Friday, September 23, 2016

Taxco Part 1: Silver City in the Mountains

Parroquia Santa Prisca is surrounded by one of Mexico's most charming colonial towns. Santa Prisca was constructed in the 18th century by an eccentric silver baron who nearly went broke building and decorating the spectacular church. After our visit to the ancient ruins of Calixtlahuaca (see previous 3 postings) Carole and I headed south from Toluca to Taxco, in the State of Guerrero. Most of this route can be driven on one of Mexico's fine cuotas (toll roads). When traveling long distances by auto, we nearly always use a cuota when we can. These high-speed, usually 4-lane, divided highways are nearly always smooth and well-maintained. Because of the tolls, traffic tends to be light. For hassle-free, long-range driving in Mexico, cuotas can't be beat.

A deep canyon cuts through the mountains of northern Guerrero. For the first hour of our 3-hour drive, we passed through the lush green farmland of the Toluca Valley. Then we began to climb into rugged, heavily forested mountains cut by deep gorges. Until Mexico began to build modern highways in the last part of the 20th and the early 21st centuries, this region was relatively inaccessible, except for a handful of poorly maintained roads. Ever since the 1810 War of Independence, insurgents, rebels, and revolutionaries have staged lightning raids followed by retreats up little-known paths into these mountains.

Taxco sprawls across mountain slopes. After traveling along winding mountain roads through stunning scenery, we finally rounded a curve and caught a full view of Taxco de Alarcón. The city was founded in 1529 and has a current population of just under 40,000. In spite of the mountainous location, the climate here is quite mild, with an average high of 27C (81F) and a low of 17C (63F). This makes Taxco a very popular tourist destination for Mexicans. We saw very few people from the US, Canada, or Europe during our visit.

Ahead of us, we could see our road cutting along the base of an impressive bluff. Located atop this bluff are Hotel Monte Taxco as well as a number of expensive private homes. The top of the bluff can be reached by a road, a hiking path, or an aerial tram.

View of the bluff from the balcony of the Angel Inn restaurant. The cliffs fall vertically for several hundred feet, providing an impressive backdrop. Hotel Monte Taxco can be seen at the top of the bluff in the upper left corner of the photo. During our Taxco visit, we rode the tram up and lunched on the hotel's balcony. I'll show photos of the view from there in a subsequent posting. The colonial-era church in the center of the photo above is part of the former Convento de San Bernardino de Siena. Behind it is another church called Iglesia Chavarria. Both of these will be covered in detail in future postings.

One of the high-end homes on the bluff perches precariously on this cliff.  While most of Taxco is not quite this precipitous, buildable land has been scarce since the city was founded almost 500 years ago. New construction must often be done on the steep slopes and up the sides of arroyos. As a result, the street map resembles a bowl of spaghetti.

Hotel Loma Linda sits high on a ridge over a deep arroyo. I counted seven stories in this hotel. One advantage of building on a slope like this is that nearly every room has a spectacular view. As a popular Mexican tourist destination, Taxco is loaded with hotels. Many are not only charming and comfortable, but very inexpensive. For example, a double room at Hotel Loma Linda costs only $666 pesos / night ($34.00 USD).

More multi-story hotels stack up, one behind the other. At some of these places, the street entrance is actually the top floor. With so many hotels, it is relatively easy to find accommodations except during major fiestas. Most hotels and B&Bs can be reached through one of the on-line booking sites.

A huge statue of Christ stands on the summit of the highest hill overlooking Taxco. We were going to check out the view from there but didn't get around to it. However, there are so many dramatic vista points in and around this town that I don't think it mattered.

Parroquia Santa Prisca's elaborate dome and twin steeples, seen from the rear. This shot gives a feel for how the city's buildings are packed together on the steep hillside. We like to walk, even when the streets are steep. For those whose mobility is more limited, there are many taxis and and their fares are low. The taxi fare for a ride clear across town costs about $30 pesos ($1.53 USD). Fares are even cheaper for shorter runs. In addition, there are passenger vans called collectivos that cost less than 1/2 of a taxi ride, if you don't mind frequent stops and sharing the ride with others.

The dome of Santa Prisca, dramatically silhouetted against the sky. I took the shot from one of the several balconies and terraces of the Angel Inn. We ate our most expensive meal here, with a total dinner price for two of about $450 pesos ($23 USD). This might not seem high to someone from the US, Canada, or Europe, but it's fairly steep for Mexico. We seldom paid over $200 pesos total ($10.20 USD) at other places with equally good food and views just as dramatic.

Hotel Los Arcos

Hotel Los Arcos, where we stayed, is just around the corner from Plaza Borda. Hotel Los Arcos was originally a 17th century convent. It is conveniently located near many interesting locations, including the main plaza. The brown building on the right of the photo is the Viceregal Museum, which displays artifacts from pre-hispanic times up through the colonial period. I will feature it in a future posting. When picking hotels, we always look for one that is close to a town's historic center. That way, we can keep our car parked in the hotel's garage and just stroll about, soaking up the atmosphere. In a town like Taxco, with its extremely narrow and crowded streets, you don't want to do much driving in any case.

The Sotavento Restaurant Bar is part of Hotel Los Arcos. Some Mexican hotels with on-site restaurants provide breakfast as part of the tarifa (room charge), but Los Arcos does not. However, our double-room tarifa was only $666 pesos ($34.00), and there are many excellent and inexpensive breakfast spots in the area, in addition to Sotavento. We like variety, so this worked well for us.

Hotel Emilia Castillo is across the narrow, cobblestone street from Los Arcos. This hotel contains a sushi restaurant that we were going to try, but we never got around to it. So many restaurants, so little time! Hotel Emilia's rates are very close to those of Los Arcos.

Santiago Matamoros (St. James the Moorslayer) trampling the heads of Moors. The relief carving above may be an original colonial work, but there wasn't any sign, so I can only guess. Santiago was the patron of the conquistadors who seized the New World from its indigenous inhabitants.

Like most colonial buildings, Los Arcos is built around a central, open-air courtyard. The patio is surrounded by pillared arcades called portales. On the opposite side of the patio, you can see the old stone staircase that leads up to our room on the second floor.

A stone monkey fills the bowl of a small fountain in one of the charming little side patios. The monkey is an example of Mexico's typically quirky sense of humor. Los Arcos contains many little nooks where a guest can find a bit of solitude. 

View from the third floor down to the central courtyard. The branches of a huge old tree provide shade for the courtyard. Our room was large and comfortable and contained most of the usual hotel amenities. What it did not have were screens for the two windows. Given the mild climate, few places here provide air conditioning but we still like to keep the windows open for circulation. This resulted in occasional dive-bombing by mosquitos, the price of colonial ambiance.

Restaurant Sotavento is located just off the courtyard. The ambiance is inviting and the food is excellent. This surprised me a bit. Usually, hotels with restaurants seem to feel that they have a captive clientele. This often results in mediocre food and unduly high prices. Not so with Sotavento! We liked it so much that we ate dinner here regularly.

A praying Aztec figure found on the wall of Los Arco's courtyard. This beautiful little figure is made of hammered copper. He wears a feathered head-dress, a loincloth, and jewelry, all made of silver set with abalone shell. The little designs coming up from his mouth were the pre-hispanic way of indicating speech, much like the speech balloons of modern cartoons. 

This completes Part 1 of my Taxco series. In the next part, we will explore Plaza Borda, the town's colonial center. If you would like to leave a question or a comment, please do so in the Comments section below, or email me directly. 

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Hasta luego, Jim

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Jim. Taxco was one of the first Mexican towns that caught my interest--probably dating from high school Spanish class. I've never been there, though, and your post helped me feel as though I had, at least virtually. Looking forward to the next.


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim