Today let’s escape to Santiago, a Pueblo Magico where I spent one Sunday three months after my arrival in Mexico.
First of all, what is a Pueblo Magico?
This is a village which has received an accreditation from the Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism (SECTUR), regarding different criteria such as the beauty of the place, the history or the cultural aspect. The initiative, started in 2001, is to promote a series of towns through Mexico that offer to visitors a “magical” experience and that actively protect and keep their cultural richness.
The main goals of this ambitious project are to diversify and structure a complementary tourism offering, to promote local art craft, traditions and gastronomy, and to develop new touristic products (extreme sports, ecotourism). And this is great because no, we cannot reduce Mexico to Cancun and to the Riviera Maya (even if I have to admit that the Riviera Maya definitely worth it!) The “Pueblos Magicos” show that Mexico is a huge and diversified country that has way more than its beaches to offer.
But not every town can pretend to be “Pueblo Magico”: numerous criteria have to be fulfilled and the Secretariat of Tourism is really strict about the process. According to me, this is the sign of quality and seriousness. A lot of cities intended to obtain the accreditation in order to get more economical resources from the government for instance. On the contrary, some cities from Oaxaca and Chiapas rejected their application to be recognized as “Pueblo Magico” because they were considering that the program was an attempt to the patrimonial value of villages. And some other “Pueblos Magicos” such as Creel and Santiago (which the article is about) suffered of their insecurity because of the organized crime.
But of course there is a not perfect initiative or perfect program and there will always be some disruptive people who disagree: it is in the nature of things.
Regarding the security, as I mentioned it in the introduction about Monterrey, the city and the area in general is now safe, even if it remains some zones to avoid as everywhere in the world. So, let’s leave the noise and the agitation of Monterrey: direction Santiago.
Santiago had been recognized as “Pueblo Magico” in 2006 and is located at only 45 minutes from Monterrey by car, between the Sierra Madre Oriental and the Cerro de la Silla.
The city was originally created in 1648 by Don Diego Rodriguez de Montemayor under the name of “Valle de Santiago de Guajuco”. The date of the first city hall is pretty unclear because numerous official archives were lost when a fire occurred in 1746. This is in 1831 that “Valle de Santiago” turned into “Villa de Santiago”.
However, the origin of the city is even older that Don Diego Rodriguez de Montemayor: in 1580 the original name was Cuarisezapa (which means land of fauna and flora) and Indians “Guachichiles” were living there. This nomadic ethnic group has the reputation to have been the bravest and the most difficult to dominate by the Europeans.
The history says that in 1866, a French platoon passed through Santiago and fought against Spanish Republicans: we call this battle the “Mesa de Garrapatas”. It’s really original for me to think that some French were in the region 150 years before. It may explain why some people from Santiago have blue eyes and clear hair.
Today, the city which counts 36 840 inhabitants, is simply a lovely place. The central place, the Plaza Ocampo, is surrounded by colonial houses from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. There’s also a really nice white church from 1745, the Parroquia de Santiago Apostol, which has the particularity to have two towers of different size.
From the mirador you can enjoy the view on the Presa de la Boca (or Presa Rodrigo Gomez), an artificial lake which was achieved in 1973 to answer to the necessity in drinking water of Monterrey and its metropolitan area. The “regiomontanos” (people native from the region) tend to consider this lake as a beach, and during vacation time it happened that 2000 cars and until 10 000 people managed to go to the Presa saturating the space. People prepare the famous “carnes asadas” and if the alcohol is normally prohibited it’s difficult for the local authorities to regulate the drifts.
From my point of view I recommend to simply enjoy the view from the mirador and then to go to eat in a restaurant from the Plaza Ocampo. I remember that I went to La Casa de la Abuela, the only one which still has some tables available. The atmosphere was pretty nice and we had the pleasure of some musicians, however the service was really long because of the lack of waiters. I heard that Las Palomas, which is also a hotel, was really good: to taste the next time!
After your meal, take your time, walk a bit, chill out and finally, on your way back to Monterrey, you should stop at theCascada Cola de Caballo, a beautiful 25 meters waterfall. Why “Cola de Caballo”? Because if you observe it well, the cascade looks like a horse tail.
Now I have to conclude about Santiago and I would say that it’s the perfect Sunday option to escape a bit from the city. There is nothing astonishing but it’s full of charm and it’s a good spot to rest and disconnect. In fact, I think that it’s my next Sunday plan.