Escape The Beaten Path At This Photogenic Mexican Town Where The Color Yellow Thrives

Think queso cheese, sweet corn, and sun-colored façades — the City of Yellow specializes in all three! Izamal, a small hamlet in Mexico, has acquired several monikers that stem from the city's roots. It's frequently referred to as the "Hilltop City" and the "City of Three Cultures" because of its pre-Hispanic, colonial, and contemporary influences that have shaped this Mayan city into a vibrant and colorful cultural hot spot.

You might wonder where the locals got the idea to revamp their city's theme with yellow at the center. There are a few competing theories for this. One suggests this joyful little pueblo has been living in a "golden" state of mind since 1993 when every wall in Izamal was covered in a lively coating of yellow paint in anticipation of Pope John Paul II's visit. The color is believed to represent the sun and corn, two symbols that speak to the city's heritage. Others speculate the Mayan city underwent a holistic transformation to dedicate its grounds to the Mayan Sun God, Kinich Kakmo. 

Aside from its trendy Instagrammable streets, many would debate that Izamal is not worth the trek inland when the coastal gems of the Yucatán peninsula are just a stone's throw away. Located just under an hour from Merida, you'll save yourself from the crowds pervading Mexico's tourist-laden oceanfront cities and have the pleasure of experiencing Izamal from a local perspective. A land of pure wonder and adventure, Izamal's historic and cultural beauty alone is well worth the journey to its sun-dappled cobblestone streets.

Izamal: A little city with a big personality

With no shortage of tangible adventure within the city's walls, Izamal is everything visitors to Mexico could want and more! The Mayan ruins, in particular, are an incredible sight to behold and a foundational piece of Izamal's heritage. At 115 feet tall, Kinich Kak Moo is the largest of Izamal's Mayan ruins. Dedicated to the Sun god, its name translates to "fire parrot" in honor of the deity. The view from the top features panoramic views of the surrounding jungle landscape.

An hour's drive from the yellow walls of Izamal, Cuzamá Cenotes is a unique geographical gem on the Yucatán peninsula. With thousands of sinkholes scattered throughout Mexico, there are over 6,000 Yucatán cenotes alone. Inside each of the three limestone caverns is a pool of deep blue water dedicated to the Mayan gods as a sacred space of worship and ritualistic ceremonies. 

Perusing artisan boutiques scattered throughout the city is essential when visiting Izamal and an excellent place to immerse yourself in the local culture. Izamal Municipal Market and Parque Itzamna, located in the main square, are the epitomes of a traditional Mexican small-town market. Local vendors selling everything from hand-woven Mexican blankets and street food to artisan home goods make this market an authentic treat for visitors. Coqui Coqui Perfumeria is another coveted boutique in the city. Everything, from the candles to room sprays, is inspired by the Izamal lifestyle.

A culinary masterpiece

There's no denying that Izamal is one of Mexico's most underrated culinary corners. Bursting with the flavors of Yucatán and traditional dishes native to the city, squeezing in every local staple should be at the top of your Izamal bucket list. Cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork) and sopa de lima (lime soup) are traditional Yucatan dishes found at nearly every local café and tapas bar in town. Staying on trend with the color of the city, sweet corn helado is essentially Izamal in food form. Made from real sweet corn and cream, it's a refreshing and surprisingly tasty dessert, particularly in the heat of summer.

Ask nearly any traveler who's been to Izamal what their favorite restaurant is in the city, and their answer will likely be the same: Kinich El Sabor de Izamal. This tiki-style eatery features a rustic-chic interior with home-cooked specialties native to the region. With an expansive menu, almost every dish is served alongside handmade corn tortillas. Start the evening well with their Sikil P'ak, a signature aperitivo crafted from a base of fire-roasted tomatoes and pumpkin seeds. Moving along to the main course, you can't go wrong with the Yucatán Style Steak or Papadzules Tradicionales (a Mayan staple).

Restaurante Zamna is located in the heart of the historic district of Izamal and features a warm, cheery atmosphere. Underneath the thatched roof, a montage of bold, colorful flavors permeates the kitchen. You know the food is good when nearly every dish on the menu begins with "delicioso".