In 2001, the Mexican Tourism Secretariat started its Pueblos Mágicos (magical towns) program. These towns range from tiny, almost undiscovered villages on the coast to sizeable inland cities. What they all have in common is that they have some truly special cultural, historic or social importance. Towns accepted into the program have access to federal funds for publicity and improvements. Each year, new towns are added to the program. Currently, there are 54 Pueblos Mágicos in Mexico.
Charlie and I heard about this program early in our Peace Corps service from another volunteer and decided to visit as many as we could doing our time in Mexico. It was a chance to see another side of Mexico that most tourists don’t see – the smaller unique towns. In our 2½ years in Mexico, we were fortunate enough to see 22 of these Pueblos Mágicos. Here are the ones that we found most interesting.
- Bacalar (Quintana Roo State). This town is known for its beautiful freshwater lagoon, which has seven shades of blue. We really enjoyed eating on its banks, snorkeling in its waters and watching its changing colors throughout the day.
- Taxco (Guerrero State). The steep, winding streets of Taxco make it a fascinating place to visit. The church of Santa Prisca has one of the most ornate facades in all of Mexico and the silver jewelry in town can’t be beat. Visiting Taxco during Semana Santa to witness their unique religious processions is an unforgettable experience.
- Pátzcuaro (Michoacán State). The lake and the many artisan villages specializing in different crafts make this Pueblo Mágico an interesting destination. Don’t miss seeing the manual process of making copper plates and vases in nearby Santa Clara del Cobre, another Pueblo Mágico.
- Tepoztlán (Morelos State). This Pueblo Mágico is near Cuernavaca and offers the annual carnival week tradition of the bouncing dance of the Chinelos, performers wearing bearded masks and colorful costumes.
- Valle de Bravo (State of Mexico). The Monarch butterflies can be seen nearby when they migrate to Mexico for the winter (November – March) and a man-made lake is located in the downtown area.
- Bernal (Querétaro State). The peña (monolith of solid rock), which is the third highest in the world, dominates the town. During the equinox, indigenous dancers fill the squares and mystics pay homage to the rock.
- Izamal (State of Yucatán). A town painted in yellow. Every building in the downtown area was painted yellow in honor of the Pope’s visit in 1993.
- Tequila (Jalisco State). Blue agave plants can be seen all around this town. Many of the local distilleries provide tours and samples.
- Jalpan (Querétaro State). A great starting point to see the five Franciscan missions in the Sierra Gorda area.
- San Cristóbal de las Casas (Chiapas State). The churches and plazas of this medium-sized town maintain its Spanish colonial style with red-tiled roofs and cobblestone streets. The nearby town of San Juan Chamula has some very interesting traditions, including the local church whose floor is covered with pine needles. The faithful sit on the floor surrounded by hundreds of lit candles.
- Real del Monte (Hidalgo State). An old mining town, where the workers were from Cornwall, still serves pasties (like empanadas).
- Jerez (Zacatecas State). A nice downtown area with several historic buildings, including a theater that is supposed to look like Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. We weren’t convinced. The archeological site of La Quemada is outside of town.