I’m probably going to regret this, but I’m about to kick off a pretty ambitious long term project: visiting all of Mexico’s pueblos magicos (magic towns). These are a collection of small towns highlighted by Mexico’s tourism secretariat as being of some kind of historic or cultural significance. To be deemed a pueblo magico, the tourism secretariat says a town needs to offer visitors a “magical” experience.
Yet the whole idea of the pueblos magicos program is a bit controversial. Supporters of the program argue it promotes tourism in some of Mexico’s least visited yet most unique small communities. This sounds great, but critics have pointed to issues with which towns are selected, with some going as far as dismissing the entire initiative as a bit of a gimmick. So, what’s the deal: are the pueblos magicos diamonds in the rough, or a bunch of dusty backwaters?
I’ve decided the only way to find out is to visit them all. Currently, there are more than 80 pueblos magicos scattered across the country. Some are pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I don’t expect to reach every single one anytime soon, nor do I expect them all to be amazing. Frankly, I suspect this is going to be a bit of a lucky dip, with a mix of undiscovered gems and pure … well …
Yeah, I’m expecting a few shittier than shit shitholes to come out of the woodwork So on that note, let’s dive into my first pueblo magico: Tlaxco.
This first pueblo magico to be put under the microscope is a small town of around 15,000 people, located in the parched north of Tlaxcala state. On arrival, Tlaxco doesn’t exactly put its best face forward. The bus from Apizaco dropped us off on a long road lined with cheap restaurants and souvenir stores. There was no small town feel, just diesel fumes and dust. It had as much character as John Kasich, and was as lively as Ben Carson. “Shit,” I thought. “I’ve drawn a short straw on my first go.” Down the road, we ran into a hostel that was apparently once a bit of a backpacker haunt. There wasn’t really much left of it. Between the boarded up windows, I could vaguely see the shredded interior. It looked like it had been ransacked. As I was peering in, some random passerby stopped, pointed and said, “closed”. As if to clear up any ambiguity about the situation. We ended up staying at a motor lodge on the main road out of town, with the creative name La Carreta (Km. 1.5 Carretera Tlaxco-Zacatlan, ph: 241 496 0546). The place was actually quite nice, and a decent price (around MX$180 for a double room). The only way we found the place was by asking at the tourist information booth in the main plaza. I have to say, the staff at the booth deserve credit for being an absolute trove of information. They gave us plenty of detailed information on some of the best places in the area to visit, including a handful of historic haciendas. Unfortunately, many of these places were out of town, and not particularly easy to access without private transport. So far, things weren’t looking too great for Tlaxco, though the zocalo with its old church was pleasant enough.
Things took a turn for the better when we headed out to the slot canyon on the edge of town. It’s only a 20 minute walk from the zocalo to the canyon, but along the way the town quickly morphed into something with a real village atmosphere, before giving way to countryside. The streets were quieter on this side of Tlaxco, with crumbling colonial style buildings flanking the dusty streets. As we left the village proper, we passed a shepherd tending a flock of sheep.
The slot canyon itself lived up to its local name, el laberinto (the maze). The winding, narrow canyon got deeper the further in we went. It was mostly dry when we visited, though in rainy season it’s easy to imagine most of the route becoming extremely muddy.
The canyon can be covered in less than an hour, and ends on a desert plain with a somewhat decent view of Tlaxco.
We finished the day by relaxing in the plaza, before grabbing dinner at a seafood restaurant near where the bus dropped us off. The meal was delicious and reasonably priced at around MX$50, with each serving roughly large enough to feed a small family. We couldn’t find a bar, so after dinner we headed back to the room to drink and watch cable.
I think decided Tlaxco’s nighlife probably wasn’t worth a recommendation roughly around the moment I found myself lying in a motel bed, watching Sean Hannity in my underwear, while cradling a half empty flask of cheap tequila.
Tlaxco and I had a rough start, but eventually the place started to grow on me. There isn’t heaps to do, though the slot canyon is a good reason to visit. The church near the zocalo is also worth a peek, while the square itself is good for people watching. Grab an ice cream, find a shady corner and just chill.
I wouldn’t call Tlaxco a shit hole. People were pretty friendly, and the village gets better when you get away from the main road. Apparently, the place comes to life on weekends, when day trippers from Puebla and Tlaxcala pour in. Personally, I think this would probably be the best way to enjoy Tlaxco. The village can be comfortably covered in a day, and staying overnight isn’t really necessary. There’s not much nightlife, and accommodation in the centre is slim. If you’re coming from Puebla or Mexico City, consider crashing somewhere in Tlaxcala, which a great destination in its own right.
There are regular buses to Tlaxco from the main terminal in Apizaco, a regional transport hub for much of northern Tlaxcala state. Apizaco itself is easy enough to get to, with almost hourly buses from Mexico City’s TAPO, Puebla’s CAPU and Tlaxcala city’s main terminal. If you find yourself in Tlaxcala state, Tlaxco is worth a visit, especially if you have private transport and can hit up a few haciendas in the area. Bear in mind this isn’t a place to visit if you’re looking for excitement. But if you visit Tlaxco to escape the city and chill out for a few hours, you’ll probably enjoy yourself.
Shit hot or shithole? I’d say Tlaxco is closer to the shit hot end of the spectrum.