A Day in Izamal

Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II

In February 2013, during a trip to Mérida, I took a day trip to Izamal.  Izamal, “the yellow city”, is a city about 40 miles east of Merida. It was a Mayan religious site until the Spaniards arrived. When they did, in the 1500s, they destroyed some of the Mayan religious temples and built a large Franciscan Monastery atop the ruins. This monastery, painted in a beautiful yellow, has stood ever since. It was even the site of a Papal visit in 1993, when Pope John Paul II visited. Not all the Mayan temples were destroyed. In fact, several pyramids exist intact in the downtown area of Izamal.

In order to visit Izamal, I had to find a bus to get me there. I was aware that the buses left fairly often from the Noreste station in Mérida, although times, costs, etc, were unknown. I walked the 10 blocks or so to the station, and checked the schedule. A bus was to leave at 8:30 a.m. It was 7:50 a.m. Not bad. I purchased a ticket for $24 peos (less than $2), and waited. When the bus arrived, we quickly boarded and began our trip. Don’t let the “second class” fool you — this was a nice bus. It lacked an onboard bathroom, but was otherwise quite comfortable.

We made very quick stops in two small towns along the way — Hoctun, and Tahmek. Both towns had nice looking churches, and Hoctun had a fantastic looking cemetery I could see from the bus — a reason to return someday, I am sure.

Oriente Bus Station, Izamal
Oriente Bus Station, Izamal

The total time on the bus was about 1.5 hours. I dozed a little and also made some notes on a small map of Izamal that I took with me. I wanted to see the downtown — the monastery, the small parks near it. I also wanted to see and climb the pyramid of Kinich Kak Mo, just a few blocks away from the monastery. This pyramid is one of the largest in the Yucatan, although it is not restored. If I had time, I’d check out a few others, and possibly visit some of the craft workshops in the city. The city provides a nice map which shows their locations.

San Antonio de Padua
San Antonio de Padua

 

When the bus arrived, I set out for the monastery. It is only 2-3 blocks away from the bus station. It is a beautiful sight. I walked up the stairs and took in the atrium, said to be the second largest in the world, behind the Vatican. Inside, I used the restroom and toured the chapel. I spent quite a lot of time taking photographs, it is a very photogenic place.

From the monastery, I could see the pyramid of Kinich Kak Mo. Someone was sitting on top. It was only a few blocks away, so I made that my next destination. As I walked the street toward the pyramid, two other tourists passed — probably the people who had been on top. I didn’t see a lot of tourists in Izamal.

Kinich Kak Mo
Kinich Kak Mo

When I reached the pyramid, I climbed to the top. There are several terraces leading up. At first you don’t realize you’re climbing up a pyramid, as it looks more like stairs. When you get closer to the top, the view is superb. The last part is not as easy, as the rocks are somewhat jumbled. Climbing carefully, I made the top. What a view! I relaxed a bit before heading down.

Iglesia de los Remedios
Iglesia de los Remedios

 

 

From the pyramid, I had seen another church in the distance. Checking my map, I saw that it was called Iglesia de los Remedios. I decided to head that way. There was another church beyond that, so that I could make a loop and head back toward the downtown. The chuch of remedies was only four or five blocks away. It was a beautiful, small church with a plaza in front. The church was open, which gave me a chance to rest in a cooler environment for a few minutes before moving on.

The Santa Cruz church was just a few more blocks away, located in a plaza called los Canones. The plaza was nicely shaded, with a large arch, and the aforementioned canones — cannons! The church was tiny, just a few hundred square feet by the looks of it. It wasn’t open, so I moved on.

Itzamatul
Itzamatul

I decided to head west, back past the monastery and main square and towards another pyramid, Itzamatul. The walk took about 15 minutes, and passed many interesting buildings — all yellow. The entrance to Itzamatul was somewhat hidden. A path wound around and finally I climbed to the top. There were quite a few iguanas present, and the view was excellent. You could look over the treetops toward Kinich Kak Mo and almost imagine what the ancient city would have looked like.

Street scene in Izamal
Street scene in Izamal

 

 

At this point, I decided it was time to do some shopping. I had read about the various workshops where local artisans created art and sold it from their homes. The map of Izamal I had showed the locations of these workshops. A 7 or 8 block walk took me to the home of Gabriel Perez Rajon. I was welcomed into his home, and he showed me his available wood carvings. He described in Spanish his methods, all the while his young son (under 2 years old) yelled “Hola” over and over again. I guess it was his first word.

I ended up buying two pieces of Senor Rajon’s work — a small wooden box, and a Virgin of Guadalupe. He asked what my plans were. I mentioned that I might find something to eat, look around a bit more. He told me he was going to Merida that afternoon, and I could hitch a ride with him. He showed me a place to meet him, suggested a time, but winked and said “Mexican time” — which meant he probably wouldn’t be on time, I guess.

Izamal Calesa
Izamal Calesa

After some more walking and sightseeing, I decided to take him up on his offer. I waited in the correct location for about 20 minutes, around the time he said he would be coming by. I didn’t see him, and knowing that “mexican time” might mean another 10 minutes, or another 30 minutes, I decided not to wait. I knew there was a 2:30 bus, and I could catch it.

$24 Pesos -- a real bargain
$24 Pesos — a real bargain

 

 

 

I headed back to the bus station, and bought my return ticket. I bought a pasty at a stand near the station for $2 pesos — I lauged at how cheap it was (the girl who sold it laughed as well). Once on the bus, I relaxed and viewed some of my pictures. It was a great day.

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