The yellow city Izamal is one of the magical towns (pueblos mágicos) in Mexico. If you’re like me, two sentences will immediately pop up in your head when you read this sentence:
Why is Izamal called the yellow city? What is a magical town?
Let’s start with the second question.
Pueblos Mágicos de México
The Programa Pueblos Mágicos was launched in 2001 by the Mexican Secretariat of Tourism. It aims to promote towns around the country which stand out because of their natural beauty, cultural richness, historical importance, traditions, art crafts or cuisine.
Every year, hundreds of towns and villages apply. At the moment, more than 100 towns have the title. The Pueblos Mágicos need to maintain a certain standard as far as tourism is concerned but also have great benefits. If a magic town fails to meet the required criteria, the title may be removed. This has already happened a couple of times. In the case of San Miguel de Allende, the title was removed when it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are two Pueblos Mágicos in Yucatán, the yellow city Izamal (since 2002) and Valladolid (since 2012).
The Yellow City Izamal – Why is it yellow?
All buildings in the city centre are painted with the same yellow colour. Fortunately, the city isn’t very big and the streets are numbered as usual, so it’s not very likely that you will get lost in all this yellow.
Well, I would like to give you a convincing reason why the city centre is so yellow but there isn’t one. I talked to people in Izamal and heard that the Spaniards issued a decree in the 16th or 17th century which said that Izamal had to be yellow. Ok, the Spaniards did a lot of weird things in Mexico but wanting a yellow city? I’m not so sure.
The second reason I was given made a bit more sense to me. It says that the colour of the buildings in Izamal reflects the colour of the Maya’s most important food, the Indian corn. It makes sense because the yellow city Izamal is an old Maya town which has been inhabited for as long almost 3,000 years.
If you find or hear another explanation, don’t hesitate to write in the comments and tell us about it.
How to get to Izamal from Mérida
Mérida has several bus terminals in the city centre which means that I always have to make sure why my bus leaves from before I go somewhere. In this case, it was Terminal Noreste in Calle 67 x 50 y 52. Yes, I know, the official address is different. Calle 50 531A is actually where the buses leave, it’s not the entrance for pedestrians.
Calle 67 x 50 y 52 – What does that mean?
Yeah, it’s confusing in the beginning but after a while, you get used to it. The streets (la calle = street) are numbered and people normally just indicate the block when they refer to something as big as a bus terminal. So the entrance to Terminal Noreste is on Calle 67 and it’s the block between the streets no. 50 and no. 52.
How much and how long?
A one-way ticket from Mérida to Izamal costs currently (June 2018) 31 pesos (app. US$ 1.50) and the journey takes 1.5 hours. I took a bus at 10am. Izamal is the last stop, so you can’t miss it.
When you arrive in Izamal and step out of the terminal, you’re already in the city centre and just a few steps away from the convent. The yellow city Izamal has a population of merely 15,000, so it’s quite small and you can easily have a look around by taking a walk. Just make sure to drink enough, it’s hot.
As mentioned above, you can’t miss the Convent San Antonio de Padua when you arrive by bus. It was built on the ruins of one of Izamal’s Maya pyramids in the middle of the 16th century. It’s certainly yellow, too. A large part of the area is freely accessible and you can just take a stroll. There’s a small shop where you can buy religious articles and other souvenirs and also a museum.
The Maya Ruins
The yellow city Izamal was already inhabited in the times of the Maya and there are seven pyramids. Four of them are situated a bit outside the city centre and I didn’t go there. Two are part of the city centre and the last one is the one where you find the convent nowadays. The two pyramids in the city centre can be visited for free and you can also climb on. They’re not as steep as the pyramids in Uxmal or Chichén Itzá. I managed to climb them and get down again without any problems so I’d say that everyone with a normal fitness level can do the same even if you’re a bit afraid of going down like me.
The biggest pyramid is called Kinich Kak Moo and was dedicated to the sun god, Itzamná and built around the 6th century. It was a huge building measuring 200 x 180 meters on the ground.
Taking a Ride with a Horse Carriage
I had been tempted to take a ride by horse carriage whenever I went to Mérida’s city centre. Well, now that I’ve been living in Mérida for 6 weeks and know my surroundings, it’s not likely to happen. These are things I do in the beginning or never. Well, I did it in Izamal. When you walk along the convent’s courtyard walls, you will already see the horse carriages, so it’s just a matter of choosing one once you’ve left the convent.
I paid 150 pesos (app. US$ 7.50) for a ride of about one hour. My coachman only spoke Spanish and told me that colleagues who speak a little English (seems that not many of them do) normally charge 200 pesos and the ride is shorter :-). Well, my ride was very enjoyable, we stopped for pictures and the coachman told me some interesting facts about Izamal today and in the times of the Maya.
Me and “my” horse.
Do you want to know more about the Yucatán and the Mayas? Check out my recommendations:
- Lonely Planet: Cancún, Cozumel and the Yucatán
- A Yucatan Kitchen: Regional Recipes from Mexico’s Mundo Maya
- A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya
Have you visited Izamal? How did you like it and what did you do? I’d like to hear from you in the comments.
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