Yucatan Road Trip: Following The Yellow Church Road

Yucatan Road Trip Map

Our Yucatan Road Trip Route, Day One

We were settled in Playa for six weeks before the travel bug began calling, “Psst! Go see some stuff!” which was all it took for us to chuck in the routine, rent a car and set off with a vague plan: we’d head for Merida, the colonial capital of the Yucatan, our neighbouring state, via Izamal, a town known for it’s yellow painted buildings and awarded Pueblo Magico (magic town) status by the Mexican tourist board.

Unfortunately said plan didn’t include ‘charge your camera batteries’ or ‘take your camera memory card out of your lap top’, and whilst the latter problem was rectified by a return to home base soon after our departure, I wasn’t aware of the former oversight until we were well out of “Sweeeeety, can we pop home one more time?” range.

It amazes me how unorganized I can still be when it comes to travelling, as well as extremely naive as to the meaning of a flashing, red, rectangle in the corner of my camera’s screen. “She’ll be right,” I thought to myself whilst snapping inane shots of the nondescript highway from the passenger seat like an excited child on a school excursion.

Yucatan Road trip signs


In my defense, I was yet unaware of the historical, architectural and natural wonders we would be witness to over the next couple of days, and truth be told, I was just so damn excited to be on the road again.

With Mexican radio cranked up, Tyrhone tried to get comfortable in the tiny space from which he maneuvered our little Matiz. The most economical (cheap) option of cars on offer, it was pretty much the size of a roller skate and handled like a Mac truck due to the absence of power steering.

Yucatan Road trip

“Do they even MAKE cars without power steering these days?” I cried, more than a little disenchanted with what $40 a day had gotten us.

Tyrhone was used to driving on the right hand side of the road after our previous road trips through Mexico, just not whilst changing gears and trying not to mistake the brake for the clutch with his size 11 clod-hoppers (my Mum may or may not have invented that word, but just in case, it means feet). He got the hang of it pretty soon however, especially after I assured him it would be a great work-out for his already bulging muscles (wink, wink).

We headed south to Tulum, hung a right towards Coba, then a left at Valledolid; all places we visited last year. When we took a  right off the highway towards ‘The Yellow Town’ of Izamal, I was unable to contain my excitement at discovering a new part of this country I had come to love so much.

We sped along the near-deserted highway feeling like the only car in Mexico, passing more bicycles than motorized forms of transport. In the back roads of rural Yucatan, our Matiz felt like a Ferrari compared to the numerous three wheeled, pedal-powered people movers we passed that most certainly did not come with power steering as standard.

Tricycle, Mexico

A three-wheeled supplies, school children and old lady mover – the most common form of transport in the Yucatan

Out there, under a searing sun, life slowed to an almost-halt. Round Mayan women waddled slowly along wide village roads, and spindly old men sat calmly on crumbling steps, staring into nothing.

Mayan Lady Yucatan

Yucatan Man

If Izamal was the main course of the golden feast we were about to devour with eager eyes, then the little towns that dotted the road leading to it were the aperitif and entree, whetting our appetites with their crumbling colonial facades, obligatory yellow churches and orderly town squares identical in every way except for their size.

Road trip Yucatan

Yucatan yellow Church

Yellow church number one…

Yucatan Yellow Church

Number two…

With names like Dziztas and Tinum, each little yellow town was a Russian doll identikit of the next, slightly bigger one.

Yucatan Yellow Square

Yucatan girls bike

In one town, we wandered inside the cool, cavernous interior of an old Catholic Church as birds flittered around in the domed ceiling, escaping the midday sun.

Just a couple of hours away from Playa, I felt as though we had stepped back in time to another age; the only reminder of modernity being the omnipresent branding of Coca-Cola and various beer companies splashed across shop fronts. Each town, no matter how small or decrepit was home to a colourfully painted and well maintained liquor store, or Cerveceria, branded by whatever beer company got there first to lay the concrete and stock the shelves.

Similarly, most humble corner stores were adorned with bright red Coca-Cola symbolsthough of course we managed to stop at the one corner store that Pepsi got to first.

Yucatan road trip coke

By the time we arrived in Izamal – the Pueblo Magico and the most touristic town on the ‘Yellow Church Road’ – it’s smooth, golden walls and restored colonial shopfronts, whilst beautiful, appeared less alluring to us than the smaller, less dressed up towns we had stopped at along the way.

Izamal was exceptionally photogenic, however; primped and primed with lashings of golden paint and adorned with old-fashioned hand painted signs.


Izamal signs

Inside the Franciscan monastery, a short, disfigured man with a humped back, clad in a ‘Tourist Police’ uniform led us into the main hall of the church, sat me down on a polished pew, and proceeded to give me an utterly indecipherable historic soliloquy of the monastery which I wanted so much to understand. Soothed by his husky voice and robotic recital of information which was no doubt very interesting had I been able to understand it, I nodded along, happy to be out of the sun and wondering if he would be expecting a tip.

Izamal Monastery

The impressive monastery of Izamal

Izamal Church

Nup, no idea…

Afterwards, we roamed the golden streets in search of a restaurant for lunch, passing by a crumbling Mayan ruin which we were too hungry, thirsty and hot to take much more than a passing interest in.

Yucatan road trip

Ancient Mayan pyramid – meh…

We settled on a touristy, Mayan themed restaurant since it was the only one we could find, and by then our dehydration levels had reached urgent status. We guzzled down chilled bottles of orange sodas along with fresh tostadas and salbutes, which although not earth shatteringly good were tasty enough.

Satiated, Tyrhone returned to the roller skate to cool it down with the A/C whilst I ducked into a store for water. I exited with a chilled bottle of agua tucked under my arm and two freshly made berry ice creams which snaked down the cones and onto my hands.

“Eat it, Quick!” I ordered Tyrhone as I thrust a melted mess at him, though I received no complaints as he devoured the cold, creamy treat it in several swift bites.

Giggling, we rolled out of Izamal, pointing our pint-sized steed in the direction of Merida, grateful for the glimpse into crumbling, small-town Yucatan that it had afforded us, and excited about where it would take us next.

Yucatan road trip woman bike

Yucatan wall

Aah, Mexico…

Yucatan Road trip

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Yucatan Road Trip: Following The Yellow Church Road — 26 Comments

  1. love love love the pic of the old man w/ the broom against the blue wall and the bike in front of the brick red wall…so gorgeous. That is one of my favorite spots in Mexico, where you can almost imagine the country isn’t covered with tourists!
    Rhonda recently posted..A Tale of Two Black DogsMy Profile

    • Rhonda, they are my two favourite photos of them all!!!! I was pretty much dying with how beautiful, lazy and slow these towns were. It was SO great to see :)

  2. As I was reading…. you stated the car didn’t have power steering, I thought to myself, do they even make cars without power steering?! Then of course your next sentence said the exact same thing. Great minds think alike. I love the vibrant colors of the culture and I love getting in a car and just seeing where the road takes me. Great pics!
    Patti recently posted..A Temple on a Hillside ~My Profile

    • He he! Yes it was a bit of a surprise, maybe it had just run out of the fluid or something! Yes the colours, truly amazing, I just couldn’t stop snapping (with my phone once the main camera died..).

  3. I love all the colors. Your beautiful blue dress works well! That man was really little. Glad you guys are popping out for an adventure now and again. oh, and I too am terrible about remember little details like, in many recent cases, directions to where we’re going or an exact address…or the right bus line…all part of the adventure, am I right?

    • Me too Carmel. Thanks, I got the dress for $7 the last time I was in Perth, because it looked Mexican :) Certainly all part of the adventure, although I really missed my good camera on the last day. Oh well, good reason to go back!

  4. Hi, Sarah.
    I really, really enjoyed this post. The photos are magic and your writing is incredible! Also – clod hoppers!! I have those!! (I’m from New Zealand, and my mum uses that word too). Where are you from?
    My husband and I have been on the road in SE Asia (with a quick look at India thrown in) for 4 months so-far – we’re currently in Vietnam. I just love reading your posts, which often remind me why we do what we do! Cheers! :)

    • Hi Lou, thank you so much, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I am Australian, so that makes perfect sense! I find myself using words that probably no one apart from my immediate family understands, and I usually change them but I couldn’t resist this one 😉 Happy travels to you!

  5. Lovely! (And I love your dress) and P.S. I have also been known to use the word clod-hopper so it isn’t just for people over 50. Can’t wait to read the the next installment.

  6. Sarah,
    Great pretty much says it. In Pennsylvania, USA – Clod Hoppers are a type of clunky boots. Hope to catch up with you in Playa in May.

  7. Hi Sarah, what a beautiful road trip! I enjoyed all the photos – the churches, colorful buildings with peeling paints, the people, the road. I particularly love the photo of the old man with a groom againgst a blue wall. It grabbed me; its a pretty powerful image. I also like the photo of a lovely woman in blue dress against the red door and yellow wall:)
    That photo of you listening (or trying to) to the tourist police cracked me up! I can’t wait for the next installment of your road trip.
    Marisol recently posted..Cruising Halong Bay: Still Beautiful, But….My Profile

    • Thank you so much Marisol, such a fluke shot out the car window, I had to crop out the side mirror! Also my absolute favourite. You would go nuts out there, it is just so so photogenic, a real shame I had to conserve my camera battery a little and take a lot with my phone (the one of me is with a phone, not too bad eh?). I don’t consider myself much of a photographer but that drive inspired me so much, I couldn’t stop snapping!