08 Jun Mineral del Chico and El Chico National Forest
Have you ever heard of Mineral del Chico?
Adventure is somehow best when it’s unexpected. In Hidalgo State, central-eastern Mexico, we find ourselves in one of the oldest protected forests in Mexico, in Mineral del Chico in El Chico National Park. This is precisely the type of place we spend our adventures looking for, hunting through locals’ recommendations and research to find the most precious gems, but this time, it was a total accident.
Having planned a weekend at the nearby thermal river, Tolantongo, we committed a near fatal error of mistakenly arriving on the last weekend of summer vacation. The camping areas and parks themselves were packed full, tent-poles touching and radios blasting. While they were clearly having a great time, I wasn’t getting the type of R&R I had imagined, no reclining in the thermal river and being present in nature for me. So, we packed up and headed out with no real sense of where we’d go.
Chatting with one of the park attendants, we asked about nearby areas of natural beauty. He was quick to tell us about a colonial town, Real de Monte, a high elevation spot about half of an hour away surrounded by pine forests. Wait, what? Looking around at the cacti climbing up the rock face and feeling the sweltering sun beating down on our faces and shoulders we couldn’t imagine this topographical diversity being so close …but that wasn’t going to stop us from exploring! Moreover, he said that the surrounding forests had hiking trails, camping areas and an abundance of natural beauty.
Real de Monte
The drive from Tolantongo to Real de Monte is as bizarre as it is beautiful. Canyons full of cacti give way to pine forests as the temperature drops. In what feels like a second’s time, we are elsewhere.
Real de Monte, famous for its colonial style red tiled roofs, arches and mines so common to Mexico, is also a hub for athletes, particularly tri-athletes and Iron Man competitors. At 8,900 feet it’s a challenge to train in, making it ideal for people looking to get a competitive edge in their sport. Sports aside, this Pueblo Magico (a UNESCO world heritage destination) is full of beauty. From the steep streets lined with buildings dating back to the 1500s under the Spanish viceroy to the taller, red-roofed buildings of the 1800s, influenced by the Cornish miners, the architecture is truly beautiful. Like much of central Mexico, mining was the basis of the town which ultimately produced 6% of the world’s silver (an incredible 1.2 billion troy ounces), as well as 6.2 million ounces of gold. This quiet town is also rich in delicious eats and drinks like nata, cocoles, pastes, tamales and pulque, as well as some lovely international restaurants.
We tooled around the angled, narrow streets, breathing in the cool air and looking for a place to grab a bite and get our bearings. A lovely Italian pizza joint called to us from the main road and, upon meeting the owner, we learned that he was in fact a tri-athlete and had competed in international events. We knew we were asking the right person where to camp and hike! He recommended a couple of different spots, including Mineral de Chico National Forest, just 10 minutes away.
Mineral de Chico
We were stunned to learn that this national treasure was in our backyard! Only 2.5 hours from sweet San Miguel de Allende, our current nest, sits one of the oldest national park in the country! Founded in 1898 by President Porfirio Díaz, Monte Vedado del Mineral del Chico has been long protected from the typical deforestation seen elsewhere in Mexico. Mineral del Chico’s ancient conifers stand tall, nurturing the diverse ecosystem below. In these forests full of mature trees, mountain peaks, valleys, lakes and rivers, flora and fauna native to the area prosper. We couldn’t imagine a better place to camp, hike and dream!
We arrive and find an enclosed campsite with back access to trails and a guard, a few small cabins and mainly open space to camp. Since our Land Rover is completely open and doesn’t have locks of any kind, it’s always important that we have some type of security so we feel at ease leaving the car filled with out belongings behind as we head out on a hike.
After we set up the tent and our fire pit, we kick back and prepare to watch the day end. Cool quickly turns cold as a damp fog hangs beneath a cloudy night sky. Our fire provides us with all the warmth we need as we sit close, searing steak and potatoes over it. We cleanse our palette with fresh figs and lychees purchased roadside in the lowlands. As our dinner settles, we notice the density of the fog, so thick that it begins to mask the forest that surrounds us.
Just then, we see a figure on all fours in the fog. White and wolf-shaped, we are a little concerned. We are the only campers at the site and we can’t help but notice the figure stalking circles around our camp. When we zip into our tent before sleep it’s with a nervous giggle. “He probably just wants our food.”
The next morning we awake to the same voluminous fog, the scent of pines, the feeling of being deep in the woods. It’s significantly colder and I decide to wear my sleeping bag to breakfast. Using the embers from the night before, we cook up some oatmeal and coffee. That’s about the time our not-so-wolfish stalker appears – the guard’s white dog! We end up meeting the whole pack, actually and feel silly for having thought otherwise. After breakfast and a little puppy snuggling, we head out to explore.
The Pachuca Mountains are a range of dormant volcanoes, part of the Trans-Mexican Volcano Belt. We had the pleasure of discovering La Peña del Cuervo and Los Enamorados. Spectacular views of vast expanses of trees, the air felt fresh and vibrant. If you love the outdoors and are looking for a new spot to explore in Mexico, Mineral de Chico comes highly recommended.
Getting There and Getting Away
To get to Mineral de Chico National Forest by car …
From Mexico City, use toll road 85D to Pachuca. From Pachuca, take highway 105 until you see the exit for Mineral del Chico (about 15 miles).
To get to Mineral de Chico National Forest by bus …
From wherever you may find yourself, take the bus to Pachuca. Upon arrival take a taxi to the Benito Juarez Market and you’ll find shuttles or mini-buses (called collectivos) that go to Mineral del Chico.
To get to Mineral de Chico National Forest by plane …
There are no direct flights to this area. Once arriving in Mexico (likely Mexico City), follow the directions for bus travel. If you don’t mind paying more and want to get there more quickly, take the bus to Pachuca and then take a microbus or taxi from the bus station; Mineral del Chico is about 50 minutes away.