Discover the best things to do in Izamal, the Yellow City of Mexico! From glorious Mayan ruins in ancient archaeological sites to charming colonial architecture, this quaint magic town or Pueblo Mágico stole my heart.
We visited Izamal during our three-month trip around the Yucatán Peninsula and spent there half a day. The colonial town attracts visitors with its yellow color as all the buildings in the center of this magical town are painted yellow (no, not the entire town).
In this blog post, you will find all the best things to do in Izamal, Mexico with descriptions, photos, and locations on the map. Izamal is super easy to get around as you can walk on foot to every must-visit spot in this small city. Happy exploring!
1. Take a photo at the IZAMAL sign!
One thing is common for big cities, small towns, and sometimes even villages all around the Yucatán Peninsula – they all have these colorful letters of the name of the location. It is always a must-visit photo spot everywhere you travel!
Izamal letters are located in the main square – Itzamna Park – right in front of the Convento de San Antonio convent which is in the background of the photo. This main plaza is usually full of vendors, lined with cafés, and hosts different events.
Location: Letras Izamal
2. Admire the second-largest open atrium in the world!
Now head to the most famous site in Izamal – Convento de San Antonio convent. As you climb up to the convent, you will enter a large grass-covered square surrounded by a yellow arcade with a statue of Pope John Paul II near the entrance to the convent.
The rectangular atrium is the largest atrium in the Americas and the second largest in the world right behind Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City. We loved walking all around the beautiful arcade and admiring the view of the convent!
I have been to Vatican City and that square is pretty massive. It would never come to my mind that this small town in the Yucatán Peninsula hosts the second-largest atrium in the world but it was a fun fact to find out!
The atrium is 7,806.43 square meters large and was built by the Franciscans together with the convent in the middle of the 16th century. The convent sits right on the site of the now-destroyed Pop-hol-Chac pyramid. It was then the highest pyramid in Izamal.
Location: Convento de San Antonio
3. Explore Convento de San Antonio de Padua convent!
The strikingly yellow 16th-century Convent of San Antonio de Padua in Izamal is the most popular tourist attraction in the Yellow City. The Franciscan convent sits in the heart of Izamal and stands out with its fortress-like walls painted in yellow and white.
As I mentioned, it was built on one of the hills where there was a Mayan pyramid named Pop-hol-Chac. The main entrance to the convent is at 5 de Mayo Park, but you can also enter from the side of Plaza Izamal where you can see these cool crisscross stairs.
The building complex hosts a rectangular atrium with a statue of the Pope, an arcade around the atrium, a church, and a museum. You can visit the church for free, but there is an entrance fee to visit the museum.
By the way, take a look at the beautiful frescoes on the walls at the entrance to the church! They date back to the 16th and 17th centuries! However, the inside of the church boasts a gilded Baroque altarpiece. Beautiful!
I really liked exploring the convent! We not only walked around it on the inside but also visited the building from various sides from the outside. It is really massive and definitely worth exploring!
The convent is the most picturesque place in Izamal. If you want to take unique and sunny photos then this is definitely the place to do that! I loved the photos on the crisscross stairs as well as the ones from the arcade inside the atrium.
Location: Convento de San Antonio
4. Try the yellow corn ice cream – elote!
One of my favorite things to do in Izamal was trying corn ice cream for the first time! Yellow ice cream in the Yellow City – what a perfect match! We went to Paleteria Y Neveria Gaby ice cream shop to get this treat in a plastic cup.
Tip! Don’t look for the name ‘corn ice cream’. The name of this frozen snack is ‘elote’. It is something that resembles ice cream, you eat it with a small spoon, it is sweet and it has pieces of corn inside it. It was interesting, but somehow I liked it, haha!
Location: Paleteria Y Neveria Gaby
5. See the legendary Arco de Izamal and take a walk through the yellow streets!
Stretching over one of the streets connected to the Itzamna Park is a glorious arch – Arco de Izamal. There is a legend saying that in the middle of the 16th century, Izamal was home to a special image of the Virgin Mary brought here from Guatemala.
When Spaniards from Valladolid heard about it, they came to Izamal requesting to transfer the image to Valladolid. As they tried to leave, the wooden box carrying the image became so heavy that they could not move one millimeter.
This happened right in the exact place where Arco de Izamal is located today. After many tries the Spaniards gave up and the image of the Virgin Mary stayed in Izamal to this day.
While there, take a walk along the yellow streets of Izamal! One of the most photo-perfect streets was Calle 31 street which continues from the Arco de Izamal. For more yellow buildings check other streets connected to Itzamna Park!
6. Climb to the top of Izamal’s Mayan pyramids – Kinich Kak Moo and Itzamatul!
Did you know that Izamal is also called the City of Hills? Let me tell you a secret. Those are not just hills. The ‘hills’ are actually the remains of ancient Mayan pyramids! Most of them are destroyed but there are two large Mayan pyramids in Izamal worth visiting!
Kinich Kakmó Pyramid
Kinich Kakmó Pyramid is the largest Mayan pyramid in Izamal and one of the largest pyramids in Mexico. It measures 200 meters long and 180 meters wide. The pyramid was built between 400 and 600 in our era and was dedicated to the Maya Sun god.
Kinich Kakmo pyramid is one of the best places to visit in Izamal. Besides you can visit these ancient ruins for free as there is no entrance fee. Just check their working hours as there is a gate that is closed during the night.
My favorite thing about the Kinich Kak Moo pyramid is that you are allowed to climb up to the top of the pyramid – something that is no longer allowed in many archeological sites in the Yucatán Peninsula. And you can see the entire Izamal from the top!
Itzamatul is another Mayan pyramid in the yellow town of Izamal. Itzamatul uncovers three stages of construction. Some parts of it date back to 950-1150 AC, other parts were built between 700-850 AC but the third stage took place around 400-600 AC.
It is said that Itzamatul Pyramid was built for the Mayan god Zamná and the pyramid attracted many pilgrims that traveled to this site. Today you can visit this ancient Izamal pyramid sitting in the center of town for free and even climb to the top of it.
Although it is not as impressive and not as high and massive as Kinich Kakmó Pyramid, it was still worth a visit. However, if you are short on time, you can skip Itzamatul Pyramid and head straight to Kinich Kakmó Pyramid just 500 meters away.
7. Try Mayan dishes for lunch at Restaurant Kinich!
One of the best things to do in Izamal is to explore local cuisine in one of the best restaurants in Izamal – Restaurant Kinich. It offers elevated traditional dishes from Mayan cuisine and other authentic Mexican foods. Perfect place for lunch!
We went there for early lunch and soon after all the tables that they had under a wooden palapa with a reed roof were occupied. We ordered guacamole with tortilla chips (great!) and traditional Yucatec foods – pollo pibil (yum!) and poc chuk (so, so).
My husband also tried Flan Napolitano for dessert with a Mexican traditional coffee beverage – café de olla. Overall I highly recommend this place. Everything was great from service, atmosphere, food choices, taste, and interior.
You can check their menu online. If you’ve never tried any Mayan dishes, I recommend going for sopa de lime (vegetable soup with chicken or turkey), salbutes (like large tacos typical in Yucatán), and cochinita pibil or pollo pibil (marinated grilled meat).
Location: Restaurante Kinich Izamal
8. Check out 5 de Mayo Park!
5 de Mayo Park in Izamal is a large square located in front of the entrance to the Convent of San Antonio de Padua. Here you can get panoramic views of the convent, and take photos of the yellow buildings of Izamal.
There will usually be ice cream stands in one of the corners of the park. We also bought one and sat down on one of the benches inside the park to finish it. The park sits in the town center so this is a great place to people-watch.
There was also a horse-drawn carriage next to the park however you will find most of them right next to Parque Itzamna – the one with the colorful Izamal letters. When we visited, there was also a beautiful heart-shaped photo spot in 5 de Mayo Park.
Location: 5 de Mayo Park
9. Check out Palacio Municipal Izamal!
The Convento de San Antonio convent is not the only impressive yellow building in Izamal. On the opposite side of 5 de Mayo Park lays another yellow building lined with archways – Palacio Municipal Izamal or the Town Hall.
I think it should be a law that the Town Hall in the yellow city of Izamal simply cannot be in any other color than yellow, right?! It features an arcade and a small inner courtyard – patio. You can access both through a large archway connected to the square.
When we visited I noticed that the benches in the square were all in direct sunlight and people gathered and relaxed on the benches and stairs hidden under the shade of the arcade at the Town Hall. If you want some shade, look here!
Location: Palacio Municipal Izamal
10. Explore Mercado Municipal de Izamal!
Situated right next to the buzzing 5 de Mayo Park is another place full of life, smells, and flavors – Mercado Municipal de Izamal. The market is rather small but it is packed full of vendors of food, clothes, souvenirs, and more.
Had we arrived here without breakfast in our bellies this would be a spot to go for fast and authentic Mexican and Yucatán street food. If you don’t mind such places then definitely check out what they offer for food!
The inside of the market was packed with people eating, trading, playing music, and dancing. You can see from the photos that we came right on time for the biggest eating and dancing party, haha!
If you walk around the outside of the market there will be more quiet vendors offering Mexican souvenirs and practical things. We did not buy anything but if we stayed longer in this city, I would come back for lunch to one of those taco stands inside!
Location: Mercado Municipal de Izamal
Izamal was fun! Just arriving here and walking around the sunny streets boosted my mood. Conveniently located between Merida, Chichen Itza, and Valladolid, Izamal is the perfect destination to include in your road trip around the Yucatán Peninsula!
We visited Izamal during our three-week stay in Valladolid nearby but it would be a perfect day trip away from Merida too! We also spent a couple of months traveling around the Yucatán Peninsula and exploring everything it had to offer.
From white-sand beaches to dark underground cenotes, and ancient pyramids – there’s just so much to see! I hope you enjoy your time there as much as we did and I hope you get some travel inspiration from this blog post for your travels! Happy exploring!