From Chihuahua to Durango, the level of colonial charm had been increasing. So it was with high hopes we set off for the UNESCO heritage site and one of the so called ‘Silver Cities’, Zacatecas.
After a local bus ride from the central camionera to the historical downtown area, it wasn’t long before we were able to find our accommodation (we’d booked this one ahead), the gorgeously located Hostal Villa Colonial.
Our double room was perfectly located so that it afforded us grand views of the cathedral, it was just a shame one spire was covered in scaffolding whilst repair work was completed (memories of Budapest last July come to mind when the parliament house was also undergoing maintenance).
After our bus trip from Durango, it was going to be another late lunch, so after a quick wander to assess the options, that was what we did, we ate (it seems a recurring theme after getting into every city)!
There didn’t seem to be a lot of street vendors, but we had spied several restaurants boasting similar, if not identical menus… we wondered if perhaps they were part of a franchise, or perhaps had formed a union!
Still, we found a picturesque spot at an outdoor table, where we had a front row seat to watch a Mexican clown show kick off!
The crowd was still growing as we returned to out hostel, with the shenanigans still to be heard in the night sky, well after 11pm!
Waking to a lovely blue morning meant our morning destination for breakfast was the hostels own terrace, 2 floors above ours, it provided a lovely location for us to indulge in a breakfast of tea and pastries (after we had explored and found a nearby bakery).
Now full of sustenance, or at least sugar, we’d decided to tackle the climb up to La Bufa, the large hill overlooking the town.
It can be reached by teleferico (cable car), however we again figured we’d save the pesos, work on our fitness and climb it by foot.
The ascent, it was steep indeed. It didn’t however take us too long at the pace we’d set, and before long we had beautiful, panoramic views of the town!
The bluff was home to not only views, but also a weather station, church, a zipline (which takes people across an ordinary looking abandoned quarry), memorials to Pancho Villa & other revolutionary generals, as well as a mausoleum to famous Zacatecans.
From high above the town, we’d spied an aqueduct, so it was there that our wanders eventually took us.
En-route, we explored a few more churches, found some respite from the heat of the day in a lovely park (I’m guessing here, lack of water is still a concern, as most of the parks fountains were not in operation).
The aqueduct was difficult to miss (being such a large structure), however it was actually difficult to get a decent picture from up close with many more obstructions to the view.
We went to investigate yet another church (which didn’t have its doors ajar allowing us entry) before trying to gain entrance to one of the cities most exclusive hotels which we thought would be worth a look.
This hotel has been built around the cities old bull ring which sounded pretty unique. The gentleman on the door however didn’t seem as thrilled with this plan, so we wandered on.
Luckily, a nearby side door provided us with a glimpse, and from the same spot we got a half decent view of the aqueduct as well!
Referring to our trusty Lonely Planet as we now sought further things to see and/or do, we’d read of what sound like a fairly interesting museum on the opposite side of the historical centre, Museo Rafael Coronel.
I make it sound some distance with my wording, but the reality is, it wasn’t really (the main, historical area of Zacatecas is very compact), so it was not long at all before we were there.
The reason this place had sounded so interesting? Well firstly, it is built in the midst of a ruined convent, and the second. Well apparently they house a collection of over 3000 pre & post Hispanic masks.
By chance, as we were preparing to enter and purchase our tickets, a kind woman seated just outside passed us a 2 for 1 deal, so we were able to get the 2 of us in for just 30 pesos!
The highlight was simply the location, as we were able to wander around this ruined convent, before checking out was a pretty impressive mask collection indeed.
The latter part of our meanderings was hobbled by an unlucky injury to Sarah’s ankle (admiring something, she accidentally kicked a metal cable), so we retired back to our hostel terrace for a few beers and some crisps.
From our local Oxxo (essentially a mini-mart) we took advantage of a promotion that saw us get 9 beers for 85 pesos (just under $7.00AU), although that in itself proved a test of my limited Spanish (with Sarah in pain, she was in little mood to talk).
We expected to enjoy the beers over a couple of sittings, but a combination of the heat and just our general enjoyment saw us consume the lot, so dinner and the evening turned into a repeat of the previous night, with dinner at the same location, with the same crowd, and another clown show (we did manage to meet a fellow Australian traveler at the hostel, Eddie, who is riding his motorbike through Mexico)!
Morning saw us finally saw us check out the interior of the main cathedral, which wasn’t as impressive as expected, before we wandered over to an abstract art museum that was both a former seminary and prison (they’re all about re-purposing here I guess).
Not expecting much from the abstract museum, we were pleasantly surprised to enjoy a lot more of the artwork than we thought we would, however the highlight was probably the old cell blocks, which had been turned into a 3 level gallery where some of the former cells were displayed in photographs (with the pictures themselves hung in former cells).
After a lunch of Gorditas (where after ordering 3, the vendor tried to offload 6 to us), we made the afternoon trek uphill to the Mina El Eden, one of the cities old silver mines.
Unfortunately, there was no English language tour for us, but based on the laughs of the fellow members of our group, I can only imagine that our guide was pretty funny (he was also impressed to learn we’d traveled all the way from Australia).
A tip if you do decide to come here. Bring a sweater, as despite the heat of the day outside, once we got into the mine, courtesy of a small train, it was pretty cold.
The tour was still pretty impressive, with plenty of rock displays (including some that either naturally, or possibly unnaturally glowed in the dark), the chance to look down on some of the flooded lower levels, and in keeping with the Zacatecan theme of re-purposing, this mine also hosts a nightclub!
Unfortunately, we weren’t sure when it would be open, so never saw it in action.
The exit from our tour was actually at a different exit to where we had entered. This was no problem for us, we just wandered back to town. Not sure how convenient it would have been for anyone who had driven and parked at the other entrance…
For the 3rd evening in a row, the clown show was out in full swing, however after a couple more beers back at the hostel, and our first sample of some Mexican Mezcal (from Durango and courtesy of our Australian friend Eddie), we decided to splurge and head to one of Zacatecas more highly recommended restaurants (word is the door is usually locked and you need to knock, but we just tail gated somebody in) where we had a pretty tasty meal indeed as well as a couple more beers which we didn’t really need.
The whole restaurant was decked out with a revolutionary (predominantly Pancho Villa) theme, complete with what we thought was an average musical recording, but was in truth, just a fairly average pianist.
What else did we discover in Zacatecas? Well, it would appear that this place is the spiritual home for the Volkswagon Beetle. They are seriously everywhere, in all manner of colours and in all manner of condition!
The following morning we had plans to move on, before shortly returning for a couple of additional side trips in several days time.
So with full bellies, and slightly fuzzy heads, it was time to retire at the end of another Mexican day.