Our first major destination on our Mexican ghost towns trip was the old mining town of Real de Catorce. The spirits are kept a bay during the day by the crush of day trippers, but the area’s spiritual energy can be felt as dusk falls, or as you hike into the abandoned ruins that surround the town.
Real de Catorce–Mining Town and Spiritual Center
Real de Catorce was a booming silver mining town in the early 1900’s, but as the price of silver fell and the mines were depleted, the town gradually lost most of its inhabitants. It has enjoyed a revival over the last couple of decades. It is not only a tourist town but a Catholic pilgrimage site and spiritual center for the Huichol indigenous peoples, who come to gather the special peyote cactus buttons that grow here. Many claim that the area has a special spiritual energy. Many Mexicans make this a day trip but it is easy to stay overnight or longer.
Arriving in Real de Catorce
Our bus ride from Matehuala took about two and a half hours The last part of the ride is the most exciting. After we left the last major town of Cedral, we turned off the main road and started gaining altitude quickly on a new rough cobblestone road that runs about 10 miles to the Ogarrio tunnel. This arched tunnel is about 1.5 miles long and is the main entrance into the town. There is only room for one car to pass, so you have to wait until traffic is cleared in each direction. We got off the Matehuala bus, and immediately into another bus that took us through the tunnel. We noticed that several people were walking though, but that seemed like an exceedingly dusty walk!
In the photo below, you see a line of cars waiting for their turn to take the Ogarrio tunnel out of town.
We had brought along our packs in the hopes that we would find a hotel. We had been warned that all lodging might be full because it was during the Christmas season, but we wanted to take our chances. When we arrived we saw that the parking lot was packed full of cars, and the town entrance was clogged with tourist and knick-knack shops. Our first reaction was to take the first bus out of there. We decided that we would check one or two hotels and if there were no rooms we would return to Matehuala that very same day.
Staying the Night in Real de Catorce
We walked two streets away from the main street and found a small hotel that had simple rooms for 400 MX (about 20 dollars). That made our decision–we were staying! We got rid of our bags and left the room to explore the city.
A Town of Stone and Stucco
All the streets are roughly paved with uneven cobblestones and most of them are steep. There is a lot of restoration of the original stonework going on as people move back and renovate shops and second residences.
One of the distinguishing styles of the city is to fill in gaps in the stonework with thin shale chips imbricated into mortar.
Where the Ghosts Live
The best place to commune with the spirit world in on the many trails that lead into the mountains and ravines. The ruins of the old mining concerns are extensive and the countryside is covered with them. You’ll find many tourists being led on horseback along the trails, but we chose to walk so that we could explore the ruins in detail on our own.
These arches below held up a second story of a mining building. The first floor is partially filled in with rubble.
The fancy frescoed walls of the mining offices attest to the wealth that was pulled out of the earth here.
We only spent one night here, but could have easily spent several days exploring the area. One intriguing idea would to leave Real de Catorce out the back way in a four-wheel drive, dropping down many feet of altitude into a tiny remote village in the canyon.
This post of part of our Mexican Ghost Town and World Heritage Sites trip. I gave an outline of our whole trip in my last post.