Cosas Mágicas: A Guide to Tepoztlán, Mexico
What makes a destination truly magical? It is a combination of many things: natural beauty, culture, history, climate, locals, and that feeling that you just can’t put a name on. Tepoztlán, a small town south of Mexico City, is all of these things and more. The Mexican government recognized this and, rightfully so, bestowed upon Tepoztlán the title of “Pueblo Mágico” or “Magical Village.” The town is surrounded by majestic mountains that give it a feeling of isolation; although only 75km away from the large country’s capital, Mexico City it feels days away. Atop one of the mountain’s peaks, when there is no rain or mist, you can see an ancient Aztec pyramid. The hilly streets in town are made of stone and lined with small shops and stands. The people are kind and I always received a “Hola! Buenas dias/tardes/noches!” whenever I offered a smile.
I recently spent two weeks in Tepoztlán visiting a close American friend who had taken a teaching position in town, and quickly fell in love with it. It would be a wonderful day trip from Mexico City, or I can contest it stands as a wonderful destination in its own right. Here are some of the cosas mágicas I found during my stay.
Holistic Healings and Temazcals
Tepoztlán is considered to be a magical place by more than just the Mexican government, and has attracted many mystics, both local and foreign. The streets and the market places contain a wonderful array of traditional Mexican offerings but you will also see many shops offering crystal healings, tarot readings, chakra alignments, and even aura photography! Although much of this is obviously geared towards tourist dollars, the town has a high population of shamans, healers, and Eastern medicine practitioners. This is probably the only town in Mexico where street vendors might know what “vegan” means. Whatever your beliefs are, this is a great place to get caught up and indulge your secret New Age inclinations.
You will also find many temazcals throughout town. Temazcals are traditional dome-shaped sweat lodges which originated with the Pre-Hispanic indigenous people of Mesoamerica. They were used as part of a curative ceremony thought to purify the body and mind, and especially had significance around times of intense exertion, such as after a battle or a ceremonial ball game. They are making a comeback today as a way to cleanse body and spirit.
I learned about temazcals at Flor de la Vida- Center for Bioenergetic Therapies (Located on Avenida del Tepozteco, in the Barrio de La Santísima, kitty-corner to the Santísima Church.) when I became friends with Hector, the owner of the center. Hector has a rich ancestral history of healers which was evident when he went to work on me. I received a crystal healing, music therapy, and massage. All three therapies were intertwined together, and in between being rubbed down I relaxed with crystals lining my chakras while Hector played various musical instruments over and around me, putting me into a blissful trance.
Luxury Spa Immersion
If you want to really pamper yourself, La Buena Vibra Retreat and Spa Hotel is top of the line. Just by walking by walking onto the grounds you are overwhelmed by beauty and feel a heightened sense of relaxation. I treated myself to one of their signature spa packages: a full body exfoliation followed by a self-named “Ometeotl Massage.” The Ometeotl Massage is a combination of Champi-Oshiro, Swedish, and Thai massages.
Basically what happened was this: I walked through a beautiful garden into a private adobe style massage cabin. I changed into a scented white bathrobe and soaked my feet in a rose petal and bubble bath. Next I moved onto the table where a luxurious exfoliant was rubbed onto my body, feet to neck. After all my dead skin was scrubbed off, I showered it off in a private tile lined shower lay back down, and had an hour of the Ometeotl massage. After it was over my body felt as soft and supple as a baby’s.
In addition to the spa area, there is a yoga studio, meditation room, organic fusion restaurant, salon, gym, pool, jacuzzis, and of course, a hotel. The buildings and landscape are done in a wonderful blend of polished Mexican rancho style mixed with a classic Asian-zen elegant simplicity. When I met the owner, the beautiful and vibrant Tanya, I understood completely, as she told me she has studied yoga intensely in India. Buena Vibra frequently hosts events, and has rotating classes and temazcals. I recommended it to seriously immerse yourself in relaxation and luxury either solo, with girlfriends, or with a lover.
The hike to the pyramid is the main tourist attraction in town. The pyramid, El Tepozteco, dates back to the Aztecs, and during its prime, attracted pilgrims from as far away as Guatemala. It is a short but hard hike to get to the top of the mountain, basically a 2km scramble up rocks and stairs. I was advised to give myself two hours to reach the top, but it took less than an hour.
Finding the pyramid is extremely easy: once in town follow signs to get to the pyramid, or just ask anyone to point you in the right direction. Once you are almost to the top, you will find a giant gate, more stairs, and then the pyramid. You pay at the top to roam around, do not listen to anyone who tries to tell you you have to pay before beginning the hike!
Before you begin make sure it is not a holiday, because sometimes (as I discovered) the gates open late, and it is quite a disappointment to be almost to the top only to be greeted with a locked gate. Also make sure to feel the weather out. Be very careful if you are going during the rainy season as the tropical rains here are intense and create rios on the roads!
Whatever the weather, wear comfortable shoes with good grip, bring water, an umbrella (or a clean garbage bag is great for emergencies), and of course, a camera. The view from the top is spectacular. I recommend packing a lunch so you have a picnic at the top. (Look for the big banner that says “Dona Chella” along the end of the road. She makes the best food and always has a giant pot of café olla on the burner.) It’s gorgeous, but honestly there isn’t very much to do at the top besides enjoy the view, so enjoy!
To really immerse yourself in the experience, Buena Vibra has extraordinary hotel rooms and suites to choose from, but if these are out of your price range, inquire about their dorm rooms. The dorm rooms are a steal, as you still have access to the gorgeous grounds, and in such a beautiful setting, who wants to stay in their hotel room all day anyways?
For something a bit funkier check out Tubohotel, where the rooms are stacked tubes! What do you get inside a tube? To quote the site: “Queen [size bed]. Also in the room is a desk light, fan, and under-bed storage as well as a towels with towel racks along and comfortable blankets and high thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. Okay, that last one was a lie, but the sheets are really Tubo-Soft.” Rooms start at just 300 pesos.
As in most of Mexico, there is good food to be found everywhere in Tepoztlán. On each street corner you will find locals with cooking set-ups, selling quesadillas, tacos, sopes, tlacoyos, or itacates with a variety of optional toppings, and fresh salsas. Inside the market you will find more of the same. I ate everyday at a different booth inside the market, pointing at different fillings to get wrapped up inside a fresh tortilla. Also always inquire what flavors of agua frescas (flavored waters) are available. You should only pay 10-30 pesos for a light meal in the market.
For my morning coffee (meaning not instant, like you will find in the market) and wifi fixes I found three different European style cafes I loved: Los Buenos Tiempos, Café Revolution, and Tepoz Café. I was in Tepoztlán for two weeks, and spent an average of a few hours a day typing away with a steamy cup of tea or a big michelada in front of me. I would alternate between these cafes and still am not sure what my favorite is, although Café Revolution does have the best couches hands down.
You can find micheladas all over town, and in many different styles. Micheladas are beers with flavorings in them. The classic I knew of from Costa Rica is a local beer served with a glass with a salted rim, ice, and fresh lime juice. In Mexico, however, I found them served with enough hot sauce to turn the beer red! Everywhere you go will have their own style, in Tepoztlán the favorite kind seems to be with a sour tamarind infusion.
For a nice sit-down feast I loved Los Colorines. The whole restaurant is painted in bright colors, and has decorations everywhere that reflect the local culture. You get to watch your meal be cooked in traditional pottery. If you want something lighter after your Temazcal, go to the Hare Krishna Kitchen, conveniently located right next to Hector’s Flor de la Vida. As far as dessert went, Pasteleria Julieta was my favorite place to stop by and grab a cheese muffin or a tres leches cake to nibble on in bliss.
The shopping is great in Tepoztlán. There are endless options of locally made goods to take home, along with the tacky tourist stuff that is sold everywhere in Mexico. The local brightly painted pottery is quite beautiful, and very affordable, I paid 35 pesos a cup for a collection of cups to take home. Also keep an eye out for carved necklaces made of local jade, Mayan jade. Many of the stands lining the path to Tepozteco sell roughly carved Mayan jade necklaces for 30 pesos or less. Shop around and compare prices as many stores offer the same products.
Wandering through town, I made friends with Martha, who owns a beautiful jewelry shop called Silver Drop. She has gorgeous jewelry pieces all made my hand. I bought a few too many earrings from her, but I was happy to support such a wonderful woman. I also was enthralled by TEKIO Artisanias, where I found extraordinary multi-use macramé and precious stone jewelry, perfect for the hippie festivals I love to frequent, along with many other treasures. Wherever you go you to shop you will have a blast enjoying all that Tepoztlán has to offer.
Tepoztlán was my first foray into Mexico, and it has just made me hungry for more. This is a huge country ripe with culture, natural beauty, great food, exotic beaches, and pretty much everything you could ask for in a travel adventure. Although, by reading government reports about drug wars and kidnappings you would think it was a huge risk to travel here, I felt very safe the whole time. That being said, don’t let the government fool you, but do travel with caution.
Be an intelligent Travelette: know the basics of the language, stay informed about dangerous areas, only carry as much money on you as you need, take sanctioned taxis, be careful while drinking, don’t walk home through abandoned streets at night, etc. And if there is one thing I have learned through my travels: the most important rule of safe travel always is: trust your instincts!