Like Mexican cooking, which mixes the flavors of limes and chilies, Yucatán’s civilization is a blend of contrasting cultures: Maya and Catholic.
Nowhere is the mix more evident than in the golden city of Izamal, in Yucatán’s north. Buildings here wear the same sunny hue, matching that of the 16th-century monastery of St. Anthony of Padua, one of the oldest Catholic monasteries in the Americas.
Old is relative here, however.
Three blocks to the north sits one of the highest pyramids in Yucatán, to the Maya sun god, built in the sixth century. Izamal was huge then, on par with Chichén Itzá, and merited monumental structures.
Several remain, but Catholic missionaries repurposed others, recycling stone from Maya sites to build churches. If it weren’t prohibited, one could scratch a church wall and find Maya stonework.
In the ocher light of dusk, Izamal shines like no other place. This was the Mexico I’d longed to see, where pagan gods sleep by Spanish churches and children clutching Spanish textbooks greet their parents in Maya.
Now, though, a new religion prevails: soccer, played by men and boys with Maya blood in their veins.
This piece, written by Traveler’s Digital Nomad, Andrew Evans, appeared in the May 2014 issue of the magazine. Follow his latest adventures on Twitter @WheresAndrew.