Packed with five in a car playing Mexican mariachi music, we are ready for the road trip that lays ahead of us. Mountains, desert, an innumerable amount of cactuses, an occasional roadrunner, and little towns that look like they´ve been abandoned for years – welcome to the north of San Luis Potosí!
We are making our way to Real the Catorce: an old mining town in the middle of the mountains – literally. There are only two ways to reach the place: by four-wheel drive over a bumpy gravel road through the mountains or via the two-km-long Ogarrio Tunnel, built just before the end of the silver boom in the area. You might have to wait for a bit, since the tunnel only has one lane, but it´s definitely worth it: Real is beautiful!
The old stone buildings, colorful little houses, cobbled streets and the smell of delicious Mexican cuisine – mixed with a little aroma of horse shit – makes it an unusual, charming little place. Whereas for a long time Real was considered to be a ghost-town – after its heyday in the late nineteenth century due to the silver mines – nowadays you´ll find the place packed with tourists in the weekends. There are street vendors all over and the town is full of restaurants – I am not going to lie, it takes away a bit of the charm, but nevertheless it´s a beautiful spot. And if you avoid the weekends, and visit on a regular Tuesday, the mass won´t be there.
But if you happen to be there on a Sunday – like we were – there is a perfect way to escape the crowd. Right outside the town center starts a beautiful hike through the desert-wonderland of San Luis. Within 2 – 2.5 hours you will reach the top of Cerro del Quemado: a hill that is a sacred site and the ceremonial center to the Wixárika or Huichol indigenous people. Every spring, they walk across hundreds of kilometers of desert from Nayarit, Durango, Jalisco and Zacatecas to visit the valley of Catorce and leave religious offerings: according to their ancestral beliefs, Cerro del Quemado is the birthplace of their ´Tatewari´ (Grandfather Fire). During this trip, they also visit the desert below Real, to gather peyote or ‘hikuri’: a cactus that they use to guide their path to consciousness. Unfortunately, the many ´peyote tourists´ that visit the area endanger the species, so much that the government even launched a campaign to protect the cactus: it is now illegal for anyone but Huichol people to gather or possess the cactus.
Also, during the rest of the year, many indigenous people visit the place, for example to get married. During these occasions, it´s not possible to walk to the top of the hill out of respect. But even then, the walk is definitely worth making, since along the whole route you will be treated to stunning views. Furthermore, you´ll come across some interesting ruins that look a bit like old Arabic structures. You can also reach Cerro del Quemado by going on a horseback ride. Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend to walk; makes you feel like you deserve that beer and tacos even more afterwards!
Food: if you are up for some authentic Mexican food, go to Doña Chila. The place is open from early in the morning till evening.
AirBnB Sulahue: rent out a great place via AirBnB, with a stunning view! Dorms from 250 MXN per night; also privates available.
Hostal Silvino: in the tiny village Wadley, around an hour from Real de Catorce, you´ll find the charming Hostal Silvino. This is the perfect place if you want to be away from everything for a little while and just enjoy the desert environment. For a little fee, they can drop you off in the middle of the desert, where you can spend the night camping. The sunset, sunrise and starry sky are beautiful!
If you’re headed to Real, you need to take two buses: one to Matehuala that takes around two and a half hours, and one to Real de Catorce, that will take another two hours. The price will be around 500 pesos for a one way trip and from 9 am to 2 pm there will buses every hour and you will arrive with sunlight.
If you want to stop in Wadley first, take a bus from the company Futura that leaves every day around 2:30 pm and drops you right there for less than 300 pesos. Next morning, walk very early from Wadley to Estación Catorce and take one of the old jeeps to go to Real for about 50 pesos.