Pueblos Mágicos — or Are They?

“Mexico” Mike Nelson
Draft · 5 min read

There are 111 official Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns) in Mexico — or 120 — or 106 — or somewhere in-between, depending on when you read this. I’ll stop there as my rudimentary math skills give rudimentary a bad name. Magic towns are like rabbits in a magic hat — now you see ’em, now you don’t. Oops, is that an extra bunny? In July, 2018 14 pueblos were being reviewed for removal in 2019 because they didn’t live up to the requirements for being magic. In October, 2018 nine new ones will be added. I’ve been to most of them at least once, often several times. There is a link to them at the end of this post.

So, what’s the big deal on these Pueblos Mágicos? In order to get the designation, a town must have historical or cultural importance, be home to legends or folklore, be unique and be well-preserved. Once they get anointed “Magic”, they have to maintain their past and make improvements in infrastructure for the future. It is this last requirement that can un-magic a town. Details later in this article.

Huasca de Ocampo, Hidalgo

The first official “Magic Town” was Huasca de Ocampo in the state of Hidalgo. It’s original name in Nahuatl has other possible translations, but I’m putting my money on place of happiness and abundance. It was indeed a place of abundance for the Spaniards; not so much happiness for the native peoples who were displaced. While it was part of the encomienda of the Diego de la Paz family, the natives had some limited autonomy and the surrounding area was even called a republica de los indios. The land was broken up and the republic vanished into the black night like a fragile wisp of smoke from a dying fire.

Like many towns in the Sierras, (in this case the Sierra de Pachuca) it was developed for mining. The town was developed by the first Count of Regla, Pedro de Terreros. The mines were so good that along with his mines in Real de Monte and Pachuca they made him the richest man in the world.

The town is magical in the natural beauty around it, its history, well-preserved colonial architecture. It is also magical in the legends of duendes (goblins or trolls) in the nearby forests. There is a museum to them. With waterfalls, unique natural basalt rock prisms, hiking and forests, it is really magic.

There are two ex-haciendas where you could stay. Santa María Regla Hacienda is world-famous. Movies like The Old Gringo and the Mask of Zorro were partially shot here. The other ex-hacienda is San Miguel Regla which is a luxury hotel and bills itself as an ecotourism park. I reviewed ot when I worked for Sanborn’s, but that was ages ago.

Recent online reviews either love or hate them both. Check out whatever accommodations you consider before checking in. There are other, less expensive choices.

A few select and very magic towns were added in that first year, including Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosí state and Mexcaltitlán, Nayarit. Having been to both I can attest to more magic in the atmosphere than the designation requires. The term “magic” merely means that they are special and unique and worth visiting and treasuring. I visited Mexcaltitlán back when I was famous, with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal.

I contracted dengue fever. Not wanting to end the story on a negative note, I summoned iron will from somewhere and hid the symptoms until he left. I then went to Tepic, holed up in a hotel, saw a doctor who made hotel calls and toughed it out for four days.

Mexcaltitlán was certainly magic for me, but if you go, you will probably be smart enough to bring repellent. Other than the mosquitoes, it is quite a fascinating place, the Venice of Mexico and the birthplace of the Aztecs. Besides history and uniqueness, the town is noted for pink shrimp.

In the case of Real, I can add that a magical feel permeates the very air you breathe there. There are ghosts swirling around the old abandoned and sometimes crumbling buildings and steep cobblestone alleys. I’ve met the lost souls of the slaves who dug the tunnels from which they ripped out the silver which made this one of the richest towns in the world from 1770–1810. The Revolution of 1810 disrupted production and it wasn’t until 1885 that it became prosperous again, lasting until 1905. I’ve met the Devil himself in a dark restaurant, barely illuminated by candlelight. I fled at midnight, driving through tunnel to protect my immoral (I mean immortal) soul. Your mileage may vary and you probably won’t see any ghosts, just a lot of history and interesting architecture.

New Magic Towns on the Way

Nine more towns are being added at the National Magic Town fair in Morelia, Michoacán today (October 11) through the 14th. That will bring the list to 120.

The towns designated “Magic” are promoted by the state and national tourism department. This explains why it is such a prize for the town.
When a town is designated a Magic Town, it is supposed to adhere to certain standards and pursue touristic development, ostensibly to accommodate the hordes of tourists who will descent like locusts on them. BTW, “tourists” doesn’t just mean gringos. While we think we are the be-all and end-all of Mexican tourism, we aren’t. In fact, once you get away from the beaches, our influence is minor.

Mexican people love their country and travel the interior to discover it, just as we do in our own home countries. These towns are supposed to maintain their aesthetic charm and provide current infrastructure. Some of them were glad of the tourists, but didn’t maintain the town or facilities and 6 of these miscreants were given up to a year to get in shape by Gerardo Corona, Undersecretary of Innovation and Tourism Development at SECTUR. Sr. Corona is pragmatic, a financial specialist with a degree in International Relations. He previously worked at the National Bank of Foreign Trade (Bancomext) developing financing for tourism projects. It looks like he is practicing tough love for the Mágico program. I applaud him for that.

There are those who say the Magic Town designation is politically inspired. Talk about magicians! Politicians all claim to be able to perform magic. Mexican politicians just seem to literally create some. Looking at the magic list, I am convinced that some skullduggery occurred. There’s little magic I can see in some of the listings. But, hey, isn’t all of Mexico magic in some way?

The concept is great. It fits right in with the type of people who read my musings. We want to know more, see more of Mexico than a couple of beach resorts (although some of the newer Magic Towns are beach towns). The tourism department made it easy for us by providing “vetted” locations. But, I feel that a little more select vetting would help to keep from diluting the “brand” of the Pueblos Mágicos.

And, yes, I did once work for the Mexican Tourism Ministry and for a big-shot PR Agency. So I can throw buzzwords like that around with confidence. Just don’t ask me to count anything.

Descriptions and pictures:

See you on the road. Mike.

Originally published at https://www.mexicomike.com on October 12, 2018.