6:00 p.m. Sunset in the heart of the city
The first thing that we did upon arriving was go to visit the San Antonio de Padua (Saint Anthony of Padua) Convent. Finished in 1561, this enormous Franciscan cloister sits at the physical and historical heart of Izamal. Crossing under the archways of its monumental-scale facade we were astonished by the size of the main esplanade. A couple minutes later we were inside the second-largest enclosed atrium in the world, only preceded by St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.
On the altar stands an effigy of the Virgen de la Concepcion (Our Lady of Immaculate Conception) brought by friar Diego de Landa from Guatemala in 1562. The place has a palpable magnetism, the result of overlapping historical layers that, as with the entire town, superimpose different cultures and periods on one another. Under the colonial skin lies an older history: the convent's arches and chapels were erected over the lost pyramid of Pap Hol Chac, which in the 10th century was but just a part of the grand plaza of Izamal.
We finished spent the rest of our afternoon there and went to dinner. The sopa de lima (Mexican lime soup) was delicious and only a taste of more to come.
9:30 a.m. An ancient ceremonial center
A local guide for over 22 years and an officer with the tourism police, Gabriel Burgos explained that Izamal is singular in Mexico in that it is the only ancient ceremonial center that continues to be inhabited today. Houses were built on pyramids in a way unlike anywhere else: of more than one hundred pre-Hispanic constructions in town, there are six that you can visit. We first went to Itzamatul, which is dedicated to Zamna: a demigod, supreme priest, and the city's founder. From its summit we were able to see our next stop: Kinich Kakmo, one of the most important buildings from classic Mesoamerica. It rises above town, offering the best views and taking in the rays of the sun, the same to which it had been dedicated more than 1,500 years ago.
12:30 p.m. Walking about the yellow city
Izamal's characteristic yellow color was introduced over 100 years ago and soon came to cover houses and streets alike, becoming an Izamal hallmark. We found that the best way to get to know this 'Mexican yellow brick road' was by bike and so we took a tour of what locals call 'the corners of legends.'
These corners have quaint names such as Del Toro ('The Bull's Corner'), Del Chino ('The Chinese Man's Corner'), and De La Cruz Caida ('The Fallen Cross's Corner') and are an example of the town's rich history. On many there are plaques with the corresponding anecdotes. You can visit the Office of Tourism Information and have them mark these points on a map, spending a couple hours pedaling around and learning about Izamal's myths and legends.
3:30 p.m. Obligatory snacks
You can't go to the Yucatan without trying its excellent food. Fortunately we found that Izamal has a true jewel for the palate: The relleno negro (turkey and corn dumplings in a black chile sauce), papadzules (tortillas with hard-boiled eggs in a pumpkin-seed sauce), and queso relleno (cheese rind stuffed with ground beef, nuts, and spices) are just a few of the specialties that left us speechless.
5:30 p.m. Artisans' hands
We visited a number of artisan's shops to discover more about the creations made by Izamal locals. The first was Esteban Ankincheles's workshop. His specialty is jewelry made from henequen thorns and cocoyol seeds resulting in extremely fine works that have won him the Banamex Cultural Promotion Grand Master of Popular Art award.
Afterwards we headed over to meet Don Aureliano Pool Canche, a popular and extremely kind character that creates miniatures of Mayan houses, cloth animals, and all kinds of other fun figures. Lastly we visited María Canche Pech who showed us the intricate ternos (elegant traditional dresses) that she learned to embroider from her grandmother. Next door her husband Don Feliciano Patron Canul (the town's herbalist) has his herbal laboratory that he uses - as a proud heir of the Mayan botanical tradition - to provide locals with cures for more than a hundred illnesses.
10:00 a.m. A bit of color and some rest
We walked along Calle 31 as the sun king poured his capricious rays on the colonial facades. We headed towards the Izamal Cultural and Artisan's Center where we found an oasis of good taste and many options for a traveler. Supported by the Haciendas del Mundo Maya Foundation and housed in an elegantly restored old house, the center has a artisan's co-op store, cafeteria, guide services, bikes for rent, a museum with a fine selection of Mexican art, and even a small spa offering anti-stress treatments. We finished our visit with a coffee on the pleasant central patio that leads out onto Kabul, another important archeological area that is currently being excavated and will soon be open to the public.
1:00 p.m. By carriage about the city's streets
The time in Izamal was almost over but we still had time for a nice trip by calesa, one of the carriages that transit throughout downtown. We asked the driver to bring us to his favorite places and that's how we got to the Los Remedios Chapel (from the 16th century), the old train station, and the Del Venado corner ('Deer's Corner'). This last one seemed to me to be one of this proud yellow city's most charming spots. As the carriage returned to the plaza I thought about how there are places that seem to have a special aura about them. Izamal is, without doubt, one of them.