We’ve been there several times. Its central district is fun to explore, and we knew our travel partners would enjoy the lunch break there, too.
Izamal may have been home to one of the largest Mayan civilizations in the region, spanning about 20 square miles. It was partially abandoned with the rose of Chichen Itza between 800-1000 A.D.
The modern city grew up right on top of the Mayan city. One of the ruins, Kinich Kak Moo, is in the middle of town. Its entrance is on the local street, sandwiched between several loncherias and tiendas.
Convent San Antonio de Padua
Just a block or two away is the Convent San Antonio de Padua. This massive convent is, like in many other places, built right on top of a Mayan temple. The stones from the temple were used in the building of the monastery.
Completed in 1561, the open atrium is second in size only to the Vatican.
The main church at the monastery is the Santuario de la Virgen de Izamal. It’s simple, with some beautiful wood carvings and stained glass.
From the monastery, you can actually see the top of the neighboring Mayan temple.
Pope John Paul II
One of the convent’s most meaningful events was the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1993.
There is a large statue and a small museum honoring this event.
It is said that this event was a symbolic gesture by the Catholic Church to reconcile with indigenous communities. In doing some research, we found an article from the day of the Pope’s visit in The Washington Post.
Against the backdrop of a colonial monastery, Pope John Paul II today saluted indigenous Americans “from the Alaskan peninsula to Tierra del Fuego,” condemning conditions that forced Indians into poverty and denouncing colonialists who attempted to wipe out Indian cultures.
The Yellow City
No one quite knows why the city is painted yellow. One version of the story claims that it was painted yellow with white trim to make the city presentable for the Pope’s visit.
Others claim it was there before his visit and was a decision of the government and neighbors.
Whatever the reason, it’s beautiful and has made Izamal an attractive destination for tourists from Merida. And those heading to Chichen Itza.
Located just up the block from the Mayan temple is Restaurant Kinich. It’s actually our go-to place in Izamal and, ironically, the location of our lunch for this portion of the trip.
The colonial-era home opens into gardens with water features and several interconnected palapa-style outdoor dining areas.
For this visit, Mark chose the Pollo Pibil. Chicken marinated in Achiote Paste and Sour Orange, wrapped in Banana Leaves, and traditionally cooked underground. We’ve had the Pork version on previous visits, and this was just as delicious.
Chuck opted for their Poc-Chuc. Thinly sliced Pork, marinated and grilled over a wood fire. It’s served with a Roasted Tomato Salsa and Pickled Red Onion.
The region is known for its White-Tailed Deer. The traditional Yuctecan version Kinich serves is out of this world!
Off to Mayaland!
After lunch, we boarded our bus and headed across the Yucatan Peninsula for our hotel and Chichen Itza.