05 Jan Real de Catorce
Real de Catorce, located in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi, is a legend in and of itself. Once a prosperous silver mining town, this stark desert village 9,000 feet up in the Sierra de Catorce is now both a ghost town and a pilgrimage site for Catholics and Huichol shamans.
Real de Catorce peaked in the late 1800’s with a population of 15,000 and some of Mexico’s richest silver mines, as well as a thriving economy including shops selling European luxury goods. It was almost completely abandoned when the price of silver plummeted after 1900; currently 1,000 people inhabit Real de Catorce.
Thousands of Catholics make the pilgrimage to the Parish of Immaculate Conception to thank god for their answered prayers on the feast day of St. Francis (October 4). The church is filled with a plethora of “retablos” which recount the miracles.
The Huicholes (Wixarika), an indigenous people of Mexico, walk across the wide expanse of desert from Nayarit, Durango, Jalisco and Zacatecas to the valley of Catorce in spring in order to present religious offerings at the “Cerro Quemado”, the place said to have welcomed their ancestral god, “Tatewari” or Grandfather Fire, to the world. Many ceremonies take place here, often associated with the religious use of peyote.
During this pilgramage, they also traverse the “Wirikuta”, a name for the desert below Real de Catorce considered holy to the Huichol people. There they collect a year’s supply of peyote (called “hikuri”), the sacred cactus used to communicate with their god.
Where to Stay
Hotel San Juan is our recommendation. At 200 pesos (approx. 15 USD) a night for two people, it’s hard to beat. The rooms are simple, though very clean and at least double (if not triple) the size of the more expensive rooms in the area.
Our first night we canvassed the area, finding the least expensive rooms between 300-350 pesos and about the size of a closet. The room at Posada Providencia was literally the size of the bed, making access to the tiny bathroom a real challenge. One night in a room like this left me with a marble-sized spider bite (as it clearly hadn’t been cleaned in quite some time) and no desire to return.
(All prices are in Mexican pesos and per person.)
Lodging: 200.00 mxn
Food: 80.00 – 120.00 mxn per meal
Activities: Hiking, horseback riding, day and night guided tours of the area, weekend festivals
The main road to Real de Catorce leaves Highway 62 between Matehuala and San Tiburcio. This is roughly to the east of Real, near the town of Cedral. From the main highway (57) there is a 17 mile cobblestone road which rises into the sierra, and then the 1.5-mile long Ogarrio Tunnel which only accepts vehicles one way (with travelers in and out having to wait their turn).
Have you been to Real to Catorce? Thinking of going? Write in with questions! We love to answer them.