There are numerous mountain chains in Mexico, from north to south and east to west. Some represent year-long snowy landscapes, while others are inhabited by rattlesnakes and tall cacti. There are those that have daring cliffs and unique copper-colored rocks, and those that have been home to indigenous communities for centuries. Some are just isolated mountains, mostly dormant volcanoes, that welcome hikers, who want to explore both their beauty and their legends.
In addition to their majestic essence, many of these mountains also have charming towns, giving visitors an opportunity to have a unique experience discovering new traditions or crafts, having a taste of local dishes and exploring nature through hikes or climbs.
This is a town embraced in an atmosphere of magic and mysticism. It’s located in the foothills of the Tepozteco mount, within the national park of the same name. Many legends and beliefs surround the mountain. It’s said that Pre-Hispanic cultures believed that the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl was born here. However, some recent urban legends say that UFOs fly over it. If you hike to the top you’ll find a pre-Hispanic pyramid built to worship the Crops god. The cobblestone streets with bohemian energy welcome visitors who want to discover local artists and traditional crafts, especially during the weekends when a crafts market is set. Honoring pre-Hispanic cultures is very important here, so many of the crafts are created following tradition. In the market it’s also possible to taste traditional dishes. Following ancient customs, there are several spas and wellbeing centers that offer treatments based on ancient knowledge, like temazcales, which are sweat lodges that follow a purifying ritual. Other places to explore in the town include the Former Convent of the Nativity, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994, and the Carlos Pellicer Prehispanic Art Museum with Mayan, Olmec, and Zapotec artifacts.
Peña de Bernal is the third largest monolith — a mountain consisting of a single massive stone or rock — in the world and is part of the Sierra Gorda mountain range. The mountain can be seen from every corner in Bernal and outdoor activities like hiking or climbing in the mountain are the ultimate attractions. It’s a common belief that the monolith brings positive energy to the town, so there are many spas that offer energetic treatments so visitors can make the most of their trip and bring back a reenergized attitude as a souvenir. The main street of this magical town is Independencia Street, where you can find colorful houses, restaurants with traditional dishes (must try the barbacoa — sheep meat steam-cooked in an underground oven), crafts stores, and museums, such as the Museum of the Mask. If you’re looking for a typical craft, here it’s all about wool woven pieces, from rugs to quilts or coats. Weaving in looms is a century-old tradition that’s still alive in this town. And if you have a sweet tooth, you mustn’t leave without trying the goat’s milk chewy sweets.
If you’re into silver goods, look no further. Silver is the specialty of this town with dark stone streets and pink quarry architecture. It used to be a very important mining town, and now it’s mostly focused on artisans and jewelry makers who specialize in this precious metal. Because of that, it’s a great place to find beautiful jewelry at great prices, especially in the Silver Market that is only open on Saturdays. The town is known for its steep streets, so walking can be a challenge, but the best way to enjoy the view is from the very top. To get there you can take a cable car that takes you to the top, where you’ll find the Monte Taxco hotel. There are two places that can’t be missed when visiting Taxco; one is the Parish of Santa Prisca, which has a dome made of talavera — glazed pottery craft — and pink quarry towers; and the other is the 65-foot-tall Christ statue that overlooks the city from the Atachi mount.
Zacatlán de las Manzanas, Puebla
As you can probably imagine, apples are a big deal in this town. It’s one of the main apple producers in the country, there’s an apple festival every summer and cider factories open their doors for visitors to witness the process of turning this fruit into a refreshing pink drink. Zacatlán is also known for its mystique, mostly because it’s usually foggy and the deep forest with cozy cabins make it perfect for legends, especially when the temperature drops. When you go deeper into the mountain, you’ll find colorful flower beds and fresh waterfalls. There’s also a crystal bridge that allows visitors to stand above the Los Jilgueros ravine. The mountain’s natural beauty is celebrated in the town’s main square, which has a giant floral clock. Monumental clocks are the town’s specialty, so much so that there’s even a Clock Museum that takes visitors through the process of creating such complicated machines.
Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosí
Also known as a ghost town, there are a number of legends about the past of Real de Catorce. Some talk about its silver mining history while others tell the story of bandits, and some follow the magical stories that are typical of the Huichol culture, the indigenous community that still lives in the region. Because of its mining background, this place has some unique constructions, such as the iron kiosk that adorns Plaza Hidalgo, as well as singular attractions like the now inactive mines themselves. Real de Catorce is located in one of the most arid zones of San Luis Potosi, which makes it a desert adventure. To explore the desert there’s a vehicle called Willys — similar to a Jeep — that’s designed to withstand the complicated terrain.
The beauty of the Copper Canyons (Barrancas del Cobre) is like no other. The copper-green color and steep collection of canyons covered in pine trees, oaks, and cacti make it the ultimate destination for adventure lovers. The canyons are part of the Sierra Tarahumara, home to the indigenous community of the Rarámuris. It’s such a wide area that the only way to appreciate it from start to finish is on board the Chepe train that goes along the canyons for visitors to take in their complete beauty. For those in love with outdoor activities, there are campsites and the canyons are open for hiking, climbing, and mountain biking. There’s also a cable car that connects two ravines, offering impressive panoramic views. In the Sierra, there’s this small magical town called Creel that’s the best place to stay when visiting the canyons. Here you’ll also find a great place to learn more about Rarámuri culture, including their art, which can be found in the Arte Sacro museum, and their crafts, like basket making.
This town gets its name from the country’s iconic bird, the quetzal, which was sacred to many ancient cultures. Although there aren’t quetzals living here anymore, the mountains are still rich in other species that attract birdwatchers. If you’re looking for an adrenaline boost, you’ll find many adventurous activities, from rappelling to a zip line that crosses the Cuichat river. There are many pre-Hispanic traditions that have stood the test of time in this town, such as the ritual called Quetzal Dance, which was even designated as Intangible Cultural Heritage. Another one is the tradition of trading, so on the weekends, there’s a market where people trade local products avoiding the use of money. To learn more about the cobblestoned town’s history Cuetzalan’s Cultural Center takes visitors through the town’s evolution and traditions.
Huasca de Ocampo, Hidalgo
What makes this place unique are the basaltic prisms that hide in the forest of this mountain town. These natural rock columns are believed to have formed thousands of years ago as a result of the contrast of lava and the cold water of the river. Due to erosion, these tall formations that can reach 131 feet are hexagonally shaped. To see them, you can walk, although you might get wet since they’re bathed by waterfalls. Another option is to enjoy them from above by taking a zip line. In addition to its natural richness, Huasca de Ocampo has a beautiful collection of old haciendas that speak to the splendor of the town in the old days, when it was famous for its silver goods. Now, some of its most beautiful crafts include colorful pottery and hand-carved wooden pieces. Although many things have changed from the way Huasca used to be, one thing remains: its magical beliefs. There are several fantastic stories that surround this town, especially those about forest spirits and goblins.