A Weekend Escape to Izamal and Beyond

Uayma’s church was built by Franciscans in the 1600s. Not too far away is “the yellow city” of Izamal, which is a delight to walk through. Photos: Patricia Robert

With Mérida as a home base, one of my favorite road trips is to two other beloved colonial cities in Yucatán, with a side trip to an off-the-beaten-path archaeological site and cenote. I went with my friend Josefina and her son Ivan for an overnight road trip, and it couldn’t have been more varied and fulfilling. Here’s a look at our diary: 

An early start  

We got up early and left Mérida for Izamal, which is called the “yellow city” for its buildings uniformly painted the color of marigolds. We arrived in an hour and went immediately to the Convent of San Antonio de Padua, the most prominent landmark in the center of the city. Then we explored a few Maya ruins that are right there in the heart of the city: Itzamatul, Izamal (named after the city itself), and then onwards to the Kinich Kakmó, which is Yucatán’s largest Prehispanic monument by volume. 

By then, we are ready for lunch at Restaurante Kinich (Calle 27 No. 299 between 28 and 30, Centro). It’s a traditional Yucatecan menu at Kinich, and perfect for travelers wanting to experience local flavors in a beautiful setting. We ordered many dishes and shared, which I recommend when with friends. They’re also known for cocktails with fresh fruit from their garden and using local spirits such as mezcal, raicilla, tequila, sotol, gin, or Xtabentún, a Yucatecan anise liqueur. But we had too much planned to consider anything from the bar menu.

Izamal’s famed convent. Photo: Patricia Robert

A long afternoon

Everywhere we wanted to go was easily walkable. We strolled along the Centro’s streets and stopped at Taller Maya (C. 31, No. 301) to browse some high-end artisanal pieces, and the fantastic Galeria Wayak (Calle 29, No. 293). 

In Izamal, Yucatán, a humble street corner is in contrast with the exquisite interior of Coqui Coqui’s perfumeria at Casa de los Santos. Photos: Patricia Robert

Then it was time to head towards Valladolid, a 90-minute drive. But before we arrived, it was imperative that we make a stop along the way at the small, peaceful village of Uayma to see the picturesque temple and former convent of Santo Domingo. 

This eye-popping church was built by the Franciscans in 1646 with stones taken from Maya temples. But what’s most visible on the outside wall are the kaleidoscopic of rosettes, star patterns, and double-headed eagles, that have been restored in recent years. If you’re lucky enough to arrive when the church is open, wander inside. Otherwise, all you can do is take a photo of the exterior and post it on Instagram. I promise lots of likes. 

Not far from there is another must-stop at Emilio Espadas’ clay studio on Calle 27, three blocks south of the church. He specializes in artisanal pots, bowls, and plates. Bring your own bubble wrap to protect everything you want to take with you. Their museum, La Casa del Barro, displays ancestral Maya ceramics. Once our purchases were secured, we headed towards the bustling colonial city of Valladolid. 


We had dinner at a beautiful restaurant at Colonté Hotel Origen (Calle 46 200E, Centro), which was an oasis of peace away from what I call the Playa del Carmen section of Valladolid. We were exhausted, so we checked in early to our rooms at Posada San Juan, a small and charming eight-room hotel in the historic downtown area. Converted from a 19th-century house, The hotel has a terrace that overlooks a beautiful garden and a pool.

The next morning 

Breakfast at Yerbabuena del Sisal in front of the Convent de San Bernardino de Siena (Calle 54a 217). Eggs with chaya, or tree spinach with green juice are very popular. We were struck by the gluten-free and vegan options. And the garden there is lovely. 

Before going west back to Mérida, we head 16 miles north to the archaeological site of Ek’ Balam, one of the few places where you can still climb the pyramids and take in an amazing view of the surrounding land — including mounds that contain not-yet excavated Maya temples. 

When walking along the wooded paths, look around carefully. You might find amazing natural phenomena. We witnessed caterpillars grouping together in an oval shape, almost dancing. It looked like a wacky hallucination, but it was real. So pay attention when walking the trail. 

Ek’ Balam is a bit of a detour, but well worth it. 

That afternoon

A highlight is the remarkably preserved plaster on the tomb of Ukit Kan Lek Tok, a king buried in the side of the site’s largest temple complex. If the weather is hot, rent a bike from the archaeological site and cycle to take a refreshing dip at Cenote Xcanché next, just under a mile away. 

The cooperative that runs the cenote also offers mouth-watering poc chuc and experiences such as rappelling across and down into the cenote. Don’t let the sound of this intimidate you because they make it quite easy. 

 A refreshing, spectacular adventure awaits you.

(More photos in Issue 13 of Yucatán Magazine.)

Patricia Robert
Patricia Robert
Patricia Robert is an art director, photographer and brand developer who lives in Montreal and Mérida.
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