue to the pyramids of Itzamatul and Kinich Kakmó
  • For lunch, the Kinich restaurant is near Kinich Kakmó. Otherwise, head back to the main plaza to go to the Municipal Market.

What to do in 1 day in Izamal

If you have one day in Izamal, you can do the same as the half day program, and also visit the artisan museum in front of Parque 5 de Mayo (enjoy the air conditioning!), and discover the traditional spots of Izamal: Capilla de los Remedios with its lovely plaza, Parque de los Cañones, Capilla de San Ildefonso and the nearby hammock workshop.

And, of course, check out the pyramid of Chaltun-Ha, which is a bit further south.

How to get to Izamal

From Valladolid

  • By car, take Highway 180D to Kantunil, then Highway 53 to Izamal (1h26). Or take Highway 180 without toll (called “la libre”), which takes 20 minutes longer.
  • By bus with Autobuses del Centro on the corner of Calle 37, near Calle 54 (2h, 80 pesos). You can contact the company for schedules: Izamal 9889 67 66 15; Valladolid 9851 01 99 33

From Merida

  • By car, take Highway 180E towards Valladolid, and at Hoctun take Highway 11 (50 min)
  • By bus, there are departures every hour from the terminal on Calle 67, between Calle 50 and Calle 52 (1h). There are also vans on 65th street, between 52nd and 54th
  • You can also book this tour to Izamal from Mérida (click here!) which includes a guided visit to Izamal, Valladolid, Cenote Chichikan, and Chichén Itzá, with breakfast and lunch

Renting a car in Yucatán

Many travelers decide to rent a car to visit Yucatán. Of course there are many advantages: freedom, flexibility of itineraries and schedules…

Renting a car is for sure the best way to explore Izamal and make the most of your stay!

To rent a car, personally, I always use Cars, for a few reasons:

  • You can easily compare the rental cars prices between all the agencies: for sure the easiest way to find the best rate!
  • Cancellation is often offered free of charge: no need to worry if you change your mind
  • Booking Cars offers full insurance coverage at a lower price than the rental companies, so it’s an instant saving with no effort

Simply click on the green button to find your rental car at the best price:

Finding parking in Izamal

Parking in Izamal is quite easy, around the main square and in the small streets.

If you are staying overnight in a hotel, it’s best to ask them directly for a good spot.

My tips for visiting Izamal

Protect yourself from the sun

Izamal is very sunny and hot, especially around noon!

The sun can be harsh and there are not many places to hide from it, so I recommend that you stay indoors between 12 and 3 pm.

Make sure you have a good sunscreen, a hat (or cap), sunglasses and enough water.

Mix and match your visits

If you have limited time and want to include Izamal in your Yucatán itinerary without spending a whole day there, you have several options:

  • Izamal and Valladolid in one day
  • Izamal and Merida in one day (this is not ideal since Merida is bigger than Valladolid, but it is possible)
  • Izamal and Chichen Itzá (on the way between Valladolid and Mérida)

When to go to Izamal?

The best time to visit Izamal is from November to March.

The weather is cooler (summer in Yucatán is usually very hot and humid!), but it is also the peak season for tourism.

However, Izamal is not a major tourist destination like Cancun or Playa del Carmen, so it never gets too crowded.

Safety in Izamal

Yucatán is one of the safest states in Mexico.

Izamal is a small, peaceful town where you can walk around without any worries.

Besides, the people of Izamal, the “izamaleños”, are very friendly.

Izamal tourist map

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izamal mexico
izamal mexico

I have created this blog to give you all my best tips to plan your next trip to Mexico, regardless of your budget. I share detailed itineraries, advice about places to visit as well as recommendations for transportation, hotels and restaurants. I hope I will also help you to discover amazing off the beaten path destinations in Mexico!

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