Pueblos Magicos in Mexico – how are Mexicans celebrating culture. Pueblos Magicos are one of the many reasons why I love Mexico so much. Mexicans are very proud of their culture and they are really doing what they can to preserve it.
Mexico is a big country inhabited by many different tribes that evolved in different regions, climates, ecosystems. The Pueblos Magicos program has one purpose: to preserve and advertise the incredible diversity of Mexican food, drinks, folklore, architecture, and history. Each and every village has something unique to offer to its visitors.
What are Pueblos Magicos
A Pueblo Mágico is a certification awarded to small villages in Mexico by the tourism board. It started in 2001 when 32 villages were recognized across the whole of Mexico. Since the program was a success, it has been continued, new villages were added until there were 121 towns on that list. The list is still growing.
How are Pueblos Magicos chosen?
In order to be on the list of the 121 most magical towns in Mexico, the town needs to have at least one of the following:
- unique architectural landmark
- typical, local dish or drink, a signature of the town
- unique tradition
- an impressive natural landmark
- unique set of crafts and arts (mostly handmade) that are locally manufactured
- strong historical significance
- be known for an outstanding hospitality
In addition, the village needs to prepare a plan on how to maintain their unique traditions and to share it with the tourists. This program not only preserves the culture, but also allows the villages to be put on the map and draw some tourism to them.
Pueblos Magicos – the list
You can find a full list of 121 villages on Wikipedia. I haven’t visited them all (yet, I intend to 😉 ) but here is a list of a few of them that are definitely worth stopping by.
By far the most beautiful lagoon I have ever seen. Forget the turquoise waters of Tulum (seriously) and head down to Bacalar. The water is so clean, so blue, so mesmerizing, that you can spend an entire day just looking at it (believe me, I did). They say it has 7 shades of blue, but I could argue that there are even eight of them. You can rent a kayak or take out a SUP for a morning yoga. Whatever you do, you will enjoy this place. Its natural beauty draws lots of local tourism while all the foreigners stay on the Caribbean coast. What a shame.
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
The old colonial town has so much charm! San Cristobal is very popular with tourists, so it is well maintained with fresh paint on the buildings, the cobblestone streets perfectly cleaned and loads of hipster shops, specialized in coffee (the best Mexican coffee comes from Chiapas), pox (the local alcoholic drink made out of corn), handmade souvenirs and clothes.
Most people treat San Cristobal as only a stop on their way to Palenque, but the city has a lot to offer in terms of history, landmarks, and museums. My favorite are the Pox distilleries where you can taste and purchase Pox made with cacao, mango, coffee, coconut… They are all delicious, but also very strong, so be careful! There is a place called la Posheria in the city center where you can meet some friendly locals always happy to help you choose the best one if you have trouble making up your mind.
San Cristobal is a great base to visit the nearby villages like San Juan de Chamula or Chiapa de Corzo.
Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas
This Pueblo is not very beautiful, but you need to come here for the food. Ok, the food is amazing all over Mexico, but this place has been recognized for two things: Chispola – a beef and vegetable stew that you only eat here – and centuries-old drinks. You should try Pozol – a drink made out of fermented corn dough with cocoa (its origin can be traced to Pre-Columbian times) and Tascalate – a drink make our of cacao, milk, pine nuts, vanilla, and some other secret ingredients.
In the central plaza you will find La Pila, the very first fountain drawn in the whole of Mexico. It was made in 1562 by the Spaniards who, in order to emphasize their reign above Mexico made it in the shape of the crown worn by King Carlos I.
San Pablo Vila de Mitla, Oaxaca
Loads of things to see and do here. First, the incredible, and not very well known, an archeological site of Mitla ruins where you can see the ancient pyramids of the Zapotecas and Mixtecas. Those tribes were here long before the Spanish arrived, around the time of Mayas and Aztecs, and… they still live here. But they moved to modern housing centuries ago.
The region is also well known for its Mezcal, and San Pablo has a few distilleries to offer (you will need a car or you can buy a tour – the prices are ridiculously cheap). San Pablo itself has a big market where the locals sell crafts made with pedal looms. You can see how it’s done. It’s a long and tedious process where every color is acquired only with natural resources (flowers, fruit, or insects). No wonder the prices are quite high. But those are the goods that will last you for years.
Valladolid is well known for its old Perfume shop called Coqui Coqui and the food. But to me it was just a really cute old colonial town. I could just stroll for hours its small streets filled with little boutiques selling regional goods. The main square fills with people in the evenings for a free concert or dancing. This town lives its own life regardless of the tourists.
Valladolid is a good base to visit ruins of Ek Balam, cenote Xkeken and of course, Chichen Itza.
I really admire how are Mexicans celebrating their culture. I can’t wait to go back to Mexico to visit the amazing Xilitla, where the famous temazcal (once a healing ritual, today used as a form of Sauna in Spas and Hotels) comes from and the coffee plantations overpower the area or Valle de Bravo that looks like pictures of old Westen movies decor. Or maybe Yuriria that is famous for its fruit cakes and guava, tamarind, and garbanzo atole. There are so many of them and so little time.