With over 40 Pueblos Magicos in Mexico to choose from, singling out one is a challenge best left to the more organized spouse, or the leader of the trekking pack. The Magic Towns of Mexico are a contrasting bunch – mountain-top hideaways, heritage-rich historical municipalities and quaint coastal villages all bearing a wealth of rare archaeological sites and colonial gems that make them unique. Modernly referred to as the “Yellow City”, Izamal, in the Eastern part of Mexico's North Central Yucatán state continues to be one of the most culturally enlightening.
Home to a thriving Mezcal distillery and flourishing crafts movement, Izamal has hardly altered its leisurely course of evolution in hundreds of years. Surrounded by verdant eroded karst (dramatic limestone topography) and ancient river valleys, the area remains largely isolated, unlike the neighboring Yucatán capital of Meridia. Fewer than 15,000 people occupy Izamal, lending to its repute as a quiet, rural retreat for avid archaeological explorers and a place one can truly be immersed in Mexican culture, largely untainted by modern development.
Visitors arriving to Izamal are certain to be overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of its yellowness. Nearly all domestic buildings (bar a few also used for commercial purpose) have been painted in glorious hues of sunset yellow, bouncing the tropical sunlight and brightening even the narrowest of picture postcard alleyways. Entering Izamal is akin to being transported via time capsule to the 19th Century. Wrought iron lamp posts continue to light the low-lying suburbia. Calesas (carriages) led by impeccably groomed horses transform the cobblestone streets into an everyday scene from the era of Revolution. Natives proffer their wares from quaint marketplace stalls around the central plaza and farmers drive their cattle through the streets nearby – a scene more common within the villages of the Sierra de Norte mountains, than a city of pilgrimage for the saint-serving Roman Catholic denomination.
During the 16th Century, Spanish settlers transformed the relatively agricultural landscape of Izamal into a place of cut-stone colonial monuments and Franciscan monasteries. The San Antonio de Padua monastery erected in 1561 retains a historic legacy about its construction, since at the time of completion, its entrance hall was second only in size to that of Vatican City's own Franciscan cloisters. Mayan heritage continues to dominate the cityscape of Izamal, since the city is surrounded on all aspects by a ring of undulating pyramid hills. Accessible from the main plaza, Kinich Kak Mo is the largest grouping of the pyramids and one of few to be open in entirety to the public. Kinich-Kakmó (dedicated to the Sun God of the same name) is the fifth largest in Mexico at 200 x 180 meters and dominates the cityscape with a height of over 36 meters. Only from here can one truly appreciate the magic of a city, where time has stood still for the best part of one hundred years!
Attractions & Things To Do in Izamal
Kinich Kak Mo Pyramids – although dwarfed in reputation by the Mayan relics left at Uxmal and Chichen Itza, the pyramids at Kinich Kak Mo represent one of Mexico's largest and best preserved groupings open to the public. Thought to have been build around 400 A. D, the pyramids provide a fascinating insight into the skills and lives of Mayan settlers, from both the inside and out. Open: Weekdays, 10 am – 5 pm.
Liquor Henekun – Yucatan's largest distillery for the production of Mezcal and a chance to (literally) absorb the culture of Mexico's trademark beverage and witness a skilled profession first hand, that still contributes considerably to the state's economy. Open: Weekdays, 9 am – 5 pm.