Facing the main plaza, this enormous 16th-century former monastery and church of St. Anthony of Padua is perched on—and built from—the remains of a Mayan pyramid devoted to Itzámná, god of the heavens. The monastery's ocher-painted church, where Pope John Paul II led prayers in 1993, has a gigantic atrium (supposedly second in size only to the Vatican's) facing a colonnaded facade and rows of 75 white-trimmed arches. The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, to whom
the church is dedicated, is the patron saint of the Yucatán. A statue of Nuestra Señora de Izamal, or Our Lady of Izamal, was brought here from Guatemala in 1562 by Bishop Diego de Landa. Miracles are ascribed to her, and a yearly pilgrimage takes place in her honor. Frescoes of saints at the front of the church, once plastered over, were rediscovered and refurbished in 1996.
The monastery and church are now illuminated in a light-and-sound show of the type usually shown at the archaeological sites. You can catch a Spanish-only narration and the play of lights on the nearly 500-year-old structure at 8:30 pm Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday—buy tickets ($4.50) on-site at 8.
Diagonally across from the massive cathedral, the small municipal market is worth a wander. It's a lot less frenetic than markets at major cities like Mérida, and the kind of place where if you stop to watch how the merchants prepare their food, they may spend the time to let you in on their cooking secrets.
Izamal, Yucatán, Mexico