Called the City of Hills and
located right in the middle of the Yucatán Peninsula, Izamal
is considered the oldest city of the Peninsula. Founded by
groups of Itzaes, the city owes its name to Itzamna, or
Zamna, a person of singular wisdom and mythical origin.
"Heaven Dew," its name in English, is considered both a
tribal leader and a teacher of the Mayan people, a legendary
founding father later deified. Izamal was conquered by the
Spaniards, and the monks in their eagerness to convert the
Indians to Catholicism gave the city its religious
distinction. To this day, Izamal's people are very devoted
to the Immaculate Virgin.
According to tradition, as well as archeological findings,
five pyramids flanked the ceremonial center of the city. One
of them is consecrated to "Heaven Dew." A second one is
called PapacholChaac, the "House of the Heads" or "House of
Lightning"; it presently holds the sanctuary of the Virgin
of Izamal. Yet another pyramid is dedicated to Kinich-Kakmò,
or "Solar Face."
The pyramid Kabul, the "House of the Miraculous Hand,"
deserves special mentioning. It is home of a giant two meter
face, modeled in stucco. This face is similar to the ones at
which are known only thanks to an 1862 drawing by
For more than a thousand years, Izamal was an important
ceremonial center. The indigenous people considered the
site, along with
a center of pilgrimage. Called the City of the Hills, or the
City of Three Cultures for combining in its center the
pre-Hispanic past with the colonial and the present-day
periods, the city preserves a strong religious tradition.
Today, one of Izamal’s main attractions is the majestic
Franciscan Convent. Its atrium, the largest in Latin America
with an area of 200 square meters, was built over the base
of a Mayan pyramid. The Convent of San Antonio of Padua is
dedicated to the service of the Immaculate Virgin.
The Franciscan convent that was built over one of the Mayan
pyramids. This convent is also famous for the monk Fray
Diego de Landa, its founder, who burned all the Indian
scripts, and then, feeling remorse for what he had done,
tried to rewrite all he could remember of the ways of the
Mayans. It is here where Pope John Paul visited in 1993.
This visit has been one of Izamal's claims to fame ever
since, and is commemorated by a statue of the Pope in the
Inside the church itself, you will see the beautifully
restored altarpiece, the stained glass window of Saint
Francis of Assisi, and many statues along the walls. The
second floor is where the statue of Our Lady of Izamal,
Queen and Patron Saint of
is housed. Note all the gold leaf paint, crystal
chandeliers, flowers and elegantly painted walls. A small
church store with postcards and religious souvenirs is on
the first floor.
Izamal is a jewel of a colonial city, with almost all the
buildings painted an egg-yolk yellow. Cobble stoned streets
and colonial lamp posts complete the scenery. Clean,
peaceful and quaint, this is a great town to stroll through.
There are Mayan pyramids, colonial style buildings, parks
and plazas, horses and buggies, and lots of people watching.
Upon arrival, head to the Government Palace to see the large
town model in the outdoor corridor. It shows the entire town
and the tremendous number of Mayan pyramids that are
scattered about. To the north are the Mayan ruins of Kinich
Kakmo, the most important. This is a largely unrestored
pyramid that looks like a very symmetrical hill. A climb to
the top will reward you with a beautiful view. You will also
want to visit Kabul, Itzamatul and the Conejo.
Next, visit the Museum of the Community, located under the
convent in front of Cinco de Mayo Park. All the information
is in Spanish, but the exhibits are interesting.
Finally, there are workshops in Izamal which preserve unique
arts and crafts traditions. The carriage drivers will take
you to the house of the artists so you can discover the
heart of one of the most authentic Yucatecan cities.
Specifically, we recommend the cocoyol workshop which uses
the seeds of cocoyol (a small kind of coconut) for the
making of necklaces and collars.
reservations, availability and bookings, please contact us