On the first full day of our late-December trip to the Yucatan, we set out early from Cancun to our primary destination, the capital city of Merida. But on the way, we detoured to spend an afternoon
taking a million photos exploring around the beautiful city of Izamal, “La Ciudad Amarillo” or “The Yellow City”.
But first, a bit about the drive. From Cancun to points west such as Valladolid, Izamal, and Merida, there is a smooth, fast, modern road; Highway 180. But it comes at a cost, both literally and figuratively. The literal cost is about US$15 if you’re only going as far as Valladolid or Chichen Itza or about US$23 going all the way to Merida. So yes, a round-trip from Cancun to Merida costs $46 in tolls! And do make sure that you have pesos because the conversion rate for accepting dollars is horrible.
Besides being pricey, this highway is also extremely boring with dense foliage on both sides and not much else. There are a couple of service areas with gas, food, and decent bathrooms. Your other driving option is to use the “Libre” free road which takes approximately an eternity, passing through many small villages and the road itself is chock full of “topes” which is Mayan for giant-ass speed bumps.
About 3 hours after leaving Cancun, we arrived in Izamal. There is plenty of free parking available on any of the streets that branch off from the picturesque main square, Parque Itzamna.
Click any photo for larger version.
Convent de San Antonio de Padua
Undoubtably, the dominant feature of the main square is the Convent de San Antonio de Padua, which is free of charge to enter. The convent dates to 1561 and is one of the oldest in the western hemisphere. Also interesting is the fact that it was built by the Spaniards using the bricks from a nearby Mayan Temple which they destroyed.
We exited the convent’s atrium down a set of side steps onto Calle 30, across from another small park, Parque Cinco de Mayo (yes, seriously). On the corner, you will find the Municipal Market where everything imaginable from deer tacos to socks is sold from vendor stalls. We walked a large circle counterclockwise around the convent and it really is amazing to see the building’s true size. You will also notice that the back of the building does not have any stucco or paint.
Back at the main square, we headed for a long-awaited lunch at Izamal’s most celebrated restaurant, Kinich El Sabor, which I have reviewed separately here. But here are some of the street scenes along the way.
Izamal also has some Mayan ruins right in town, including the Kinich Kak-Mo pyramid that you can climb for panoramic views. We were planning to do just that after lunch, but it suddenly started pouring rain and we didn’t feel like waiting out the storm. So off to our next stop: Merida.