Pope John Paul (Juan Pablo) made Izamal his first stop when visiting Mexico. It was a really big deal when he celebrated mass in the Yellow City. Izamal is called the Yellow City for a very good reason—yep you guessed it, most of the buildings are painted yellow. Izamal is only a 35 to 40-minute drive from Merida (Yucatan’s capital) but it’s like stepping back a hundred years in time.
When the Spanish arrived in Yucatan they pressed the Maya into service to dismantle their ancient stone pyramids to construct the huge cathedrals that abound. There are still remnants of pyramids in Izamal but they’ve fallen into ruin and their once mighty mass of stone is now mostly contained in the Monastery de Izamal (1553 C.E.).
My very good lady friend, Dolores, makes it a point to get me out & about to see the authentic Mexico. She is my Uber taxi driver, my tour guide and my translator. Her fluent English is much better than my caveman Spanish. We started our day trip at 10 a.m. and by 11 a.m. we were entering Izamal. The day was heating up fast and eventually reached 38°C or 100°F (keep in mind this is February one of the cool months in Yucatan).
It is wonderful experiencing Mexico with Dolores because she gives me great insights into her Mexican culture with its rich and vibrant customs and traditions. We drove slowly through the small town and then parked the car to continue on foot. Of course our first stop was at the Monastery de Izamal (1553 C.E.) and it is impressive to say the least. The two photos I’ve included barely do it justice. It is a bittersweet sight when you consider the Spanish forced the Maya to desecrate their own sacred places to build a new sacred place for the intruders.
Nonetheless, the monastery is magnificent in its own right. We climbed to the top and even visited the small museum inside. Afterwards we took a few moments to cross over to the main plaza across the street and Dolores indulged in an ice-cream while we sat on a park bench in the shade. The big tourist draw is the ubiquitous and colorful horse-drawn carriages—Merida also has them in abundance. It’s an ideal way to see more of the town at a leisurely pace, especially with it being so warm. Our carriage was all decked out in yellow—makes sense considering this is the Yellow City.
They actually have carriages sporting many colors but yellow, blue, green and pink seem to prevail. We climbed aboard and the canopy provided us with much appreciated shade. Clippity-clop, clippity-clop down the cobblestones we went. Our driver pointed out various sights along the way and Dolores translated for me as we travelled through the town. A 30-minute ride costs 150 Mexican pesos or $7.36 USD. Not cheap I guess but worth the price for a fun experience—at least in my humble opinion. I enjoyed it.
After our carriage tour we headed to the one big restaurant in town for an early lunch/dinner. It was pretty crowded (lots of gringo tourists in town) but we got seated after just a few minutes. I was dying of thirst and quickly drained three ice-cold Dos Equis beers one after another. I must have been dehydrated because I didn’t even get a buzz on. We had blue-corn empanadas con queso to start and then ordered our main meal—Poc Chuc (grilled pork) for me. Yucatecan food is not your typical Mexican food and is very unique in both presentation and taste. It’s good.
Eating Mexican-style is a slow process by American standards. No hurry, no rush. You take your time and savour every bite and every moment. You’re supposed to linger. The food server will not bring you a check until you specifically ask for it: la cuenta por favor. This is the custom throughout Latin America and I love it. A meal can take upwards of two to three hours and the restaurant will never rush you, unlike the United States. So we took our time. I’m learning to relax at mealtime but old gringo habits are hard to break.
When we could eat no more (no room for dessert) we wandered out back to watch the ladies working in the outside kitchen. I asked if I could take a photograph and they said yes—photographers, please remember to ask, don’t just start snapping away. We finally waddled our way back to the car and Dolores drove us back to Merida. It was a great day spent in the beautiful Maya town known as the Yellow City. If you visit Yucatan you really should visit Merida and the small towns that surround it. Cancun is not Yucatan—the real deal can be found in Merida.